Spy vs. Spy
Product: Alpha Protocol
Company: Sega
Date: 06/10/2009
Avaliable On:

Alpha Protocol is a new action RPG from Obsidian that takes you into the near future and embroils you in a world of spies and espionage. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to help one Michael Thorton as he uncovers a plot that puts him on his own against unknown enemies, both foreign and domestic.

This lengthy RPG has everything from fully customizable weapons and armor to dialogue branches that truly alter the game's story and how the NPCs react to you, and of course a large skill tree that allows you to allocate points you gain while leveling up for everything from accuracy with particular weapons, to hacking skills to hand-to-hand combat. I would be lying if I said my first impression of this game was a current-themed Mass Effect, but that definitely isn't a bad thing since that game got so many things right, and I would love the opportunity to play through another story with similar mechanics.

In the demo at SEGA's meeting room, we were taken to a Russian safe house, which acted as our hub for the area. There we were allowed to configure our weapons so that they fit our specific fighting style, change our outfit (some make less noise for sneaking around, but offer less protection, while others aren't as good on stealth but take more damage) and even change Thorton's facial features. One thing that amused Starscream specifically was the ability to outfit Thorton with a beret, give him a big beard and large sunglasses. For some reason, he found the thought of running around like Fidel Castro to be a great idea ... and I'm inclined to agree. While many of these customizable aspects can really change the way you play the game, the character's facial appearance is not one of them, so don't worry, walking around like a communist dictator won't cause your allies to turn on you.

We were treated to a couple of Thorton's missions during our demo session. First, we went to a train station where we ran into a small gang turf-war. With some clever dialogue choices, we allied ourselves with one of the gang leaders, a Russian woman named Sie. With her convinced not to shoot us, we were able to make our way further through the shipping yard without having to worry about her men shooting at us (unless we took a pot shot at them, of course). But the other gang still saw us as enemies. When asked, the Obsidian demo team confirmed that it is possible to befriend both gangs and have them simply fighting around you as you got your job done. But of course, any action taken against either faction would turn them into your enemies immediately.

Once we were done with the objective in the train yard, we were once again approached by Sie. We were given several options, one was to simply let the new friendship carry on, another was to flirt some more and get her to respect us some more (with possibly more than a friendship later in the game), but the demo team decided to make her into a boss battle by trying to arrest her. While she does get away in the fight, she supposedly pops up a few more times. It was during this battle that the developers basically said that every boss battle is optional. There is some path through the dialogue trees to talk your way out of the fight in most, if not all cases, which I found to be a pretty interesting situation.

After the gun fight with Sie, we went to bar to try and get some information out of an arms dealer. Here we got to experience some more of the game's Mass Effect-like dialogue system, and ultimately decided to beat the information out of our contact. After that scene ended though, the demo team decided to restart the save and head to the dealer before going to the train yard. There was a distinct difference in a lot of the dialogue. For one, the dealer was surprised to find that we went to him right off of the boat instead of taking care of other business. Another dialogue change was the fact that he asked us to try and save a train car in the yard that we would later be terrorizing. If we were able to redirect that train car of contraband to him during our next mission, then our friendship with him would increase and any weapons we bought through him would be at a discount. It was really impressive to see how just a few simple decisions could radically change the details of the game (even if the general story and direction stayed the same).

During the demo, we also got to see two of the three hacking mini-games that the game will support. At one point, we had to break our way into an electronically locked door. The screen was filled with nodes and wires that had to be mentally traced as they twisted and turned. The goal of this mini-game was to choose the path that led to the node. The first such lock we saw had only three or four nodes to trace, but a later one had six or seven, and with the clock ticking, it could get pretty tough. An interesting note here is that adding points to your hacking skill tree will reduce the number of nodes and make it easier to get through these doors. The other mini-game we saw filled the screen with scrolling numbers and letters. It was hard to tell what the goal was here, but apparently, you had to try and find groups of numbers that weren't actually scrolling. While it might sound easy, as soon as you see it, you realize that it isn't. The last mini-game of this sort is apparently lock-picking, but since we didn't see that, I can't tell you much about how they handled it.

Alpha Protocol promises to be a fun adventure that will take you all over the world and let you develop a character that can stealth, run and gun or anything in between. This is one of the games that got me pumped up while at the show, and anyone looking for a solid Action RPG need only wait until early next year.

J.R. Nip aka Chris Meyer

GameVortex PSIllustrated