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Alpha Protocol - Obsidian's new RPG


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Previews for Alpha Protocol seem to be coming thick and fast of late. From IGN to GamesRadar, several of the previews I could find over the past few weeks are listed below and none of them in any way shape or form reflect lacklustre critical faculties on the part of video game journalists.

 

Play.tm

 

Play.tm's journalist has taken it upon himself to write about a game that he'd like to make rather than the game he was actually previewing, as evidenced by his inability to spell the protagonist's name and faulting the non-existent:

Specifically, segue cut scenes looked disappointing by the standards of some genre heavyweights - and worryingly there was no exterior exploration or travel to view as Thornton prepared to unleash his heroics. Surely the final game won't simply transfer the player from safehouse to mission and back again... surely that was merely an unexplained demo condition designed to save time? Regardless, it was safehouse-to-segue-to-mission. Done. Exterior gameplay was necessary, and its no-show was a distinct disappointment. Furthermore, as an aesthetic aside, characters were visually lacking in, well... emotion and character, and dialogue animation was particularly undercooked.

I didn't know that a lack of exterior exploration was such a call for rhetorical posturing or that damning a feature of a game; call me old fashioned but trekking across a featureless wasteland in an attempt to find, rescue, and escort home the neighbour's cat doesn't strike me as gripping gameplay. But, if the rt hon Stevie Smith says it: it must be true. Searing investigative journalism there from Play.tm.

 

GameOn

 

The highlight is the picture of the character screen.

With the official blurb out the way, you'll be wondering what the actual game is like, well luckily enough I was able to grab a viewing. So as stated earlier you take control of Michael Thorton and in RPG style you are able to customise how he will appear in the game world by changing hair types, hair colour, facial hair, glasses etc. However you cannot fully change his appearance with you controlling a named and vital character to the game's story line.

GamesRadar

 

GamesRadar's preview focusses mostly on "reactivity":

The idea of ‘reactivity’ is what will push Alpha Protocol forward. You can’t replay missions or go back and talk to characters – once you’ve made your choices the game adjusts and pushes on. And yes, you can sauce-up female spies and get your Bond-on, so best make the right moves the first time around.

Well, thank God for that, I don't think I could have played it thinking that female spies might be in the game for some other reason than being "sauced-up"; which puts me more in mind of Fargo, a woodchipper, and one of the antagonist's limbs than it does sex, it has to be said.

 

IGN

 

IGN's Hilary Goldstein is kind enough to reveal the beginning of the game for us without warning before going on to analyse and expound upon her three hour hands-on preview of Alpha Protocol in intense detail over a whopping one page.

After getting through basic training, you can head into the field and take on the missions in Saudi Arabia or you can stick around, talk to some folk and earn bonus training missions. It's here that I got a real sense of the conversation system. It borrows heavily from Mass Effect. But where BioWare's RPG had selecting emotional reactions, Alpha Protocol asks you to consider how you are manipulating the conversation. There are three main options, each suggesting a different tone for your response. The idea isn't to play a character's emotional range, it's to find the best way to get a reaction from the other party. That reaction may be to make them angry or to sweet talk them or to simply annoy them. Each NPC has his or her own persona and you'll need to figure those out in order to get the conversational advantage.

Alpha Protocol: three hours, one page. Mass Effect one hour, three pages; and not one mention of the texture pop-in problems. I love how consistent game journalism is; it almost makes you think that satire is superfluous.

Edited by Pavlos
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I find it to be fairly disconcerting when most previews of AP seem to be chock-full of incessant nitpicking; it's obviously a poor indicator of video game "journalism" when games marketed ad infinitum seem to be exempt of incessant nitpicking as seen here.

 

It's very possible that I am the one at fault here, and that AP really is a shoddy game; yet, then again, seeing the unanimously glowing exaltation that Mass Effect and Fallout 3 received, I suppose it does show that most mainstream video game journalism firms either intentionally pander to the very lowest common denominator, or they themselves accept bribes from publishers. I'd be willing to say that it is a combination of the two, with greater emphasis on the latter, however.

