In fact, once you get to a certain point in the game, having taken a stealth approach actually becomes a liability, as it leaves you totally unprepared for the rushing onslaughts of bosses against whom stealth has limited uses, at best. And some of those bosses are ridiculously cheap, with a strange knack for rushing your hiding spot and dealing out massive close-quarters damage before abruptly teleporting someplace safe.
Above: Other times they just ride around in armored vehicles surrounded by conveniently placed rocket launchers
However, as infuriating as that is, it’s not the worst part of the action. No, the worst parts are the minigames.
Littered throughout Alpha’s missions are computers you need to hack, safes you need to crack and alarms you need to turn off. While you can instantly defeat any of these with an EMP grenade or a “radio mimic” (in the case of alarms), those things cost money. So the rest of the time, you’ll have to rely on your own skills.
First, there’s the minigame you’ll have to undertake while shutting off alarms (and some locks), which looks like this:
This is actually the most painless of the three, as all you need to do to win is train your eye to rapidly match the numbers to their origin points on the circuit board, and then switch them on in order. Things get more complicated when you try to hack computers, in which case you’ll be confronted with this cascade of numbers and letters:
While this seems impossible at first, all you really need to do is glance around for the two horizontal strings of data that aren’t moving, and then quickly move the corresponding backlit lines of code at the top of the screen into place over them. Once you know what to look for, it’s easy.
Picking locks, though… holy shit.
To be fair, how horrible lockpicking is will relate directly to which platform you choose to play Alpha on. If you’re playing on a PC, you’ll simply move and click the tumblers into place with the mouse, which is super-easy and almost fun. On consoles, however, you’ll have to nudge each tumbler into the exact spot where it’ll stay in place with the left trigger, and then click it into place with the right. Fail to get this exactly right, and you may break your pick and possibly set off an alarm.
On the PS3 (which we primarily reviewed the game on), this was incredibly, literally excruciating, because the controller’s triggers simply aren’t well suited for the kind of precision the minigame requires. The 360’s more comfortable triggers make the minigame mostly inoffensive, but it’s still a far cry from fun. In a game with ambitions this lofty, it’s upsetting that one of its biggest frustrations comes from a throwaway minigame.
Mass Effect 2? No. While the two games share a similar structure – they’re mission-based, with visits to “hub” areas in between – ME2 is a lot bigger (and a lot prettier), with more interesting conversations and characters. and more to do between missions than check emails and shop online. The action’s better, the story’s better – hell, everything’s better. We almost feel bad comparing them at all.
Splinter Cell: Conviction? Yes and no. Splinter Cell certainly looks a lot better than Alpha, and its action, while similar to Alpha’s, is more immediately varied and interesting. But ultimately it moves on a linear track; as much fun as its interrogations are, they only have one outcome, and you can’t ever turn those enemies to your side. It might not be anywhere near as slick, but Alpha Protocol has it all over Conviction in the interactive-story department.
Metal Gear Solid 4? No. Like Conviction, MGS4 crushes Alpha’s looks and gameplay. But Alpha does have one advantage, in that it manages to tell a tighter, more believable and more potentially interesting story in a fraction of the time that MGS4 does, and does so while giving you control over its cutscenes. So if you like your spy thrillers to be more about political assassinations and war profiteering than nanomachines and world-controlling computers, that’s a minor win for Alpha.
While its story, characters and conversations are interesting and fun to play around with, Alpha’s third-person shooting – which makes up the bulk of the game – is not. It’s a far cry from terrible, but we’d been led to expect much more.
June 1, 2010
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