Even if you’re attempting to explain your shortcomings as a gamer in a (ha-ha) humorous, self-deprecating manner, it pays not to over-do it, lest someone mistake you for a genuine idiot. So let me make the following point: I do understand what ‘RPG’ stands for, and that role-playing, by its very nature, involves making detailed choices about everything, in order to define your character. It’s not like I’m saying, ”Why are there so many choices in RPGs?” – because that would be stupid, obviously.

Anyway, to Alpha Protocol, and its many conversation trees. Throughout the game, you’re going to have to make a number of choices which genuinely affect your relationships with other characters and what happens during the rest of the game. In other words, they matter.

What is it about RPGs and important choices? It’s something that I’ve never been able to deal with [Jeez, we all saw that coming a mile off – a reader]. But deal with it I must, for in Alpha Protocol, the talkie bits come thick and fast, every so often pausing for, oh, roughly three seconds or so to prompt you to select one of a handful of potentially very significant dialogue options.


Although I don’t particularly like it at the time, the extremely short amount of time you’re given is actually a blessing in disguise, otherwise I’d probably still be there in the middle of the first conversation, umming and ahhing about what to say. Not that you actually get to decide what you say, mind you – instead, you select from a variety of loosely-defined stances, which your character, Michael ‘Mike’ Thorton, then translates into cheesy dialogue on your behalf.

Whatever option you choose, Thorton will make you sound like a dick. Because, frankly, the character is a bit of a dick, his script consisting entirely of the kind of macho bullshit that middle-aged developers think their core audience of 14-year old boys want to hear. All that aside, though, I really have a hard time committing to something so vague. Why can’t you just see what your character is going to say before you allow him to say it? Even if none of the options appeal, at least you can try and pick the least cringe-inducing one. But no, it’s all ‘Aggressive’, ‘Suave’, or ‘Professional’. What the hell does any of that mean?

Admittedly, sometimes you are given options that are pretty straightforward. Defeat a boss character, for example, and you can choose to talk some more or select the ‘Execute’ option to shoot him/her in the face. Or if, in the middle of a bullshit-laden conversation with a slimy NPC, you suspect he or she be stringing you along, there is occasionally an option marked ‘Fuck Off’, which must surely do what it says on the tin.


If it sounds like I’m guessing there, it’s because I am. I’d never choose the ‘fuck off’ option, even if my character had been stripped naked, tied to a bed and the preceding question had been accompanied by the sound of the game’s antagonist unzipping his flies.

You see, when it comes to being rude in games, I just can’t do it. During the video cut-scenes in Wing Commander 3, for example, you were occasionally presented with a choice to make Marky-Mark Hamill either say something nice or something horrible. First up, you step into a lift with the crazy comms guy who rants and raves about something or other for a while until you think ‘This guy’s a loon…’

And, sure enough, when you’re given the option to respond, that’s exactly what one of the choices is. But could I bring myself to be rude to this man, even though neither he nor I, nor the situation itself, was real? No – I smiled politely and humoured him instead.

As the game develops, Hamill starts to attract the attentions of a couple of female crew members. Naturally enough, every time either one of them talked to me, I was nice to them – it seemed only polite, after all. Then, suddenly, you’re in the bar with them both, forced to lay your romantic cards on the table. I had no idea I was leading anyone on! Obviously, then, you have to be a massive bastard in giving one of them the brush-off, a situation which could have been avoided if you’d given clearer signals earlier on. But I couldn’t be anything but super-nice to another character until the game forced me to do otherwise.


This is even more ridiculous in Alpha Protocol, a game in which I found myself face to face with someone I’d been shooting at for the best part of 15 minutes, only to be nothing but polite to him once he was writhing on the ground begging for mercy. There must be a word for someone who has no problem with shooting hundreds of people dead only to be stopped in his tracks once one of them attempts to engage him in conversation – I’m not sure what it is though.

At this stage in the game, I’m worried that my ‘be nice to everyone’ schtick is eventually going to have unfortunate consequences. So far, I’ve tried to be reasonable and broker a deal with every shady character I’ve come across – but pretty soon, there’s bound to be a conflict of interest.

Frankly, I can’t stand a repeat of the turmoil caused by telling Ginger Lynn-Allen I wasn’t interested (yes, I chose the other one), so rather than cosying up to the next gangland kingpin I come across, I’m telling him to fuck off. Yeah!