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Sunday, 15 August 2010

Alpha Protocol (XBox 360)

The name's Thorton... Mike Thorton.

Nah, that wouldn't work. Fortunately, your character in Alpha Protocol, the aforementioned Mr. Thorton, has a line of patter all his own. And in becoming the latest videogame spy, you're going to make full use of it.

Alpha Protocol is not a game that was ever on my radar. Even the words "Espionage RPG", although alluring, were not enough to even make me consider it as a purchase. But last week I felt bad for Aidan, as he was looking forward to playing out one day and it pissed down with rain the entire time. I popped into GAME to try and pick up a cheap consolation for him, but that didn't work out. I spotted a Club Penguin game for the DS in the 2 for £30 offer, and knowing he loved Club Penguin on the PC, I thought I'd get him that. But what would be the second pick in the offer? It had to be something for me, but nothing really stood out... but then I saw Alpha Protocol, remembered reading a few positive accounts, and another impulse buy had taken place. Had I wasted my fifteen quid?


Fuck you, Craig! You're too old for this part!

Normally I wouldn't have answered that for about nine months. Games bought in that fashion tend to sit unplayed for yonks. For some reason, though, this one was calling to me. That doesn't mean I can answer the question though, because at this point in time, I'm not entirely sure.

There are certainly flaws. Your character is a bit unwieldy at times, for starters. There will be maddening occasions when he's stuck moving to the left, even if you're not touching the controller. For a spy, that's a hell of a character deficiency. A quick flick of the stick stops him in his tracks though, and all becomes well again.


Fuck you too, Diesel! You're not muscling in on my action!

Another time, I climbed a ladder after the guard had vacated it and scooped up some cash. I then wanted to vault over the little fence and sneak up on the two patrolling guards. But there's no jump button. You can only jump if the game gives you a prompt. And by the time I'd figured that out, I'd taken a headful of lead. I had to climb back down the ladder and go the long way around. Maddening.

So far, it's all negative. But those are niggles. And considering I've never been into stealth games at all, I'm finding Alpha Protocol quite addictive, and somewhat endearing.


Get out. Of my. ARCADE!

The game is pretty dialogue heavy. You'll be sitting through a lot of conversations, but you get to influence them. You don't choose sentences, just your character's attitude in replying. This is done really well. You don't get to pause for ages to consider how you'll reply; instead, a timer ticks down as the other character is speaking, and you have to choose your nature of response before that expires. As a result, the conversations really flow, and it feels pretty natural.

You have to consider your responses carefully, too. You can gain the trust or admiration of characters from the way you talk to them, which can result in perks that help your game, alter the way characters treat you (important, as you might need their help when you're out in the field), or even woo the laydeez. It's not really like any game I've played before, although I'm sure it's not original. It's probably a system used in Mass Effect, but I only played that for half an hour before I got stuck, so I can't remember. If anything, it kind of reminds me of the classic Law of the West.


Gordon Burns was sure that Mike had the ten points in the bag in this round.

The rest of the game is fairly standard action fare. I like the way you can use your connections to make the missions easier... if you have the money. You can "go online" to buy black market weapons, or to pay contacts for information that you can use for your advantage. It's pretty cool, and it does help to draw you into the world of espionage.

With guns, stealth, diplomacy, laydeez, lock-picking, code breaking, international jetsetting, computer hacking, hand-to-hand combat and laydeez all thrown into one package, Alpha Protocol is quite a decent way to spend some gaming time. You probably haven't got anything that compares, and will be a nice change to the rest of your collection.

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