Alpha Protocol: Post 01

Since finishing Mass Effect 2, I finished Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands and have been powering my way through Super Mario Galaxy 2. I also started up Alpha Protocol. I plan to write a single post referencing my thoughts on PoP, but before I get there here are my first thoughts on the Alpha Protocol tutorial in my traditional stream of consciousness style — based on about two hours of play. *spoilers for the first two-hours of the game beyond this point*

  • Ah, character creation. The moment when the game asks you to pick skills before letting you know what the obstacles will be. Here, I’m offered the chance to gain skill with a weapon. I get that there’s a supposed stylistic choice between, say, sniper rifles and assault rifles and martial arts. Rifles work from a distance, fists work from up close. And assaults rifles let you run-and-gun at in-between distances. Assuming I’ve played a game like this before, I should know which style I prefer — even if I don’t know what’s best for this game. But what are the differences, in regard to play style, between shot guns and pistols and assault rifles? And what about the other options? How important is toughness or stealth? What about sabotage? Are there a lot of instances for me to use a tech ability in this game? As can be said of every RPG, it’d be nice if we could at least try out the options before we’re forced to decide. Anyway, to get things rolling I pick shot gun and put all my available points into it.

  • On-screen instructions tell me to press [A] to pick up the fire extinguisher to break out of the opening room, but it looks like an [R] to me. I squeeze [RT] a few times before realizing it’s just a tricky font and that they want me to press [A].
  • A thug attacks me after my escape from the lab but I don’t notice any instructions on how to fight back. I try the usual [A] and [X] and [LT]/[RT] before discovering that the [B] button is used for attacks. I manage to survive a bit of a beat down. It’d have been nice had the game paused and told me what to do before the fight.
  • Everyone is skating (“skating” is when the character’s walk animation is out of sync with its movement speed, so the feet slide against the ground). The animation is jerky. The camera is jerky. This is definitely not Unreal3/ME2. For the record, I’m noticing it now but I fully expect that in 20 minutes, through to the end of the game, I’ll never again notice it or think about it. It’s not that important to me, but I think it’s worth noting.
  • Targeting with a gun is like aiming in a FPS (first-person shooter). That is, there’s a reticule on-screen and you move it with the left analog stick. I love FPS-style when I have a mouse to control the reticule. And I don’t mind it when the reticule moves smoothly and comes with targeting assistance (snapping to a target, larger bounding boxes). But in Alpha Protocol, the reticule moves very quickly and is a bit jerky even on low sensitivity. Compounding things, I move my reticule to someone’s upper forehead, shoot, and they don’t seem to take a hit. But I have it a little left of their leg, and they take a hit.

  • Yes, I died during the tutorial. Fear my elite skills. The game told me to sneak up on a guy and take him out with [B]. In most tutorials where you are assigned a specific action like this, the game doesn’t throw you a curve. In this one, however, I got to within 30 feet of the guy and he spun around and opened fire — alerting another nearby guard who also opened fire. I died before I could close the distance to the first guy. After the reload, I stuck to cover and moved more slowly. I took out the first guy without him spotting me, but his friend immediately opened fire again. I hid behind cover and took him out as he approached. Not quite stealthy like, I assume, the game was hoping I’d be. But it got me past the encounter.
  • Here’s another thought from the “all RPGs do this” category: everyone is running around with guns except for me. I take someone out and look down at his body and see him holding a gun. Too bad I can’t take it from him.
  • I sneak into an office and see a guy at a computer. He spins around as I get close. I hit him a few times and he pops up on top of the computer — out of my reach. He hits me a few times and I can’t do anything about it. I back up and, thankfully, he falls back to the ground. I finish him off. That’s two RPGs in a row (ME2, AP) where someone got stuck standing on a computer. Why not put an invisible wall around the computer and similar placeables that stretches up 100 feet?

  • Continuing that thought, I beat up the aforementioned guy-at-a-computer and there’s not a lot of room for him to fall so he does this awkward bend-in-half collapse. I don’t think yoga masters could have bent like he did. And just a few kills later, I spot someone else perform a similarly-bizarre death sprawl. This game could probably use a few animation limits/tweaks with their rag doll system.
  • How many times does an alarm activate and then get shut off before people ignore the shut-off? OK, OK — that’s another one to throw at just about any RPG with an alarm system. Actually, any *game* with an alarm system, RPG or not. But I find humor in mentioning it.
  • So far I’m finding combat more difficult than ME2, but I think it has more to do with my manual-aiming control than the AI or anything of that nature. The feedback also seems poor (I hit a guy with a few tranquilizer darts but he seems fine. I’m not sure if he’s got a lot of health or if I’m missing) but I’m thinking it might be because I don’t know the cues yet.
  • The alarm system mini-game is very easy but looking at a screen filled with swirls and such make my eyes glaze over. The following screen shot is for the PC version. I believe on the Xbox version, the puzzle is full-screen.

