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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