If you worked for a shadowy counter-terrorist organisation, what sort of agent would you be:
A) A loud and shooty killer of men
B) A silent and stabby master of discretion
C) A non-violent peacenik of pacifism
If A or B is your thing, well done you've got the right idea and Alpha Protocol has got you covered. Anyone that picked C should probably forget about being an operative of danger and go play Flower instead.
Alpha Protocol developer Obsidian recently flew us out to Prague to take a look at its intriguing espionage RPG. It was two days well spent. We ate food. We drank lovely Czech beer. We danced like drunken men on holiday. We also played some Alpha Protocol. More importantly, we played the same mission of Alpha Protocol as three varying types of specialist agent (created by investing in different skills) to see just how different the experience would be.
The mission saw main character Michael Thorton assault a Triad HQ. The objective was to take down some disloyal lieutenants for Triad boss Hong Shi. In return, Hong Shi would supply Thorton with information regarding the planned assassination of a Taiwanese politician. That's the background. This is what happened.
Playing as a 'soldier' style agent
The approach here was pretty much guns blazing all the way. Skills for this version of Thorton were focused on 'Toughness', making him, like, tougher than the other style of agents we tried.
The benefits of being a tough guy became apparent when a lock-picking mini-game was botched, triggering an alarm that consequently sent many angry Triad men running in Thorton's direction. His enhanced health and ability to endure more shots made the simple stratagem of running and gunning the obvious choice. So that's what we did.
Above: If you like shooting guns, you'll probably want to up your agent's toughability
And while we could have chosen to sneak past cameras and avoid detection, blasting men dead with the duel-wielded SMGs was less hassle. So that's what we did.
On the downside, being rubbish at the hacking, deactivating, safe-cracking and lock-picking mini-games (there's lots of 'em) got sucky pretty quickly. For a while we got stuck in a cycle that followed this pattern: attempt hack, fail hack, trigger alarm, fight men, kill men, attempt hack, fail hack, trigger alarm, fight men, kill men, attempt hack... and so on. Frustrating and annoying.
And he was rubbish at up-close martial arts combat. Pussy.
Playing as a 'stealth' style agent
This required an altogether more sneaky approach to the mission. No longer rock-hard, we quickly realised that employing the balls-out fire fight tactic would make Thorton collapse to the floor in a heap of slow-motion deadness with alarming regularity.
No. The best way here was to exploit the stealth skills to their fullest. On-screen arrows now indicated enemy locations and temporary invisibility allowed Thorton to get close and execute fatal takedowns without being detected.
Above: Boost your martial artistry and you'll be killing men with your feet for fun
Being invisible is obviously brilliant. But the skill timer took an age to reset (something that can be reduced by attributing skills in the right places) and prevented us from simply dashing unseen through the mission and murdering everyone before they even knew we were there.
Even so, with plenty of skills piled into the 'Martial Arts' branch, fighting with fists and feet was an efficient way to neutralize threats. Even the lieutenant 'bosses' could be swiftly dispatched with little more than a couple of blows.
Playing as a stealthy Thorton certainly worked, but we struggled to see the appeal. Why bother creeping through a mission when you can shoot your way to victory in half the time?
Playing as a 'saboteur' style agent
This was our favourite type of agent for the mission we were playing, generally feeling more balanced overall than the other two.
One of the passive skills allowed Thorton to pass through a camera beam undetected. So less caution required, less bloody alarms wailing away and less angry Triads shooting their guns.
Above: That gun is very capable of killing
Even better, with skills invested in the 'Sabotage' branch, the hacking mini-games became infinitely easier, some being bypassed altogether. Again, this meant fewer alarms making lots of noise and, consequently, fewer unwanted skirmishes.
This particular Thorton also benefited from being generously skilled in the not-so subtle art of firing a shotgun into men's faces. So while not as durable as the 'tough' agent, having a bad ass beefed-up shotgun with fast reload times, increased shell capacity etc meant that Triad assaults never presented much of a problem beyond having to actually take cover now and again and use a few more health packs. No bother.
And then there's all the other myriad permutations
Obsidian has made it pretty clear that Alpha Protocol is full of choices. The three agents we played as were all ready made for us to sample. But players will be able make Michael Thorton into whatever type of agent they want (within the parameters of the skills on offer, of course).
And this is a good thing. The prospect of creating our own agent however we want is - right now - the single most appealing aspect of Alpha Protocol. The shooting seems competent at best, enemies have an intelligence deficiency and we're not convinced that the characters or plot will keep us hooked for the duration.
Let's hope the 'skilling up' aspect proves to be rewarding, because the idea of an espionage RPG is rock solid and it's one we really *hope* we're going to enjoy. It's out 28 May, so we'll find out soon enough.