North American cover
|Engine||Unreal Engine 3|
|Genre(s)||Action role-playing, stealth|
Alpha Protocol is an action role-playing stealth video game developed by Obsidian Entertainment, their first title for an original intellectual property, and published by Sega. The game revolves around the adventures of field agent Michael Thorton. The game was originally set to be released on October 27, 2009, but the release was pushed back to May 27 in Australia, May 28 in Europe and June 1, 2010 in North America.
Upon release, it was met with mixed to positive reception. Praise was given to its narrative and conversation elements, while criticism was directed towards buggy launch and poor combat mechanics.
Alpha Protocol is played from a third-person perspective, allowing the player to see Thorton and his surroundings at all times. As Thorton is a trained CIA operative, the tools at the player's disposal include numerous firearms, hand to hand combat using Kenpo, and spy gadgets.
In addition to the action elements, players also earn Advancement Points, which can be placed into any of the ten different skills in the game. These skills will increase Thorton's ability to use certain weapons and grant different abilities to him. These abilities are free to use, but require a "cooldown" period before they can be used again. One ability, called Chain Shot, has been mentioned in previews and allows Thorton to scan a group of enemies in slow-motion before popping out of cover and shooting each of them more rapidly than he would be capable of normally.
Somewhat unique for a realistic shooter game, the game uses a system of boss fights; the bosses in the game are humans themselves (though a tank and a helicopter are both faced). The bosses, who are denoted as such via a large health bar in the upper-central corner of the screen, have a much larger damage resistance than the standard enemies and cannot be defeated with just a few headshots. Some minibosses can be stealth-killed, though the main bosses themselves cannot be and must be defeated by a combination of strong offense and good defense. Most bosses will also summon henchmen to further challenge the player. Each city culminates with at least one boss fight, and the final bosses of the cities are usually the hardest bosses of the game.
Alpha Protocol features numerous characters with whom to interact. Conversations occur in real-time, giving the player a limited amount of time to respond at key "decision points" during dialogue. The dialog system in the game - known as the "DSS" or Dialogue Stance system - allows the player to choose from three different attitudes, or "stances," when speaking to an NPC. Obsidian has said that these options are based on the personalities of the "three J.B.'s": Jason Bourne of The Bourne Identity novels and films, James Bond of the eponymous film and book series, and Jack Bauer of the television series 24, although the game itself does not use these names. During dialog sequences, the player will be able to choose from options like "professional" (Jason Bourne), "suave" (James Bond), and "aggressive" (Jack Bauer), sometimes with a brief description of the dialogue choice (such as "sarcastic") taking the place of the general stance. A fourth, "special" dialogue choice is also sometimes available. Each NPC will react to these choices in different ways: one character might be intimidated by an aggressive stance, but another character may find an aggressive stance to be insulting or childish. While dialogue choices will have some immediately noticeable consequences, many may not be seen until much later in game. As each conversation is experienced once per playthrough, multiple playthroughs will be required in order to experience all of the game's content; while the game contains a total of approximately twelve hours of cinematic sequences, a player will only experience around four hours during any given playthrough.
Alpha Protocol is based on Operations which in turn are composed of Missions. For each operation, Michael Thorton will have his own safe house in each city, in order to lay low between and prepare for missions. The safe houses act as hubs for the game. From them, Thorton can change clothing; access a weapons locker to customize his weaponry and equipment; access an encrypted online black market site (the "Clearinghouse") to purchase weaponry, armory, and intel; use an encrypted email account to exchange messages with contacts; and attempt missions. Some missions are critical to the progression of the story, though there are some missions in an operation where the player need only complete a select amount of them to proceed (for example, in the Rome hub, of the 3 missions the player begins with, one of them is necessary for story progression and the player must only complete one of the other 2). Cities include Rome, Moscow, Taipei and a city in Saudi Arabia.
Thorton can optionally romance several of the female non-player characters. This is accomplished primarily by choosing the appropriate dialogue responses and gaining reputation, and also in completing missions in such a way that the NPC in question is not killed first.
The player can only carry two weapons at once. Pistols are weaker and shorter-ranged but they and assault rifles are the only two classes capable of precision shots, and only pistols can be suppressed for stealth. Assault rifles do more damage and have longer range, and can be used quietly by using expensive and rare subsonic ammunition. Shotguns and submachine guns are good at short range; while the shotgun user can charge up for a critical hit to knock an enemy down, the SMG user gains a damage increase as more of his shots hit targets in a short time.
