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Alpha Protocol – The PS3 Attitude Review

Submitted by on Monday, 7 June 20105 Comments

Alpha Protocol. All you have to do is mention those two words and the Internet sinks into a negative frenzy, as journalist after journalist takes a snipe at SEGA and Obsidian’s latest.

Is Alpha Protocol really all that bad, or should it have been cancelled?

You play as Michael Thorton, the latest member of a ‘black-ops’ organisation named Alpha Protocol. The unit was put together to run covert operations that can be conducted without any evidence of a link back to the US government.

After an initiation, your first mission (and trust us, we’re not spoiling anything here) is to assassinate the leader of a terrorist group called Al-Samaad, after they launched a successful attack on a passenger aircraft in the Middle East.

Once you’ve succeeded in that mission, a few twists and turns see you becoming the hunted rather than the hunter, and the story takes you across key locations in Italy, Russia and China.

The story itself isn’t going to win any awards, and everything about it seems so close to reality that you could almost suggest the writers haven’t really put a lot of time and effort into the background. The name ‘Al-Samaad’ isn’t a big stretch from that other terrorist organisation we all know well, and having a company named Halbech behind the scenes isn’t too far from just calling them Haliburton and being done with it.

Of course, I’m sure the writers were referencing these organisations, companies and scenarios with the best intentions – to give Alpha Protocol’s story some relevance and realism – but to this reviewer it just comes off as derivative.

"Do the okey-cokey and your turn around..."

Alpha Protocol is played in a third-person view. In addition to a raft of weapons, much attention has been paid to the hand-to-hand and close quarters combat moves Thornton can utilise when needed. At the beginning of the game you get to choose your ‘class’, which determines whether you are more likely to blast your way through the game, go into stealth mode or use technology to your advantage.

There are also a raft of gadgets available to your character as well as special ‘skills’ that you can improve over time by earning ‘Advancement Points’. These skills can be used whenever you feel the need, but once they run out there is a delay as they ‘recharge’ before you can use them again.

The big selling point in Alpha Protocol, however, is the dialogue system.

As you converse with various characters, you are given a short amount of time in which to decide how you are going to react. The choice is yours – will you be suave, aggressive or professional? The system is supposed to offer you the opportunity to react accordingly to the situation, and I’m sure the developers meant for you – the player – to be able to spot ‘subtle’ voice cues and who the kind of situational awareness that would lead to to select the correct stance.

In reality, it is very easy to work out which stance works with which character. When talking to the boss, be professional. When discussing your mission with one of the handlers who likes to joke around and be casual, choose the suave response. What seems like it could offer so much promise as a game mechanic rarely poses any level of difficulty, and whilst the game promises that you’ll gain different outcomes by choosing alternative stances, we rarely found this to be the case.

In fact, what we did notice is that the cut-scenes and cinematics will certainly change based on your stance, but the missions won’t. That means if you want to see every possible cut-scene, you’ll need three full play-throughs. However, don’t expect the actual game to change much, which might limit your desire to want to play through three times.

Similar to games such as GTA, Alpha Protocol allows you to have a number of safe-houses where you can change appearance, buy weapons, get gadgets, kit yourself out with new armour and communicate with the team. You can customise your weapons and the options for this are fairly comprehensive. The same can’t be said of the appearance modifications, which offer very few combinations.

This week's entry in 'Beard or Balaclava' was particularly tricky.

The graphics within Alpha Protocol are nothing to write home about. The style and polish remind us of Syphon Filter on the PSP, and whilst that is great if you are playing a game on a four-inch screen, it isn’t going to cut the mustard on a 50″ HDTV when the likes of Uncharted 2 take third-person adventure gaming to the level they have done. UC2 has, in that respect, spoiled the party for games like Alpha Protocol, since the bar has been raised so high that titles like this look positively awful in comparison.

In reality therefore, there is nothing really that wrong with the visuals. It is just that there are games out now that look so much better that Alpha Protocol suffers by proxy.

The music, however, and the sound effects in general are very well done. The score, which was composed by Brian Wayne Transeau (better known as ‘BT’) is suspenseful and matches the mood of the game throughout.

Where Alpha Protocol is let down most is in the woeful targeting system and the sheer number of glitches and bugs that have found their way into the final game. The fact that this title also lacks any kind of multi-player experience also causes concern for any supposed longevity or replay value. The glitches are the worst of Alpha Protocol’s crimes though. There were several occasions where enemies would spawn in front of my very eyes as if the Dolly the Sheep cloning experiments were mere child’s play. One enemy would become four in a blink of an eye.

And the controls themselves are clunky at best. Whilst so much attention seems to have been put into making the CQC moves look smooth and lifelike (and they do), there is no skill involved on your part in using them. A couple of presses of the same button and your enemy is despatched. What also made us wonder is why, when the CQC looks so good, Thornton can’t even walk or run properly. He moves around like the missing link, somewhere between Homo Floresiensis and Wayne Rooney.

Summing Alpha Protocol up is actually a lot easier than we might have imagined at first.

If you like RPG games, you will find a lot of value in Alpha Protocol through the dialogue system, the Achievement Points and the weapon/armour/gear customisations. We wish they’d gone further with them all, but they offer some value right now. However, all of these good points are wrapped up in a game that has more issues, bugs and glitches, along with lower production values than many a beta, which leads us to think this was a missed opportunity.

You shouldn’t go buy Alpha Protocol until it appears in the bargain bin at less than the price of a round of drinks, but we do urge you to splurge a few coins on renting it if you enjoy RPGs, as a complete play-through will only take you about 5-7 hours.

Heck, we won’t even include our usual ‘buy it’ links for our charity fund, as we can’t endorse such behaviour.