Alpha Protocol Redux: Prelude

I was wrong once. The year was 2010, and the subject of my falter was the dank and depressing Metro 2033. Ejecting it rather violently from my disc drawer at the game’s halfway point, every conceivable facet of Metro seemed to me to be loathsome: the limp combat, impotent stealth, crappy gas mask mechanic, dour loading screen expositions, even the jarring implementation early-on of third-person cutscenes. Returning to it after months of internet-bitching, I found the experience to be… well, much the same. The combat remains to this day something of a damp-squib, although its ineffectualness has been plugged somewhat with the addition of ‘Ranger’ difficulties, whilst the gas mask mechanic is either simply broken or else woefully unclear to everyone ever. And yet as I slinked through its moody tunnels and stations and service depots there was, undeniably, something new, something sublime: an understated and haunting slice of excellence. Stealth in particular had become something to master and conquer; not an irritating and buggy instance of half-arsedness, but a finely-tuned and almost erotically-satisfying undertaking. In short: at first I was blind, but then I came to see.

Alpha Protocol is a game which echoes the first-half of my Metro experience: the bit where I hate it and badmouth it and surprisingly large groups of people arrive at my doorstep to reel off its supposed positives. All the while I remain convinced that had it been put out by the British government then I’m pretty sure a certain Mr Tucker would have labelled it a “fucking omnishambles” and sent the spin-cycle into overdrive to make up for it. Indeed, any number of quibbles and hatreds are resurrected through my memories of Alpha Protocol. For starters, it’s an ugly sumbitch. Then there’s tone, which seemed to veer from almost generically straight-faced in its Middle East segment to pure cheese later on. Add to that a rather forgetful cast of characters, laughably uninspired plot (spy ‘thriller’ in evil PMC shocker) and some incredibly contradictory design, and you’ve got yourself a fuck up. And yet for the longest time, my venomous attitude towards it has bothered me. Because Alpha Protocol is a game I should at least admire in some aspect, isn’t it? The malleability of its story and the attempt, at least, to permit wildly different playstyles are things I tend to bang on about. Shouldn’t I at least have commended it for giving it a go?

So, in desperate need of a new writing project and with a sore lack of excuses to ignore another batch of upcoming University essays, I have set myself a challenge: to replay Alpha Protocol, and to see if I wasn’t right about the piece of crap uh… little fellow the first time. As I post this I’m nearing the end of the game’s Middle East portion, so with any luck, all shall be updated soon.

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