Alpha Protocol Preview
When the premise of Alpha Protocol was announced by Obsidian Entertainment, I immediately perked up with excitement. The idea of being a spy, with the choices, women and gadgetry of James Bond, while being in a completely new franchise is something every gamer has wanted, but never seen executed well. We have had spy games, but nothing that really made you feel like your decisions had any gravity on the situations present in the game. Alpha Protocol looks to make every decision have lasting impact in the game world, in essence, making you the next big time spy in the long lineage of secret agent greats.
Just to rewind a bit, Alpha Protocol is an action/RPG based adventure, starring you as Michael Thornton. Your character has been recruited from the CIA to become an agent in a secretive agency of the US Government called Alpha Protocol. In one of your first assignments for Alpha Protocol, you are sent into a trap meant to kill your character. After the attempt fails, you work on piecing together the mystery of who is trying to kill you, and why.
Aeropause was given a live presentation of Alpha Protocol by Nestor Protacio, where we got to see a mission that Michael Thornton was sent on by the CIA. It seems that a US plane has been shot down in the Middle East, and you have been sent in to find out what has happened to the plane. You will also be sent on missions through Saudi Arabia, Taipei and an undisclosed location in the US (not sure what that is all about). At the beginning of the mission, we got to meet with our contact, a female Russian arms dealer that offers her guards and weapons as long as you perform a side mission for her. At this point we are set up with a dialog to decide how to proceed. The decision that we make does not only affect the woman’s current disposition, but it will affect her for the rest of the game in how she interacts with our character.
It is these choices that become the foundation of what Alpha Protocol will become for each player. At any point, there are dialog trees that will set up new twists and turns for the player. At one point you could be friendly with the Russian arms dealer, and you end up with extra muscle helping you through points in the mission. In our case, Michael declines the assistance of the Russian arms dealer, and now we have to fight not only enemy soldiers of the government, but also Russian muscle.
With our dialogue done with our now, not-so-friendly Russian arms dealer, Nestor started our way through what looked to be an oil refinery. While we do have RPG stats and features, things like shooting weapons is inherent upon the skill of the player, or as we are told, Alpha Protocol is “an FPS wrapped around an RPG” styled game. Shooting is very intuitive, using the normal mechanics. You can blind fire, or aim down the sights to get better accuracy at the expense of cover. There is also hand to hand combat options, because what spy would be complete without a smooth set of hand to hand combat moves. Getting up close and personal with the enemy is very visceral, with punch and kick combos being brutal and harsh. It almost reminded me of The Bourne Conspiracy, which had some great close-quarters hand to hand combat that was fiercely brutal.
While Nestor was taking the “break down the front door” approach to the refinery, Alpha Protocol allows you to tailor your skills to your style of gameplay. If you would rather stick to the shadows and sneak your way in, you will have that option. It is just as easy to pull the trigger, as it is to snap to cover, hide in the shadows and creep your way to the target objective.
Inside of each level of Alpha Protocol, you will have chances to find sub-objectives via computer terminals, other characters and so on. In our Middle East mission, we found a computer terminal that brought up a mini-game to hack the machine. The hacking game consisted of matching a static group of numbers from a scrolling pattern. There are several types of these mini-games based on the type of device you are looking to unlock.
At this point, we got to bring up the info sheet for Michael Thornton. From here we can look at his RPG stats, which include classes like Submachine Guns, Assault Rifles, Sabotage, Martial Arts and others. Each of these stats can be upgraded with experience points that are earned throughout the mission, similar to most RPG games. We also have an Intel tab that gives us info about all the objectives and sub objectives that we have for that level. It will also give us clues on how to reach the conclusion of each objective. The inventory screen is standard fare, although you can upgrade your weapons with weapon mods here. You can only carry two weapons per mission, so this screen will get a lot of use as you try to maximize the mods for these weapons.
At this point, I wanted to know a little more about the dialogue system and how it worked. As with most RPG dialogue systems, Alpha Protocol will have a branching dialogue tree that will present the player with several choices, ranging from nice to outright angry and mean. Each choice will influence the people that you are talking with, breaking down into sub-choices to each branch of dialogue. Also, there is a timer for your response, so if you do not choose an answer quick enough, it will default to your last mood choice. In one instance, we rejoined our Russian arms dealer at the end of the level, and Michael struck up a dialogue with her. Nestor decided that we were playing as a not so nice guy, so we basically told her to shut up, which resulted in another battle. But some people respond better to rough choices than nice choices. Since the Russian arms dealer was a bit psychotic, she responded better to angry dialogue rather than being nice.
With our tour about ended, I had to ask one more question about Alpha Protocol, and of course, it was about the ladies that you will meet. Michael Thornton will have six female characters that he will have significant interactions with during the main game, and of those, four can be potential love interests. So there you have it, your inner Austin Powers desires can be fulfilled in Alpha Protocol.
Currently Alpha Protocol was shown to me as an Alpha build, and is currently shaping up to hit retail shelves Fall 2009, and will come to PS3, PC and Xbox 360. With all the gameplay mechanics that I saw in Alpha Protocol, I think that we might have an honest to goodness spy thriller on our hands that really injects the feel of being in the middle of a spy flick. Hopefully, Alpha Protocol does not slip up along the way.