Why Haven’t You Played – Alpha Protocol

Alpha Protocol (PS3, Xbox 360, PC; Obsidian; Sega; 2010)


Alpha Protocol is a game that I think most people probably know about but they just haven’t really had a good play of. Which is fair. I know I waited a solid while before I even gave the game its first go, and that first time, I did what I always do when games ask me what kind of gameplay I want to have and picked wrong. And so I got pissed with the game very quickly for my own failings. But last year, when I was first starting out as a streamer (feels a lot longer back than that), I decided to give Alpha Protocol another go because it was there in my Steam library and hey, its not a game you see much of. And I fell in love with the game during that time. Absolutely fell in love with it.

Y’see, the whole reason Alpha Protocol sits with me so well is that it fills the gap that Bioware have left with their new-found approach to the Western RPG. With Dragon Age, they have ye olde fantasy setting, and with Mass Effect, they have yonder futuristic sci-fi setting; what that leaves out is the modern realist setting, and that’s where Alpha Protocol comes in. Here you have a globe-trotting Western RPG set in the world of modern espionage and political trickery, with a fantastic conversational system, but also taking from cover shooters and stealth games when you have to pull out your gun. A game that is to James Bond and Jason Bourne, as Dragon Age is to Conan and Mass Effect is to Star Trek; your gaming interpretation of what you’ve loved in the media. And trust me, as a kid who loved espionage fiction who grew up into a teenager and an adult who still loves espionage fiction, the game fits like a glove.

A big boon to the game is how well the conversation system fits being a spy. Unlike Mass Effect, with the good and evil bits on the circle being the leading split, Alpha Protocol works on a very different system where you simply choose the tone of what you’re going to say between 4 different choices. The choices are suave a la James Bond, professional a la James Bourne, aggressive a la Jack Bauer, and sometimes a fourth option in the situation; what this means is that you get a more ‘shades of grey’ system as opposed to the garish and obtuse ‘good and evil’ system most modern dialogue mechanics use, so its a far more optimal system for letting someone choose how to behave. It also means that your status in the world is far more defined by your interactions and relationships with all the characters and how they respond to everything you say, rather than just a few tickboxes every conversation. You have to be able to read what people will and will not respond well to, and you’re not even always trying to get someone to be your friend. Sometimes the point is that you want to infuriate someone so they slip up or something. Sometimes the point is you’re going for a romance and play it up as such. To me, its far better than “I’m the good guy, here is what a good guy would say” or “I’m the anti-hero, here is what the anti-hero would say”.

The story also does a pretty good job of fitting the game into the espionage world, and not really being all that bad. Its fairly tropey in that its a fairly normal story of your organisation being betrayed and double-crossed and you’re forced into being a rogue agent, but it does a nice job fitting into modern geopolitics, which is a lot more than can be said for a lot of games set in ‘modern times’. The game also does a nice job of avoiding falling onto the defaults of Russian or middle Eastern antagonists, unlike other games like that one with the 4 in its title that is about warfare in modern times. And the characters fill their roles quite neatly, and are all a varied bunch of individuals, wich is quite nice. My personal highlight is probably the security chief guy in Italy, as I like his gruff professional attitude as an old man, and the way that he don’t take no shit even as a boss.

Final bit to talk about the majesty of is the combat, I guess. Generally, the combat is pretty on point throughout and is quite satisfying; stealth is no Splinter Cell but its still pretty fun, third person cover-to-cover shooting isn’t exactly Gears of War but it still feels damn good. The combat holds up generally though no matter the approach you take, which is good though; the issue with a lot of these first entries into the world of combat-heavy Western RPGs normally is that combat balancing can be a bit poorly done. Mass Effect 1 certainly had issues in that certain skill sets were useless compared to others, and there’s always the infamous case of Deus Ex: Human Revolution and the bosses being undefeatable if you picked a certain set of skills. Now I’m not going to say that Alpha Protocol gets away from all of that, because it certainly doesn’t; the boss fights are often these very bizarre difficulty spikes for no apparent reason and I probably actually spend far more of my time with that game than I should have on those damn things. But, probably by virtue of the fact that its not a game based around lots of personal skills as well as weapon skills, you generally are fine in the boss fights, its just ensuring you have enough ammo and get used to their crazy difficulty. Unless you’re a melee / stealth scrub, then you’re just leaving yourself open to a coke-snorting Russian mobster obsessed with the 80s stabbing you to death. And its your own fault.

So yeah, here you have this game, taking a wonderful diversion from the Bioware model and creating a really cool espionage game (which you don’t get nearly often enough nowadays) in a solid believable world. Yet, there are some bugs with it and people had some issues with the launch, so it came out the gates with not fantastic review scores in a busy holiday season and everyone forgot about it. But take this as your notice to stop forgetting about it, get your hands on it if you haven’t already, and enjoy the hell out of that game, you dirty son of a guns.


Joe Trail is the editor-in-chief of Don’t Be A Pixel. Mostly because he says he is, not because he has other writers to edit over. But such is the life of a busy editor-in-chief, obviously. He’s also an avid writer for the site. Of course.


