Platform:Xbox 360, PC, PlayStation 3 Publisher:Sega Release Date: October 27th
It’s as awkward as a cow on a skateboard, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t start this preview with the simple admission that we don’t actually know all that much about Alpha Protocol – at least, when it comes to the story anyway.
It’s actually a little bit embarrassing, really. We spent a good, long time at GamesCom 2009 having a long, good look at Alpha Protocol: The Espionage RPG and we sat down for a brief chat with some of the team afterwards too. We saw the game in action and were walked through all the main features and one entire mission, but when we came away afterwards we realised we didn’t actually know what the game was about.
Well, we know the basics – that you’re a betrayed CIA agent who uses the eponymous protocol to escape for long enough to uncover the conspiracy and track down some missing warheads…but that’s as far as our knowledge goes in regard to the plot. Who are the suspects? What is the alpha protocol and why is it taboo for agent Mike Thorton to use is? We honestly don’t know.
Pow! Boom! Straight to the moon!
Strangely though, we’re happy in our ignorance. We think it’s for the best, if only because we’re dying to find out for ourselves how the 30-hour epic weaves a plot across the globe and connects the CIA to shadowy secret societies like G22. The whole thing whiffs faintly of Deus Ex – and that alone is enough to have us salivating like Pavlov’s dog at a Bellringers Anonymous meeting.
Nor do the similarities between Deus Ex and Alpha Protocol seem to stop there either. While Alpha Protocol’s setting is a bit more grounded in the modern world than the nanotechnology and cybernetic-filled world of Deus Ex, the two do seem to be running along similar lines and themes, with both games set in an enthralling neo-noir and cyberpunkish fiction. You know the type of thing setting we mean; the one where it’s always night-time, but nobody ever takes their sunglasses off and the meaning of life is to run across rooftops in a long leather coat as much as possible.
You can customise Thornton's abilities and appearance easily
Just to be clear; we’re not saying that Alpha Protocol is going to be as fantasmorgasmly-awesome as Deus Ex was (and still is) – we haven’t seen enough of it yet and there’s bound to be disappointed or worried by the fact that the game is a third-person affair. We can already hear the cries of ‘consolification’ coming over the horizon. We have seen enough to know that the two might have a lot in common though – though we’re not quite ready to use the phrase ‘spiritual successor’ just yet.
What’s just as important as the resemblances though are the differences between the two, with Obsidian’s Alpha Protocol being a lot heavier on the RPG side of things than you’d likely expect from the action-heavy screenshots and trailers. The available skills and abilities that you can learn go way beyond the basic selection offered in games such as Mass Effect, with the range edging more towards the Fallout end of the Official RPG Comparison Table. There are dozens of weapons and abilities to train yourself in and learn to base your gameplay style around – everything from shotguns and martial arts to lockpicking and manipulation.
Naturally, you’ll have to specialise if you want to stand a chance at completing the game, but that seems to be a deliberate design choice for Alpha Protocol – there are so many different paths and options to take through the game that the entire experience is heavily pitched towards replayability. Your real weapon is, just like the game’s motto claims; choice.