21 Apr

Where I talk about RPG combat in Alpha Protocol

Filed under: PC Games No Responses

You might be a sneaky secret agent in high-tech armor in this game, but no this isn’t Splinter Cell.

After playing through a couple of missions in Alpha Protocol, I headed over to QT3 to get a sense of what the buzz around this game was like back when it was released. It was a very enlightening read. Early reviews from news sites were almost uniformly bad and must have scared plenty of customers away. But as actual forum members got their hands on the game and played it for themselves, the tide of opinion slowly turned the other way. QT3 members went from cancelling preorders and shaking their heads over Obsidian’s latest debacle to calling it the second coming of Deux Ex and castigating reviewers for not “getting” the game.

After playing through the game (on normal difficulty but with a raw recruit character), I put myself firmly in the latter camp. Don’t get me wrong. There are tons of technical issues with the game. The user interface is horrid. Changing your readied power or gadget requires pulling up a configuration screen, taking you out of the main game. The hacking mini-game is great in concept but terrible in practice due to how unresponsive the controls are. Combat feel clunky, partly due to how rough the animations are. Instead of snapping in and out of cover like a skilled super-spy, you’ll be constantly fighting against the controls to get it to do what you want.

Then there are the graphical glitches and polish issues. Enemies occasionally get stuck in walls. Quite often they materialize out of thin air right in plain sight when the script calls for it. Weapons that are strapped to Michael Thorton’s thigh actually float a few inches above it. Walking right up to a wall causes clipping issues with vision every single time. Worse of all, about half the time when I reload from a saved game after I’ve died, the screen fades to black and never comes back. I need to alt-tab out to end the process and restart the game. Thankfully, loading a saved game from the main menu works every time.

Perks are automatically awarded depending on your in-game actions, ensuring that no two Thortons are ever alike.

But if you’re willing to look past all that, and yes, that is easier said than done, then underneath it all, Alpha Protocol is a brilliant RPG. Because that is what this game is. It’s not a stealth sneaker. It’s not a shooter. It’s an RPG and because of this, it’s all about the skills and stats. You can play sneakily but unless your Thorton has stealth skills, you’ll make so much noise enemies in the next room will hear you coming. On the other hand, if your stealth skills are pretty much maxed and all your stealth abilities are activated, you can run around the room like a ninja on steroids and knock out every single guard, lines of sight be damned, and no one will be the wiser.

Similarly, reviewers have complained about emptying entire magazines of SMGs at enemies to little effect. But this is by design. If you’re unskilled with a weapon and point it at an enemy, you’ll notice the reticule is huge. It’s pretty much impossible to hit an enemy in that state. If you do have the correct skills, there will be a visual effect indicating an aiming process. If you allow it enough time to complete, you can easily kill ordinary enemies in one or two shots. Again, this isn’t a shooter that depends on quick reflexes and a steady mouse-hand. Thorton’s skills matter more than the player’s skill and it’s all about giving Thorton enough time to line up his shots.

Tom Chick’s comment probably says it best, “So this was what the combat in Mass Effect was supposed to be like.” Because the first ME game had a weak version of this model. But Bioware later decided they didn’t want to deal with all of the problems of a shooter-RPG hybrid and went all out action shooter for the sequels. Obsidian, bless their RPG-loving hearts, decided to go the RPG route all the way and this is why Alpha Protocol is great.

Alpha Protocol even implements a rudimentary unarmed combat system. Remember in Mass Effect when enemies got close to each other and just sort of milled around each other. None of that here! Throat punch!

In fact, I’m continually amazed at how Obsidian repeatedly pulls off the trick of taking another company’s tech and making something more interesting from it. Alpha Protocol is clearly based on the same engine as Mass Effect, but despite its poorer graphics and animations, it’s amazing how much alive and naturalistic their world feels. Similarly, as much as I enjoyed the first Knights of the Old Republic, Obsidian’s sequel blew me away, even if I have to acknowledge the rushed ending and uncompleted plotlines. This is why no matter how often Obsidian’s stuff gets criticized for technical issues, I will always buy and play their RPGs. (Disclaimer: I have bought but have not yet played Fallout: New Vegas. But I expect great things from it.)

Next up: C&C in Alpha Protocol.

Written on April 21 2012 and is filed under PC Games. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Leave a Reply

Designed by Gabfire