Weapons can be customized by placing modifications in one of four slots: the barrel, the scope, the magazine, and the accessory slot. These modifications can have both positive and negative effects on the weapon's attributes: Damage, Accuracy, Recoil Control, Stability, and Magazine size.
Characters can also choose and customize their armor. The main function of armor is to provide Endurance—a pool of regenerating hit points—to Thorton, but different suits can specialize in stealth or increasing the amount of gadgets Thorton can carry in his inventory.
The player can choose also which skills to advance, allowing them to change their play style. The character can advance skills which make him kill his enemies more efficiently (Pistol, Assault Rifle, Shotgun, Submachine Gun, Martial Arts), make him better with gadgets (Sabotage), harder to kill (Toughness) or spot (Stealth), or provide miscellaneous benefits (Technical Aptitude).
Agent Michael Thorton is the newest member of "Alpha Protocol," a clandestine service established to perform covert operations that cannot be traced back to the U.S. government. His initial mission is to go to Saudi Arabia to assassinate the leader of the Al-Samad terrorist group Shaheed, after an attack on a passenger aircraft in the Middle East. Upon confronting Shaheed, the terrorist leader claims that Halbech, a defense contractor, sold him the missiles and gave him all of the necessary information to carry out the attack. Thorton can then either execute or spare Shaheed (on the promise of obtaining more information). After relaying the information, Thorton's position is attacked by a missile strike, and Thorton is presumed dead (if the player attempted to arrest Shaheed, then he will be killed in the missile strike). The one who gave him the warning to escape the blast radius of the missile strike and saved his life is AP member Mina Tang, who tells Thorton that AP has been infiltrated by members of Halbech who want Thorton dead, to cover up the fact that Halbech provided the missiles to Al-Samad. At this point Thorton's handler now becomes Mina Tang who is in secretive contact with Thorton.
An analysis of Shaheed's information reveals three key locations. The locations can be played in any order and events that take place may influence interactions that occur other locations. These locations include Rome, where an Al-Samad cell possibly connected to Halbech was activated; Moscow, which was the shipping route for the stolen missiles; and Taipei, where the Taiwanese president is the target of an assassination attempt. Thorton realizes that Halbech's plan in these cities is to raise global tensions and spark a cold war, turning the world into its marketplace.
In Rome, Mike meets Madison Saint James and, with her help, discovers the VCI (Veteran Combat Initiative), a private security firm run by Halbech's former Chief of Security Conrad Marburg who is planning to blow up a museum featuring a Crusades exhibit to provide incentive for harsher anti-terrorism legislation in the EU. Infiltrating the museum, Madison is kidnapped by Marburg, and Mike is forced to choose between saving Madison or preventing the destruction of the museum and several casualties. Afterwards, Marburg flees (unless the player is able to bait him into finishing the fight causing his death). Michael leaves the city with the blood of the bombing or Madison's on his hands.
In Moscow, Agent Thorton tracks the shipments of large quantities of weapons, encountering Sergei Surkov, a Russian Mafia boss, who fingers his former protégé, Konstantin Brayko, as Halbech's contact in Russia. During this, Michael will also encounter SIE, a German, VCI-affiliated, psychotic mercenary with a fondness for her M60 machine gun, and/or Sis, a mute in service to Albatross, the leader of the G22, paramilitary group with an agenda that is not fully revealed. Michael is tasked with infiltrating the American embassy to reach Surkov, with either G22 or the VCI as his support team. After discussing the arms deal with Surkov, Michael attacks Brayko's estate, and Brayko himself, who attempts to kill Michael in a cocaine-fueled rage. If Thorton spares Brayko, or speaks to him before killing him, he learns that Surkov was formerly partnered with Halbech and that he set Brayko up to take his fall. After pursuing Surkov, Thorton has the choice to either partner up with, arrest or execute Surkov. Michael cannot pursue Surkov if he executes Brayko before learning the truth from him.
