(Gannett) -- Obsidian Entertainment's "Alpha Protocol" looked promising in concept and presentation, especially with the slickly produced trailers posted to YouTube.
But it fell short due to a subpar shooting and cover system, anything-but-intelligent artificial intelligence and outdated graphics.
It's too bad, really, because underneath it all is an interesting espionage, role-playing game -- one in which consequences are tied to your actions. But it's difficult to get past the game's shortcomings.
"Alpha Protocol" is a suspense thriller in which you play as a young operative named Michael Thornton, part of a top secret U.S. agency known as Alpha Protocol. Thornton must traverse the globe and execute dangerous missions.
But how you go about tackling a major conspiracy -- whose participants include fanatical terrorists, corrupt politicians and ruthless businessmen -- is up to you. For example, you can choose to be stealthy and hide in the shadows, enter each scene with guns blazing or use persuasion to achieve your goals.
At the start of the game, you can choose what kind of an agent you want to be: Soldier (heavy weapon use), Field Agent (stealthier spy), Tech Specialist (good hacker), Freelancer (customize your starting skills) or the challenging Recruit option, who has no starting skills and little equipment.
Then, as you progress through the missions, you can upgrade your skills by applying XP -- or "experience points" -- in nine skill areas. These include martial arts, stealth, pistol use, sabotage or technical aptitude, just to name a few.
Many of the situations in this third-person adventure have a time limit, too, which some players will love and others will loathe. Sure, it adds thrill to the task at hand, but it can be frustrating when you run out of time quickly, such as in some of the puzzle-based mini-games that require a lot of repetition to successfully complete.
Conversations are often timed, too, so you'll need to press a button on the controller to respond in a certain way. There are no bad choices, but choosing to be suave over aggressive, or vice versa, might help you get what you want easier, depending on whom you're talking to.
Problems with "Alpha Protocol" include inaccuracies in aiming (the enemy can be square in your crosshairs, yet you somehow miss when you fire); glitches when taking cover behind objects (Michael's body gyrates when he gets too close to a corner); a camera system that proves more frustrating than helpful; enemies who just stand there and wait to be shot; and graphics that look a few years out of date (though some of the locations are well-designed, including memorable levels in Saudi Arabia, Russia and Taiwan).
With more time and polish, "Alpha Protocol" could have been one of the more interesting summer blockbusters, but its numerous flaws dampen the overall experience. That said, those looking forward to buying this single-player game might consider renting it for the weekend.