Sunday, 25 September 2011

Alpha Protocol (PC)

The game shows the SEGA logo as it's starting up and shouts "Say-gah!" like an old Sonic the Hedgehog game. If it's trying to play on my nostalgia to win me over, then it's working.

This post has an unreasonable amount of pictures, and I apologise for that. Click the pics to see them at a more visible resolution.

The game starts with a choice of of character classes, each of them with different starting skills.

I'm going to play as a Recruit class though, which starts off with no starting skills, and not a single 'AP' point to spend on them. I'm curious to see how crap an entirely untrained character is.

I'm getting a bit of a N64 Goldeneye vibe from the intro graphics, which probably wasn't the effect they were going for. I expected better from a 2010 game really.

The shots of this plane taking off are intercut with shots of a missile, so I don't predict a happy ending for these poor passengers.

Oh, there it goes. Well that sucks, no last second rescue for these guys.

At least now we've got a tragic event to kick off our anti-terrorist espionage action rpg.

The camera pulls back to reveal a mysterious smoking man watching events unfold on a wall of screens. Only it turns out that this is archive footage, taken a while ago.

He claims that the mysterious silhouette is in the doorway behind him is to blame for all of this. A guy called 'Thorton'.

But then we flash back to the past to reveal Agent Thorton waking up in an unfamiliar room with an IV drip in his arm.

A woman contacts him on a nearby PDA to explain that she's on his side and he should probably escape now.

Finally I get to do something! I remember reading that the game was supposed to give you 'Jack Bauer', 'James Bond', and 'Jason Bourne' style responses in conversation, and that seems exactly what I have here. There's no way to tell what Thorton is going to say for each option, and not much time to make a choice.

I went with the professional choices and asked my mysterious benefactor to set up a distraction for me, allowing me to sneak out unseen.

My sneaking mission was going great until I walked right out in front of a guard by accident. Because I'm an idiot.

Fortunately even level 1 Thorton with zero skills is able to put up a good fight, and I was able to beat the guy unconscious without taking damage. It doesn't seem like there's any way to search bodies or drag them out the way, so I guess I just leave him there.

The alarm got triggered, but the hacking mini-game in this seems pretty straightforward. I just have to click the end of each line in order to light them up, and the alarm box is mine to command.

If I had an emp grenade and the first rank in the 'sabotage' skill progression I probably could have just skipped this. But I don't.

I'm definitely seeing some advantages to taking the stealthy approach. Attacking an enemy unseen is an instant takedown.

And look, there's a tranquilliser gun on the desk behind me. Everything's going really well so far!

Oh shit, I missed and now he's seen me. But my aim was perfect, I'm sure of it. I took the time to line the dot up exactly on his head.

Well I guess I can't expect perfect aim from a guy with no pistol skills. No problem, I'll just have to run up and shoot him from a distance I can't miss from.


Well I've learned some new things. Like now I know that my 30 armour will regenerate, but my 100 health doesn't, unless I can find a medical cabinet. So I should try to avoid running out in front of people holding guns in future.

Also I've learned that I do have one ability, which sticks blue arrows on the heads of enemies for a few seconds. Which should give me a fighting chance to sneak past them... except it's just worn off and I can't be bothered waiting for the cooldown timer. Whatever, I'll just run for it.

There's different hacking game for computers; this time I have to find where these two highlighted sets of characters are hidden in the grid. It's made easier/harder because the wrong characters constantly change, so I have to focus on looking for the ones that stay the same.

I gotta admit, I'm finding this really difficult. And it doesn't help that the controls are a bit crap. One set is controlled with the keys, while the other is controlled with the mouse. But it doesn't map exactly to the mouse, in fact the mouse pointer is on screen at the same time as the password I'm moving. Instead it treats the mouse like an analogue stick, and shifts the password block at a steady speed in the direction I move the pointer in.

I understand why they did it this way, I just really wish they hadn't. On the plus side, if you're playing with a controller, this bit should be easy!

A shocking plot twist! It turns out that this whole escape thing was just my boss being an asshole. Apparently every new recruit has to run this course when they first arrive at Alpha Protocol, to show off their super spy skills.

Also my boss likes to stick his head up really close to the camera, and it's annoying.

After running through some training exercises, meeting the staff, and shooting my rival in the balls, I finally get given an assignment. It seems that some pesky terrorists have stolen missiles from an American company called Halbech, and have used them to blow up an airliner.

