The Double-A Team is a weekly series honouring the unpretentious, mid-budget, gimmicky commercial action games that no-one seems to make any more.
Last week we dived into Stranglehold. Today, drum roll, it’s Alpha Protocol at last!
We’ve got a Double-A Team archive where you can catch up with all of the pieces so far.
The first thing I think, when I think about Alpha Protocol, is ‘stupid enemies’. But I love them! And I love the game for having them. I don’t always want a challenge, not a really tough one. Sometimes I just want to romp around like an invincible secret agent and wipe a load of baddies out, and save the day. That’s what happens in the films, doesn’t it? How many times have you really thought James Bond was in trouble?
And I’m OK with that. I’m OK with Alpha Protocol doing the same. Luxurious safe houses: check. Missions complicated by romances: check. Ridiculous characters and ridiculous plots: check. One-liners: god yes. It’s all exactly as it should be, a Sunday afternoon spy film.
That’s really refreshing these days, when everything is so big and long and seeeerrrrious. It’s only around 15 hours long (that’s a long Sunday afternoon, Bertie). You’d crucify an RPG for being that long today – hundreds of hours or go home (and therein lies a much deeper problem with game length because what good is a narrative if most people don’t see it through to the end?). Alpha Protocol feels so breezy by comparison. You woosh through, smooching, high-kicking and gadgeting, and all in time for dinner.
Even the marketing was ridiculous (and I secretly love it)!
And you don’t balk at the prospect of potentially playing again. That’s the masterstroke. It’s a masterstroke because it works gorgeously with the game’s celebrated web of choice and consequence, which is bold enough to make the game play out very differently depending on the decisions you make. Want to see how things end if tackled a different way? That’s fine – breeze through it again.
It’s this creative boldness double-A games were so good at, as if they knew they weren’t going to compete in the looks department so they pushed hard elsewhere – pushed in ways buttoned-up blockbusters were too timid to. It makes games like Alpha Protocol charming because they work harder on their personality. It has fun with itself, and that’s a hard thing to resist.
Alpha Protocol is scruffy, I don’t think that’s up for debate. Obsidian would be the first to tell you – in fact, it did – that it would have loved to change so many things (I wrote a big ‘making of Alpha Protocol’ piece after a trip to Obsidian two years ago). The AI wasn’t supposed to be dumb, for example – there was a whole other system, originally, but it ate up too much performance so it had to be chucked out.
But I don’t mind these rough edges because it makes Alpha Protocol one of those games you dream of getting the blockbuster treatment. One of those games we love to think will one day get a sequel. With Sega sitting on the IP, though, I doubt it’s likely. Maybe now Microsoft is the owner of Obsidian, there’s money available for the IP to change hands, but it’s probably wishful thinking. Realistically, I’d be stunned if Alpha Protocol 2 were a part of anyone’s plans. Can’t stop a man dreaming, though, can it?