Shield Spotlight: Alpha Protocol

GeForce NOW “Included with Membership”
Single Player / Rated M / Steam Value: $14.99

This edition of Shield Spotlight we look at the espionage RPG action title Alpha Protocol.

Originally released in 2010 and developed by Obsidian Entertainment (Pillars of Eternity, South Park: Stick of Truth, Fallout: New Vegas), Alpha Protocol brings us a new slant in action RPGs; the spy thriller.

Here is a bunch of play I did on the PC …

You play Michael Thorton (voiced by the venerable Kevin Bacon) a talented-yet-ostrocized government agent.  To stop an international catastrophe, Thorton breaks ties with his organization and handle the issue himself.  Aided by various sympathetic handlers, Thorton sets off on mission after mission trying to reach the end goal.

The game is story rich with a cast of memorable characters.  Bacon adds an air of legitimacy to the game; giving it an overall theatrical feel.  The strong supporting cast provides an excellent voice acting backdrop for Bacon to shine.

Once you’re through the introduction story and basic tutorial, you’re cast into various locations all over the world to perform various missions.  Most of these are “search and destroy”, reconnaissance or acquisition type missions.  Each location provides you with a “safe house”; a place to hang out, shop (via the online weapons stores), read your email and get mission information from your handler or various characters you meet along the way.

From the safe house, you’ll have your choice of several missions in the area – most of which you can play in any order that you like.  You can also change up your looks and weapon/armor load out before heading into the field.

Once in the field, you must complete your mission.  Each mission puts you in a location where you must work your way through to the final objective.  Along the way you’ll encounter bad guys, alarm systems, computers to hack and other challenges.  At the end of the mission, the story will carry on with a cut scene and you’re returned to the safe house.

During briefings and cut scenes (even during the missions) you’ll occasionally have to make a decision how to react.  This is a Quick Time Event (QTE) where you must make a selection before a timer runs out – or a default selection will be made.  While most of the time this decision only affects the next clip being played, your choices can determine future events; similar to how a Telltale Games title works.

The biggest impact your choices have are on your handlers.  Getting in good with them gives you bonus attributes for each mission.

Missions themselves are played out as third person action gaming.  You’ll run into enemies, bosses, stationary armament, challenges in navigation and more.  The game feels kinda open world at first, but you’ll quickly realize that it is far more linear.  Locations are done in order to perpetuate the story.  Missions are often only revealed when you’ve accomplished another mission.  It doesn’t hurt the game overall, but it is better to know going in.

As with any good RPG, your character is equipped with weapons, armor, explosives, gadgets and of course skills and perks.  As you level up, you are awarded points to assign to your skill bars.  At certain points in each skill bar, you’ll earn a perk that you can use (between cool downs) to help the mission.  There is no skill tree – it is simplified – and I like that.  Of course you’ll have enhancers like Adrenaline and First Aid too.

You are allowed to play either Rambo style or “stealthy” – although there are no real “hide in shadows” type enhancements.  You can choose to “disable” or “kill” enemies while sneaking up on them.  Killing or disabling WILL change handler’s opinions of you.

The mission levels themselves succumb to a few of the “early game blues”; most bad guys all look alike.  There are doors all over the place you can’t go through – but they all look like the door you ARE supposed to go through.  Most of the time, when you can’t go somewhere on the level there is something in the way (debris, etc) but from time to time you’ll simply hit the “edge of the map” and can’t go through.  Despite these, the game plays very well – and once you get used to how things are set up – you’ll forget all about it.

You will find many “bosses” along the way.  They don’t seem particularly “leveled”; that is one of the first bosses you meet is extremely hard – while a later boss seems a bit easy.  But this is all nitpicking.

Items are either found in the missions or you can purchase them from your safe house’s computer (black market weapons dealers?  They deliver …).  Equipment available are all just variants of the same “core class”; pistol, SMG, assault rifle, etc.  Each can be tricked out with bolt ons like scopes, muzzles, etc.  You have to maintain your own ammo – and there is no weapon that has “infinity ammo” (THANK YOU).

Fortunately, you are a bad ass and can fight hand to hand.  Throw your skill points at Martial Arts.  It WILL help.

One of the neat extras of this game is the email system.  Your computer in the safe house let’s you buy weapons – but also has an email system.  You can receive emails from various people in the game; your handler, your enemies – even yourself.  Emails of importance allow you to “reply” with a canned behavior which can affect your relationship with these characters.  It isn’t super deep – but it sure is fun.

I like the lighter RPG elements mixed with a more “arcadey” feel to the action.  The missions aren’t too long (unless you have trouble with the bosses) so you can play the game in short bursts.

Alpha Protocol is a game you would easily pass up playing from the GeForce NOW menu.  You probably wouldn’t pay $20 for it on Steam either (it is 6 years old after all).  But it is a remarkably fun game with good production values and a neat spy thriller type story.  Since you’re already PAYING for it with GeForce NOW subscription, you might as well try it.

The mark of a good game to me on GeForce NOW is I was compelled to actually purchase the game after playing it.  In the case of Alpha Protocol – I did buy the game.

What are your thoughts on Alpha Protocol?  Use the comments below and share!

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