It takes a lot to make a game about spies, particularly one that a developer would like to be taken seriously. Memorable characters, motivations, and action all have to mix and blend together nicely otherwise things turn sour. So naturally it's of great interest to see how much detail and depth has gone into making Alpha Protocol, particularly in the development of its cast and the web of 'choice' that surrounds each decision made.
Alpha Protocol is a third person espionage RPG, which really just means that there's a lot more leveling involved in everything. Gun skills, melee skills, hacking/technological skills will all level up with increased use, and naturally there's a lot of customization involved in the process. It looks pretty straightforward, and a lot of fun, but the action shouldn't be confused with what makes this game so interesting to look at. It's there because like every spy movie, action is to be expected.
What isn't expected is an action/reaction system very similar to (at the risk of drawing parallels) Bioware's 'conversation wheel', only with a little more detail. During conversations players are given options such as aggressive, professional, and suave, which naturally only detail the 'kind' of response that will be given rather then a full blown direction. Players are also given a limited amount of time to make a response, which makes conversation flow in a more realistic manner. It also adds for a bit of tension and drama, as new characters encountered will naturally prefer to be treated in different ways.
This doesn't mean that it's possible to become buddy-buddy with everyone in the game though, as the spy world is filled with allegiances and competitions. Missions are completed with the help of a handler, who assists players on the field with important information and mid-mission aid. Each handler knows different aspects of a level, and naturally each handler has their rivalries with other handlers which means choosing the right one for the job is more then just a matter of personal preference. Earning the trust of these handlers, and more characters will not only further the plot of the game but will also unlock new weapons and tools to make the job easier.
This is probably the most intriguing aspect of the game, as each level can be played however the player wishes, but the knowledge of how to complete a mission more stealthily versus a full out assault will only be given by speaking to the right people. It puts a lot more weight on who players know, and how much trust there is, which naturally creates more lively and well rounded characters.
It's good to see that people out there recognize that a great cast makes for a great story, as a lot of games trying to boast a thrilling storyline too often promote weak one-dimensional leads and supporting characters. In the case of Alpha Protocol, Agent Michael Thorton is and will always be the lead 'good guy', but what kind of good guy he is will be completely determined by the player. The depth and variety in character options really make the other elements of the game, such as Advancement Points (to increase skills) and 'cooldown' abilities, that much better, since choices made will naturally affect how skills develop over time.
How well things will turn out for Alpha Protocol really depends on how fleshed out the storyline is, but so far things are looking pretty good. Hopefully the level design and mission objectives are as detailed as the script, lest combat turns into the same repetitive rinse-and-repeat that many games featuring a gun turn into. Here's also hoping that the inevitable plot twist that will be uncovered at the heart of this espionage thriller isn't something like how 'Thorton has been working for the bad guys all this time unknowingly'. But for now it looks like Alpha Protocol has it's sights set on the right goals, and may be reaching them quite effectively.