 

Either, it's not looking very good for AP and Obsidian financially, unfortunately. :(

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It's very possible that I am the one at fault here, and that AP really is a shoddy game; yet, then again, seeing the unanimously glowing exaltation that Mass Effect and Fallout 3 received, I suppose it does show that most mainstream video game journalism firms either intentionally pander to the very lowest common denominator, or they themselves accept bribes from publishers. I'd be willing to say that it is a combination of the two, with greater emphasis on the latter, however.
Or you are in the minority and most people tend to enjoy the games that are well received by the press. :wonder:
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I'm a bit nervous from Goldstein's comment on bugs, AI, etc... Hopefully the final version will be relatively bug-free and the AI somewhat challenging. Another concern that's itching at me, is I get the feeling the bonus abilities from stealth and combat might make the game way too easy; but hopefully, that issue is only in my head.

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@Jeff--some of these reviews were pure crap.
I only briefly looked over each of these AP articles, but I meant the fact that games like Mass Effect and Fallout 3 (mentioned by PastramiX) were critically acclaimed, apparently not because they're great games, but because the press is corrupt, or something.
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Or you are in the minority and most people tend to enjoy the games that are well received by the press. :wonder:
Call me paranoid, but it seems that there's been a larger percentage of games that have received a "perfect" or "near-perfect" rating as of late. Unless if games are somehow becoming astronomically better in quality in the past ~3 years, then there certainly is something afoot. You can also take in to fact that most games receiving said glowing scores were either franchise installments or products of high-volume publishers, with large marketing machines, to boot. One must also take into account that a good deal of game press sites usually have advertisements to the games that usually receive their unduly exaltation, I don't mean generic ad banners, mind you, I'm talking about custom-fit full-page advertisements, either in the background or during loading screens.
I only briefly looked over each of these AP articles, but I meant the fact that games like Mass Effect and Fallout 3 (mentioned by PastramiX) were critically acclaimed, apparently not because they're great games, but because the press is corrupt, or something.
"Corrupt" isn't the correct term, as there's nothing legally restrictive when it comes to reviews. It could be considered "unethical", but no matter what one might call it, it's definitely suspicious, at the least.

 

If you also read some of the AP previews, particularly the IGN one, you'll find nitpick galore, especially the "fairly linear [missions]" complaint, as if every other recent game doesn't suffer from this problem, ME in particular. You'll also notice the dramatic difference in tone and composition between the AP preview and the ME preview, for one.

Edited by jrrtoken
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I do agree that a lot of times game sites give games too high of scores (several 10/10s for GTA IV and at least one 10/10 for MGS4 are probably not deserved), I think in general if a game receives fairly universal praise (several GOTYs in the case of Fallout 3), it's safe to say it's a good game. It's fine that you have your own opinion about the game, but just because you don't like it doesn't mean it's a bad game. There might be some of what you're talking about going on at huge sites like IGN and Gamestop, but I think if a game's Metacritic score is 85+ then it's pretty safe to say most people think it's good.

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It's entirely possible that OE is having some problems with this game like it had with TSL and NWN2. Just because the reviewers like ME better doesn't mean they're being unethical--it could just mean, surprisingly, that they like ME better. Let's face it--the endings on both TSL and NWN2 sucked in the opinion of a lot of people including reviewers,

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especially the end of NWN2 where you've just had the epic boss battle to save/conquer the kingdom, and rocks fall on your head and you die. Epic fail ending, in my opinion--nothing you did the entire game had any meaning, which is the whole point of a ROLE-playing game.....
.

OE has to overcome the bad taste it left in many people's mouths. I think AP is a survive or die game for them. If they do well, it'll keep them on the map. If they pull some of the same crap they did with the ending of AP, I'm going to be unimpressed.

 

Also, just because you happen to love moral ambiguity and shades of gray in games doesn't mean everyone else does. I want my games to entertain me--I play them to escape real life, not deal with more of the same thorny moral problems I see in Real Life. If I want moral ambiguity, I can re-read Vanity Fair or Madame Bovary, or listen to any of the girls I have to work with at the Peyton Place office I'm unfortunately stuck at. I suspect that many of the readers of the game sites and gaming magazines share a similar mindset, and the authors and editors write for their target audiences ("looking for fun"), rather than the type of gamer you appear to be ("looking for an aesthetic subtle story").

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I only briefly looked over each of these AP articles, but I meant the fact that games like Mass Effect and Fallout 3 (mentioned by PastramiX) were critically acclaimed, apparently not because they're great games, but because the press is corrupt, or something.

 

Mass Effect was ****e and astonishingly boring; everything I've seen of FO3 suggests it deserved the title "most moronic nonsense of 2008". "Megaton" springs to mind as possibly one of the dumbest ideas ever conceived, to say nothing of its execution.