Hey, that means that this can't be all Thorton's fault, he's only just gotten here. I don't know what the hell smoking guy was talking about in the intro.


I've discovered two things. First, the missiles were stolen and used by a terrorist cell located in Saudi Arabia, and second, my boss never shuts up. Fortunately I can just turn the tv off and ignore him.

I'm going to need an awesome secret agent look for this mission. Unfortunately there's not really much I can choose from. I can give him a new hairstyle, or a hat (but not both), there's a few types of glasses to choose from and a some beards.

Thorton will always be the same person though, there's no way to change his face or play as a female character.

I can check my email while I'm here, download some cash into my account and send a response to that agent on the PDA who helped me escape earlier. Though maybe not this response, because Thorton really sucks at being suave.

Hey grenades, I'll take a few of them. I can only carry two weapons with me at once, so I'll stick with pistol and assault rifle, and focus on getting upgrades for them.

There's also a section where I can buy maps, get items placed in levels, hire mercenaries to draw enemies away, or even buy info about other characters. Which sounds good, but I think first I need the cash to buy ammo.

Guns and armour can be upgraded with mods like laser sights or armour panels. Though this crappy starting armour doesn't have many slots for upgrades.

It's also got really crappy sound dampening so I guess if I wanted to use stealth I'd need to go in my civilian clothes instead.

There's no hub levels in Alpha Protocol, instead of walking around the streets chatting to people and looking for trouble, missions are selected from a menu screen.

I have a choice of places to visit, but right now they're all action levels. There's no one to visit and chat with. They all like sound more or less the same thing so I'll just start at the airfield.

Apparently it'd be better if I avoid letting the enemy know I was here for this one, so despite my noisy armour I'm going to try to sneak through the best I can.

Well crap. How was I supposed to know that zipline would take me straight in front of a security camera? I've found the cover system awkward to use and mostly avoided it, but it's definitely doing it's job at the moment.

At that distance it'll take all night for me to snipe those enemies with my pistol, so I'm going to close the distance a little.

If I hold down the grenade key, an arc appears on screen telling me where it will land. It works so well I'm surprised I haven't seen it in more games. Also if were to hold the button down facing a wall, he'd plant the grenade as a proximity mine instead.

Well that's two enemies and a guard tower down and it only took me 9 bullets and a grenade. Maybe later when I get some points in these weapons I'll be able to get it down to 1 bullet per enemy.

Another minigame, this time for lockpicking. This is actually ridiculously easy with a mouse, I just push each pin to the line and win.

I planted the bug in the airfield control tower, and apparently Thorton found his own way out off screen because I just completed the level.

47% accuracy, could be better. 4 alarms triggered, well I fucked that up. 96 orphans created? Damn, I feel a little guilty now. Still, stats are always appreciated.

I guess I'll go pay a visit to that arms dealer now.


I continue my search for the missile theives across Saudi Arabia, leaving a trail of corpses in my wake. But then the corpses disappear once I leave them for a bit. How very... retro.

I've been spending my level up points on trying to add a little extra punch to my pistols, and one extra punch to my melee combo. I can't say I've noticed any difference, though upgraded grenades look nice.

It's always nice to have a choice between 'arrest, shoot and extort'. And in this game it really is a proper choice, with each option having it's own benefits. There's no wrong choice, and no pressure to always be 'good' or always be 'evil'.

My handler back at Alpha Protocol HQ is listening in to all of this and my choice will influence their opinion of me. But again there's no downside to making them hate me, I just get different bonuses.

But because I'm a nice guy I'll turn this arms dealer in to the authorities. Letting him go might have led me to the terrorists, but I get the feeling I'll find them soon enough either way.


I wish these bastards would stop shooting my helicopter with rpgs. I'm starting to worry that they'll actually blow it up, and I don't feel like having to replay that entire section of game again from the last checkpoint.

Okay I'm lying, I'd actually have no problem with that. I've heard people complain about the action gameplay in this being 'sub-par', especially at the start, but I'm playing as a crap character with no skills and I love this game so far.

It leans closer to Mass Effect than Deus Ex in level design, with barely any scope to explore the levels or take alternate routes. The game doesn't even have a jump key! But I like Mass Effect too, so it's all good.

The game loves to throw rewards at the player. Rewards for being professional, rewards for being a rookie, rewards for shooting people, rewards for not shooting people. And each has an effect on gameplay that stacks up.

