The term reactivity crops up a lot as we sit down to play Alpha Protocol: the rep from developer Obsidian is obsessed with the word and all it means. This is because beneath the third-person gunplay everything you do in the game affects the overall outcome, as well as how your character develops.
Early on, as we played through the ‘Greybox’ training mission this reactivity was evident. After we’d taken part in some skill challenges to master the basic controls - a gun range and obstacle course - which felt a little clunky compared to an out and out shooter, our character Michael Thorton entered into conversation with intel expert Parker. This fellow was full of himself, and so dialogue lines that played on his ego pushed up our friendship with him. Another central character, Mina, is the main link between the Alpha Protocol organization and the missions and intel you’ll be playing with. She likes the suave type whose first weapon is blatant innuendo backed up by charm.
There’s a reason for these dialogue routes: they can earn you Perks and Experience Points. Perks are minor gameplay enhancers that are awarded for meeting certain challenges or hidden criteria. There are a lot of useful Perks to gain from picking the right dialogue paths that lead to important story waypoints. There’s another way to earn Perks – collect them in-mission by hitting hidden goals such as three critical hits in a row – not quite as tricky as it might sound.
Experience Points are a little more traditional. Like Perks you are awarded XP for achieving hidden goals. The points can then be spent in your Safe House on upgrading your character’s skills. There are around 10 skill paths to level up and they range from simple things like Pistols to Tech Aptitude and Sabotage. They generally govern your skill with weapons, explosives and gizmos, but you can also unlock Feats when you pay enough XP into a Skill path. Boosting Toughness earns the Hard to Kill Feat that means you get three seconds of life when your health is exhausted to perform a last-minute kill or to use a health pack.
These Feats can be accessed in-mission with the tap of a button. Using the Focus Aim Feat zooms down the sights and automatically locks onto an enemy – it only lasts for a few seconds but can turn a fight. There are stealth Feats too, such as Awareness, which briefly highlights all the enemies in a map and shows what level of alertness they’re at. Again, it only lasts for a short while unless you play as a Field class, in which case this becomes a passive skill and is activated automatically every time you enter stealth mode.
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