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Wow you Obsidian fanboys sure are touchy. You'll be getting AP regardless so just ignore the game sites if it bothers you that much. Previews and reviews don't amount to a whole hell of a lot at the end of the day anyway. What moves the average slob to purchase is marketing, so if the game sells poorly you should be levelling your gripes at Sega.

 

Its a proper RPG so of course its on the PC.

 

The PC is the weapon of a superior gamer ;)

Except that the PC version will almost certainly be a 3rd rate port of the console version, as is the unfortunate trend these days.
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The consoles will be the lead dev platform and define the limitations of the game. The PC version will just be a port of that. How much effort they put into providing a tailored PC GUI and control scheme plus higher res textures etc will be interesting. I can't imagine that tossing a 3rd dev platform that is notoriously difficult to work with (the PS3) into the mix is going to do much for Obsidian's already shaky quality control track record. Some of the previews above would suggest as much and I doubt miracles are going to occur before it hits shelves - it must be due to go gold in the next couple of weeks.

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I do agree that a lot of times game sites give games too high of scores (several 10/10s for GTA IV and at least one 10/10 for MGS4 are probably not deserved), I think in general if a game receives fairly universal praise (several GOTYs in the case of Fallout 3), it's safe to say it's a good game. It's fine that you have your own opinion about the game, but just because you don't like it doesn't mean it's a bad game. There might be some of what you're talking about going on at huge sites like IGN and Gamestop, but I think if a game's Metacritic score is 85+ then it's pretty safe to say most people think it's good.
Fair enough.
Also, just because you happen to love moral ambiguity and shades of gray in games doesn't mean everyone else does.
I didn't even bring this up to begin with, so... :indif:
I want my games to entertain me--I play them to escape real life, not deal with more of the same thorny moral problems I see in Real Life.
Using the same concepts and archetypes as seen in previous games isn't good design, period. Additionally, I'm sure others might complain about thematics and imagery, but to berate a certain game just due to the fact that it's "different" or "darker" is fallacious thinking, especially if the base quality of writing is overlooked entirely.
If I want moral ambiguity, I can re-read Vanity Fair or Madame Bovary, or listen to any of the girls I have to work with at the Peyton Place office I'm unfortunately stuck at.
Wait; Vanity Fair has deep, borderline philosophical writing? :raise:
I suspect that many of the readers of the game sites and gaming magazines share a similar mindset, and the authors and editors write for their target audiences ("looking for fun"), rather than the type of gamer you appear to be ("looking for an aesthetic subtle story").
Giving a hastily-put-together plot and expecting the average player to overlook it isn't smart design; it's shameless. If developers treat the entire gamer's taste gamut as one-dimensional and low-brow, then there is no evolution or innovation in storytelling and design. The same goes for reviewers who seem to somewhat eschew the mediocre for a higher score.
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Using the same concepts and archetypes as seen in previous games isn't good design, period.

Of course, we don't want them to be exactly the same, that's silly, but if a certain formula is wildly successful, and sales of Kotor indicates it was very successful, then why fix what's not broken?

 

Additionally, I'm sure others might complain about thematics and imagery, but to berate a certain game just due to the fact that it's "different" or "darker" is fallacious thinking, especially if the base quality of writing is overlooked entirely.

Remember the average audience the game reviewers are writing for. You may not be a member of that average audience--what appeals to you may not appeal to the target audience of the reviewer, and hence while your opinion of a game may be valid, it isn't what's going to sell their magazines/web content. You've made the assumption that because the reviewers don't agree with your opinion, they must be up to something dishonorable and borderline dishonest. I'm offering an alternative explanation that you have not considered.

 

Wait; Vanity Fair has deep, borderline philosophical writing? :raise:

I'm talking about Thackeray's novel, not the magazine....

 

Giving a hastily-put-together plot and expecting the average player to overlook it isn't smart design; it's shameless. If developers treat the entire gamer's taste gamut as one-dimensional and low-brow, then there is no evolution or innovation in storytelling and design. The same goes for reviewers who seem to somewhat eschew the mediocre for a higher score.
First, this is simply your opinion on the plot itself; secondly, you're assuming that plot and story should merit more weight in an overall score than what the reviewers place it at. Their scores are based on a lot more than just plot/story.
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Of course, we don't want them to be exactly the same, that's silly, but if a certain formula is wildly successful, and sales of Kotor indicates it was very successful, then why fix what's not broken?
If the system in question is used repeatedly with little core change, then the system is stagnant. If companies still wish to cling to decade-old formulae, then why bother paying for a game that is nearly identical to one released several years in the past?

