Celebrated the new year by finishing the unpolished jewel, Alpha Protocol. Going to write about that.
I categorized Alpha Protocol under Role Playing Games in my Steam library. I wondered about that when I started to play the game, since it strongly reminded me of Mass Effect 2, which I would rather categorize as Shooter. But as I played through the game, it felt like the designers went through time and read my posts about dialogue in video games.
The dialogue in Alpha Protocol is brilliantly crafted. There are four choices projected on the screen when it is time for the player to make a decision. There are just a few seconds to choose, with the computer selecting the latest preferred choice. There are three ”default” ones: Suave, Professional and Aggressive, and a fourth one, which is granted by items or knowledge. None of the dialogue choices are ”correct”; Every one pushes the dialogue forwards and usually the target’s opinion about the player up or down. This would look like a simple good-neutral-evil-axis, but it is not. On my first playthrough I chose Suave on most of the conversations, and found out that Michael Thorton actually has a personality. He is confident and cocky, and likes people who can laugh and take a joke. He likes to annoy uptight bastards and keeps his plans to himself. He is flirtatious and usually takes a liking to pretty faces. And most of all, he talked. Never in a western roleplaying game have I seen a player character who has talked as much and with so much personality, with the exception of Mass Effect. All other games have either had silent protagonists, who are notoriously difficult to empathize with, or Bioware-characters, who always speak in short phrases and questions while everyone around them blathers on. Alpha Protocol had one of the most realistic conversations I have seen in video games.
The other impressive point was the way the game keeps referring to the previous choices the player made. There is a choice to either spare or execute almost every major character in the game, and those choices affect how other charactes relate to Mike. There are three locations where the majority of the game happens: Rome, Moscow and Taipei. I visited them in that order and the game world reacted quite naturally, with people acknowledging what had happened.
It is a great shame that the game lacks polish. The graphics are somewhat crude, mostly due to the jerky animation. The game possibly had bugs, although I did not notice any. The gameplay was average, with nothing worth praising or berating about, but that was probably due to the skill selection I had; Stealth and Pistols was an overpowered combination. The level design was quite straightforward and clearly designed for exactly two approaches: Sneaking past the enemies or going in guns blazing. The boss battles were also quite typical hit point hells, and I can imagine they being quite hard for those who didn’t min-max as much as I did.