Thursday, January 06, 2011

Pretty Unplayable: Alpha Protocol

You know, I'm beginning to believe that the most damaging effect consoles had on PC gaming wasn't the escalation of DRM, or the dumbing down (which may or may not be true), or even those horrible wheel menus. Right now, I'm pretty sure it was, in fact, the introduction of the over-the-shoulder third-person camera.

See, there's very few reasons a 3D game should use that camera in favor of the first-person perspective. Except that... first-person handles much worse on a console (controller, actually, HAR HAR - see previous post). So, theoretically, you could keep the first-person perspective for a friendlier platform, like the PC. Except that... you're on a budget - can barely afford to do all the design and testing and bug-fixing for ONE perspective, let alone two, not to mention all the technical problems that crop up when trying to have both in one game. So, you'll just use the one perspective that works for all platforms, the third-person (and the players will get to admire your exquisite character models - oh yes, that's what they care most about). Except that... when you use third-person, you have to take good care about how you handle the camera movement, because if you don't do it correctly, the camera will keep pointing in all the wrong directions, frustrating the players horribly (we know you also want the players to see the front of the character model, so that you will not feel like 50% of polygons are wasted, but trust me - they prefer to see the backside and be able to actually play the game). No problem though - developers have been doing this for decades already! Surely there are good, effective solutions in place by now (try telling this to Yahtzee to kill him with laughter) - and if not, you can probably implement something workable, how hard could it be, right? Except that... sometimes you still screw up horribly, and then you get Alpha Protocol.

Hilariously, I wasn't expecting it. I hadn't played the game until now, and finally decided it was actually up my alley and I should stop ignoring it. From what I had read about it, the general conclusion was that it's a good game, albeit flawed. People had mentioned the occasional crash bug, or maybe its insistence on making you fight instead of stealthing. So I steeled myself against all of that - and then fell to the sneaky attack of the deadly camera.

The general rule seems to be: if you're next to a wall, and you try to turn, the camera might end up ANYWHERE. And that ANYWHERE is most often not where you'd like it to be. Seriously, it would be freakin' hilarious if I was watching someone play it instead of doing it myself. As it is, I can only scratch my head at the legions of players who managed to complete it, once more mourn the loss of a potential great first-person game, and press quit. I'm not uninstalling - yet. But at this rate, I see that happening in one or two more sessions.

Ah, and for a quick conclusion about the rest of the game - it's decent, and gameplay-wise very much like Mass Effect. Which is also something I don't remember reading anywhere, but it's not such a horrible thing anyway.



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