by Matt Stoneking
previewed on X360
Your weapon is choice
At least that's what it reads on the main page of the Alpha Protocol website. Yet if you really take the time to ponder this you will realize that is a profound statement. There have been many games lately trying to bring emotion to the player in the form of choice and moral decision, some successful while others not so much. Obsidian Entertainment's Third-Person Action RPG promises to bring even more meaningful choices to the table. The game was actually due for release last October but it obviously wasn't ready and got pushed back to late May, early June, depending on exactly where it is you reside.
Hey, that looks familiar
The storyline of the game tells a tale of betrayal. After failing a mission, agent Michael Thornton is crossed by his higher-ups and becomes the target of what is basically a manhunt by the United States government. In the wake of his betrayal, Thornton decides to join a group called "The Alpha Protocol", a secret organization that carries out covert operations and military activities not watched by the U.S. government. Thornton uses the organization in order to stay undercover and unseen while unearthing the truth behind the conspiracy that has decided to involve him in its workings. And this is where our knowledge of the storyline ends. Obviously the developers are trying to keep it under wraps, hoping to surprise gamers when play the game. An additional reason is that they can't fully foretell how the game will be played. The "choices will affect the plot" scheme will give players a say in what happens during the game, writing part of the story with their own choices in the process.
I expect some of you will think of Heavy Rain or Mass Effect after reading the above description of the game and its storyline. While it is easy to consider a case of 'copy cat syndrome", Obsidian was quick to deny any link with those games during the Boston Game Developers Conference. Producer Tim Ernst said "We've been working on this game for four years so even before Mass Effect came out we were talking about these kinds of issues. I think every game is taking choices in a different direction. What we try to do is we have conversations, and depending on the choices you're going to see your reputation change. It's not this grand 'good' or 'bad' scale; you're going to see different reputations with each person. On top of that, we want to make it very clear when you have these penultimate moments of choice."
The player will see the plot thicken through third-person view. Combat in close quarters will revolve around a Martial Art named Kenpo so expect to do a lot of unarmed fighting. You will still have numerous firearms and of course some awesome spy gadgets to play with as well.
A welcome addition to the use of weapons and cool thingamabobs are the ten separate skills that can be acquired and used as you move along through the game. You will be given advancement points that can be obtained on your journey in order boost your abilities and select new skills. Skills are free to utilize there is a cool down period that prohibits you from using it too fast after the previous time. One of Thornton's possible skills is the ability to scan a group of enemies from cover and then pop out of cover with the advantage of foreknowledge about where each individual target is situated.
Joining "The Alpha Protocol" means that Thornton can take advantage of its considerable resources. The job advert read "Willing to travel" as one of the requirements and they weren't kidding: you will find yourself in a variety of places ranging from Saudi Arabia to Rome, Moscow and Taipei. There are safe houses in each of these cities where he can change clothes, access telephones and lockers. Safe houses also provide a good location to purchase new weapons and act as a base of operations for getting and undertaking new missions. Some assignments will be more crucial to story development than others, the latter giving you a choice to beef up your experience outside of the original plot.
Players have the ability to change the way Thornton looks, right up to the gadgets and weapons that he possesses at the time. As for weapons, the list that will be usable during your play-through include familiar weapons such as the P90, M4A1, and F2000.
Yo, spies are cool
The dialogue is one that strikes resemblance with games such as Mass Effect where you will be able to make judgments mid-game, while you are playing, giving you a certain amount of time to pick one of the given slots in the dialogue tree. If taken too long though the game will pick one for you based upon the way that your character has developed until that intersection in the storyline. If you are the "badass taking names later and bust heads now" type of guy, then the dialogue will be chosen as such. The choices will be made with three diverse attitudes that the developers have named the "three J.B.'s": Jason Bourne (professional), James Bond (suave), and Jack Bauer (aggressive). Sometimes there will also be a fourth that will usually be there to end the conversation hastily. Each person you encounter will react to the stances differently and you may not even see the repercussions of what you have said or what choices have been made until late into the story.
Alpha Protocol has been in creation for about four years and time seems to be ticking slower as the release date nears. I know I'm not the only one anxious to see how it turns out but I hope it holds up well. I mean who doesn't want to be James Bond, right?