Monday, February 6, 2012

Alpha Protocol Is a Perfect Sega Analogy

I want to like Alpha Protocol.  Scratch that, I want to love Alpha Protocol because some of the things it does makes it worthy of that want for love.  But I just can't, because Alpha Protocol is like that smart, good-looking girl who doesn't cover her mouth when she sneezes and belches in your ear.  Some things you just can't overlook and you can't get with no matter how good the good is.  Which is, as the title suggests, exactly like the relationship we all have with Sega.  Sega does wonderful things, amazing things that just make your heart swell and your body want to swoon, but then it does things that throw you into a murderous rage because goddamnit Sega.  I feel it's fitting since Alpha Protocol was published by Sega and certainly does nothing to shake the stigma certain games that have been associated with Sega have.

Mechanically, as a game, Alpha Protocol is pretty much uniformly sub-standard.  Animations are stiff and jerky, the way accuracy is handled (there's a circle area that your bullet can hit any part of it, and the enemy usually takes up 30% of that circle) isn't very conducive to a Third-Person Shooter (at least one that isn't turn-based or the like), trying to throw a grenade or grenade-like object is pretty much an exercise in frustration, melee doesn't work in combat, and the list goes on and on and on.  Pretty much every individual aspect of the gameplay itself needed tightening up bar -one- and that -one- thing is the sole redeeming factor of Alpha Protocol and honestly the only reason to play it.  The Conversation/Relationship system that's implemented in the game is so varied and complex that you have to wonder if it came from some other game, since it certainly doesn't seem like it fits here unless they spent 85% of their dev time on it and the rest of the 15% on the rest of the game.

It seems really really simple on the surface - at points in conversations you'll be prompted with an option thing towards the bottom that has a time limit.  There will usually be three or four ways to respond in the conversation (all mapped to the face buttons of the controller) and they all generally carry their own 'mood' that reflects that portion of Thorton's personality.  A response could be specific to the context of the conversation; for example, if they're talking about getting information from a particular source, Triangle might be "(Source's name)?" where Circle might be "Information?" which will obviously lead to elaboration on the subject that's selected when the timer times down.  Or it might be vague and you'll get "Joking" set to Square where Triangle might be "Aggressive" which just basically sets the tone of the response, obviously.  It all happens in real-time, by the way, so even though I mention timers, it doesn't disrupt the flow of conversation at all.

Now, those answers or the way you talk to someone will then affect your relationship with them one way or another.  Not everybody likes to be talked to like a normal human being and will only respect people who are short and to the point versus someone who wants to joke about everything and anything.  Likewise, there are some people who will simply be bored by Agents who are direct and humorless, as fun is high up on their lists of things they like to do while being a rogue agent, spy, or member of a para-military organization.  The part where it gets really neat is that whether someone likes or dislikes you, and to what degree that is, it all matters.  From as far as I can tell, the bulk of things all affect the story in one way or another, and it's not even a popularity contest; you don't have to make everyone like you and it is, in fact, kind of suggested you don't go that way.  That actually played out for me earlier where a scenario played out really, really easily for me because someone liked me because someone else didn't like me.  And it's moments like that where you forget the shit you've waded through because by God, that's brilliant.

Of course, directly after moments like that, you're hit in the face with full-force stupidity unfortunately.  That same person who liked me because someone else didn't also thought it was a grand idea to charge up to two people who were wielding an SMG and Shotgun respectively and try to punch them to death rather than take cover.  And of course, I had to make sure he didn't die, despite doing very stupid things like that.  The whole firefight took at least half an hour to complete quite simply because it was absolutely stupid and the irony of the situation is that I only won it when I, myself, thought it was a good idea to run into a group of people and punch them to death.  In my defense, I was wearing armor whereas this dude is not, but it is not logical by any stretch and I was quite annoyed by the whole exchange.  Then, later on in a moment that would have brought about a ragequit if the game didn't have such a good rapport with me, I encountered a boss fight that is a classic game boss fight in the sense that I sneaked up on the guy, shot him in the face three times with super bullets and that only made him enter phase two.

And yet, I go back for more because of that goddamn Relationship/Conversation system.  That's how good it is.

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