Posted by : Wendy B Monday, 24 September 2012

Alpha Protocol is your typical spy movie, complete with the typical plot of agent being betrayed by agency, going rogue and stopping the bad guy and learning that nothing is what it seems, before finally confronting the aforementioned betraying agency. The difference is that this is a video game and you get to make all the important decisions. In fact, the games tagline is “Your weapon is choice.” (Your weapon is also information, but more on that later). Unlike certain game companies that have been throwing around the words “your choices matter” without your choices actually mattering, Alpha Protocol truly gets it right. So right that I am curious to see the flowchart that they surely must have required to handle all the possibilities. I didn’t fully grasp the magnitude of how much your choices affect the game until the friend who introduced me to it asked how my game ended. Turns out, his game ended in a completely different fashion.

There are similarities, of course. The plot and purpose remain the same, but how you get there is really up to you and the decisions you make along the way colour everything from what discounts you’ll get at the Clearinghouse, who will aid you and how, to who and how many you will face and what weapons the enemy might be using -- following through right into the ending credits. Certain decisions can lead to additional missions, a financial boost or a dead ally. I let a lot of people live in my first play through, opting for the opportunities for further information, but I'm considering an "execute all the things!" playthrough to see the differences.

As far as the RPG aspect goes, I had hoped more would come from the background you can choose for your Michael Thorton. I had also assumed, based on my previous experience, that my dialogue choices could be a reflection of the personality I wanted Mike to have. This remains the case, with your basic options being aggressive, professional or suave/humourous, but early on, you’re warned that it is part of your job as an agent to deal with people in the manner that would lead to the best results. From there, you can choose to play it as you wish. If you want to go through Mike’s adventure being an asshole, then power to you, but you don't get a lot of time to make your decision, which is why it helps to have information before hand. I chose to keep Mike’s tone mainly professional and towards the end, people I met came to expect it of him. However, I did switch it up as needed (earning one of many perks for doing so), with much credit going to the Intel aspect of the game.

I mentioned that information is also your weapon and that’s where the Intel comes in. As is common, this game has a dossier, but it’s not a dossier to be “tldr;” overlooked. Knowledge of the information therein is crucial – as it should be for any good agent – to effectively dealing with the various people and situations. Your dossier on various groups and individuals begins incomplete, requiring you to find or purchase further information. You can also learn a lot from hacking into email accounts or just talking to people. Accessing the extra information opens up further dialogue options. Conversations are as much a part of the game as the action is. This is where you build most of your reputation with the various characters. This isn’t a black and white case of having people either love or hate you. Someone who dislikes you may still very much respect and aid you, while someone who loves you might let you down because love makes people stupid.

These relationships complete the trifecta of elements that make Alpha Protocol so good. Early on, I decided that, as part of Mike’s professional attitude, he would defy my usual “sleep with all the things!” mantra and treat women respectfully. Despite initial trailers that apparently introduced the game’s sexpot, SIE, in a sexy sexified oh look it’s a female and she’s made of sex! manner, I am really pleased with the way women are portrayed in the game and, for the most part, the way Mike is able to treat them and the consequences. For example, Scarlett Lake is involved in an infiltration mission where you can tell her how you want her to obtain information. You can tell her to play up her feminine charms, but she will get angry at you for it. My professional approach, banking on her skills as a reporter, earned her respect and later her trust.

My mission before sex plans came to an abrupt halt when I met SIE. She is a sexpot, but I maintain that I appreciate the portrayal of women in the game. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a woman who expresses her sexuality and when they express it with the confidence that SIE does, well, it’s impossible for me to resist. Especially when she backs me up with a massive gun and assault vehicles. Maybe I just have a thing for hot older women. With guns. I avoided all wikis and guides for this game until I met SIE because there is no way in hell I was risking pesky calibration or flowchart issues when it came to this love affair. Thankfully, SIE didn’t really remove me from my “mission before sex” plans. She just combined them in a pleasing and productive manner.
I did take a peek at the romance options for Scarlet and Mina Tang for archival purposes and am again pleased to report that they were all appropriately managed, with each encounter suiting the character, rather than just being reskins of the same event.

Gameplay-wise, I have nothing game breaking to complain about, save for the severe lack of combat rolls and sniper rifles. You can pay to have sniper rifles dropped off in convenient locations, but I usually only found them after I’d sniped everyone with my assault rifle. You cannot pay for combat rolls. The NPCs are decidedly stupid, but perhaps that’s specific to Normal Mode. I appreciated that stealth was an option in every mission, but that the game was forgiving of my lack of coordination. Or rather, there were still perks available as a result of my skilful tripping of all the alarms and surviving to tell the tale. But really, for all the technical flaws, the overall concept of the game made up for it.

I was somewhat disappointed with the final showdown – not because of the lack of action, but because of the lack of dialogue. So much of the game is focused on dialogue and meetings and interrogations and correspondence that the absence at the end left me feeling a bit let down – though not let down enough not to replay and recommend this game: 8/10.

WHAT IS THIS?

This is my mindspill. Mostly about comics, books, video games, movies of the science fiction and fantasy leanings. Sometimes recipes and parenting stuff will sneak in, along with a real world rant or two.

I also write about geek culture at Women Write About Comics, and I review genre fiction at The BiblioSanctum.

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