Video Game Rewind: Why Alpha Protocol Deserves A Second Chance

One weekend ago, I finished Alpha Protocol for the first time after more than a year of leaving it unfinished. You might be wondering why I left it undone for such a long time. Well, I was disappointed and I wasn’t the only one who shared the sentiment. Several reviews called it out for the numerous shortcomings it had such as lousy AI and cover system. Consequently, Mike Hayes of SEGA confirmed that due to the less than positive reception, there would be no sequel to Alpha Protocol.

So, why am I writing this? I should be rejoicing that this game wouldn’t have a sequel. However, in spite of all the gripes I have, at the end of the day my final verdict would always be: It’s not the best, but it’s not the worst either. The concept had a lot of promise and potential. Admittedly, there were a lot of glaring bugs but I’m confident it’s nothing a well-planned and executed sequel can’t remedy. Again, I wasn’t the only who shared the sentiments. Other players expressed their support via social media for an improved sequel despite their qualms. People would tweet, including myself, Chris Avellone of Obsidian Entertainment, AP’s developer, inquiring about a sequel or a reboot. Sadly, he would always reply that SEGA owned the IP (Intellectual property) so it’s out of their hands even if they wanted to.

Somehow, I’m writing this because I want people to give this game another shot if they’ve thrown in the towels so early in the story. Even if this game came with a bunch of missteps, that doesn’t mean there’s no hidden treasures to be found. There are a lot of elements that I really found interesting. In fact, I wrote them all down in a notebook. I’ll be focusing more on the positive aspects of this game but I’ll also note on aspects that game could be improved on. Anyway, I’ll try not to spoil the whole story but a couple will surely pop up so proceed with caution.

The game is set during present times and you play as Michael Thorton, the latest spy recruit in the Alpha Protocol program, and you are tasked to complete espionage type missions throughout the game. From the very beginning, the concept of this game piqued my interest. Most RPG games are known to be set in the past, future or in a different reality altogether. It’s not everyday that players come across an RPG game that is set during modern times and without the whole idea of having aliens or powers. Somehow, the fact that the game is a little bit more grounded to what we are familiar with gives it an appealing factor.

Michael Thorton, the protagonist, isn’t as charismatic or striking as Commander Shepard or Adam Jensen. The voice acting isn’t that memorable either, but I still stuck with the game mostly because this character was mine and I was determined to make the most out of it. The dialogue system makes up for it as it gives life to your hero. You can be either professional, suave or aggressive. My personal favorite is suave only because it should be called “wildly inappropriate” since most of the lines would more likely elicit a slap in real life from women than a flirty reply. I’m not saying this is a bad thing. I found it amusing and it added character to my version of Michael Thorton.

Another interesting thing to note about the dialogue system is the fact that it has a timer. Unlike Mass Effect and other games, you can’t take your sweet time whenever you’re talking to someone. The game allots you only a couple of seconds to choose a reply. I found this aspect interesting because it adds a sense of realism to the game. There are so many times wherein I would say things to myself while playing RPG games: “God, if this was real life… people will think I’m so weird since it takes me such a long time to reply” or “Oh gosh, who do I save before the bomb blows up? Hmm let me decide for 10 minutes when the bomb is supposed to blow up in 5.” I remember one of the few things I liked about Fable 3 was during the beginning where I had to decide between two parties. However, if I didn’t decide in time then I would lose both.

One thing I really loved about Alpha Protocol was the character interaction. It’s not the same depth as BioWare’s narrative, but it had great moments on it’s own. There were a number of memorable voice acting present in the game. They included Nolan North as Steven Heck, Courtenay Taylor as Scarlet Lake, and of course Mary Elizabeth McGlynn as SIE. In this game, you complete missions alone but there are some segments where your allies participate in some degree. When they do, it’s a lot of fun and I’m nodding towards Steven Heck and SIE in particular. Most of the time though, your only interaction is with your handler for the particular mission. I liked how I felt like I was with someone despite the fact I was physically alone on the mission. Your handler would constantly talk and guide you through the mission so it won’t be a lonely game.

During one part of the game, I became lazy and started going commando on the mission. I gave up stealth and started going guns blazing. I was having fun until my handler berated me for my actions and I lost reputation points in our relationship. I was surprised that my allies would react to not just what I would say, but to my actions during normal gameplay as well. This was one thing I wanted from Mass Effect 2. Just because the loyalty mission is done, that doesn’t mean that everything is over and done with. I wanted my actions to matter not only during key moments in the story but in every part of it. Ever since my little flub, I was more conscious of my actions. Each ally has their own preference. Some might want you to keep the casualty list short but some are more than happy to see it grow.

In the same vein, in that particular mission I was supposed to infiltrate a CIA post just to bug their systems. It wasn’t necessary to kill the guards, but I grew impatient and I did. I thought that the only consequence I would really get was a brief reprimand and that’s it. However, the ripples of my actions were a lot more than what I expected. Throughout the game, I felt a pang of guilt the entire time since most characters kept bringing it up and placed heavy emphasis on it. Choice is truly a powerful weapon in Alpha Protocol since its consequences can be thoroughly felt. This was one of the elements that gave this game such potential to grow and eventually succeed as RPG’s greats.


When it comes to gameplay, the cover system was far from perfect since I would press A repeatedly and nothing would happen. This is because not all of the environmental objects can be used as cover even if it looks like it can. This does not apply only to covers, but to other actions as well such as climbing and leaping because only selected objects can be interacted upon. So, it can be frustrating sometimes to get killed only because you couldn’t take cover or leap to the other side. Since this was a problem for me, my greatest weapon became my fists and I had loads of fun. Instead of focusing my upgrades on weapons, I improved my toughness and martial arts. I liked how the combat was an excellent blend of weapons and melee. In Deus Ex: HR, you mostly just had takedown moves. In Mass Effect, you had that one melee attack. In this game, you can have takedowns or all out fist combat with various animations of punching and kicking. Most games would either focus on weapons or fists but rarely both. However, I still think that this can be improved into a much more cinematic and smooth combat gameplay.

