Obsidian Entertainment are a developer well known for deep and complex RPGs. In between classics such as Neverwinter Nights 2 in 2006 and Fallout: New Vegas in the latter half of 2010 sits Alpha Protocol, somewhere between Metal Gear Solid, Mass Effect and Deus Ex. The kicker is, if you play digitally, you can’t legally play it anymore.
Alpha Protocol starts off in typical RPG fashion, allowing you to customize your playthrough. You have a set character (Michael Thorton) but his backstory can be changed to fit into an agent type such as a soldier, who uses guns, or a tech specialist, who uses gadgets to help in combat. This can be likened somewhat to Commander Shepard’s background in Mass Effect. The plot you start on is the same but the background and ending are different, with this being a spy thriller where you play as an agent of a special agency, uncovering conspiracies, deception and more.
Like Deus Ex before it in both plot and gameplay, it sucks you in and immerses you into the characters and actions you take. Whilst there is inspiration from a multitude of different genres, it is, fundamentally, an RPG based off the games of old – something Obsidian have a reputation for.
That’s something that Alpha Protocol does great. It follows the more traditional style of RPG-making that was popular in the ’90s and ’00s, but this means occasionally the playability of the game is sacrificed in return for some of the role-playing aspects, something that was quite divisive at the time. Conversations usually have one of three ways of dealing with them: the professional way that’s more political and methodical, the suave way that’s cool and very James Bond, and the aggressive way that operates like a renegade route of sorts. You can also view a dossier on central characters or figure out information to work out new routes and conversations. This might make you cautious if carrying out dialogue on the mistake of making a drastic decision in the story by accident.
In this sense, its storytelling works incredibly well to set up an organic world that reacts to your mistakes. You can often choose dialogue choices and story options that could take the entire game to figure out their conclusion. Not only can simple choices make a huge impact on Alpha Protocol, but it’s dialogue timer system helps the general sense of immersion. You only have a set amount of time to respond to what is said to you, much like the critically acclaimed The Walking Dead series. The overall game has 32 central endings and tens of hours of extra content to explore on a second playthrough.
This naturally brings us back to the story. On your first mission in the field, you are instructed to assassinate Sheikh Ali Shaheed, the leader of Al-Samad, a terrorist organization. They have recently used American made missiles to shoot down civilians. After successfully completing the mission and you acquire his Intel, the area is hit with missiles and you are presumed dead. Shaheed’s Intel shows three main locations tied to the conspiracy you are now linked to and you must choose where to go next. These can be completed in any order and that order affects the subsequent missions. The base plot is a solid foundation but what makes the writing so effective are the characters. Their personalities and motives hold the game up and make it feel as grounded as a plot of this nature can feel.
Unfortunately not everything about Alpha Protocol works this well. The gun gameplay feels a little off – sometimes too floaty and based off statistics of your character and not your reticule. While this makes sense with the RPG focus of the game, it often makes many of your attempts within combat feel pointless. It doesn’t incentivise accuracy as most of that relies on your weapon stats rather than your aim. As well as this, the cover system is occasionally not massively consistent and enemy AI doesn’t feel natural. As well as this, the cover system is occasionally not massively consistent and enemy AI doesn’t feel natural. This isn’t helped by the stealth nature of the game. Whilst the story and dialogue are immersive, the general gameplay is not.
So that’s Alpha Protocol. But as I wrap up this piece, it is all unfortunately made pointless if you play games digitally. In 2019, the licenses for the music expired, resulting in SEGA taking Alpha Protocol down from online stores. This means that the only way of legally playing is via a physical disk, which ultimately, eventually, drives up the price. Despite the inconsistent gameplay quality and rarity of the game, Alpha Protocol is absolutely a gem in the rough. Its multiple ending and RPG systems work well in its favour and it is worth jumping through those hoops to experience again and again.
But tell us – what are your thoughts and memories of Alpha Protocol? Did you play it? Are you currently scouring eBay for a copy, or have you been able to nab one of the last few on Amazon? The comments section is down below.