 

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Lego Marvel - Stan Lee Hulk

Why Haven’t You Played – LEGO Marvel Super Heroes

LEGO Marvel Super Heroes (Pretty much all consoles that currently exist and have games being put on them currently, Traveller’s Tales, Warner Bros., 2013)


I can probably answer my own question quite briefly here with a few simple reasons; “I didn’t really know it existed”, “I don’t like Marvel/LEGO games/both”, “I think LEGO games got boring really fast” and “I’m not a kid, I’m a MATOOR gamer with my Dootar Deux and my Gerald’s Mod and my Counterstroke and my Collar Doody, I don’t play your kid games”. This article basically exists for me to tell you that you’re wrong/blind if you think either of the first three, and to publicly expose you to laughter if it’s the fourth one. Obviously it won’t exactly be the fourth one, that’s the point of me phrasing it in such a mocking way, but still, that realm of reasoning.

Needless to say, the first option shouldn’t really be a thing after I’ve written this. This is a very clear note to you that this fantastic game does very much exist. Oh man, it exists so hard, it’s not even funny, even though the game is really funny. But I guess just telling you it exists isn’t really good enough; I should give you actual reasons why you’d want to buy it if you didn’t know about it before now. Well, to put it basically, LEGO Marvel Super Heroes (I’m just going to call it LEGO Marvel from here on out to save time) is a third person action/adventure/platformer game where you play as LEGO figurine versions of Marvel characters, obviously. It’s not that much of a stone’s throw from LEGO Star Wars on most levels of its basic moment-to-moment gameplay, really. It’s still a collect-‘em-all style game, and now you can collect Stan Lee’s Gratitude™ by rescuing him from various odd situations. Thing is though, the game makes wonderful use of the fact that Traveller’s Tales started using actual voice work in cutscenes by having the voice actors from the animated shows (and other places obviously) do the voices of the characters, and it has a wonderful recreation of a slightly-Marvel-infused Manhattan. By slightly-Marvel-infused, I mean, Stark Tower is there in its full height, and there’s the Oscorp building (in the style of the new Spidey movies) and the Daily Bugle and the Roxxon headquarters and some others; it’s got those little bits that make it Marvel, not just New York.

Lego Marvel - Spider-Man

Does whatever a LEGO Spider can.

So yeah, it’s using those little innovations that the LEGO games have gotten recently, like better story-telling and far more open and expansive gameplay. But it’s not just that it has those innovations in it, but that it uses them so well; the story in LEGO Marvel is actually rather good (though that could be my inner fanboy influencing me there) and the world is one of my favourite sandboxes to play around in[linked to article about my favourite sandboxes]. There’s a reason why my first playthrough of the game, on PC, had me racing through the story because I constantly wanted to know what was going to happen next (certainly an advantage of when the games aren’t just regurgitating film/book stories (which is a definite issue with the Star Wars, Harry Potter and LOTR LEGO games)) and then spending a long time just playing around and enjoying Manhattan and trying to unlock everything I could and get even more with the game.

That should all mean that I’ve covered two of those reason categories I put at the top then; I’ve told you what LEGO Marvel is and what it’s about and such if you didn’t know about it, and I’ve told you why its fantastically different to pretty much all the other LEGO games. I suppose that leaves me with you not liking LEGO/Marvel or you being a ‘HORDKAR GAMYR’ and not enjoying ‘kid games’ (or ‘console games’ if you’re bigger into your PC than is probably healthy). If you don’t really like LEGO games or Marvel or both of them, then I guess that’s your bag and there’s probably not much I can tell you to make you change your mind on that. I will say though that is one of the most fun and satisfying games I’ve played in quite some time, and I did generally consider it my Game of the Year for 2013 for good reason. If you want a real damn good game and it goes up on sale or its cheap pre-owned or something like that, you’d be doing yourself a real disservice to ignore it. And if you’re a PC gamer, and have thrown aside the LEGO games for being half-assed ports, this one (barring some graphical options if I remember correctly) is fantastically well-done and probably feels more on par with the PS4 and Xbox One versions, than it does the current generation versions (note: I have only played the game on PC and PS3, so I can only definitely compare those two).

Lego Marvel

Squirrel Girl is the best. End of story.

So now I suppose the only group I haven’t really addressed are the people that see the LEGO games as games for kids, and feel above them. Well, let me say to you naysayers, don’t let the gritty Unreal and Frostbite engines cloud your ability to have some goddamn fun. The LEGO games are well made for anyone who wants to play them, and the fact that they have universal appeal and are able to be universally entertaining is a testament to the fact that the games are basically made of unbridled fun. You are genuinely restricting yourself from a hell of a good time if your basic response is to go “Yeah but it’s a game for kids, and I don’t play those, now let me get back to my shooting game that has brown and grey and nothing else”, and I do wish you’d see sense, pick up this fantastically colourful game and just kick back and have some colossal amounts of fun.

Alright then, I think this is tied up now. I expect to hear you all gushing the praises of LEGO Marvel by a month after the Steam Christmas Sale, because you should own it by then. ALL OF YOU. No excuses. Get playing it. I just told you why.


Joe Trail is the editor-in-chief of Don’t Be A Pixel. Mostly because he says he is, not because he has other writers to edit over. But such is the life of a busy editor-in-chief, obviously. He’s also an avid writer for the site. Of course.