Out of all of the games that were delayed in 2009, not a single delay upset me more than Obsidian and Sega’s Alpha Protocol (AP). And, no it wasn’t because i couldn’t wait to check out the “romance” scenes. It was because out of everything that was coming out last year it seemed that it would provide the biggest breath of fresh air. On paper, it seemed that developer Obsidian, had put together one of the most ambitious 3rd person shooter/action-rpg game ever. And after what I saw at the Sega NYC media day, I think they just might pull it off.
As gamers, when we first look at any title we immediately tend to make comparisons to other games. This was the case when Al and myself approached the Alpha Protocol kiosk, as we immediately drew comparisons to another popular and recent 3rd person/action rpg title that is currently making waves – Mass Effect 2. When we brought this comparison to the attention of Assistant Producer Matthew Hickman (who would also be playing the game for us) he quickly gave us reasons as to why Alpha Protocol is in a class all it’s own.
“We emphasize more that there’s no good and evil, how people interact with to you depends entirely on how you behave towards them and their friends in the past… It’s just about choices and repercussions.”
I asked if this game was like a video game representation of the show “24”, and Matthew replied that from the beginning they were saying “it’s the three B’s, Bond, Bauer, and Bourne.” Judging from the snippet that we were shown, that sounds just about right.
The gameplay that we we saw took place in a desert town in Saudi Arabia, where our protagonist Agent Michael Thorton was on the trail of a known arms dealer in the area. Right away, one of the things you immediately notice is how good this game looks. I asked what engine the game was running and when Matthew said it was the Unreal Engine my jaw dropped, to which he replied “yeah, I know”. Now I am well aware that many games these days run on the Unreal Engine, the thing is, that when it’s brought up in conversation the first thing you think about are the dark and gritty color palettes like the one found in Gears of War. For Alpha Protocol however everything is bright, lush, and rich in detail.
The game moves just as good as it looks. Like other many popular 3rd person shooters, AP incorporates a cover system as well as stealth mechanics. I’m sure your next question is: So how serious are these stealth mechanics? Well just put it like this, it’s possible to get through the entire game without killing a single person. And do not worry all of you achievement/trophy whores, you will NOT have to beat the game without killing anyone to earn any particular award.
Another cool feature is that there isn’t a certain right way to get through the missions. Every scenario has different routes you can take. So if you enter an area with guards patrolling, it’s your choice whether you want to scale a nearby building and get the drop on them or go in guns blazing like John Rambo, it’s completely your call.
Speaking of choices, the game’s narrative is heavily influenced by the many choices you make. Here’s a brief breakdown of what I mean. Let’s say I’m Saudi Arabia tracking down gun runner “A”, who has information on where I can find gun runner “B”. Now depending on how I deal with “A” will determine how “B” will in-turn deal with me. If I simply arrest A, then B might be okay with exchanging information with me. If I kill A, then B might not be so hot about telling me anything as he’ll think I’m going to kill him anyway. I hope you guys understood all of that. Moral decision making is an aspect of gaming that has become more frequent in the current console generation, nevertheless I think that AP, is the first title to truly hit the nail on the head.
There are only 3 (confirmed) locations and they are Moscow, Rome, and Saudi Arabia. However, Matthew was able to assure us that you will be traversing the world. AP is a solo affair, as there isn’t a multiplayer component but do not worry as it will keep you plenty busy. A first time play through should take the novice player somewhere around 20 hours. If you decide to jump back in a second or third time, you won’t have to watch any of the cutscenes which is a bonus for the completists and achievement/trophy whores.
Speaking of completists, in the main menu, where you equip your weapon load outs as well as disperse your experience points you’ll have access to some serious in-depth stat tracking. In it you can track pretty much anything you do in the game. One of the funnier stats that we had a really quick peek of while Matthew was scrolling through the list was: number of orphans created. Best. Stat. Ever.
Every now and then you’ll get a title that may look like others on it’s surface but bring much more to the table. This is definitely one of those games. I was looking forward to playing Alpha Protocol before this and now I simply cannot wait until this summer. It isn’t so bad though as I’m usually the first to complain about there never being any good titles to play in June, July and August, and now I don’t think that will be an issue this time.