The First Protocol
Touting itself as the first Espionage RPG, Alpha Protocol is up against stiff competition from the big-boys in the field of RPGS, Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age have carved themselves a chunk of RPG fandom right from the heart of the genre. Alpha Protocol is a decent effort from Obsidian but it lacks in polish and has several noticeable bugs that prevent it from being truly great.
That said, if you stick with it, it can grow on you and you might be willing to persevere since what it lacks in polish, it makes up for in a few other areas.Story
This segment of the review is classified, all we can tell you is that you are Agent Michael Thorton and you have a mission to do. Dropped into the hot-zone and left to fend for yourself in the Middle East, a vast conspiracy unfolds that would make Tom Clancy proud.Gameplay
Alpha Protocol shares many similarities with Mass Effect and works on a hub-based mission structure, with new missions opening up based on dialogue choices and reputation with certain NPC (non-player characters) contacts in the game. There’s a linear feel about the actual missions themselves, but they have numerous routes that you can take to accomplish your objectives. Michael has access to several safehouses, these are where you can upgrade and modify weapons, buy new equipment, read and respond to emails as well as interact with certain NPC’s later on in the game.
These safehouses are also where you’ll get various mission briefs and debriefs from the handlers, and this brings us neatly onto the best feature of Alpha Protocol for those who love RPG’s like this. The dialogue stance system, with its in-built timer is one of the better implementations of such a system that we’ve seen for a while. Not only do you have a clear indication of the kind of response that you give, but you have a reputation track with each character. NPC’s have various likes and dislikes and you can attempt to manipulate each one to your whim, once you learn about them.
Doing so requires that you discover information in the form of dossiers, through missions, talking to other NPC’s and basically interacting with the individual. You can choose from an Aggressive (Jason Bourne) style of reply, Suave (James Bond) or Professional (Jack Bauer) in your interactions. Each one will affect an NPC different, for example, don’t try and be professional around Sie, she doesn’t like those who play by the rules. Treat her in an aggressive manner and you’ll be surprised what she’ll do for you.
This stance system carries over to emails as well, and you can pick your reply.
Having a positive or negative rep with someone nets you different bonuses and you sometimes have special actions in a dialogue, usually they’re the most direct route and involve shooting a contact, beating someone up or other effects we’ll let you find out for yourself.
When you’re in-mission, it’s basically a third person shooter/sneaker based on the kind of character you build. There are various well thought out mini-games that actually make sense in the spy genre, hacking, lock picking and re-wiring, though don’t expect to be very good at some of the security games until you put points into the correct skills. Since this is an RPG there are a bunch of useful ones, but you only have so many points and this forces you to think tactically about the kind of Thorton you want to create. We went for a sneaky security kind of guy with some training in martial arts. Then we upped our pistol and a few other things, over time...Thorton actually started to feel like a badass spy.
There are some crazy one-shot kill abilities that when racked up to the max become lunatic ways to deal with rooms full of bad guys. Stealth has the Shadow Operative ability and that basically turns you into an invisible killing machine. I’m not going to complain about it, even though it doesn’t appear to be realistic at all. Every skill tree has something interesting, be it a bonus to the character or an active skill you can use.
There are in-game bonuses for certain achievements you unlock, Mass Effect style. There are also in-game bonuses for interacting with people correctly, getting the right friend can seriously buff Mike and make things a lot easier. You’ll open up new avenues to buy gear from the stores at your safehouse, via the computer. You’ll get access to interesting intel and more. The game says that your weapon is choice, they were not lying, and you get a lot of that from character creation to approaching the mission how you want.