E3 2008: Spying on Alpha Protocol
07.17.08 - 8:48 PM

While SEGA was showing most of their RPGs on the show floor, there was a single RPG behind closed doors: Alpha Protocol. Developed by the guys at Obsidian, the same company behind NeverWinter Nights 2, Alpha Protocol doesn't have quite the same high fantasy or sci-fi environment as most RPGs. Focusing around the modern-day, Obsidian has crafted an RPG that just might appeal to fans of James Bond.

Playing as Michael Thorton, a relatively inexperienced but competent field agent. During a mission gone horribly wrong, Thorton uncovers a conspiracy that sends him throughout the world trying to unravel the source. Thorton speaks to those around him using what's called the Dialogue Stance System (DSS). Rather than give players the complete text of what they would say, Obsidian allows players a limited amount of time to select the style of response they want to see on-screen. All of the dialogue is presented cinematically, so the choices that the player makes all happen in real time.

When diplomacy fails Thorton, he has several options, as Obsidian offers players the ability to stealth, run into situations guns ablaze, and use technological gadgets to get through situations. The control scheme is similar to many shooters, with an over-the-shoulder third-person view and a real time firing system with a targeting reticule. Thorton can take cover, dodge attacks, and make his attacks all in real time. That's not to say that the backbone of the combat system isn't RPG based, however, as combat involves both passive and active skills.

Obsidian showed us first one of the passive skills players gain when they toss some of their points into the pistol skill. While the targeting reticule is normally a large circle that provides a general area of fire, when Thorton's pistol skill is high enough, a cross shaped reticule will appear inside and slowly shrink so that players can make pinpoint shots, even while under cover. Players will also have active abilities that they'll have to pause and activate. Obsidian demonstrated two of these abilities - Chain Shot for the pistol and Bullet Storm for SMGs. Chain Shot allows players to pause the game, select targets for up to three shots, then watch Thorton take down the targets with amazing accuracy. Bullet Storm, on the other hand, makes Thorton seem more like Chow Yun Fat in a John Woo film, having infinite ammo with his SMG for a short amount of time as he mows down a wealth of enemies.

Players will also have quite a bit of freedom when they choose their path, but the game won't feature a good/evil option system like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. Rather, Thorton, as a spy, sometimes must use different tactics to survive, and sometimes those might be thought of as evil. The game doesn't track good and evil like KotOR, but players will be able to gain favor with different factions based on their actions and this will affect story and options down the line. In Obsidian's demo, Thorton comes across a weapons dealer whom he has been ordered to arrest. Players will have the ability to arrest him as ordered, extort him, or simply murder him. Instead of seeing a screen informing them they've done good or evil, however, players will simply see how the action unfolds and will deal with the consequences later. Players can expect to see some great dialogue, as well, as Chris Avalon, the writer of Planescape: Torment is on board, as well.

We're incredibly impressed with what Obsidian and Sega are showing with Alpha Protocol, especially considering how early the game is in development. RPG fans will be able to get their hands on Alpha Protocol on the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC in February 2009.


John McCarroll