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Spies Like Us : An Alpha Protocol Analysis

Today I take a look at one of my favorite games this year that I almost didn't play.

Sometimes it really sucks to be late to the party. I avoided Sega and Obsidian Entertainment's Alpha Protocol due to bad word of mouth and copy protection woes. A steam sale a few weeks ago added the game to my backlog and the recent removal of the copy protection via patch bumped the game up on my play list. Now with the year almost up I can't believe I waited this long to play what could be close to my game of the year and perhaps favorite CRPG since The Witcher.

Alpha Protocol is a blend of spy movies with a good old choose your own adventure game. Like any good spy movie within the first few hours you will be betrayed and left for dead and have to uncover a massive global conspiracy, you know day one stuff.

What separates AP from other CRPGs is the breadth and depth of the choices you make. First during conversations you can choose what kind of mood you will respond to the question which is becoming popular with CRPGs. You normally have three choices, suave or cocky, aggressive or threatening and professional or straight. Depending on any Intel you bought or found you may have access to a fourth special option.

Conversations will determine how someone will respond to you, either negatively or positively which will affect their mood to you and if they become your handler during a mission the bonus they provide to you. The game features numerous decisions that affect the plot such as choosing who you will side with along with sparing or killing specific characters.

Like The Witcher, you will not see the outcome of your choices until later on in the game. Because of this AP has a lot of replay ability going for it. The middle of the game is made up of you choosing the order of the missions or countries you'll visit. Not only does each mission have numerous choices to be made but the order of the missions you choose will also affect your choices as well. For example a choice I made at the end of one mission came back to bite me in the next mission when one person heard what I did and refused anything to do with me.

Game-play is a mixed bag. On missions you have access to whatever weapons, gadgets and skills you've obtained through leveling or buying. The enemy AI is average, they understand enough not to run straight at you. For hacking, lock picking and getting through electronic locks there are mini-games you can play. While they won't tax your mental power they serve as an ok diversion.

Stealth is where unfortunately the system starts to break down. The stealth aspects of AP swing too far between too powerful and too weak. At the start without any points in the stealth skill enemies can see you from very far and once one enemy sees you every enemy and his brother for a hundred miles knows where you are. On the other side of things, put enough points into stealth and the game goes into easy mode as you gain the ability to see enemy positions along with a skill that makes you invisible.

With all the choices available to the player I hate to say it but it doesn't feel that everything was balanced out. I did not need to use any gadgets and just using my silenced pistol along with stealth got me through every level of the game. Boss fights are unusual as you will be fighting humans who have developed the ability to survive multiple gun shots to the head.

One nice touch in AP is that the characters will react to your play style, as I kept myself as stealthy as possible, people would remark on how well I was at avoiding setting off alarms.

I must have gotten lucky as I didn't run into any major bugs but of course that does not mean they don't exist. I played AP using a keyboard and mouse and found the controls to be adequate. The only tricky parts were with the hacking mini game and using the mouse to control one of the choices.

The level design walks a thin line between giving the player options and being linear. Many levels offer alternate paths if you look close enough, however all paths lead to the same objective. Overall the actual game-play is just there to highlight the choices of the game.

As I mentioned at the start AP reminds me of The Witcher with the choices presented to the player. There are no morality sliders or choices marked "good" or "bad", there are just choices. The more games that get away from immediate outcomes from making a choice the better in my opinion; even at the end of the game I found choices that I made at the start were being commented on which I thought was a great touch.

Alpha Protocol was a shot in the dark for me and I came out enjoying the game, a revised touched up version of AP could be something amazing. Sadly it has been announced that there would not be a sequel to AP and I have to blame myself along with everyone else as I waited for the game to be on sale before I bought it. At this point I'm still making up my games of the year list but AP has definitely judo chopped its way to the top.


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