River King
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Publisher: SEGA
Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, PC

Alpha Protocol
By Trent Seely

Clunky shooting, appalling presentation, and poorly thought out character builds that could very easily have led to impossible situations; Alpha Protocol is singlehandedly the most broken RPG that you keep apologizing for. Too many gamers have fallen for the handful of charms this RPG happens to offer. I, however, will pull no punches on this espionage-infused mediocrity.

On paper, Alpha Protocol sounds like a masterpiece. The game is set in the modern world, gameplay is action oriented, and it features interesting and robust social interaction as well as the strategic use of contracts, assets, betrayals, and negotiations. It also has a spy story that Ian Fleming would be proud of. Oh, and it is made by Obsidian, the creators of some of the best Western RPGs of our time.

Everyone and their mom told me to play Alpha Protocol. They knew I loved Bond movies. They knew I loved choice-oriented Western RPGs. They knew that I was all about character customization. What they didn't know was that I'm not a particularly tolerant video gamer, and only the extremely tolerant could ever enjoy what is ultimately a descent into the void of poor execution.

Obsidian should be downright embarrassed by the state of this game. Outside of a complex and player empowering plot, there isn't a single aspect that this game excels in. The AI is terribly inconsistent, with enemies either walking towards grenades and gunfire or seemingly boasting omniscience in knowing exactly where you are at all times and being able to kill you through walls. That's a big sin in this kind of game, but it is only emphasized by the terrible gunplay implemented when you try to kill things.

The camera stays too close to your back in smaller spaces, making sneaking up on enemies a pain, and your ability to shoot will be completely dependent on the roll of the dice instead of your ability to take a perfect shot. To which you may ask yourself: "what is the point of the on-screen UI telling you were your gun is aimed?" That's a good question. There is no point. In fact, it has been argued that the best way to play this game is to use invisibility to manually kill everyone, but the ease at which that strategy works highlights a massive issue with the game's balance. Really, you won't be able to finish the game on any of the higher difficulties without choosing the right character build. Otherwise, you won't have a chance in a firefight. Combat is only half of the problem, though.

Let's just say that Alpha Protocol is not a looker. No one will be impressed by the visuals, as characters designs aren't memorable, environmental designs are bland and unremarkable, and animations are stiff to the point of inadvertent hilarity. In fact, the ragdoll death physics somehow walk a line between being comedy gold and utterly cringe-worthy. Audio isn't that great either. I never noticed music while playing and voice acting is clearly being phoned in. It certainly doesn't help that the dialogue is often trite and eye-roll worthy, but actors that sounded as though they at least gave a damn would have been a plus.

There are also multiple graphical and technical bugs and glitches. Many of them will stop you right in your tracks. I can't remember how many times I had to restart checkpoints because doors that were supposed to open were sealed shut. During my first play through I was also stuck in staircases, unable to use computers because the game couldn't register my inputs, blocked by invisible walls that I'm sure weren't supposed to exist, and subject to areas where not a single texture had properly rendered. That is inexcusable. The quality control team at Obsidian was clearly out to lunch on this game and I'll never understand how this received the Microsoft seal of approval.

So, why am I supposed to enjoy this game? Is it because it had potential and tried to be ambitious? Well, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I, however, am only concerned with results, and the only thing Alpha Protocol resulted in for me was massive disappointment. No one should be apologizing for all of this game's faults. It is a shameful display that Obsidian deserves to be criticized for.

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