Kimberley Ellis
23 Aug, 2009

Alpha Protocol Preview

PS3 Preview | With every move he makes, another chance he takes.
Jack Bauer, James Bond, Jason Bourne; these are just some of the plethora of renowned super spies that have populated popular culture in recent years. If the popularity of espionage fuelled movies and television shows is anything to go by, it's no wonder that Obsidian Entertainment is injecting some new blood into the videogame waters with the third-person action role-playing game, Alpha Protocol.

Coming soon to PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3, this title steps back from the typical science-fiction and fantasy setting that role-playing titles have classically revolved around. Alpha Protocol is an espionage-based RPG that takes the best story elements from the spy genre and places them into a modern setting, in the hope of giving gamers a role-playing title that mashes the cerebral sensibilities of a Tom Clancy character with the aggressive tactics of 24's hero Jack Bauer. While on paper, this sounds like it could make for some intensely compelling gameplay, this title is treading new ground for the role-playing genre an it will be interesting to see how it ultimately plays out.

As well as focusing in on a popular genre, Alpha Protocol has a great chance of becoming a successful new intellectual property thanks in part to the reputation of its developer Obsidian - the team who were also behind the successful RPG sequels Knights of the Old Republic 2 and Neverwinter Nights 2.

Looking at the current build of the game, it looks to be quite similar to BioWare's Mass Effect in that it feels more like an action title than a traditional run of the mill RPG. Though, unlike Mass Effect, you can’t control what your character looks like. In Alpha Protocol we are given rookie CIA agent Michael Thorton, and that’s it. Obsidian believes that the fun of Michael lies in the fact that he is a blank canvas, with gamers given the opportunity of moulding his personality according to the way that they have Michael interact with other characters in the world as he uncovers the conspiracy behind those that have betrayed him.

Meet Michael Thornton.

Meet Michael Thornton.
Like any good RPG, there is always a 'hub', a base of operations for your player to work out of. In Alpha Protocol the hub will be the Safehouse, which is a place where you can hang out between missions to stock up on equipment, mess around with your character's stats and pick the next mission. Obsidian has gone one step further, as activities that you do in the Safehouse can actually affect the main story. Obsidian have explained that while you are in the Safehouse, you are able to converse with 'handlers' and other factions that you've met in the world, trade weapons and gadgets and search for clues and follow up leads, making your hub feel like more than just an obligatory pit stop to cash in your loot from the previous mission.

The missions of Alpha Protocol will be non-linear, with the developer stating that there will be several ways for players to tackle missions, which will affect how the ending of each mission plays out. Obsidian have also been quick to point out that you will not be penalised for tackling a mission a particular way, meaning that a mission can be completed just as successfully if you roll in guns blazing as it would if you snuck around Sam Fisher style. There will also be a number of side quests for players to tackle, and in terms of the game as a whole, there will be a number of different endings as well - of course, all depending on the choices you made throughout the game. Of course, with the title playing in a modern context, there is no defined Good or Evil, only varying shades of grey. How you interact with the game's different factions (which depends on your choices throughout the entirety of the game) will in fact determine just which shade of grey you will end up with.

Alpha Protocol's gameplay will be driven by both the on-screen action and the dialogue system. In terms of the game's dialogue system it will play out similarly to that of BioWare’s system in Mass Effect. Each dialogue choice will tell you exactly what emotion will play out with your next response, and what effect it will have on the person on the other side of the conversation. Obsidian has also tried to add in a sense of tension by giving players short time limits for their responses, in order to inject a feeling of dramatic tension - something which the developer believes is an integral aspect of all good spy films - and will mean that players will have to make their choices instinctively, rather than weighing the pros and cons of their decision. Obsidian have pointed out that this structure has been put in place to combat the common criticism amongst many console RPG’s where your choices will either ultimately end up with the same conclusion, or some of the dialogue options choices will have you scratching your head as they don’t have the outcome that you expected.

Headslam, the first choice of every good dialogue tree.

Headslam, the first choice of every good dialogue tree.
The title's gameplay looks like it will play out closely to that of most third-person action titles. Players will have a combination of abilities, skills, guns and gadgets on hand to tap in to. Although the spy setting lends itself quite intimately to carrying around a whole arsenal of customised weaponry on your back, the developer has advised that there will be melee combat on offer as well, even going as far as boasting that it is possible to complete the game in its entirety without killing an enemy - thanks to the combination of lethal and non-lethal takedowns on offer. As mentioned before, each mission can be completed in a variety of ways, from cloak and dagger stealthiness to round expending bullet parties and everything in between.

The main crux of the title that Obsidian wants to point out is that every action you take has a significant reaction; that every single choice you make in the game will change the world around you. How this all affects Michael will be measured by how factions interact with him and even as far as how news broadcasts on TV depict him.

There is plenty to be intrigued about in regards to Alpha Protocol, and with the variety of dialogue options and the impact they will have on character relationships, there looks to be a lot of scope for replayability with the title. Will Michael Thornton be videogaming's new favourite spy? We'll just have to wait until October 2009 to find out.
A fresh take on the espionage angle has definitely put Alpha Protocol onto our radar. It's combination of guns gadgets and general ass kickery makes Michael Thornton a secret agent man that we're looking forward to meeting.

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4 years ago
Hopefully this game does contain the most amount of variables so far. I haven't really played a game where they properly have an effect yet. Kinda like taking those FaceBook quizzes.
4 years ago
This is up for preorder on Steam for US$69.99 now, and you get Space Siege for free.
4 years ago
And every single day, he'll be watching you?

Could do with some work on the graphics but I'll definitely keep this one on the radar, I'd like a variation to the usual fantasy RPG.

Oh, and you say "Like any good RPG" a lot.
4 years ago
Once is a lot?
4 years ago
It was changed, James should pay me an editor's wage now. For those not in the know two paragraphs after the phrase remaining had the same prefix, not really an issue but it's something that's always bugged me when I'm writing/typing something (I tend to do it a lot when I'm tired) and so I also instinctively point it out. It's a really annoying trait of mine.

Wow, and there is a most pointless piece of information about myself if ever I did express one.
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Australian Release Date:
  27/5/2010 (Confirmed)
Standard Retail Price:
  $99.95 AU
  SEGA Australia
  Action RPG
Year Made:

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