by Davneet Minhas
reviewed on PC
For most of my time in Moscow, I had been impetuous, shooting first and not bothering to ask questions later. But this time, I decided to hear the guy out, even though he had betrayed me.
A couple days ago, I had saved his life from an assassination attempt. In return, he gave me some much needed information about local arms trafficking. Many dead bodies later, I learned the information he had given me was false. He was just using me for his own purposes.
So, with my gun pointed at his head, I let him defend his decisions, let him explain his betrayal. Surprisingly, the more I let him talk, the more I understood and even respected his decision. He had done what he thought was best for his country, and he seemed genuinely sorry for using me in the manner he did. I learned we really had the same goal and realized how beneficial a renewed relationship could be. So, I let him live after a cursory threat and the promise of cooperation.
From ally to enemy to ally Ė this is the engrossing world of Alpha Protocol. There are no good guys or bad guys, only individuals and organizations with their own agendas. Islamic terrorists, weapons manufacturers, private military corporations, and mafia bosses can all be your hated adversary one day and your best friend the next. It all depends on the decisions you make as rookie spy Michael Thorton, who is thrust into this murky underworld when tasked with finding the culprits behind a missile attack on a passenger airplane.
Sometimes these decisions are straightforward. Most of the time, youíre forced to make decisions with too little information and no favorable consequences. Choosing to ally with one faction over another always nets you a new enemy. Saving the damsel in distress just leads to more distress for both you and the damsel.
There are no right or wrong or easy decisions in Alpha Protocol, but they are all unavoidable. And the most prevalent decision is choosing how to interact with other people.
Take a Stance
In lieu of a traditional dialogue system, developer Obsidian Entertainment has created what they call the Dynamic Stance System. Instead of choosing a phrase to recite, you choose a stance loosely falling under one of three categories: Aggressive, Professional, and Suave. The stance you select determines your verbal response, and more importantly, your reputation with the person youíre conversing with.
Should you choose to be suave with a business-first, no-nonsense woman, youíre going to lose reputation with her. Having a very poor reputation with someone will generate some far-reaching consequences, but not necessarily bad ones. In this morally ambiguous world, a poor reputation can be very beneficial, just as an excellent reputation can be hazardous. Overtime, your reputation will even start to precede you and shape your interactions with people you have yet to meet, for better or worse.
Of course, choosing a stance can also have immediate and short-lived consequences. With a few words, you can walk past a security checkpoint or start a bloodbath. But just like in the case of reputation, you donít always know which result youíre going to get.
Do Your Homework
Unfortunately, consequences arenít the sole complications of choosing a stance. In Alpha Protocol, conversations run in real-time. You canít walk away while in-game characters sway back and forth, endlessly waiting for you to choose a response. Instead, you have a very short period of time to choose a stance before the game automatically chooses one for you. As a result, conversations are tense affairs and often evolve into verbal combat.
To prevail in such combat, you need as much information as possible on the person youíre talking to. This information can be gleaned through experience Ė the more you talk to someone, the more you learn about their demeanor and strengths and weaknesses. But given the large and complex cast of characters in Alpha Protocol, you may not have the time to get to know someone through repeated conversations. Sometimes, first impressions are the most important.
An engrossing dialogue system, well-written story and characters.