A story-driven, arcade-like, stealth RPG

User Rating: 8 | Alpha Protocol PC

Obsidian's espionage RPG was poorly received by critics upon its release in 2010 and sales were so poor that publisher Sega distanced itself from the possibility of a sequel.

The storyline sees Mike Thorton recruited to a secret operation called Alpha Protocol. Mike is tasked with finding who were responsible for a missile attack on an airliner. The missiles used were supplied by Halbech, an American-based weapons supplier, run by Henry Leland. The suspected attackers are a Saudi terrorist organisation, Al-Samad. Mike's mission is to investigate terrorists and weapons trade which threatens to start a cold war. There's plenty of conspiracy, betrayal and opposing factions at conflict thoughout the adventure which spans the globe; featuring visits to Saudi Arabia, Rome, Moscow and Taiwan. Thorton can be customised with a variety of hats and glasses, and a few different hairstyles, skin tones and beards, although he reverts to a standard model in the present day sequences.

There's a lot of dialogue thoughout the game, and Thorton's responses can be professional, suave or aggressive which influences his relationship with the characters. Every character reacts differently so some will actually respond better to a more aggressive approach while others require professional, or suave to sweet-talk them. You have only a limited amount of time to select an option. Building relationships is a major part of the game and can lead to different outcomes and storyline branches. There are important decisions to make such as choosing major character's fate which will impact part of the story and how missions play out; it's possible to miss out entire missions or characters. Decisions always have pros and cons, since executing a character will mean you gain the respect of rival factions, leading to new equipment, intel, or weapon discounts being available in the clearing house.

The game is set out in a mission structure launched from your safe house. You are able to choose the mission order when multiple missions are available. There's variety to the missions, some are purely dialogue based, whereas others are a mix of stealth and gun-play. At the safe house, you can purchase supplies, change your equipment for the next mission, respond to emails, and receive your briefing for the next mission. Your briefing is delivered by your mission handler, who will talk to you during the mission. Forging a relationship with them gives you extra stat bonuses to your character.

Hacking, lock-picking and disabling alarms are done via a mini-game. You will usually need to complete a few of them to progress through the level, but there's plenty of optional ones to find. These can be very rewarding, giving you extra equipment or cash bonuses, plus experience points. For the majority of the game, you can get away with not levelling up your skill to make this easier. However, failing the mini-game sets off the alarm, which will result in gun-fights when the guards are alerted to your presence.

Experience is gained when reaching the level checkpoints, finding extra items, and succeeding in the mini-games. For each level, you are given a set amount of advancement points (AP) to distribute either in various weapon proficiencies, martial arts, stealth, sabotage, gadgets or health. Once you achieve a certain amount of points in an area, you will unlock skills which can be activated using the radial menu. Stealth skills include the ability to run silently, or even be completely invisible for a limited amount of time. The pistol has a 'chain shot' ability which allows you to slow down time to pick out a few powerful and accurate rapid shots. There are many abilities for each category and these are highly useful, albeit unrealistic.

There's plenty of weapons and armour that you can buy, with upgrades for each item. There's quite a few categories to grade the items. Guns have damage, accuracy, stability, clip size, whereas armour has damage protection, reduction, noise reduction etc. Money is awarded for finding extra items within the level, or negotiating with the character's you meet, i.e. sparing their lives for a cash payment. The type of equipment available is also defined by your relationships. There's all sorts of gadgets/single use items to use too. Explosive grenades, incendiary grenades, EMP charges, sound distractions, first aid kits etc. which give you advantages in combat or disrupting electronic gadgets. There's different types of ammunition available which are better in certain situations, e.g. standard bullets or armour piercing bullets. Tranquillizer darts are great for unarmoured men, and you can equip a silencer for a stealthy kill. You can only carry two different weapons for each mission and cannot switch mid-level.

You can use many objects as cover like you can in other third-person action games. This can be used for stealthy approaches, or defence in fire-fights. Whilst in cover, you can shoot blind or pop-out for a more accurate shot.

Although you can define your character and gear your character a certain way, certain encounters mean that shooting is mandatory. Initially, Thorton is not a skilled shooter so it is essential to level up the relevant weapon. The shooting mechanic has an old RPG style dice-roll approach, so lining up a shot isn't a guaranteed hit, and conversely you can aim wide and still hit. You are encouraged to settle the cross-hair on an enemy for a few seconds, giving you a critical shot to do more damage.

The stealth mechanic has a similar system. It's not about hiding in the shadows, but hiding out of sight as much as your stealth ability allows. In-fact, the game is actually very bright, rather than the pitch-black approach of games like Splinter Cell.

Boss fights can be very tough, and this is why spending AP on guns is mandatory; there are no stealth options for taking down bosses. The bosses have a huge amount of health and often have re-spawning henchmen.

If you take down an enemy, they fade away after several seconds, rather than posing you a new problem on how to hide their body. There's a few aspects to the game like this which makes it feel more arcade-like than other stealth games. AI is often dumb; guards stumble around their simple, pre-programmed routes and the abilities you have also make the game unrealistic since you essentially become super-human.

There's plenty of ideas here and it doesn't really excel in any them, bar story-telling. The shooting mechanics won't be enough to please the traditional third-person shooting fans, RPG elements won't be enough to please the modern day RPG fans, and the stealth mechanics are too unrealistic to please the Splinter Cell fans. Despite this, Alpha Protocol is way more than the sum of its parts and ends up being a really enjoyable and interesting game, that keeps you gripped until the end.