You called it Alpha Protocol ? Really? With a name that bland, Obsidian may as well have titled their spy-RPG Beige Patrol . For an audience coming straight from another Splinter Cell, Alpha Protocol's anonymity doesn't help it stand out.
But then, like the espionage operatives it depicts, standing out, guns blazing, isn't Alpha Protocol's thing. This is a roleplaying game, so resolutely tied to its system of numbers, statistics and perks that the blandest of names even has a little sub-heading: 'the espionage RPG.'Against the quickfire combat of Sam Fisher's deniable adventures, the action side of Alpha Protocol is clunky; but when married so closely to hard numbers and dialogue choices, Obsidian's adventure becomes a tense, subtle story.
Stepping into the super-sneaky stealth shoes of agent Michael Thornton, as a proof of my skills I was tasked with escaping from the facilities my new employers, Alpha Protocol, called home. AP's remit is the USA's dirty work, and as a group they're free to be liquidated at will.Once acquainted with the team, it's off to Saudi Arabia for Thornton's first proper assignment. With a jumbo jet swatted from the sky by American missiles, apparently pilfered by terrorist group Al-Samad, Alpha Protocol sails close to the wind of believable modern topics. Big business is firmly in the game's sniper scope – fake hypercorporation Halbech is a constant in Thornton's quests: the weapons contractor that made the planewrecking rockets in the first place. Similarities to real companies like Halliburton are obviously no coincidence, and Halbech's influence throughout the world is, with an eye to spoilers, less than benign.
Come at the game like a pure shooter and Alpha Protocol is simplistic. Weapons have their own quirks: line up a pistol shot, and after a moment the reticule will turn red, giving a critical hit. Yank out a shotgun and you'll get a bonus for clearing a room, successive buckshot twatting foes with more force each blast. The problem is, such is the innate RPG-itude of the game, it's all too easy to mentally superimpose little numbers ticking away over your foe's heads.
Considering the game takes pains to introduce your Thornton as a prodigy, it's confusing to work out quite why his myopia hasn't been diagnosed correctly on one of his company physicals. My Mike was a pistol specialist, having deliberately ramped up his shooting hand to off targets quickly. Great at 15 feet, where a headshot meant goodnight goon, but beyond that and he had the aim of a standard Bond henchman.There is some good in the floaty combat: an impressive weapon customisation system will, if the right elements are combined, let you upgrade guns and armour. Sidearms have four slots in which to cram technology – either bought from the 'Clearinghouse' black market or nabbed on-mission – and these make a notable difference to a weapon's handling. Body armour can be purchased and then lined with various gadgets, boosts, or armour plates: want to be the spy world's Rambo? You can purchase clanky soldier armour, and stuff it full of ceramic pads to deflect bullets aimed for your vitals. I went a different route, pocketing a silencer for my handgun early on, and combining it with futuristic stealth armour that muffled any loud movements.Theoretically I had no protection against gunned-up guards who spotted me; realistically, my gameplan meant they never would. Thornton's background is selectable, the choice between soldier, spy or techy informing how far you can progress in certain skills. Plumping for the spy lifestyle, I had my action points pre-spent on the skills that'd assist in my chosen approach, filling the stealth and close-combat areas of Thornton's character sheet.