You’ll want that information too, because in addition to opening up new missions and points of interest within those missions, intel –compiled in readable dossiers that you can check at any time – can actually give you a damage bonus against certain factions and people, with the conceit that knowing more about them lets you exploit their weaknesses.
Alpha’s story is fascinating, branching and convoluted, and it’s backed up by well-written dialogue and solid acting. If there’s any reason to play through it more than once, it’s to see how differently things can unfold if you take a different approach than you took the first time. You may even find that, by making certain choices, you missed out on seeing entire characters and plot threads.
Again, lower your expectations
It’s a shame, then, that the actual game backing up Alpha’s shifting story and characters is a buggy, unspectacular run-of-the-mill shooter that plays a lot like Splinter Cell without all the cool environmental stuff to clamber around on. In general, your options for getting through a given stage will look like this:
A) Shoot everyone
B) Shoot everyone with tranquilizer darts
C) Blow everyone up with grenades or traps
D) Beat the crap out of everyone
E) Sneak around and instantly subdue or kill everyone before they realize you’re there
Above: Like this!
If that doesn’t sound like anything out of the ordinary for a game, well, that’s kind of the problem – the bulk of Alpha Protocol is nothing out of the ordinary, sometimes to the point of being mediocre. You can shoot around cover, set traps and sneak, but all that stuff is practically standard-issue for shooters. And it doesn’t change the fact that a game that’s supposed to be about spying and earning people’s trust mostly consists of stomping through linear environments, taking brief detours to grab loot and getting into shootouts. Shootouts with strangely animated bad guys who frequently stop shooting to charge at you, like idiots, with duck-and-run movements that make them look like they’ve got head injuries.
Hell, even when you’re given the opportunity to persuade enemies to become your friends, it’s rarely your first option. Usually, they’re only willing to talk once you’ve killed all their goons, maybe roughed them up a little and have them standing on the wrong end of a gun. That means that turning them to your side is often less about negotiation and more about simply choosing not to kill a defeated opponent in cold blood. That we can’t try to play peacemaker right off the bat, or avoid violence entirely, is disappointing.
Above: Hello, future friend! Hold on while I pump you full of lead, and then we can have a nice chat
The action’s saving grace – as well as one of its worst aspects – comes from Alpha’s RPG elements. As you progress through the game, you’ll be able to beef Thorton up by assigning points to his various skills… which, unfortunately, means you’re going to suck at some things right off the bat. Try and aim a gun that you haven’t earned any skill points for, for example, and shots that you might think are perfectly aimed will go wild, alerting enemies, potentially setting off an alarm and frustrating the hell out of you.
The flip side of this is that the combat gets more enjoyable as you level up, thanks to three things: you’ll be able to absorb more damage, your aim will get a lot more effective and you’ll unlock cool superpowers, like the ability to briefly turn invisible and effortlessly stealth-kill enemies while creeping around in plain sight.
Even that comes with its own problems, though. Trying to stealthily and/or nonlethally work your way through the game will earn you admiration from some characters, but the simple truth is that you’ll get a lot further a lot faster if you simply adopt a “who gives a shit” attitude and blindly shotgun your way through every hostile thing you see. Not only are you less likely to die going the balls-out commando route, thanks to Thorton’s regenerating health and the superhuman endurance granted by the thicker, noisier armors, but the only real penalty you’ll suffer is occasional gentle chastisement from other characters about your bloody methods. (That is, unless you kill “innocent” hostiles like CIA agents or embassy guards, which can have broader repercussions. It’s best to just pummel them instead.)