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!

Alpha Protocol (XBox 360)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , ,

The name's Thorton... Mike Thorton.

Nah, that wouldn't work. Fortunately, your character in Alpha Protocol, the aforementioned Mr. Thorton, has a line of patter all his own. And in becoming the latest videogame spy, you're going to make full use of it.

Alpha Protocol is not a game that was ever on my radar. Even the words "Espionage RPG", although alluring, were not enough to even make me consider it as a purchase. But last week I felt bad for Aidan, as he was looking forward to playing out one day and it pissed down with rain the entire time. I popped into GAME to try and pick up a cheap consolation for him, but that didn't work out. I spotted a Club Penguin game for the DS in the 2 for £30 offer, and knowing he loved Club Penguin on the PC, I thought I'd get him that. But what would be the second pick in the offer? It had to be something for me, but nothing really stood out... but then I saw Alpha Protocol, remembered reading a few positive accounts, and another impulse buy had taken place. Had I wasted my fifteen quid?

Fuck you, Craig! You're too old for this part!

Normally I wouldn't have answered that for about nine months. Games bought in that fashion tend to sit unplayed for yonks. For some reason, though, this one was calling to me. That doesn't mean I can answer the question though, because at this point in time, I'm not entirely sure.

There are certainly flaws. Your character is a bit unwieldy at times, for starters. There will be maddening occasions when he's stuck moving to the left, even if you're not touching the controller. For a spy, that's a hell of a character deficiency. A quick flick of the stick stops him in his tracks though, and all becomes well again.

Fuck you too, Diesel! You're not muscling in on my action!

Another time, I climbed a ladder after the guard had vacated it and scooped up some cash. I then wanted to vault over the little fence and sneak up on the two patrolling guards. But there's no jump button. You can only jump if the game gives you a prompt. And by the time I'd figured that out, I'd taken a headful of lead. I had to climb back down the ladder and go the long way around. Maddening.

So far, it's all negative. But those are niggles. And considering I've never been into stealth games at all, I'm finding Alpha Protocol quite addictive, and somewhat endearing.

Get out. Of my. ARCADE!

The game is pretty dialogue heavy. You'll be sitting through a lot of conversations, but you get to influence them. You don't choose sentences, just your character's attitude in replying. This is done really well. You don't get to pause for ages to consider how you'll reply; instead, a timer ticks down as the other character is speaking, and you have to choose your nature of response before that expires. As a result, the conversations really flow, and it feels pretty natural.

You have to consider your responses carefully, too. You can gain the trust or admiration of characters from the way you talk to them, which can result in perks that help your game, alter the way characters treat you (important, as you might need their help when you're out in the field), or even woo the laydeez. It's not really like any game I've played before, although I'm sure it's not original. It's probably a system used in Mass Effect, but I only played that for half an hour before I got stuck, so I can't remember. If anything, it kind of reminds me of the classic Law of the West.

Gordon Burns was sure that Mike had the ten points in the bag in this round.

The rest of the game is fairly standard action fare. I like the way you can use your connections to make the missions easier... if you have the money. You can "go online" to buy black market weapons, or to pay contacts for information that you can use for your advantage. It's pretty cool, and it does help to draw you into the world of espionage.

With guns, stealth, diplomacy, laydeez, lock-picking, code breaking, international jetsetting, computer hacking, hand-to-hand combat and laydeez all thrown into one package, Alpha Protocol is quite a decent way to spend some gaming time. You probably haven't got anything that compares, and will be a nice change to the rest of your collection.

007: Top Agent (iPhone/iPod Touch)

by PaulEMoz in , , , ,

If Quantum of Solace was a shooting gallery, 007: Top Agent reduces spying to a game of rock, paper, scissors.

I quite fancied another bit of Bond after Quantum of Solace, and when this popped up on the "New" page of the AppStore for just 59p, I bit pretty quickly. But, biting quickly is a good way to hurt yourself...

I knew right away this would be bad. When would Bond ever wear trainers and a baseball cap?

Each screen sees you on one side and an enemy on the other. You have icons at the bottom of the screen, representing available moves. You pick one and your opponent picks one, and then the moves are acted out for you. Get lucky with your pick and you'll score a substantial hit... otherwise you'll miss, and likely take damage yourself. You can increase your stats by earning points, and buy weapons and armour with money. Points and money are usually awarded after each fight.

I'm not going to say much more than that... the game really isn't worth it. It's only a Bond game by virtue of the "007" in the name and the fact the four levels are based on Bond films. Everything else about it is poor.

Quantum of Solace (XBox 360)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , , ,

I must admit, Quantum of Solace is not a game I'd ever thought about playing. It took me months to get around to watching the movie, so I was in no rush to re-enact it. But a mate at work offered to lend it to me, and I figured, "why not?"

I can't help watching current Bond films and thinking it's a bit like Carry on Spying. Not because they're slapstick in any way - Roger Moore did enough of that to last a Bond-lifetime - but because Daniel Craig looks, at least to me, enough like a younger version of Sid James to be able to play him if they ever made a biopic.

Do you see? Or is it just me?

Still, the new Bond films are doing well with their reimagining of the property. Bond games, traditionally, have not been the best, with just a couple of exceptions. It would be interesting to see if Quantum of Solace could give Bond games a shot in the arm.

The game is set up to follow the film, as you would expect. Key scenes from the movie are shown, and at certain points you'll cut to the game, and that's where you come in. Naturally they have to expand these scenes, or you'd only have about half an hour of actual game, so there are loads more baddies than in the film's scenes.

I got him. In my sights.

A lot of emphasis is placed on using cover in this game. That's fine, but it has the odd effect of making the game more like a shooting gallery, or possibly a light gun game, without the light gun. There are a few chase scenes, but most of the time you're hiding behind a wall, rock or crate, waiting for the right moment to pop your head out and take out another bad guy.

It's all done pretty well, and the game does a good job of moving the narrative along with your help. A fun feature for Bond fans comes with the Achievements... they're named after Bond films or quotes from Bond films. It's a bit disappointing, though, to find that here isn't an Achievement called "No Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!"

Quantum of Solace is a reasonable diversion, it's very polished and although samey, it provides some decent entertainment. Given that it can be picked up for just a few pounds these days, it might be something you'd want to consider if you're a Bond fan.