 

Remember the average audience the game reviewers are writing for. You may not be a member of that average audience--what appeals to you may not appeal to the target audience of the reviewer, and hence while your opinion of a game may be valid, it isn't what's going to sell their magazines/web content.
But that's the thing; if all reviewers give one game unanimous praise, then it appears that all reviewers in question share the same mindset. According to your own hypothesis, not everyone can vehemently enjoy one game, and there will be discord; Ergo, if a game is given high enough praise, then there truly is not a unanimous decision of gamers abroad that the game in question is bona-fide perfect. Since reviewers are meant to give advice based on the representation of the gamut of players, then there would usually be more negative discord coming from the press. If there are negative ratings of GotYs out there, then they're obviously not being published very well, intentional or not.
First, this is simply your opinion on the plot itself;
...and you brought it up to inject your own opinion as well. If you're going to accuse me of adding my own thoughts into an argument, then you too must acknowledge that you brought up the point to inject your own opinions into it.
secondly, you're assuming that plot and story should merit more weight in an overall score than what the reviewers place it at. Their scores are based on a lot more than just plot/story.
Yes, but it's still a definite component of a video game, especially in today's use of the medium. Gameplay and plot should be married, and they should compliment each other, by both drawing in the player with a thematic repose, and then giving the player the tools to drive the plot through experience. Therefore, if one aspect is overlooked, then the game seems unbalanced. I haven't seen much importance placed on story in the mainstream media, and when it has, it's usually been brief.
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If we're done griping about Obsidian and praising crap games, here's another interview with Chris Avellone about Alpha Protocol.

 

Not much about the game, but plenty of the kind of shallow "gosh, writing words on a page and engaging your brain sure must be hard, Mr. Avellone!" queries you'd expect from a gaming journa- sorry, slushtyper.

 

When it came to planning Alpha Protocol’s story, what differences were there compared to Obsidian’s previous projects?

 

Feargus Urquhart, our CEO, came up with the idea in tandem with Chris Jones, our Technical Director at Obsidian. The theme was to create an action hero game set in the real world, and allow the player to take on the role of a highly-trained operative, working alone. Once we had this “theme box,” the team set to work on creating a game on that vision.

 

Good to see that Avellone has also mastered RTFQ/ATFQ...

 

On the other hand, the interviewer almost manages to ask something interesting which Avellone hasn't answered before...

Recently, we’ve seen BioShock popularise storytelling within the gameplay, without breaking away from it. Do you believe this kind of method is the way forward, or do you think there’s room yet for cutscenes?

 

I think Bioshock’s method is more immersive, and given the choice, I would prefer that any storytelling take place in a manner that doesn’t paralyze the player (as cinematic conversations tend to do in today’s day and age). A blend between RPG content and Half-Life 2 is my personal dream.

... but doesn't quite manage it.

 

If you've read interviews with Avellone before, none of this will seem particularly new, unfortunately. It's mostly the same stuff he always says - the only surprise is there isn't a question about KotOR II's cut content and what he'd do differently if he could.

 

Personally, I think you should read Pavlos' interview with Avellone instead, if you haven't already. o_Q

Edited by Jae Onasi
removed expletive
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I don't know if anyone mentioned this before, but if you pre-order the game from Steam, Direct2Drive, or GamersGate, you'll get a free copy of Space Siege. Not sure if that's a good deal or not, as I don't remember Space Siege getting many good reviews.... Note that Alpha Protocol is 4 cents more expensive at Steam than the other two (yeah, huge difference, I know).

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If Space Siege is anything like its predecessor Dungeon Siege, then you'd best stay away from it, even if its free.

 

Hey! Dungeon Siege, while not brilliant, was enjoyable, to a point. Space Siege, however, is awful right from the get-go.

 

Giving it away free with another game is probably the only way to get people playing it. Although, I suspect most people will be far too busy playing Alpha Protocol to care. :p

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Hey! Dungeon Siege, while not brilliant, was enjoyable, to a point. Space Siege, however, is awful right from the get-go.

 

I must confess I did enjoy it very much, but it was a time when I knew nothing of RPGs or even fantasy games, for that matter. The game was enjoyable, as you say, and then I played the expansion, Legends of Aranna.

 

A more brain-numbingly tedious video game experience I have not had. It left a bad taste in my mouth, both for itself and the vanilla game as well.

 

Still, the music was very good (Jeremy Soule?) and I still remember some of the music fondly.

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