As we look forward to the release of the Xbox One and PS4 later this year, each week Digital Spy will look back at some of our favourite Xbox 360 and PS3 games of this generation. This week, Ben Lee checks out Alpha Protocol.
Alpha Protocol by all accounts is a flawed game, but it's actually one of the best gaming experiences I've had in the last several years.
At its release, reviews were incredibly divisive, with Metacritic scores for the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions settling barely above 60. But for plenty of reasons, it won me over when it was released in 2010.
A third-person espionage action role-playing game, it follows Michael Thorton, a new agent working for Alpha Protocol - an organisation responsible for performing covert missions which can't be traced back to the US government.
Naturally, Thorton's first mission goes horribly wrong, but what's wonderful about the story is how it unfolds.
A big part of it is the character interactions. In conversations, you're only given a few seconds to select dialogue options. This system would be implemented a couple of years later in Telltale Games' The Walking Dead, but while it worked well there, Alpha Protocol executed the idea better.
This is largely because every conversation matters in Alpha Protocol. There are several major and critical choices you have to make, but just an ordinary interaction with another character can alter how things play out.
Thorton often has three different tones to choose from in conversations - professional (like Jason Bourne), suave (James Bond) and aggressive (Jack Bauer). Your responses affect how much the other characters like you, in turn deciding who your allies and enemies are.
Missions can even provide a twist or two based on your actions. For example, before infiltrating Moscow's US embassy, you can choose to speak with an informant. Be threatening, and you'll get the information for free - but he'll afterwards tip off the embassy resulting in tougher guards to get past.
You'll have opportunities to practically kill all of the characters in the game, should you please. There's even an achievement for it. It encourages multiple playthroughs, and as someone who doesn't often replay games, I ended up seeing the ending four times.
Equally, the role-playing part of Alpha Protocol is fantastic. There are several skill trees to invest points into - from types of weapons, such as assault rifles and shotguns, to gadgets and healing - and to begin with, Thorton starts off as an average spy.
He's easy to take down, clumsy in stealth and hand-to-hand combat and has shockingly poor aim. But specialise in two or three areas to fit with your preferred playstyle, and he'll swiftly become a badass.
On my first time through, I focused heavily on pistols and stealth. By the final mission, Thorton was a master of sneaking and clearing buildings unseen, in part thanks to silent footsteps and bullet time, the latter allowing him to line up head shots with his silenced pistol.
But you could employ aggressive combat tactics by pumping your points into shotguns and toughness. Or invest in sabotage, so the abundant number of surveillance cameras, auto-turrets and locks are a breeze to get past.
You won't ever get enough skill points to fill out more than three paths, meaning you'll have to be picky, but whatever you decide is likely to be viable.
Admittedly, Alpha Protocol isn't the perfect game, and there are flaws that people are right to pick apart.
Although levels are generally well-designed, a few encounters can be potentially frustrating depending on what setup you have, not unlike Deus Ex: Human Revolution. For instance, stealth is ineffective in a boss fight against a crazy dual SMG-wielding mobster, so a plan B is advised.
The gunplay does leave something to be desired at the beginning if you're impatient, as your weapons are wildly inaccurate, until you spend some skill points to remedy this.
It also looks visually dull and unappealing, and has its fair share of glitches and bugs, which resulted in a few checkpoint reloads during my time with the game.
But ultimately, these issues didn't stop me from immensely enjoying Alpha Protocol. What it does right, it does brilliantly right, and I felt any niggling problems are absolutely worth suffering through.
I'm aware that there are many who struggled to uncover the brilliant game that's underneath its flaws. That's fine. It's not for everyone, and low sales indicate this. Sega, who published the title, stated a sequel is highly unlikely to happen.
However, while unpolished, Alpha Protocol is hugely underrated and Obsidian - who went on to create Fallout: New Vegas - deserves more credit for this ambitious and creative project. I honestly had more fun with the game than nearly everything else in my Xbox 360 and PS3 collection.
Watch a trailer for Alpha Protocol below: