From Bond’s first glowering stare across a baccarat table all the way to Tom Cruise whining like a baby and sticking explosive chewing gum on a fish tank - the international spy thriller has been a cornerstone of popular culture for decades. So why has it never really translated to games? Only one Bond game was ever any good and the rest were a sequence of gaudy car crashes and poorly clipped death animations. Other stabs at the genre were late-’90s shooters with internationally themed levels (“Wow! A Chinese sewer!” “An underground base in Mexico? Awesome!”). In fact, the closest we’ve come to matching a Bourne or a Bond is Deus Ex, with only internationally hubbed adventures like Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis treading on its coat-tails.
Well, no more. Not if Obsidian have anything to do with it. The developing house is of outstanding pedigree (formed from the ashes of Black Isle, the creators of RPG touchstones Fallout and Planescape: Torment) yet of late they’ve been known only as the developer who delivered the botched ending to KOTOR II and the guys that made a worthy game that went largely unnoticed (Neverwinter Nights 2). Now though, with their own world to play with and a remarkably fresh take on the genre, they’re on the offensive.
Betrayed by his superiors. Hunted by his own country. The only man alive who has a hint of a conspiracy that is soon to result in massive loss of life.
A spy who’s a bit rubbish at first, but does have some as-yet unfilled skill slots that could lean on the violent side. Michael Thorton starts off in full-blown Mission: Impossible territory - gone rogue with only a list of names and potential safe houses, and several thousand air miles to help him. From there, Obsidian are taking him and us on a journey they hope will meld the aura of the three JBs - Jason Bourne, Jack Bauer and James Bond.
“Yeah, Alpha Protocol has much of the edginess of the new James Bond movie,” smiles Ryan Rucinski, one of Obsidian’s senior producers. “Although the development of AP actually started before the release of Casino Royale. So when the movie came out and we saw the results, we knew we had made the right decision. There have been a lot of movies that have influenced us during the conceptual creation - Mission: Impossible, the Bourne films, Ronin... However, one of the main contributors in look and tone was Syriana. If James Bond is where the action comes from, Syriana has a big influence on the theme.”
Yet what Obsidian want to stress more than anything is that Alpha Protocol is a role-playing game. You’ll have multiple missions open in different hubs around the world (locations currently being bandied about include Taipei, Rome, Moscow and Saudi Arabia) and you’ll be able to flit between them at will - each one containing one overarching operation and a cavalcade of minor missions leading up to it - be they stealing sensitive data on a hard drive, tailing suspects or extracting information from grumpy NPCs through bribery, diplomacy or murder most foul.