GC 2008: Alpha Protocol Preview
Written Thursday, September 04, 2008 By Dan WebbView author's profile
Let me break the ice. Alpha Protocol in my honest opinion was one of the most promising games at this year’s Games Convention in Leipzig. Billed as an action RPG title, Alpha Protocol is a modern day espionage story where renowned RPG developers Obsidian (Knights Of The Old Republic II, Neverwinter Nights 2) vow to tell a tale of shades of gray rather than the traditional tales of black and white of recent times. Nothing will ever be clear cut in Alpha Protocol and this was part of its initial attraction.
Obsidian discussed the six fundamentals of a successful RPG and how they will be integral to Alpha Protocol. When Obsidian tells you this, you stand up and pay attention. You’ve got to remember the sort of pedigree that is behind this company when it comes to the RPG genre. KOTOR aside, the higher ups of Obsidian have worked on such franchises as Fallout, Baldur’s Gate and Planescape Torment, so expect mature content in a new setting.
Alpha Protocol takes its real life inspiration from the three JB’s of the fictional world (James Bond, Jason Bourne and Jack Bauer) and tries to throw aspects from all those in to the RPG genre which really hasn’t been tried before. Sure, we have Metal Gear Solid and Splinter Cell as successful espionage franchises but they have linear stories and Obsidian are looking to make the Alpha Protocol story more reactive to the player and give them the choice of which path they tread.
The six fundamental features of a successful RPG according to Obsidian are; customisation, the safehouse, missions, choices through dialogue, action and consequences, and Alpha Protocol aims to get all these working perfectly in sync with one another.
The main protagonist of Alpha Protocol is secret agent Michael Thorton. The face of Thorton stays the same throughout the game but you are given the ability to mould his personality through his general appearance (facial hair, sunglasses, make-up!?) to his general attire and as a spy, you must dress for the occasion. You won’t get away with wearing a full action-armoured camo suit to a formal evening wear event. People literally respond to you on how you look and how you dress.
Thorton will have 3 classes at his disposal that run throughout the game which are; combat, tech and stealth. This ultimately means you can shape Thorton and his play style as you see fit, and equip the tools and weapons that you think will be necessary for the job. With that comes frankly the greatest weapon storage pod I have ever seen ... think the weapons cabinet in the cooker from Mr & Mrs Smith. The weapons are also fully customisable and can be upgraded and such, but more importantly, Alpha Protocol has gadgets galore.
Thorton’s safehouse is the main central hub of activity. Here you can buy and sell items online, talk to people/informants via e-mail or the phone and even watch TV to keep up to date with all the topical current affairs that affect you.
Obsidian described their mission aspect as totally non-linear. You must do the leg work, whether it is tracking down information, talking to and leaning on informants and hell, sometimes, your reputation will precede you with the different factions you work for so it requires more thought.
The considerable focus appears to be on the fundamental RPG style dialogue. Gone are the full line quotes at the bottom of the screen that tend to have the same response no matter what. In come general motives and mood responses that you can use instead. So you’ll be given the option to be sarcastic, suave, direct, confrontational and a whole lot more will be available depending on the circumstances.
In addition, there will also be action opportunities in the dialogue sequences which is a great addition. Want to pull a gun to intimidate? Want to steal something from someone? Sure, go ahead, you’ll get plenty of chance to do these and more but remember, actions have consequences and Obsidian have added a timer to this aspect to really put some pressure on you to react.
The combat in Alpha Protocol is third person and takes place in real time. It actually reminded me a lot of Mass Effect in this sense but not as rigid, by that I mean that you can climb and use hand to hand combat. Ultimately though, you choose how you tackle a situation, whether you go in guns a blazing or you decide to sneak through in the shadows and vents and stay undetected, it’s entirely up to you and how you level up and equip Thorton for the job.
Last but not least, we have consequences and we are told that what you do in Alpha Protocol, will have a direct effect on how the game plays. This means that certain actions could on one hand keep one faction happy but on the other hand, it could anger others. Each action will carry short and long term consequences. When asked whether the game will have multiple endings, the answer was a resounding “yes”. How many we asked? “A lot!!” was the answer. So a campaign that is shooting for 20 hours, has now had the life of the game extended somewhat further.
Alpha Protocol, even at this early stage looks like SEGA and Obsidian have a great game in the pipeline. The game already boasts detailed environments and character models even now and we can only expect that to improve over time. It looks like Obsidian have all the bases covered on their next RPG title, but seriously, would you expect any different from the KOTOR II team?
Alpha Protocol will be shipping in February 2009 on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.