I wouldn't mind seeing this kind of thing show up in more rpgs.


Finally I've found the terrorist responsible for blowing up the airliner, and he's got the rest of the missiles in those trucks. I can blow up two birds with one grenade!

Well okay, more like several rpgs, but at least they were provided for me. That's the good thing about wrecking a weapon convoy... there are weapons everywhere!

Before I can apprehend and execute the terrorist leader, I'm dragged back to the present day to watch Thorton have a chat with the smoking man about how this is all his fault. Or at least how something that hasn't happened yet for my character will be all his fault. He's vague on the specifics.

Well, I try to carry out my missions in an ethical and responsible way, but my orders about this guy are clear.

Sorry mate, but bullets are expensive.

The match is over. Counter-terrorists win!

Unfortunately the information I got from the terrorist leader shows he's only a small piece of a much bigger crisis!

I've traced the source of the missiles to Moscow, found another terrorist cell in Rome and there's going to be an assassination in Taipei. Fortunately those terrorists left lots of money lying around in bags for me to buy airline tickets with.

I've reached my Taipei safe house, and it's a bit... crappy. I've been here five minutes and I already want to take a shower. But first I need to save democracy.

It seems that each of the cities is a separate hub, like Saudi Arabia, with it's own set of missions I can choose from.

This time I'm able to visit some contacts first. Like super spy Steven Heck, and Triad leader James Hong Hong Shi. I've lost all my Saudi Arabian black market contacts, so I need to find new suppliers to refill the shop with equipment.

After finishing my business in Taipei I got on a plane to Moscow and did the same thing there. The game hasn't locked me to one hub any more so I'm free to go anywhere and do anything in any order I want. Though obviously I need to complete some missions before the next ones in the story will open up for me.

I resist the urge to 'headslam' Grigori, and instead make friends with him for info. This has the effect of giving me a reputation as a reasonable man to other people I might meet in Moscow, which may or may not work in my favour, depending on how I want to play things.

Moscow's safe house is a lot cosier than my Taipei hq.

Though I'm not sure about his DVD collection. Is that 'Manwoman'? 'Forman Forever'? 'One One'?

I guess Thorton really likes his Russian knock off comic book movies.

Rome is particularly nice though this time of year. To be honest though I just wanted to show off Thorton's glowing glasses.

It's a shame the subtitles only put a few words on screen at time, as it makes it really difficult to show off anything that's being said in one screenshot, and some of it is actually pretty funny.

Even though I'm racing across the world trying to save society from an evil conspiracy, it's nice to spare a minute or two to write back to my friends back at hq.

I think Mina's getting used to Thorton's sense of humour now. This actually got him a +1 on their friendship score.

But I can't just go around chatting to people all day, I need to shoot someone somewhere eventually. Well actually I could probably complete most of the game without fighting anyone, but I'm just not that kind of a spy. Not in this playthrough anyway.


Levels like this kinda make me glad I didn't focus on stealth skills. Getting through all those cameras down there without being spotted would probably be a pain in the ass. Then again, if I was playing this stealthily I probably wouldn't be so low on ammo right now.

Fortunately I have the chain shot ability to get multiple instant kill headshots at once (handy for boss fights...). I just have to get in a place where I can see all the enemies in the room first.


Chain shot takes way too long to recharge for me to rely on it, so I've also made a considerable point investment in my melee skills. Now I can just run at everyone and launch myself knee first at their face. If I can follow it up with a stomp to finish them off, then they are KO'd for the rest of the mission. Enemies can't be woken up, so a non-lethal approach can clear a level just as effectively as going on a killing spree.

And there's no way I'm going to be shooting innocents, not with my lethal ammo. That's the kind of thing that would definitely get me minus points with Mina. Also it's incredibly immoral, obviously.

I'm going to stop here, because this is getting ridiculous. I mean stop writing, not playing the game. I actually finished it, then immediately started up another game straight afterwards. Partly to see how different choices affect how the story plays out, partly to find out more about what is actually going on, but mostly because I just want to keep playing it.

Alpha Protocol is one of the best rpgs I've ever played. It's one of the best third person shooters I've ever played. It's apparently not for everyone, but it's definitely for me. Plus it seems to find its way into a Steam sale every now and then, so it might be worth picking up from there if you find yourself interested.

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