In Taipei, Michael uncovers a plot by Omen Deng of the Chinese Secret Police, to assassinate Ronald Sung, president of Taiwan, and spark massive riots in a bid to provoke a conflict between China and the U.S. Garnering assistance from the White Oak Mountain Triad leader Hong Shi and/or G22, and also the help of Agent Steven Heck, a psychotic man claiming to work for the CIA, Michael counters an assassination attempt by Deng and obtains a flash drive with data related to the assassination it; but upon analysis, a security protocol on the disk starts to wipe itself. The player must then quickly choose to salvage one of the two files relevant; the one detailing the assassination or the one detailing the instigation of the riots. Eventually, Deng and Thorton duel on a building overlooking the podium; afterwards, Deng can be killed or spared by Thorton. If Deng is spared, then it is revealed that both he and Thorton were tricked into thinking the other was the assassin, allowing the real assassin (unknown at this point) to shoot Sung (and possibly kill him). If the data on the assassination was saved, then Sung (who Thorton would be able to convince to wear body armor) will survive, but hundreds are killed in the riots; if the data on the riots were saved, then Sung will die but the riots will be circumvented with no loss of life.
Along the way, Thorton encounters Scarlet Lake, a photojournalist with many contacts whom he meets in Taipei. After completing the three operations and (optionally) contacting some affiliates, Michael—needing to expose AP and Halbech's activities before WW3 starts—surrenders to Alpha Protocol and is brought to Henry Leland, President of Halbech and temporary commander of AP. Leland and Michael discuss his activities, and Leland attempts to recruit Thorton (if the player has a high reputation). If Thorton refuses, Thorton escapes the AP facility, and with the aid of his prior contacts, if any, fights or sneaks through the AP facility. After confronting Leland himself, Michael may opt to execute or capture him, but Leland is killed if caught.
If Thorton agrees to work with Leland, or if he spared Shaheed and obtained the information against Alpha Protocol from him in the endgame, he also escapes the AP facility, eventually confronting his former superior Yancy Westridge. Shortly after executing or sparing Yancy Westridge, Thorton has the option to partner with Leland or betray him (if the player confronted Westridge via Shaheed's information instead, then he will then have the option of executing or sparing Leland as well).
Additionally, if the player spares Omen Deng in Taipei and chooses to download the PDA Files in the final mission, he will learn that the real assassin was Scarlet Lake, and he will have the option of either teaming up with her or executing her for justice.
Escaping into a bay on a boat marked with an Omega symbol (with a good handful of different allies potentially on the boat with him), Thorton thinks on his next move, and whether or not life will continue to be this exciting.
The game was developed with Unreal Engine 3 which was suited to cross-platform design.
Gary Steinman writes, "Mina might seem normal enough, but Alpha Protocol has its share of quirky characters. We used a Kill Bill test." Chris Parker explains, "If a character fits in Kill Bill, that's probably too over-the-top. But we don't want them to be just normal suits. That'd be really boring. I don't know how many M60 wielding psychopath blonde girls there are, but there's one in our game!"[full citation needed]
The theme was composed by electronic producer and artist Brian Wayne Transeau, better known by his stage name BT, and veteran game composer Jason Graves. During the battle with Brayko, "Turn Up the Radio" by Autograph plays in the background. All in-game music and cinematics were composed by Rod Abernethy and Jason Graves.
Some critics have been less forgiving, with VideoGamer giving Alpha Protocol 6/10 and criticising its "huge range of technical issues" and "flawed combat." Destructoid gave it a 2/10 and said the game was 'absolutely dreadful', the 'enemy AI is an astonishing shambles, almost to the point of being impressive' and that 'there are games in their beta stage that are more complete, better designed, and more worth paying for than this mistake'.
GameSpot's 6/10 review was also mixed, stating that "Alpha Protocol's astounding intricacies are tarnished by bugs, clumsy gameplay mechanics, and rough production values." and "Alpha Protocol's ambitions are commendable, and if you're a role-playing fanatic, you'll enjoy investigating its intricacies. It's unfortunate that its various ingredients are so undercooked. The flaky cover system, the mediocre production values, the fundamental blemishes gone unchecked—these elements add up quickly and drag the experience down. The elaborate storytelling and character progression are impressive. It's too bad that the gawky, glitchy gameplay can't rise to the same standard."
Alpha Protocol has however become an underground hit, as according to Obsidian Entertainment, the game still is selling copies.
Due to the less than positive reception, Sega employee Mike Hayes confirmed that Sega would not be publishing a sequel, but also added it was a good concept. Obsidian Entertainment is interested in making a sequel.
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Thornton fights using Kenpo, which the player will be able to improve as they progress through the game
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