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Alpha Protocol - updated impressions

After some action-packed super-secret spy hijinks, you slink back to your Rome safehouse.  Are you in for a roll in the sack, or a taser to the chest? Depends on decisions you made hours ago, so you can’t simply reload your save until you’re knocking boots. Welcome to Alpha Protocol, the spy thriller RPG that features not only branching endings, but branching middles.


Above: The guard appears to be distracted by something

As scenes like the above unfold, you choose the tone of your response (ala Heavy Rain and others) and the dialog plays accordingly. As your relationships with the characters ebb and flow, new scenes open up or are closed off. So you’re not just changing the dialog options in a preset scene, but changing the content of later scenes in their entirety. There’s no way to get to the love scene from the tasering – whatever you did a couple hours ago to anger or please your lady friend moved you into a completely different branch of the story tree.


Above: Sneaking around can solve most of your problems…

After seeing the two versions of the safehouse scene, our guide (one of the game’s producers) launched into a mission that was filled with loads of sneaky-shooty action. On its surface, combat appeared to be a typical 3rd person cover-based affair, but with the addition of special abilities developed through the game’s RPG system.  Sound a bit like Mass Effect? It is, but from what we saw there’s a greater emphasis on stealth. Think Mass Effect crossed with Splinter Cell. We saw abilities like Silent Running and Shadow Operative (temporary invisibility) used to quietly take down enemies. The same mission, however, featured a segment in which a convoy needed to be destroyed with a rocket launcher. It looked to be a good mix of sneaking and balls-to-the-wall action, and of course the mission ended with a plot twist and an ambiguous moral decision.


Above: …but for everything else, there’s the rocket launcher

We only got a brief look under the hood at the character sheet and skill trees, but there were more than enough active abilities, passive abilities, tech and weapon upgrade options for die-hard RPG fans to customize to their hearts’ content. During combat, active abilities had a brief cooldown time but could be effectively employed in succession to get past tougher spots. Chain Shot was a particularly effective ability, which allowed the player to line up several shots and then unleash them in one sudden burst (much as in Splinter Cell: Conviction’s co-op gameplay).


Above: This poor sap was just trying to defend his classic arcade cabinets

Based on what we’ve seen, we’re eagerly awaiting the chance to explore Alpha Protocol’s branching middles and endings to see what surprises the story has in store for us. The varied weapons and abilites look like they’ll provide players with a diversity of approaches to each mission, and help make multiple playthroughs a must.

Mar 12, 2010

7 comments

  • denyeverything - March 17, 2010 6:48 a.m.

    @Maiestas Agree. One of the things about early JRPGs is that no other game had that sort of scope and length. Of course when it came to actual combat... well, they improvised and implemented some strategic elements rather than action While now we can have Action RPGs because systems can handle it, it'll never be as good as a pure action or pure RPG. Mass Effect is like... what 20-30 hours to 50 hours max? Final Fantasy is like 50 hours min to 100+ hours max. Not saying that hours = quality, but that's just a numeric for example. The more I hear about this game the more I love it. If there is a decent pre-order deal, I'll definitely place it.
  • D0CCON - March 16, 2010 9:22 p.m.

    This was the one delay I cared about last year. It was in the top 3 games I wanted last year. However, I am approaching this cautiously. It sounds neat, but there are many ways it can go wrong. It may be like ME, but it isn't as guaranteed to be mind-blowing as ME is.
  • JADENkOTOR - March 15, 2010 10:58 p.m.

    @Maiestas I completely agree with pretty much everything As for the game it could be great since it is following in the footsteps of two of the best (ME1 and ME2). That being said this isn't Bioware and I'm not quite sure that anyone else can pull it off. Even if they do a good job with the different genre I just think ME2 might have ruined it for all of us.
  • Maiestas777 - March 14, 2010 7:24 a.m.

    Why can't an FPS have branching storylines and choices? Simply put, it would have to take a hit somewhere. The experience that comes from a CoD game comes from all of the scripted set pieces that all fall into place. If you were to make a choice system where the outcome of the level could have maybe 3 options, that is three different routes that have to be individually designed. Why does this make it always become an RPG? Two reasons. 1) If it is an RPG, people are willing to overlook the graphical shortcomings of the game due to the depth of its gameplay. 2)In this day and age, every game is starting to meld genres. Every game has a mix of everything. On the topic: I am excited about this game, but trying to not get my hopes up. With a project this ambitious, there is waaay too much that can go wrong and kill the game.
  • MACGRUBER7693 - March 14, 2010 5:26 a.m.

    Why is it that every game with choices has to be an RPG with skill trees and a generic expansion system. Why can't there be a game with the mechanics of call of duty and the choices of mass effect.
  • denyeverything - March 12, 2010 10:55 p.m.

    I'm pretty sure the basic storyline will be the same, i.e. there is an end-game that is set. I think if you expect more than that, you are setting it up to fail. However, I think where it differs is in party composition. Imagine if you were playing a Final Fantasy game, and rather than meeting X friends and fighting Y foes, you just meet Z people and depending upon your choices. It's less about being able to write a completely different story, and more about watching a movie and saying "man, if I was doing that, I woulda done it this way." My main concern is that the moment-to-moment gameplay doesn't look great. It looks like a sub-par action-shooter. I feel the decision to make the game so close to reality was a poor one because there is a higher bar for that approach.
  • CH3BURASHKA - March 12, 2010 10:31 p.m.

    I'm fairly excited about this game: the concept of an RPG spy game sounds awesome, yet in some ways, too good to be true. The claim that their story is so well developed that it branches this way and that is suspect: I imagine that no matter what you do, you WILL find the intel, you WILL go to that dude's house, you WILL get intel from him, and so on. Still, seems at the very least competent. The crappiest thing about this game has been it's PR schedule, or lack of one. Sega has dropped the ball once: let's hope that it doesn't happen again.

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