Feel matters

This is about Alpha Protocol, but it’s going to take a second to get there.

Videogames are generally not tactile. Sure, the controllers might rumble every once in a while, and maybe the Wii and the Move are exceptions, but there’s not a lot of touching and feeling. When your character is walking around on screen, you don’t feel the crunch of gravel under his feet. You don’t feel the sweat running down his neck. Videogames have to do a lot of work with visuals and audio and gameplay, because that’s all they have. And sometimes it’s hard to make the player feel like he is tactically involved with the game with only those tools. The Quake games were infamously floaty – they didn’t make you feel like you were walking or interacting with the environment, but rather like you were floating above it.

Alpha Protocol would be a great game if it just felt better.

It has so much potential. The writing is generally good (because it is a videogame, this means it is comparatively excellent). The bare-bones idea is fantastic – mixing up the action RPG genre with the spy genre is inspired and something that I can’t believe hasn’t been done. The conversation mechanic, which allows you to choose different “postures” – for instance suave, ala James Bond, or professional, ala Jason Bourne – makes for a great RPG experience. I like so much about the game. But the feel is all wrong. The way the character moves is jarring at best – too fast to accelerate, too fast to turn; it immediately breaks your immersion in the environment. It’s not about animation – the game is animated quite well, I think – but rather about something nebulous, a speed value here, an acceleration value there.

I know there won’t be another Alpha Protocol, which is also too bad. Because the game has a lot to be proud of. But having just played Assassin’s Creed II, it’s clear that some games just feel right and some don’t.

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