Although the development team behind SEGA’s Alpha Protocol have been fairly vocal about the three primary influences that have inspired the game’s lead character, he has quite clearly been shaped to resemble one of those three men in particular. Although most of your dialogue choices (which are selections that offer varying degrees of tone rather than content) are shaped around the “three J.B’s” of Jason Bourne, James Bond and Jack Bauer, the game clearly owes it’s primary debt to the attributes of Jason Bourne. From the hazy visual skittishness of the flashback cutscenes (a direct lift) to the way that the gameplay explicitly encourages stealth over direct action, to the well-drawn and surprisingly plausible villains, it’s Bourne who is clearly the key figure of influence here.
But the real joy of Alpha Protocol comes from it’s ardent eagerness to let each player shape their own story to a tenor which is completely uncommon, even in the RPG genre. Every conversation that you have (and every dialogue choice that you make) can result in some pretty extraordinary kickbacks, and your responses have a very strict time limit; if you aren’t fast enough, your reply is defaulted to whatever your previous one was. Taking note of just how broadly the game’s plot can shift based on the smallest of moments is initially quite intimidating. Make no mistake, some players simply are not going to warm to this; if you enjoy having a story mapped out for you or even demand that your own approach to the structure of it is set in stone from the beginning, Alpha Protocol is going to feel almost oppressive.
But that almost contentious approach is what makes the experience so bracing. As with Mass Effect 2, an undue amount of care has been placed on ensuring that the dialogue flows naturally regardless of which option you select, and the writing is similarly praiseworthy. But witnessing the repercussions of your actions (which can include impromptu assassinations in some instances) and observing how the game’s writers work them into the framework of your story, never loses its invigorating fascination. Some may be tempted to toy with the save system to witness the depth of those decisions instantaneously, and whilst this isn’t actively encouraged, it’ll be sure to increase your involvement and absorption when you see how truly rich the possibilities are.
But if for some reason you aren’t hooked into playing the game as the developers seemingly intended, you are able to treat it as flippantly as you like, and it does work as a solidly entertaining nuts-and-bolts action game. You can openly aggress everyone you meet, sprint into every situation with your guns blazing, and you’re obviously free to modify Michael Thornton’s abilities to fully exploit that. And although the game begins quite slowly, it isn’t too long before you can start using your funds to upgrade your machine guns, shotguns and melee combat to an extent that is capable of turning the experience into something that resembles a real-word Gears Of War. No bad thing.
Alpha Protocol isn’t perfect, but a rather significant number of hardcore RPG fans are going to fall head-over-heels in love with it. It’s distinctive, bold and quite exceptionally well-written, and more so than any RPG yet made, demands more than one playthrough; if only to witness the full extent of its often awe-inspiring scope. Those who are willing to put in the hours are destined to reap some pretty significant rewards, and the game’s approach to dynamic branching dialogue should (hopefully) prove to be seriously influential. Regardless, those simply looking for some rousing action definitely shouldn’t overlook it either.
Watch the Alpha Protocol trailer here…