The music that accompanied you throughout your missions was appropriate for spy fiction. However, it wasn’t the same calibre as Kyd, McCann, or Wall where you wished their tracks were the soundtracks of your life. The music wasn’t bad, but I think that’s one of the things they should consider improving if for some reason a sequel would exist. Most of the best moments in RPG games are the ones that had a killer score that went with it. The Suicide Mission by Wall and Icarus by Michael McCann are one of my personal favorites.

In conclusion, there are several moments when we dismiss games simply because of the final verdict made by most reviewers. While there are games that are horrible beyond salvation, there are also titles that just didn’t make it to the calibre of great but it’ll entertain you nonetheless. I once praised the Dante’s Inferno video game by Visceral for the vivid imagery and creative interpretation despite it’s average reception. Obsidian Entertainment might not deserve an award for Alpha Protocol, they certainly deserve kudos for creating a respectable title. So, when you have time to kill I suggest getting a copy of this game when it’s on sale and give it a go yourself.


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  1. Thanks for this. I bought this game about 6 months from GameStop for $5 and haven’t gotten around to it. Your comments want me to pop the game in this weekend.

  2. I had a great time with this game. The plot was pretty superb, and once you start to level up and get better gear and more moves, the combat becomes less of a pain in the arse.
    The thing that really stood apart for me was the difference all your actions made to the progression of the story and relationships with the characters. In Mass Effect, there’s a pretty clear delineation between good and bad, and you often know where it’ll lead you.
    With Alpha Protocol, there were many characters with their own motivations and goals, and the dialogue and action choices you made had more of a ripple effect. It was far less polarised, and I found myself absorbed in the game world, making choices I would make in real life instead of simply being the good guy/bad guy for the sake of perks.
    I put off buying this game for ages because of low review scores and complaints over the combat and game systems, but I’m glad I bought it. Though it did help me fail some uni assignments…

    1. Yes, I believe one of the game’s strongest elements was the effect of your choices. It feels good to not be clearly classified in any side of morality.

      I totally understand failing some assignments. That has happened to me with other games– Mass Effect 3 launch was a day before my midterm. Though, I didn’t fail just not as high as I hoped.

  3. Yeah, give it a go and let me know what you think! I love hearing what other people think even if it’s different from my opinion.

    Douchebag= Suave dialogue option. Well, I can honestly say this was less disappointing than Fable 3.

  4. It was a mediocre game. It really had some promise, especially with the dialogue and story as you mention. Some gameplay issues really marred it for me. The bosses were annoying as all get-out. The powers started to get ridiculous, to the point where I was “cloaked” walking around stabbing people in broad daylight and in front of their teammates.

    I would have liked an option on the new game + to have the choices I made before marked out. I tried playing a second game but never beat it. Partially because I realized I was making a lot of the same choices again, which is largely my fault, but the game could have helped.

    Another improvement, as I recall, the game touted itself as sometimes upsetting a character would be the way to go. I never found this to be effective. Making friends with everyone seemed to be the way to go most of the time.

    Also, silly you had to spend so much time doing that strange hunched over walk to be “stealthy”. Looked silly.

    Game with a lot of promise though. I would be interested in a sequel if they made some substantial improvements.

  5. In my opinion, this is one of the greatest games ever created. It makes such a good use of all the video games specificities, a lot more than any other occidental RPGs.

    Obsidian is the shit. Even without a shitload of money.

  6. I got it for like 10 bucks off amazon last year. This friend kept on telling me about it so I decided to check it out and at 10 bucks it was a steal (you pay more for lunch these days). Definetely more people need to check it out, its glitchy but its good, fun as hell and nteresting.

  7. Sometimes the best way to discover good games is by buying them when they are on sale. This weekend has some sick sales too. I recommend getting Spec Ops: The Line and Metro 2033 on GameFly and Steam respectively. They’re less than 10 dollars, and if you don’t like it… at least you didn’t spend full price for it!

    1. Well if you play on the PC, Mercenaries 2: World in Flames is $9.99 on Amazon… but wait there’s more! It’s actually a bundle that comes with Bulletstorm, Mirror’s Edge, Burnout Paradise: Ultimate and The Saboteur in addition to your beloved Mercenaries 2. So, my good man, I say catch this deal while it’s still ripe!

      If this was helpful, here’s the link:

  8. I call it the Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines equivalent of this gaming generation, in that there’s a fantastic game underneath if you can get past the bugs and understand the weird mechanics. I know that a lot of people were turned off by the “inaccurate shooting mechanics” but that’s because they didn’t really understand that it mostly worked off your stats instead of your perfect aim.

    And, in my opinion, Bioware writers felt ashamed of their simplistic “Save creation by going to four different locations and uniting the races of the world” schtick when compared to what Obsidian’s writers can pump out: remember Mask of the Betrayer? And arguably, NWN 2’s campaign, when viewed from a satirical mindset, was a pretty brilliant deconstruction of the high fantasy genre. I’d love to see what they can do as a studio if only they had good bug-squashing abilities and a bigger budget.

    1. Wow, Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines was truly a brilliant game. It’s one of my all-time favorites. I’m not sure, I could say the same with Alpha Protocol. It’s sad that there won’t be a sequel, not because of bad reception but mostly because Troika, the developer, is our of business. Hopefully, Activision owns the IP so a sequel can be made!

      With regards to your second point, yes admittedly most fans of Alpha Protocol feel that a sequel can fix the glaring errors of the game.

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