“I'm playing Alpha Protocol at the moment,” I said to the staff down at my local games store.
“Hmmm...” replied Clarice (name changed for legal purposes). We all looked across the counter at a not-yet-for-sale copy they had on display.
“So, it's kind of like Fallout 3 crossed with Splinter Cell?” Pete half-asked, half-stated.
Holy turd-monkeys! That would be AMAZING, right?!
Yeah. It would.
“Maybe,” I said. “If, you know, they took the bits that make each of them good away and left you with something that plays a bit like a stale biscuit.”
In fairness, Alpha Protocol
starts on a high. It opens with that old 'SEGA' noise you used to get on the Mega Drive. It's all a bit downhill from there.
In case Alpha Protocol
has been flying under your radar (which is fair enough – prior to it landing on my desk it was mostly just a name and a release date as far as I concerned) the box describes it as 'The Espionage RPG'. That's right there on the front cover and it sums the game up pretty well.
You play as Michael Thorton, an operative for an agency called... yeah, Alpha Protocol (if you know of any intelligence agencies with names that cool from real life, please let me know in the comments). AP is the US government's organisation of choice when it wants deniability. Like many things that are supposed to be interesting, officially AP doesn't exist. It does the blackest of black ops. It does shady shit for corporations. It also leaves you out in the cold when you start digging into the murky dealings of a company called Halbech (no, not Haliburton at all, honest).
That's the plot. It's not terribly exciting.
So, it's an RPG. My initial thought was that it would be one of those 'action RPGs' that isn't really an RPG at all – just a hack 'n' slash or shooter with a bit of XP to spend and more plot than your average action game. It's not. Really, that should be obvious, given that the game's developed by Obsidian, which emerged from the ashes of original Fallout
developer Black Isle Studios and is now working on the upcoming Fallout New Vegas
So, it's by and large a 'proper' RPG. That means there's lots of stuff to be played around with and there's at least the appearance of a branching storyline.
The game is set up around a hub system, with various safehouses around the world offering starting points for (largely combat-based) missions. On these missions you pick up cash, which you can spend on weapons and armour as well as XP and Advancement Points, which you use to upgrade your various skills. In addition to that, after you've been playing a while you get to choose between specialising as a Commando, Spy or Engineers, with a leaning towards general soldiering, infiltration and tech know-how in that order.
Problem is, however, there's not a very tangible link between your weapons and skills upgrades and your performance on the battlefield. You spend your points, you spend your cash and it just feels like you might as well not have bothered. I guess translating those upgrades into improved performance when combat isn't turn-based is a bit of a challenge, but I've played games that aren't strictly RPGs such as inFamous
where developers have done a decent job of making upgrades feel potent.