A brief look at Alpha Protocol yesterday brought to mind how the possible western role-playing-game time-sink of this fall compares to those of the last two falls. A quartet of love scenes is but one difference.
Alpha Protocol, the spy-themed role-playing game from development studio Obsidian Entertainment and publisher Sega, once expected many months ago, is finally close to release. It's set for fall, that same season that brought Mass Effect and Fallout 3 to gamers in the last two years.
In theory, Alpha Protocol should seem quite different. It is neither set after an apocalypse nor in space. But a demo of the game I witnessed yesterday showed the kind of shooter-centric gameplay and deep, interactive dialogue exchanges that might make a gamer see much Mass Effect in it, despite its trappings in a world of spies, e-mailed assignments and James Bond-style villains.
Alpha Protocol certainly won't be confused with either of those other games, even though its gameplay style may satisfy the same itch.
A few things, though, stood out in the demo that are stark differences from those other two games. One of those would be sex, but hold on a second.
The Sega producer showing me the game showed a dialogue system that could feel more consequential than those of the other games mentioned here. Conversations are interactive, as in Fallout and Mass Effect, but remarks throughout the conversation trigger statistical changes and adjustments in character relationships.
Key decision points trigger auto-saves, in a manner similar, of all tings to the immediate saving of the Fire Emblem series. Dialouge and mission choices are designed to enforce consequences on players, though the path those choices might lead is intended to be obscured by what Sega is promising to be a more varied spectrum of moral alignments by its characters.
Some of the dialogue sequences will be so lengthy that there are missions unto themselves. The Sega producer described them to me as interrogations that could last 10-15 minutes, full of choices not just about what to say but whether to, perhaps, hit the person being interrogated with a bottle. In the interrogation described, violence squeezes accurate information out, but causes the player's victim to alert his friends and make a subsequent mission harder. Being smoother with the same guy will allow the player to make a pay-off and face lesser opposition later.
But what about the sex? After witnessing a flirtatious exchange between the game's male hero and the blonde commando lady Z who wielded a big machine gun and a visible bra, I inquired about romance possibilities. I was told we can expect as many as four love scenes. I inquired how they compare to Mass Effect's infamous sex scenes. They're on a spectrum, I was told, one of them being "pretty racy." Oh, and pretty "unexpected" too, in terms of when it happens and the "choices you make in it?" Sounds like an interactive sex scene, but the Sega producer said I might be getting the wrong idea. He didn't want to give more away.
So, if this game seems a bit Mass Effectish to you and maybe even Fallouty, these are some differences. Otherwise, expect a deep, combat-heavy, dialogue rich RPG. It comes out in October for PC and consoles.