There is no good and evil, only shades of grey, and as a secret agent in Obsidian's new role-playing game you'll be treading a very thin line indeed. Tim Ernst (the game's producer at Sega) is here to tell about this new opus, which takes its inspiration from The Bourne films as well as the more recent Bonds, presenting us with dangerous and action packed world, awash with espionage and double-dealing.
Coming to the PC, Xbox 360 and PS3 this title is no small undertaking, Ernst promising an experience in excess of thirty hours in length; the player's character moving between vying factions in a bid to fullfill complex mission briefs. Along the way you'll customise your outfit to suit the task in hand, while your prime aim will be to gather various kinds of intelligence. As you progress, your story and missions will evolve alongside the decisions you make - certain maneuverings impacting other players in the game world and vice-versa.
As you gather information, additional missions and leads will be opened up, and Obsidian promise that this will be an incredibly deep RPG system that genuinely offers the player choice - allowing you define is what kind of Jason Bourne or James Bond you want to be.
Of course, no self-respecting spy thriller would be complete without some international settings, and Alpha Protocol will have you zipping all over the globe on various, highly-deniable missions - and the one we're witnessing appears to be set in a grimy-looking former Soviet train yard. More exotic and familiar locales are likely as well, given that the game is supposed to be more than a bit lengthy.
Beyond interesting backdrops, that will no doubt fit in with the story, what else can we expect? Well, for a start Ernst is very confident that the game world will offer up a range of shady and realistic characters to interact with. Once again, these NPCs will be realistically ambiguous in their morality, and sometimes you'll have to deal with someone you don't like or don't trust in order to best further your mission objectives. Conversations are highly cinematic, shades of Mass Effect, while all in all the game's visuals do a grand job of creating atmosphere.
As you become further embroiled in god knows what your agent's skills will of course increase, and as with any good RPG you'll be able to assign your hard-earned experience to particular skills. This promises to add yet another layer of strategy.
While as a lone operator you'll generally be trying to maintain a low profile, things can sometimes go wrong at which point you're going to have to be a bit more aggressive. During one segment we were shown the player was confronted by a small squad of guards, closing in rapidly. While it would be possible to take on these foes in a fire-fight, on this occasion we opted to destroy a water tower positioned precariously above the enemy position, allowing us to take out all these foes in one hugely cinematic swoop.
Beyond movie-like sequences such as this, Alpha Protocol will also deliver a number of mini-games. Like other games before it, these instances will be used to make the opening of doors and safes a little more challenging - while detail will be added here via the availability of different techniques linked to the player's specific skills.
Ernst assures us that all these gameplay elements will be held together by an expertly written plot; adding that Alpha Protocol is more than just one tale, the game offering many stories. This is a big game, then, with huge variety - and I note that we've barely touched upon certain additional touches. Like the dramatic music, the moody lighting, the ability to redirect weapons shipments to your own cache, the money system, and the sheer number of mission options (and the diversity of these). Indeed, if there are any risks associated with Alpha Protocol, it's that the game is too sizable an undertaking and that it could end up being unwieldy and incoherent. We'll see what further Intel we can gather ahead of the late 2009 launch.