Prior to release, Alpha Protocol was everywhere. Every self-respecting ‘most anticipated’ list had to include it, even from those who ended up giving the game a low review score. For some, this title was supposed to be an ‘espionage Mass Effect’; for others, it was a big budget old school RPG from the talent at Obsidian…
Then, the game finally dropped and people got disappointed, especially those of us who hadn’t played it. The reviews scared the shit out of everyone, and if I am honest, I can’t blame them. Alpha Protocol was hard to like. Especially when it came to the first impression, the game fought our affection like it’s the fucking bird flu. The very first time I saw the sneaking animation, for example, I immediately took a moment to rethink my expectations. Seriously, did they mocap a guy carrying a piano on his back to get the crouching down?
Don’t get me wrong, I could live with the brokeback ninja action and similar problems with the aesthetics, but it wasn’t long before I found myself in a gameplay dead end: for some unexplainable reason, an entire enemy base was on alert, and I started getting blasted away from a watchtower (by the world’s deadliest marksman), while not being able to attack back, due to low weapons proficiencies. It took me less than 10 minutes to get into that situation, so needless to say, I had half a mind to quit and return the game to Steam! Fortunately, you can’t do that so I kept playing and discovered a genuinely good game.
…Nay, I discovered one of the best role playing games of the decade! You know what else? Not only am I not full of shit right now, I’m also not the only one who thinks so. Gamespot started its’ review by claiming that “this intriguing role-playing game boasts an extraordinarily flexible plot, in which your choices have real consequences both on the story and on the gameplay.” IGN praised the game for its’ setting and story, the non-linearity, and the extent of choice and consequence. Even Destructoid, who awarded one of the lowest ratings to the game, calling it “a disaster”, admitted that “in terms of the way a story is told, Alpha Protocol is a success,” even using words like “innovative” to describe the extent of the game’s interactive structure.
Keeping all this in mind, note that the all-knowing Wikipedia states that “interactivity is the crucial difference between role-playing games and traditional fiction.” It only goes to reason, based on this information and the aforementioned professional reviews, that the game was massively successful at providing a genuine role playing experience. A damn fucking good genuine role playing experience at that!
At the same time, as I’ve already mentioned, I don’t disagree with the criticism but let’s just clarify the problems here. Yes, it is a great RPG that does the role playing exceptionally well but fails hard when it comes to polish. In other words, the most difficult aspects of any game, the stuff that we rarely see anymore and the stuff that requires talent, is already done and on the disc! All that was needed to make this a true classic and the start of a great new series is some time to tune up the story, tighten up the well-intentioned combat mechanics and certainly playtest the game’s main missions with different character builds.
This is why the final state of the game is such a damn shame. It’s like Obsidian built a ‘Ferrari’ (and I truly believe that they did) but totally dropped the ball on the tires, making the thing ride like a damn donkey carriage, which goes from 0 to 60 mph in three seconds, but breaks every vertebrae in your damn spine in the process. It simply must not, cannot be the end of Alpha Protocol, because then, this remarkable effort (and it is remarkable dammit!) will be completely, undeservedly and shamefully lost to video game obscurity. Obsidian has created something special here, and more gamers have to experience what it has to offer. And besides, the creators of so much win, must have the chance to be rewarded properly, to keep them motivated and inspired for the right things in the future.
Now, that I’ve told you absolutely nothing new, I would like to finally close by underlining the most important point of this letter: this is a very fixable situation. Obsidian has to urge their publisher (Sega?) to allow them a re-release but they have to do it now, while the game is relevant as a modern title. Remember that Alpha Protocol has been panned for its’ “bland visuals” already. While it’s not the ugliest game around by any means, when the next generation gets cracking, it will be a relic and a re-release will require a lot more work. So, the timing is good, as a successful spy movie is still fresh in everyone’s memory, in Skyfall, but the window of a perfect re-launch is closing by the day!