review

Alpha Protocol

Verdict: 61/100 (Minimum score is 0; maximum is 100.)

The Zero Punctuation review of Alpha Protocol fails to convey just how awful the core gameplay is. It feels like they wanted to adapt the Unreal Engine in the same way that BioWare did for Mass Effect, but got only halfway there before they needed to ship.

Yahtzee does mention, however, one of my other frustrations: the game fails to convey the consequences of possible actions. Twenty minutes in, you find yourself standing in front of a computer terminal at the headquarters of the titular agency. The game offers you the option to hack the terminal. A guard is standing right next to it.

I hesitated because I didn’t know what the consequences would be. How does “hacking” work in this universe — is it discreet enough that the guard won’t know I’m doing it? Am I liable to get caught by someone else?

An aside: “moral choices” in video games are, to me, more about cost vs. benefit than right vs. wrong. Because my real‐world morality may not map to the world depicted in the game, and because “being evil” is a legitimate and common play strategy, I need to know how the decisions I make serve game‐related ends. Hacking a terminal is a good example: if I know it carries both a bonus and a penalty (e.g., you get access to information, but security is heightened after the intrusion is discovered), I can make an informed decision about whether to take the gambit.

As it turns out, hacking the terminal resulted in a small XP boost and access to some boring e‐mails intended for other people. The guard didn’t notice a thing.

Ultimately, though, the crappy gameplay is the game’s undoing. If it were just a bit better, I’d be able to tolerate it long enough to get into the (widely‐acclaimed) plot. Instead, it’s going into an envelope and back to Gamefly.