Format: Xbox 360/PS3/PC / Developer: Obsidian / Publisher: Sega / Due: Q1 2009 / Preview: Presentation
Those who know me will know I am something of a James Bond fan. In fact, something of a James Bond geek. And, by extension, fans of anything spy. Particularly 24. So you can imagine my excitement when Sega announced this Espionage RPG, where you play a character that takes elements from the holy trinity of JBs: James Bond, Jack Bauer and Jason Bourne.
Lofty claims, but I honestly think Alpha Protocol will pull it off. During my first presentation at this year’s Games Convention at Leipzig, the developers took me through all of the crucial selling points for the game and I emerged impressed and eager to play it for myself.
From the screenshots, it looks like your typical third-person action shooter, and therefore uninspiring, but the underlying RPG elements are the key to Alpha Protocol’s appeal. Players will be able to customise their hero, both in terms of appearance and ability, and can guide the storyline down different branches thanks to the use of dialogue trees, prompting decisions that change the course of the game.
The customisation options were shown to us via the agent’s safehouse, something that will act as a hub between missions – sadly there’s no open world sections or areas to explore around the safehouse, however. There will be a safehouse in each global location and contains all the essentials you will need in order to kit up for your next assignment, including weapons cabinet and wardrobe. The wardrobe was shown to us first, with the developer spinning tales of how the outfit you choose will affect your performance. This goes from the rudimentary combat suit versus stealth suit (defence and firepower versus agility and subtlety) to the choice of wearing a tuxedo to meet with villains, contacts and those all important femme fatales.
Now the tux may sound like nothing more than an aesthetic change for role-playing purists, but this is what excites me the most. The ability to immerse yourself in the role of a spy, something other espionage-based games rarely allow you to do. This couple with the fully-fledged RPG storyline and dialogue system will elevate the narrative and experience of Alpha Protocol well above the likes of Splinter Cell and Quantum Of Solace because it will involve more than simply pursuing objectives, going to point A, hacking computer B, taking out target C.
This was demonstrated via a mission to capture an arms dealer. Rolling up to the front gate of the scumbag’s fortress, the hero is approached by a guard, triggering a dialogue tree from which players can choose to reason with the guard, allowing them entry, or take him out, meaning you have potentially one less enemy to deal with later. Upon entry to the fort, players can either sneak into the arms dealer’s office, attempt to hack the security systems or take out his personal guard head on. At any point, they will be able to adapt their strategy and choose another path and the level, which seemed fairly large, was thankfully free of any obvious linearity. So if it’s a stealth game you’re after, Alpha Protocol will suit you fine; if you want an all-out action shooter, the game will still do the job.
Reaching the arms dealer presents you with another choice and another dialogue tree as he pleads for his life. This time, however, players only have a few seconds to make their decision, recreating the split-second tension that on-screen spys must surely feel in similar moments. Killing him may upset your superiors, while arresting him may not prove to progress the story. Better yet, leaving him alive will mean he owes you a favour and will supply you with arms throughout the rest of the game.
Assuming every mission comes with such choices, there is great scope for replayability here, giving Alpha Protocol the potential to be just as engrossing an RPG as Mass Effect, with the added bonus of freedom when defining how your character, and by extension the gameplay, develops. Throw in little touches lik