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Alpha Protocol Preview

Chris_Hudak By:
Chris_Hudak
05/04/10
PRINTER FRIENDLY VERSION
EMAIL TO A FRIEND
GENRE Action 
PLAYERS
PUBLISHER Sega 
DEVELOPER Obsidian 
RELEASE DATE  
M Contains Blood, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Sexual Content, Strong Language

What do these ratings mean?

The '3 Bs' are SOP for this CIA RPG.


Somewhat modestly described by Sega Producer Tim Ernst as “a modern-day RPG”, Alpha Protocol is Obsidian Entertainment's crack at the cinematically-compelling, intrigue-intensive spy thriller—with a particular emphasis on the significance of the choices the player makes when dealing with non-player characters (and the long-range consequences thereof).

click to enlargeNeither fully a 'role-playing game' (at least in the traditional sense) nor strictly a full-bore action shooter, Alpha Protocol takes the form of a present-day spy thriller. Players take the role of rookie CIA operative Michael Thornton, caught up in a conspiracy of global proportions... literally. After failing a mission, Thornton is essentially 'burned'—backstabbed by his superiors, severed from his community of contacts, and hunted by the U.S. Government for reasons that are not clear. He's left with no choice to operate undercover and try to pick apart the tangle of secrets and deceptions that make up the massive conspiracy around him.

Throughout the course of the game, Michael will interact with a huge cast of non-player characters—and more than any single gun or gadget, his most effective weapon will be the way he chooses to interact with these characters. It's not necessarily a matter of giving answers that are right or wrong, or responses that are 'good' or 'bad'—Alpha Protocol, in keeping with its subject matter, seems quite at home in the swirling grays of moral ambiguity—but rather a matter of manipulating the outcome of any given conversation and interaction to achieve the desired result. Maybe you need to be suave and friendly with a female character who may have been an intimate partner in times past... or maybe you need to shake up a reluctant informant by busting a bottle over his head.

To these ends, Alpha Protocol employs a dialogue system called DSS (Dialogue Stance System), which allows selection of three different attitudes ('stances') during different parts of the interaction. Obsidian reps say that the various 'stance' choices (Professional, Suave and Aggressive) are representative of a personality trinity they call the “Three B's”: Bourne, Bond, and Bauer. [And if you add their first names, it's the Three JB's. ~Ed] In other words, if you can't use the James Bond suave-routine to attain your goals, maybe it's time to go all Jack Bauer on somebody.

Occasionally, there will be a fourth Action dialogue-choice, as a means of cutting an interaction short (this would presumably be the aforementioned bottle-over-the-head option). Since the player's responses to different NPCs can vary wildly, and since the consequences can take time to manifest, multiple playthroughs of the game will likely be required for players to really enjoy all the game-content. Of the game's total estimated twelve hours of cinematics, any given playthrough approach will only yield about four hours of storyline video.

click to enlargeAlpha Protocol's RPG scheme allows players to buy/upgrade weapons and equipment with money found in the world and to flesh out Thornton with nine different skill-sets. This includes stealth, martial arts, breaking and entering, and of course, numerous skills related to shotguns, pistols, machine guns, EMP grenades, and other weapons.

Alpha Protocol is a third-person game, with a hefty stealth element that will let players sneak up on some enemies and take them out quiet-like, without needing alarm-raising gunfire to enter the picture. Perks are rewarded based on whatever method players use to dispatch their foes, so much so that Obsidian claims it is possible to complete the game without killing so much as a single foe... but all the practical evidence so far points toward players racking up a lot of dead bodies before the final credits roll. The game is based on a hub structure (hub city locales include Moscow, Taipei, Rome, and at least one unidentified city in Saudi Arabia) and is dotted with 'safe houses' in which Thornton can call up contacts, accept missions, organize weapons, change clothing, and/or just generally keep out of sight between missions.

Alpha Protocol is looking like a pretty ambitious undertaking—doubly so for a title promising far-reaching dialogue/interaction consequences all within a mere 20 estimated hours of gameplay. There's definitely a fairly radical range of consequences for the player's actions (the difference, say, between one game-save where a female NPC offers Michael a tender reunion... and another, where the same chick lays in wait for him, clubs him over the head and proceeds to tool up on him with his own weapon). This truth-and-consequences RPG thriller is scheduled to ship at the beginning of June—stay tuned to this frequency to discover if we give the final game a Professional Jason Bourne once-over... or if we have to go all Jack Bauer on its ass. Look for Alpha Protocol to come out of nowhere June 1, 2010.

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