Previews

Alpha Protocol

Mass Effect throws Splinter Cell a funny bone in the first ever espionage RPG.

The art of humour in a videogame. Not something you see very often and even then, not something you see done right. Yet Obsidian nails it so well that it's at the forefront of our mind as we walk out of a morning's hands-on.

We could linger on the solid control of the cover and shoot combat, talk about the extensive character customisation list that'd have the average Fallout fan shivering in anticipation, or discuss the amalgamation of espionage thriller and RPG. But no. What stuck in the brain was the quality of the dialogue.

That's not to dismiss the other virtues Alpha Protocol is currently displaying a month from release. It combines Mass Effect's love of dialogue branches and deep plot with Splinter Cell: Conviction's action-orientated realism. An espionage thriller, where quick wits are as vital as good aim.

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Playing as an agent to a shadowy government branch, you're presented with a number of handlers, informants and missions across the world. The free-form choice you're given means that you can constantly change the storyline. Act tough on an informant, for instance, and he'll snitch, meaning a later covert op into a hideout turns into a massive set-piece after your tipped-off target kits his guards with automatics and body armour.

Yet the real draw is in the conversational flow. You're given the option of three presets: professional, aggressive or suave to filter your responses by. A timer quickly ticks down to pressurise which answer you choose while the other party talks. At times this forced weighing of choices can detract from the actual details of the conversation, but the best replies and one-liners aren't just entry-level Bond quips.

Obsidian is enriching a real-world thriller with some convincingly real-world conversations. Despite this being an RPG title at heart, Alpha Protocol is quick-footed enough in the combat sections to appeal to the typical action fan, while extensive customisation menus can be easily understood and navigated, thus broadening the appeal to naysayers of the genre.

Couple this with plenty of skill and weapon upgrades to let you complete missions either as a Sam Fisher or Schwarzenegger archetype, and you've got a brand new blockbuster with brains on your hands.

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