Ever since Obsidian Entertainment was formed out of the remnants of Black Isle Studio, the developers had to contend with working on sequels for games originally developed by Bioware. Alpha Protocol is the first opportunity these independent developers had with working on an entirely new game setting. The game gets its name from a fictional American covert programme that is typically tasked with undertaking operations for which the government does not want to be held accountable. The story is told through the exploits of a new recruit of the Alpha Protocol program, an agent named Michael Thorton.
The choice of character type offers a fair bit of variety to encompass most typical playing styles. There is the stealth specialist who specializes in quite infiltration techniques coupled with a preference for pistols and unarmed combat. For those who like their presence to be felt, they can pick the Commando class that specializes in variety of weapons, complimented by skills that boots armour rating and hit-points. For the technically inclined there is yet another class that focuses on effective use of gadgets to get complete his missions. Apart for these three archetypes, the game offers an option of starting the game as a recruit in which case the character starts with a clean slate—meaning the character will start the game with zero skills. This of course has the effect of added challenge and on the plus side the player gets a special ‘recruit’ dialogue option. Another bit of incentive is that completing the game as a recruit unlocks the Veteran character class options.
After the player reaches a certain level, the game once again gives the option of choosing one of the three specializations. At this point, one can reset the character development to pick an entirely different approach to the game or continue on the initially selected class to max-out on certain skills. If none of the two choices are convincing, the game also has an option to pick a custom class where the player has complete freedom on the specialization that they would like to max-out.
Of safe houses and the black market
Due to the ultra covert nature of the Alpha Protocol programme, you will be playing the entire game without any official support. What this means is that everything—from intelligence about the mission to weapons, gadgets and armour—needs to be acquired by spending money from your own pockets. Money can be acquired in a variety of ways—from looting enemies and mission areas, to selling recovered weapons and intelligence; and if you are particularly desperate for cash, you can even extort money from some people. All this buying and selling takes place on the black market through a secured computer terminal in your safe house. Thankfully, one thing that this job guarantees is that you will have a base of operation in every country you visit and you don’t have to worry about paying the rent.
There are four weapon types available in the game— pistols, SMG, assault rifles or shotguns. Even though the player has freedom to specialize in each of these weapons, certain weapon types lend themselves better to a character class. For instance, you cannot expect to be stealthy while blowing holes through the enemies using a shotgun. And if you feel that guns are for sissies, there is always the option of specializing in hand-to-hand combat that can be just as effective with crowd control at higher levels. There is a good variety of weapons in each of these categories, available for purchase from the black market. Furthermore, the weapons can be customized through add-on parts like a silencer, laser sight, custom clips and gun chambers.
Complimenting the weapon is a decent variety of gadgets that ranges from multiple grenade types to first-aid kits. On the defensive side, the black market has a collection of armour to suit every character type—from stealth armour to heavy-duty assault armour. Just like the weapons, the gadgets and armour can also be customized to suit one’s playing style.
The merry men
Since your government won’t even admit that you exist, operational support comes for a variety of sources. These characters range from fellow operatives to gang-lords, illegal weapon’s dealers, journalists and even people that are officially declared as terrorists. Here, having your name in their good books can make a great deal of difference to how easily you can achieve your objectives. Since these sources of support come from all walks of life, it is essential to approach each of them in a different manner. For instance, some may appreciate a more professional approach while others may prefer an aggressive stance. A character’s preference for a certain personality type can either be discovered by approaching a conversation in a variety of styles and taking note of their reaction or by gathering intelligence dossier on their personality. To this effect, Obsidian Entertainment has implemented an innovative conversation system where the player only needs to decide on their stance for the next line of conversation. So you can either choose to be professional, suave, joking, flirtatious, aggressive, etc. The player gets only a limited time to decide on their stance—this is typically before the other person finishes his or her sentence.
Conversations are well scripted for a variety of personalities and it is further supported by commendable voice acting. In effect, they are often engaging and never boring.
Working for black-ops means that you are not always going to like what you have to do. Agent Thorton is assigned to track down a bunch of missiles that were allegedly stolen from American arms manufacturing company named Halbech and were used to destroy a passenger airliner. Just like every worthy story about the world of espionage, this story too has its fair share of twist and turns—it’s about unexpected allies and betrayal when one least expects. Delving even slightly into the story would be entering spoiler territory, so all I will say here is that the game’s plot is good enough to satisfy most RPG fans. Alpha Protocol is guilty of sticking to the unwritten law that most role-playing games have been following these days—that the plot has to be about saving the world. In spite of this, the story-telling is non-linear and it has a fair share of unexpected surprises.
The game lasts as long as any self-respecting action RPG and even though there is no multiplayer option there is enough replay value thanks to the different character classes and the choices offered by the plot. Overall, Alpha Protocol is a fairly solid game; however there are certain areas where the developers could have done a lot better. Hacking mini-games can be a bit frustrating at times due to iffy controls, and enemy AI is seldom challenging. The game is also strewn with graphical artifacts that are even more common during cut-scenes. The cover system is inconsistent and even when it works it takes some getting used to. If I have to compare Alpha Protocol game-play with other games, I would say it’s a mix of Mass Effect and Splinter Cell games. I feel than on the balance of things, there are enough points in the game to make up for the shortcomings.
Genre: Action, RPG, Stealth
Studio: Obsidian Entertainment
Platforms: PlayStation 3, PC (MS Windows), Xbox 360
PlayStation 3, Xbox 360: Rs. 2,499/-, PC: 699/-
Reviewed on PC