In Alpha Protocol, the upcoming Bourne-inspired RPG/shooter from Knights of the Old Republic 2 developer Obsidian, you’re able to reply to emails in three different ways: brief, cordial or snarky. Our handler Mina Tang has asked us for a password to access a server. We choose the snarky option, and have a gander at the email the game’s main man, Michael Thorton, has written. The password is “M1LFLuv3r”. We hit send. -1 reputation.
Alpha Protocol, “the espionage RGP”, will be full of moments like these. Fleeting diversions designed to make you smile. It’s a serious game, dealing with worldwide conspiracies and containing plenty of swearing and the murdering of many a goon, but it displays a sense of humour that shows Obsidian isn’t afraid to have fun.
Although the word you’re most likely to remember from that opening paragraph is “M1LFLuv3r”, the most important one is “-1 reputation”. It seems that reputation is affected by almost every action Mike takes during this hour long private demonstration programming producer Nathan Davis is putting on. More than any RPG in recent memory, Alpha Protocol seems to have cause and effect nailed. This is not an understatement.
Examples. Mike arrives in Dimitri’s Bar in Moscow. It’s around about the middle of the game, at the beginning of the Moscow operation, one of three main operations that become available to tackle in any order once the first operation, in Saudi Arabia, is finished. He’s trying to track down a missile shipment before it gets into the wrong hands. His informant, Grigori, is sitting at the bar drinking and smoking. Mike’s going to be nice.
Three main dialogue stances, aggressive, suave and professional, present themselves at the bottom of the screen, all tied to face buttons. A countdown bar quickly evaporates – you only have a couple of seconds to pick what approach you’re going to take with each line of dialogue. As in Mass Effect, you don’t know exactly what you’re going to say – the text you’ve selected only gives an idea of what’s going to be said. Mike and Grigori chat – words flow quickly and smoothly – the countdown ensuring there are no awkward pauses during exchanges, as in so many video games. Perks are acquired as you make nice. Dossiers are unlocked as you gain intel. Grigori tells you to seek out Sergie Serkov, a man who runs several businesses in Moscow. He may know who shady faction Halbech is dealing with. Mina, who talks to you via an earpiece, runs checks as you chat.
Because you’re best buds, Grigori gives you a side mission – he wants you to divert a shipment of naughty toys to him while on the next mission. You agree. Grigori is now someone you can buy weapons and armour from. Not only that, but because he likes you, he’s giving you a ten per cent discount on armour. “I appreciate you not being an asshole when talking to me,” he says. Lovely chap.
A results screen pops up – it will every time you finish a mission, and some missions are dialogue only. A debriefing of sorts, the results screen contains text on how the mission went, and what the likely ramifications of it are. Nathan then restarts the game and replays the Grigori dialogue mission. This time, he’s going to be an asshole, just for fun. You slam Grigori’s head into the bar, demanding information. You smash a bottle on his skull. “Halbech are smuggling weapons into Moscow. Who’s their contact here?” Grigori, terrified, spits out the name Serkov. A perk is acquired in among the minus reputation points - “Enough chit-chat”. Grigori gives you a five per cent discount on weapons because, you know, you’ve scared the living daylights out of him. Mina doesn’t like your approach either. -1 reputation.