  • I found a guy running in place, stuck against a ladder. I watched him for a bit then hit him in the chest with a tranquilizer dart to see if his path finding was broken or if he was truly stuck. He kept running, so I figured he was stuck and put another couple of darts into him to put him out of his misery.
  • The story so far… A plane crashes, thanks to a missile that splits up into smaller missiles — each striking the plane. I wake up in a lab and must beat up guards to escape. Near the supposed exit, I’m told that this has been a test that all their agent recruits go through. I wonder how they extracted me from an exploding plane, and if that didn’t seem entirely too risky a manner to procure an agent. I’m later told the plane crash took place in the Middle East and it’s my mission to investigate. If that’s the case, then how did I get here and why don’t I remember arriving?
  • There’s a mini game for computer hacking that looks like a word-find puzzle — except that almost every square is rapidly cycling through bunches of letters and numbers. It took me a while to realize I’m looking for a string of six characters that aren’t moving (surprisingly difficult to notice considering everything is moving but them). It also took me a while to realize I controlled the left and right sequences separately; I kept targeting the right code with the left analog stick and then pressing the [RT] to select it (which returned an error). I admit the game told me that information, but I was still trying to grasp the concept of the puzzle when that information was revealed.

  • Appearance customization is limited, but I’m not disappointed and I like that I have a reasonably attractive character that I can’t mess up, like other games with their more extensive customization systems. Plus, it really allows for an “iconic” appearance that still has your flavor.
  • I’m in a room practicing using grenades. During the sequence I’m given a ricochet challenge. The game tells me to bank the grenade off the wall at the target, but I have no clue where the target is. The only interface information I see is pinpointing a location very near to where I stand. I assume it’s where I need to be to initiate the challenge (which is right), but I’m at a loss as to the target’s location and so I grenade myself. At least I didn’t die.
  • Later, I’m told hostiles are en route and I should set a trap with mines. Where are the mines in my inventory? I seem to only have grenades. Where are the guards coming from? Are they coming all at once or do I need to work my way through a level? How long do I have? What. I drop a few grenades near a door and run into a room. Three guards run in through the aforementioned door, uninjured. I beat two up before dying under heavy fire. I’m then rewarded with $20 grand and told I did well. I’d try again but there’s no option.
  • During the stealth challenge, I see a guard walking away from me. I crouch and sneak up behind him, but he spots me well in advance and gets a few shots off before I take him out. Am I doing something wrong?
  • Continuing on through the stealth sequence, I come to a zip line. There’s a guard below, looking up at me. I have no idea if I should risk the zip line or not. He runs for the alarm while I zip down overhead. I think it’d be cool if I could drop down on this guy but that doesn’t appear to be an option. He triggers the alarm, I beat him up, and then I disable the alarm. That seems like the incorrect sequence for a stealth challenge.

  • I’m graded each time I finish a challenge. At first I have no clue what the range is but I think it’s a typical 100-scale test. I ace the stealth test (???) with an 80-something. But my shooting test scores me a 51. I re-try it, taking extra effort to not miss and feel confident about my effort. Every time I hit [RT], something is dropped. I get a lower score.
  • It looks like I’ve finished the opening because a guy has been talking to me for the longest while and he won’t shut up. I’d tell him to shut up but RPGs have me well-trained to know that the longer he speaks, the more likely I am to be rewarded. He tells me that I can tell him to shut up, and he tells me how it can be useful to tell people to shut up, but I keep him talking and notice new rewards (like perks) popping up on the interface. I doubt if I’d be rewarded for telling him to shut up, being as that he’s the tutorial guy right now, but I suppose I should check that on a subsequent play through of the opening. Assuming I’m not rewarded, telling me I can skip dialogue while rewarding me for not skipping dialogue is mixed feedback to the player.
  • A few times, my player response pops up as “yes” or “no” while he’s talking. My timer is running low and he still hasn’t asked me a question. Finally he spits out the question and I’m left with about one full second to decide. It seems like there could have been a little extra time there. It’s not helpful to give the player his options early without also showing him the context.

  • We jump to a new location and the game saves en route. The guy starts yammering on again and I’ve decided that since the game just saved, I can reload later on to get this mission briefing. So I tell him to shut up so I can go to the menu and select “quit” but the games saves anew. Drats. Have I lost my mission briefing lessons? I guess it doesn’t matter if I’m going to re-play the opening.
  • Like usual, my observation may sound generally negative but I’m enjoying the game — especially since I’ve read, frequently, that the game picks up once you’re several hours in. It’s very similar in play style to Mass Effect: run down a hallway shooting things and using cover, hack some stuff along the way, and then chat up your friends for a while before repeating. I’m looking forward to putting some more time into it.

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