A few weeks ago my boss messaged me about Alpha Protocol – specifically that I should be playing Alpha Protocol. It tastes pretty good for games, so I ordered a physical copy that I thought was backward compatible with my Xbox Series X. It doesn’t, which is a bunch of crap.
Anyway, he told me I could write something about Alpha Protocol if I give it a good shot and now I’m temporarily borrowing his account to play it on PC. It’s that something: Alpha Protocol is goofy and weird, but it’s also excellent in some remarkably unique ways. I think someone with deep pockets should call Obsidian and say, “Listen, all these people who worked on Alpha Protocol? Double their pay and bring them back – we’re doing it yet again.
Alpha Protocol is probably one of the most unfortunate games to ever exist. I don’t mean to say that this has a negative connotation of the game itself – what I mean is that Alpha Protocol looked like the first Mass Effect game but ended up having to deal with the drastically improved mechanics of Mass. Effect 2. In our piece of how it was done, it’s pretty clear that while several factors contributed to the turbulence in the development of Alpha Protocol, this was probably the most important.
But listen, don’t you – I’m 25. I was 14 when Alpha Protocol came out and I was too busy stupidly entertaining the idea that I was decent at football to play it – reader, I was not decent at football. Anyway, I first started it a few days ago and it’s great. Janky, sure, and a little messy at times, but at the end of the day it’s a fantastic game that – for some strange reason – no one really talks about it all.
There are a lot of things Alpha Protocol does well. I like that each type of weapon has its own distinct gadget. I love that the hack and lockpick minigames are actually representative of hack and lockpick, as opposed to a simple weird, out of place point-and-click task that sounds like a monotonous robot voice saying “hi-tech . “I like that you have options when you take a level – you can quietly infiltrate a compound by sneaking through a locked door and up the walls in silence, or you can run with your shotgun and go straight to Scattershot City Above all, though, I love that Alpha Protocol’s branching tales are downright absurd – every time I play it, my jaw hits the bridge.
Branching stories are difficult to do correctly for a variety of reasons. First of all, it’s obviously easier to force linearity into a story rather than letting people make their own choices. Once you start to factor in the multiple permutations of cause and effect, the narrative web can become sprawling and unwieldy before you know it. It should be remembered that all these scenarios must be written and then implemented by a technical designer, and that this implementation must be integrated with each other before and after. Not to mention the fact that the quality can drop when you push for that kind of quantity.
Except that didn’t happen with Alpha Protocol. In almost every conversation you have, you’ll have at least three options to choose from on at least five different, all important occasions. It’s not the first game to make dialogue choices matter, of course, but it’s probably one of the most important. Anything you say may provoke a reaction – someone might approve of your choice, others might disapprove. Maybe there won’t be an apparent change, but it’s still a reaction – just because an arbitrary number doesn’t go up in the bottom corner of the screen doesn’t mean the counterfactual does. would not have been inherently different. Plus, you don’t even know what kind of shit you’re going to be dating half the time with – it’s not “Thanks man” or “You’re a wanker”, it’s “professional” or “aggressive”. I’m not sure anyone really knows what Agent Thorton is going to say next.
But that’s part of the charm, isn’t it? It’s so well written and well played that just hearing any phrase related to “suave” is exciting in itself. Again, this isn’t the first game to do this – again, this is irrefutably one of the most important. I think the best proof of this is that it’s actually in your best interests to have horrible relationships with some people and mutually respectful relationships with others. All of your managers have their own unique personalities – you have to learn not only what makes them tick, but what that tick looks like. In some cases, a manager who loves you too much will accidentally sabotage an assignment by investing too much in your well-being. In others, you could be a sitting duck and your cockhead wielder will hand a gun to the enemy. It’s impossible to predict at first, but as you learn more about all of the characters and travel further along the winding branches of Alpha Protocol, the more things start to click and the more you realize that you can get by in Alpha Protocol. whether you are honest, brutal, or sycophantic manipulator. What matters is that you learn to be good at getting what you want, one way or another.
I’m not that far into the Alpha protocol yet. One of the last missions I did – which is one of the first in the game – was to track down an arms dealer in Saudi Arabia. My master told me to go quietly, but, being the idiot that I am, I missed a shot in the head and I alerted about fifteen guards at the end of the level. I took them all off and my master praised me for going against his wishes, probably because I had slightly improved his opinion of me just before going on a mission. If I had chosen my answers less carefully in this case, however, things might have been different – knowing Alpha Protocol, they certainly would have been.
Alpha Protocol is ambitious – in truth, it was probably too ambitious for the time. Playing it now, however, 11 years after launch, as a 25-year-old accustomed to shiny new toys like the Xbox Series X and my Nvidia 3070, I can see why it’s so important. I can see this is a game game developers are going to love, even though some Mass Effect 2 stans thought Alpha Protocol looked like the news from two years ago. On the contrary, Alpha Protocol looks eerily and vaguely like the future, a game where innovation in design, form, and storytelling replaces innovation in puddles of rays, or something like that. If I were a money man I would put it in briefcases and ship them to Obsidian via priority shipping. I’m not, so I’m going to need one of you to do it instead. Please. We really need a remake of the Alpha Protocol or a spiritual successor – just something, anything, that’s half as weirdly brilliant as this one. Let’s talk about it this time too, right? Yes.
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