On the fourth day of Christmas, A Gamer Forever Voyaging gave to me... four calling birds?

by PaulEMoz in , , , , ,

When I first started this blog, I had the intention of occasionally going back to a game I'd written about, revisiting it and posting my thoughts on the game once I'd completing it. You know how many times I've done that so far? None. Not once. I might have written about a game more than once, but not in a retrospective manner. But that's changing today.

Aaahhh... there's nothing like a warming winter fire.

The game I'm giving away today is Alpha Protocol, a game I first played on the XBox 360 and first wrote about on August 15, 2010. I really enjoyed it then, and fully expected to play it to completion... but then, as usual, I was distracted by the shiny and the new, and Alpha Protocol was put on the back burner.

Something about it kept jabbing away at my brain, though, and I kept getting the urge to play it. And so I would, for an hour or so, making a little progress and then putting it away again. It's not the ideal way to play any game, especially one that's so heavily story-oriented. And then, last month, I started it up yet again, but got hooked enough to get to the end.

Something tells me she could be a bit of a... pistol? Does it look like she's got nice... guns? Austin Powers has got nothing on me.

Alpha Protocol is billed as "The Espionage RPG". And indeed, there's an element of role-playing to it, with you earning points so that you can level-up your skills throughout the game. Depending on what you choose to improve, you can either be a suave and sophisticated ladies' man, with a silver tongue and smooth-as-silk stealthy movement. Or you can be a brutal crack-shot agent, with awesome hand-to-hand skills to match.

A lot of people online complained about the poor nature of the gunplay and the stealth in Alpha Protocol. And yes, initially, there's a fair bit lacking. The controls are woolly, aiming isn't especially accurate and there are frustrations in the way you're led down certain pathways, with scope for exploring levels pretty much eliminated.

Oh no! Such carnage! What a waste of arcade machines!

But if you persevere, you'll be rewarded. Many of these elements improve as your levelled-up abilities improve, making the game more fun to play. But that's only the half of it...

The real star of this game is the dialogue, or rather, the way the dialogue is handled. There's a lot of talking here, but it's all necessary, and it's done in a way that makes the game quite gripping. It's certainly more intriguing than your average game, I feel. There are many characters to interact with, and when talking with them, rather than give you a choice of lines to speak, you're given a choice of mannerisms. The way you respond determines your success.

Look at that expression. You'd think I'd come home at 4am with lipstick on my collar.

It could be disastrous, but it really works incredibly well. You have to get to know each character you're interacting with, so that you know how to stroke them in order to get what you want, or how to wind them up until they snap. And depending on how your interactions go, you might or might not open up other missions or opportunities.

I really feel that this is a brilliant engine, and although Alpha Protocol does have its share of gameplay weaknesses, it really is worth sticking with until the end. Not only that, I'm planning to replay it in a completely different way, to see how else it might play out. There won't be a sequel, but the premise and conversation system is so good it would be a real shame if it didn't get used again.

Surely if "Headslam" is an option, you'd use it every time?

You can see just what I'm talking about, if you own a PC and use Steam. I'm giving away a copy of Alpha Protocol on Steam. All you have to do is post a link to this piece somewhere appropriate (Twitter, gaming forum etc.), and add a comment here letting me know how you've plugged me, and you'll be in the draw. Good luck!

Oh... four calling birds? Well, there's an Achievement in the 360 version for "romancing" the four main female characters in the game. And as they call you regularly in the game... well, there you go!