Is it true that most guys wanted to be a spy like James Bond when they were little, or was that just me? My childhood was spent being more covert than most, as it happened – sabotaging next door neighbour's toys, getting information from kids in the playground, hiding from the parents when I did something wrong...
So when I first heard about Alpha Protoco
l, (fond?) memories of my youth – and my career fantasy – came flooding back.
Obsidian has had some issues with making the game feel more like an RPG compared to a Splinter Cell
replica. The near-finished product shows that the studio has finally found a few tricks that distances Alpha Protocol from other espionage titles. While it certainly does have an air of Sam Fisher about its third-person play, it has plenty of unique nuances and features of its own design.
Take shooting, for instance. As in most games, you have the ability to upgrade and customise each weapon to take advantage of bonus stat upgrades, but if you're calm and collected enough you can perform Critical Hits as you would a Final Fantasy
game. The aiming reticule contains several dots, which need to be aligned into the centre of the circle to allow you the perfect shot.
Keeping your aim locked on your target until those dots form is a good way of accomplishing your mission with minimal fuss. After all, if your target needs more than one hit to take down, you could alert others to your whereabouts. Then it gets messy.
RPG-style stats are made for your character right from the start. You play as newly-recruited covert ops agent Mike Thorton, but his specialities depend entirely on how you want to play. When a new game begins, there are several 'Agent History' options available – selecting one of these will shape the core abilities of the player. The 'Soldier' is more proficient with guns; the 'Tech Specialist' is described as your 'mage', specialising in traps; while the 'Freelancer' gives you 31 skill points to customise your starting abilities.
Stats increase with the standard level-up system and successive achievements known as Perks. Unlocking different Perks can help round off your version of Mike Thorton; defeating 50 enemies using hand-to-hand combat, for example, will increase your Endurance ability by five points. Using a range of conversation options in one scene will give you more action points to use various equipment.
These conversations – and the consequences of them – differ depending on your Agent History, along with the strength of your relationship with each character. As a scene takes place, you get the chance to respond in a way that suits you best. Face buttons are used to choose one of four types of dialogue – Professional, Suave, Casual or Aggressive. Once you've taken a particular approach to a situation, you can't undo it and the effects of that could manifest itself into less equipment, stronger opponents or even an advantage in your favour.
Obsidian stressed that there's no morally 'good' or 'evil' approach to the scenes in Alpha Protocol
, and that taking an aggressive stance and beating the hell out of someone might actually get you some positive perks. Certain characters won't respect you enough if you're not much of a tough guy, yet in a scene I played it was beneficial to be polite to a Russian informant named Grigori. In having a pleasant conversation, he was able to give me intel, weapons access and a promise not to tell anyone of Thorton's existence in the area. Score one for the nice guy.
Other elements that help make you feel a bit more secret agent in your approach to missions are found within various minigames – one for lock-picking, one for terminal hacking and another for password encryption. The first one has you using the triggers to adjust the lock in order for your pick to open the door, while the second asks you to select numbers in ascending order within a maze-like grid. Password hacking presents you with two codes and a bunch of scrambling numbers – finding the codes and matching them in the wordsearch-esque panel allows you to steal some crucial intel.
Dossiers of weapons and characters can be collected, giving you the chance to broaden your dialogue options and be better informed of the task ahead. This information is held in your Safehouse, which acts as a preliminary base for each mission – weapons and email can also be accessed in the Safehouse. When you leave this area, a map appears with various elements of the mission to tackle. In Saudi Arabia, for example, there are three separate tasks to complete in order to accomplish the mission – going for these in a particular order changes dialogue and other opportunities.
Throw in some very detailed information about your playtime (including 'orphans created' and 'total medical bills') and limited special abilities (such as becoming invisible for a few seconds and a multiple-enemy lock on) and you have a game which feels familiar yet fresh at the same time. For Mass Effect
and Splinter Cell
fans you might find the gameplay similar, but the subject matter and the mash-up of James Bond and Jason Bourne makes Alpha Protocol
worth a look.
Alpha Protocol will be released for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC on 28th May.