E3 2008: Alpha Protocol First Look

We weigh our options in a modern spy role-playing game that remembers nearly every decision you make.

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Alpha Protocol was first announced back in March, intriguing many with its promise of a cross between modern-day espionage action and role-playing-game-style character development, but since then Sega has been playing its cards close to the vest. A couple of weeks ago we took part in a conference call with reps from developer Obsidian Entertainment to discuss some of the concepts and inspirations behind the game, but it wasn't until today that we finally got to see the game up and running. The demo was rather brief, but it gave us enough time to develop a good idea of what to expect from not only the game's heavily customizable combat, but also the consequences that follow your impulsive actions and dialogue selections.

Our demo began with Michael Thorton--the former spy protagonist who has been cast out of the CIA--overlooking the United States embassy in Moscow. With the story still mostly under wraps, we didn't get much information on what brought Thorton to this location or what his ultimate goal is once inside, but we were given a look at some of the gameplay basics involved in getting there. It begins with the guard at the front door. You can stroll up to him and try to smooth-talk your way in using the game's "dialogue stance" system, which is essentially a way of choosing basic emotions over preset lines of dialogue, but a few other options exist. If you're the sneaky type, you can try to make it around to the back entrance using stealth, and if you're the straightforward type, you can simply shoot the guard where he stands. That last option carries a penalty, however, because one of the many factions you have to do business with over the course of the game is the Marines, so when they get wind that you're killing their own, they'll be less inclined to cooperate with you later on.

Soon enough, Thorton made it into the embassy to discover everything in a state of chaos. Overturned desks, sheets of paper scattered across the floor, gunfire aimed in his direction from mysterious G22 agents--not a pretty sight. But all this mayhem provided a good opportunity to get a look at the game's combat system. Although the game is heavily character based in terms of both dialogue options and skill upgrades, the combat veers from RPG standards by offering more twitch-based gameplay. You can run and gun using a variety of upgradable weaponry, take cover, and engage in melee attacks once you're near an enemy. If you're patient enough, you can also sneak up on enemies for stealth attacks. However, the RPG roots show themselves in the upgrade system.

We were able to see a handful of these upgradable skills in action. One of them was a critical-hit technique. What you do with this one is focus your crosshair on an enemy, allow the targeting reticle to tighten in on a small-enough area, and then fire. It requires a bit of patience and precision when enemies are jumping around, but if you get it right, you can pull off a critical hit. Another one we saw was more of a superattack called the bullet storm. It essentially sprays a flood of bullets--far more than your gun would normally fire--in the direction of your helpless enemies. You can also use a skill called the chain shot, which is sort of a bullet-time attack that lets you pull off a series of successive attacks in slow motion.

When the members of Obsidian who were guiding us through the demo finished up in the embassy, they gave us a tour of Thorton's safe house. Here you can equip yourself with gear and accessories for your next mission and also alter your physical appearance with things like skin tone and facial hair. We're told these physical alterations occasionally play into the missions in the game, so you might need to disguise yourself with a well-placed mustache from time to time. In your house there is also a television broadcasting the news. This is notable because your actions in the game alter the news broadcasts, so if you finish one mission in a particularly destructive way, you can expect to see your explosive efforts aired during primetime.

Finally, Obsidian finished off by giving us a look at some of the ways your decisions in the game carry consequences that affect you throughout the rest of the story. This time, Thorton was sent to a level in the Middle East to find a weapons dealer named Nasri. When you get to him, you're given the option to let him go, turn him in, or just kill him. If you let him go, you'll lose your reputation with the agency that sent you on the mission, but you can buy weapons from him whenever you like. If you kill him, you'll unlock a perk called "Any Last Words." We couldn't pry an explanation out of Obsidian about this perk, but we were told that it affects your dialogue abilities. Of course, that makes us wonder if it might be a technique to help you intimidate people---they know you've killed in the past, so they'll be more willing to dish out information to you.

The demo we were given was admittedly quite brief. We're hoping to get a more prolonged look at Alpha Protocol quite soon. Even though the game has the usual rough-around-the-edges look common in games that aren't due for release anytime soon (this one's scheduled for 2009), the premise is intriguing, and the way you craft the world around you with impactful decisions is something we'd like to check out in further detail. Hopefully we'll be able to do that soon, and we'll be sure to give you the details.

Discussion

39 comments
NoseWeed619
NoseWeed619

Yay. I like it already. Kinda seems like it's like Bourne though...

Novemberfreeze
Novemberfreeze

sounds good. i look forward to becoming a very destructive spy.

jossieman580
jossieman580

uhm..Commando148, did you actually read the text? cause it is not a review and it isn't even out yet. and there is no demo either so why the hell did you say that?

Commando148
Commando148

Good review. I can't say much about the game since i never played the demo but from the sound of the review it seems interesting.

NoseWeed619
NoseWeed619

This sounds kinda cool. Haven't seen any game like this before really. So I'm a little skeptical about it.

BlackTargetmark
BlackTargetmark

Sounds innovative. Hope the concept won't be wasted.

Dominus-Nox
Dominus-Nox

I hope the talking and stealth style ways of playing are given as much attention as the combat. Also, character customization would be sweet.

Jackyll87
Jackyll87

Sounds like a perfect idea....only hope they implement all this.

leofiregod
leofiregod

i might give this a try becaus ei like rpgs but not really a spy fan

Nekromenos
Nekromenos

After "finishing" Fallout 3, this will hopefully be the next one in line.

ognen
ognen

yeah, looks interesting

dark_being
dark_being

I'll keep an eye out for this one.

net198
net198

It look like a game full of promises. Hope to be good.

ryo_strife24
ryo_strife24

This game has great potential and I've been keeping tabs since I first read about it. Choosing how you want to go about business has always been one of my favorite perks in a game. I think with this game coming out in '09 will give them plenty of time to make this game a hit next year. I'll keep watching out for this game.

BigDaddy973
BigDaddy973

I will have to wait and see, but it does sound promising!

grambyte
grambyte

Curiosity is rising that's for sure. Will keep an eye out for this one.

dimsey
dimsey

I wholeheartedly support this - an RPG not based in a Sci Fi or Fantasy setting. They should really do more modern/not sci fi or fantasy RPGs.

Hungry_bunny
Hungry_bunny

This sounds cool... this will probably get a lot of attention in the near future.

VXCOM
VXCOM

its more like the word in Mass Effect*......the story depends on how you would act....hemmm....great~....i need to read more books.......kekeke

polsci1503
polsci1503

good for Obsidian to be working on their own IP for a change.

playstation_wii
playstation_wii

Seems really cool.. We need some more spy-like games.

Cube_of_MooN
Cube_of_MooN

An interesting idea anyway. We'll see if that translates into an interesting game.

ao28
ao28

I'me going to pre-order this one.

Kaleb_B
Kaleb_B

Looks great, tracking it

jakeboudville
jakeboudville

looks like it has potential currently, hope to see a bit more info on it though

Darth_Xehanort
Darth_Xehanort

This looks like a decent addition to my PS3 collection.

Leon_
Leon_

This game sounds pretty good! I like the fact that if you blow stuff up you can be on the news! :P