Stealth and adrenaline-soaked action are part of the spy genre's hallmarks, whether it is in trying to stop nuclear annihilation in Metal Gear or in slipping past enemy security by climbing along the outside of a cruise ship in Splinter Cell. Obsidian Entertainment is now set to shake up these conventions with a spy-based RPG that includes the combat, stealth, and plenty of options to allow a player to mix James Bond and Jason Bourne into the ultimate black ops agent.
While most spy games only have an inventory screen and reticle for players to play around with, Alpha Protocol's RPG trappings bring in a black market chock full of weapons, a statistics system in which the player can improve his agent in any way that he wishes, and narrative choices that allow the player to earn friends, make enemies and affectthe story through his actions.
Sega and Obsidian Entertainment proceeded to show off several aspects of the game, starting off with the agent editor that allows us, as agent Mike Thorton, to run through the game looking like Fidel Castro in a beret. No female option is available, however, so anyone hoping to go through as Michelle Thorton will probably have to wait for the sequel. Mike is also something of a clothes horse, with plenty to choose from both from the editor and within the game, and while characters won't react to a bearded lumberjack, they will take note of what he's wearing.
Mike's nicely appointed, LCD-equipped safe house was introduced next. He's able to gear up before each one, and others are scattered throughout the world. Although there are preset classes that the player can select to ease the transition, players will have full control over which skills they want to develop. Picking equipment will also determine how easy it is to sneak through an area. Wearing heavy body armor will offer more protection, but it will also have Mike sticking out like a Kevlar-covered thumb in the field. Weapons can also be modded with a large number of improvements as long as Mike has the cash, which he can also find stashed away within each mission.
The demo started off at a trainyard area in Leningradski, where a weapons shipment was taking place. As Mike enters the yard, a mercenary named Sie introduces herself, and here's where we were shown the timed dialogue system. Several choices were displayed as shorthand responses to the attitude that Mike could reply with, but if the timer runs down, it will default to the last choice that was selected. In this demo, the presenter decided to side with Sie and ask for help, but he also had Mike reply in an honest fashion, which earned points with the mercenary. The dialogue system and the choices that it offers, along with the consequences, shouldn't be too much of a surprise to players familiar with Chris Avellone's prior work (Planescape, Fallout 2), and it looks like fans can expect much of the same expertise to shine in Alpha Protocol.
Once Sie agrees to help Mike, he makes his way into the trainyard, where a gun battle awaited as the Russian Mafia started in with the fireworks. We were told that there are no dice rolls that work in the background to determine the player's skill, only their ability and whatever bonuses that the skill system has unlocked for them. For example, as Mike draws a bead on an enemy, the reticle starts to shrink, indicating that his aim won't swing as wide. With improvements, it might not take him as long to focus on his mark the next time.
The player can also select use "active abilities" during a mission, while they last. Using a skill called "room sweeper," for example, allows Mike to reload the shotgun that he was using faster and make his aim even deadlier. Another ability allows him to add extra damage to his martial arts abilities, turning his fists into even deadlier weapons.
Battling through the train yard revealed opportunities for Mike's covert abilities. At one point, he found a computer terminal that he could hack into, revealing a timed panel of shifting numbers and letters; the player has to match two sequences of digits within that mess. Another electronic puzzle displays several panels of circuits, each with a numbered node linked via twisting paths to a tab at the bottom. This puzzle is also timed, meaning that the player had to choose the correct tab linked to the right path in order to quickly solve each part. With improved skills, the number of nodes would decrease.
Even without significant training, the player can still try solving the puzzles. It was emphasized that none of the puzzles will simply be "unavailable" to the player because of how he had developed his skills, but they would be a lot more difficult to overcome, depending on whether or not they had invested anything into them. For example, the circuit puzzle might have 10 nodes to sort through, as opposed to just three.
Successfully hacking his way through the computer, the player now had to make a decision about the arms shipment: send them to a contact that he had made, blow it up to keep it out of potentially dangerous hands, or send the stuff to himself. Two of these choices may open up other options in terms of what he can buy or use from his safe house while simultaneously earning some cred with his favorite black marketeer. Blowing it up will make his handler happy, but might not make anyone else as pleased. Of course, it might also mean that the enemy won't have access to the stuff, either, and affect their strength down the line.
After I opted to blow things up, the presenter took Mike over to the end of the area and had cleared out the last of the Mafia thugs, leaving tracksuit-wearing bodies everywhere — some of them courtesy of Sie's mercenaries that had come to help out. At the end of the battle, Mike and Sie started talking again, and here is where the presenter decided to initiate a boss battle instead.
This was completely optional, and at the end, Mike had the choice of continuing the fight or forgiving and forgetting, which he did. Sie, bloodied from the fight, also thought that it would be a good idea to stop for now, and as she escaped on a chopper to Moscow, she left behind a fond farewell. At the end of this mission, experience points were tallied up before returning to the safehouse, and while there, he flicked on the LCD television. A news report talking about the mysterious shootout at the train yard as well as the explosion that he had left behind as a calling card greeted him and according to Obsidian, it would have changed depending on certain other factors, such as if he had opted to reroute the cargo instead.
At that point, the presenter loaded up an earlier point,which took us to a seedy bar where Mike was meeting a black marketeer who had information that he needed. This was the same marketeer to whom the player could send the train shipment of weapons to and a good source of equipment. Instead of being nice, though, Mike decided to be the tough guy and at the first wisecrack from the old weapons dealer, smashed his head into the bar and quickly had him spilling the beans. Of course, this made a negative impression on the guy, and we were told that it might have repercussions for the future. The second time around, Mike was a lot more cordial with the old guy and had picked up a tip that he should send some of the weapons in Leningradski his way .
We were also shown the menu system, which displayed the extensive skill list. Looking at the skills, several milestones were marked to indicate bonus abilities that could be unlocked with enough points. A few other options, including the inventory, were also shown off. Character dossiers were also part Mike's repertoire, providing valuable information depending on the choices that the player had made. In addition to adding some meat to the lore behind the title's world, the dossiers can also help the player by dropping a few hints as to what each character expects from dealing with others. Does a particular NPC like being treated with respect? Or will they bend when a little force is applied?Alpha Protocol looks and sounds great at this stage, although there is still some work to be done. When it finally comes out from the shadows in October to emerge on the PC, Xbox 360 and the PS3, players will get their chance to perform a little independent wet work to uncover the truth behind the conspiracy that has made Mike Thorton out to be a marked man.
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