Monday, July 15, 2013
Games: For tonight, here's the fourth installment of the letters between myself and @SparkyClarkson on Obsidian's underappreciated espionage RPG, Alpha Protocol.
It’s a little strange that our Taipei experiences were so similar. I think you’re right that part of it has to do with making similar tactical choices overall. My Mike is aggressive and a bit murder-y, but I still play him with an awareness that he needs allies. That at least accounts for our similarity when it comes to G22. As for Hong Shi, I spent that conversation looking for a way to murder him and somehow ended up besties. He gave me a sword!
In Rome, however, our paths diverge. Let me just say that the people living la dolce vita in Rome are not impressed by murderin’ Mike Thorton. Mike managed to navigate the NSA and CIA facilities without leaving a trail of corpses, but that really strained his nerves, so he ended up shooting Jibril al-Bara in the face. I sure hope that guy really was a terrorist.
None of this impressed Conrad Marburg very much, the prick, and our relationship was ultimately pretty sour, which suited murderin’ Mike just fine. Perhaps less to Mike’s taste was Madison’s negative reaction. She seemed a bit put off by all the bloodshed and the businesslike attitude. That romance went nowhere: even the hot tub didn’t help.
Mike might not have cared for that, but it suited me fine. Madison was kind of a lump. She showed up, camped out in the living room, and kept asking me to turn on the TV, like a malfunctioning TiVo.
Once the action gets going it is, as usual, indifferent. Conrad’s estate is a totally perfunctory RPG prison escape, complete with the inability to take weapons from the guys you defeat and a Bag Full of All Your Stuff (TM). The ruins level is atrocious in pretty much every respect. The warehouse, however, had an interesting twist. It turns out that the Russian gangsters that attack in that mission work for Konstantin Brayko. My Mike had patched things up with Brayko by letting him have Surkov, so when they showed up they fought on my side.
That brings us to the museum, which culminates some of the best writing that’s been done in the game. In Moscow, you go to find some weapons traffickers, and then a bunch of stuff happens that doesn’t feel directly relevant to the larger Halliburton Halbech scheme. In Taipei, you go in with clear stakes from the start. In Rome, though, you arrive with little clear idea of what’s going on, and a coherent plot emerges from the missions.
You hear a snippet about a controversial and possibly racist museum exhibit on the news. You’re warned off by a rival operative. An arms deal with the VCI lures out Al-Samad operatives. Marburg’s men seem to be at work in a warehouse that stores art for the controversial museum. Then it pays off with a false-flag operation that’s diabolical, but makes sense in the context of the story that you have been playing. Rome is really the only place where that happens, and I like it.
There’s also a smart choice in having Marburg take Madison hostage. His ability to snatch her from your safehouse helps establish him as a credible threat, even if her lack of personality makes the chapter’s “hard choice” (which was a groaner) much easier. Having Marburg shoot Madison at the end felt a bit off to me, but that could also reflect some of my feelings towards the completely inconsequential boss fight that follows it.
So now we get close to the end. Having semi-foiled Halbech’s plans, it’s time to head home and figure out how Mike got into that TV room with Leland. Is your body ready?
It’s interesting that you brought up the point about Brayko’s thugs. There are several points in the game where certain groups of enemies can be either Allies or enemies depending on how Thorton has conducted himself, and this malleability is one of the things that I enjoy most about Alpha Protocol. However, while I didn’t notice any problem on my original playthrough, the system seemed to fall down a bit for me in Moscow.
Before arriving in the land of snow and vodka, I was on good terms with the G22 faction and things only improved as time went on. However, I had to fight G22 soldiers several times throughout this section of the game for no discernible reason. The gunfight with Sis was explained in the cutscene that immediately followed, but none of the other encounters made much sense. I suppose there’s a chance it might be explained in the final section of the game, but while playing through it, it seemed as though the developers needed to have an enemy in place and they somehow didn’t account for the possibility that they should have been friendly.
That’s probably my biggest complaint about Moscow this time around, although I will say that I’m glad I saved it for the end. The gunfights with Sis and with Brayko are probably the most painful in the entire game, and by taking them on near the end, Thorton’s pistol ability was powered up to deific levels. Rather than being the game-quitting struggle they were for me before, both encounters were over in a matter of moments. A big improvement!
I don’t mean to sound so negative, though. I absolutely love the level that takes place on a yacht, since there are few things I enjoy more than seeing a place or an area in a game that closely mirrors real life. This is also one of the few sections in the game where I feel as though trying to be stealthy is a good fit for the architecture and enemy placement. The yacht is small and has a totally logical layout, so sneaking in and getting to the goal without tripping any alarms was a high point.
SIE was also a high point for me here. Apart from finding her brash, aggressive style totally entertaining, I was able to create an alliance with her, which was a big change from when I originally review the game. At that time, her introduction became a boss fight, so to have her go from foe to friend put a different spin on things – so the fact that she later rounded up a Stryker and we crashed through the front gate of an area with mounted machine guns blazing was just icing on the cake.
In fact, I think Moscow was probably the level that changed the most for me this second time around. Although I don’t remember the details of my original choices back then, I was surprised to find that there was an entire mission at the end that I had never seen before. Even better, it’s possible to end this last part in several different ways, and trying to interpret the correct path for White Hat Thorton was an interesting challenge. Would the most honorable thing be to put a bullet in the head of the person who’s been manipulating events, or would it be to have a simple discussion and accept the status quo as the lesser of two evils? I don’t seem to run into situations like this too often in games these days, so when something pops up that makes me think a little, I’m all for it.
I was prepared to save my game and turn the console off when I got back to the safehouse, but I was surprised to find that the culmination of the relationship between myself and Mina occurred immediately. This was one part of the game that I had mis-played back in the day by putting the moves on to soon… It turns out that Mina’s got more if to say if you keep your lips in check for just a few moments longer than you think you should. This particular scene is just one more example of what makes Alpha Protocol so impressive – every time you think you know everything there is to know, you check if the FAQ and find out that there are two extra layers you missed.
Now… On to the endgame!
Look for the next installment of this series coming soon. And by the way, if you'd like to play along with us through this second look, copies are averaging about $4 the last time I checked... That's a pretty superb value for an interesting, informative experience, if you ask me! Hop aboard and share your comments with us!