Alpha Protocol Preview (Xbox360)

Alpha Protocol is one of those games nobody really knows anything about except for slight rumors here and there. Donít worry, weíll fill you in. Alpha Protocol is what Iíd call a customizable narrative stealth RPG. It has all the RPG elements youíd expect from a western developer, a similar dialog system to Mass Effectís where there are choices on what to say, and that itís also a stealth title. In fact, itís a lot of things.

We follow Michael Thorton, a government operative who is sent on missions and must choose who he listens to, what he does and why he does it. From the start, Michael is completely customizable, from the face to the clothes to the weapons and tech. Everything is up to the user in Alpha Protocol. Itís all about the choices the player makes.

In the demo we saw, there was a great example. A German assassin finds Michael hiding and can kill him at any time, but players can smooth talk their way out of it and into a job. They can then go against their own word and backstab the assassin, complete the mission and make a new friend, or a multitude of different options. If you attack her, it suddenly becomes a boss battle, but itís never required in the game to do so.

The dialog system is almost exactly like that of Mass Effect, made to keep the dialog moving while also letting players pick quickly, before an allotted time. Eight seconds in the case of Alpha Protocol before the highlighted choice is automatically selected. Unlike Mass Effect, dialog cannot be redone, so donít expect to ask the same question twice.

Finally, thereís customization. Weapons can be upgraded and modified, abilities can be upgraded based on being more combative, more stealthy or more tech oriented, and you can even build up your martial arts skills. All of these will impact how you perform obviously, but some will also open new abilities and options to take further into the game.

Alpha Protocol also gives players the chance to perform missions without the need to find the information themselves, but to purchase it from informants or off the black market. Guns and upgrades can also be purchased from gun runners, but players should feel free to use whatever assets they have to accomplish their mission or objective. By this, I mean it isnít required to fulfill the mission assigned, because after all, you have to look after number one.

Opportunities may come up which will mean making one person happy and another dissatisfied. Itís impossible to make everyone satisfied with your results, because most are conflicting in some way. For instance, one mission has an informant ask for Michael to redirect a shipment while the agency asks him to destroy it. Itís impossible to do both, but all relationships arenít built to last. We were told that in the 25 hours of gameplay through a single run, itís dangerous to get too close to people because then they try to protect you, and if they dislike you, theyíll intentionally leave out vital information. Michaelís operator is a good example: get too close and sheíll keep difficult missions away from him. Be rude or constantly disobey orders, and sheíll conveniently forget to tell you that a platoon of enemies are around the next corner.

The real point behind Alpha Protocol is that all actions have consequences, from a single line of dialog to a small action. Sometimes these actions can be amended, and other times they cannot. Regardless, to make it through, youíll have to be on your toes and be smart. Otherwise, youíll find yourself without friends or allies, and staring down the barrel of a .45.

Alpha Protocol is set for release this fall for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC.