It’s a crucial question for an RPG: what type of character are you going to be? Although the choice in Alpha Protocol may be a little narrower than in your more traditional beardy-type affair – you have to be a spy of some sort – there’s still the usual dilemma about where to spend your hard earned action points.

Essentially it all boils down to deciding whether you’re going to be a sneaky, stealthy, softly-does-it-minimise-casualties kind of guy, or a one-man killing machine who thinks nothing of leaving a pile of bodies in his wake. After being afflicted by my usual lack of decisiveness in this regard (can’t we be good at everything, like Jason Bourne? I’d happily have undergone some traumatic psychological-realignment mini-game to earn sufficient points) I eventually decided to go for being good with guns, owing to my past record of hopelessness when it comes to sneaking around in games rather than any ideological bias towards shooting first and asking questions later.


In the end, it was a choice that served me well, because for the most part, it seems, you need to be quite good with guns in Alpha Protocol, particularly towards the end where…well, I won’t spoil it for you, but needless to say, you don’t tippy-toe into your enemy’s backyard and resolve your differences with a full and frank discussion. Still, there were obviously times throughout where being good at other stuff would have come in handy. During missions where casualties were particularly frowned upon (ie they were civilians or – gasp – fellow Americans) my lack of stealth points and noisy armour created unwanted attention, for example, or when the situation called for some hand-to-hand combat, I was hopeless in a fistfight, flailing away aimlessly with powder-puff punches that rarely connected.

Without having a great knowledge of the genre, it seems that a combat specialism is usually a fairly safe choice – by which I mean that you’re not likely to get halfway through the game and then find you’re in a really difficult position because of it. I don’t know if Alpha Protocol would be significantly harder if I’d taken a more stealthy approach, but it seems to me that some of the boss fights, in particular, would be pretty tricky without some decent firepower. Perhaps that suits a player looking for more of a challenge (or indeed one of a different type) but there’s a part of me that thinks a game shouldn’t let you spend a lot of time just digging a hole for yourself to fall into and never get out.

Anyway, having successfully played the game to completion, it has to be said that I didn’t have half as much trouble with the general RPG-ness of Alpha Protocol as I thought I would. I think I was most grateful for the fact that, although there are choices galore throughout, extending even to the order in which you do the missions, at no stage do you find yourself in the middle of a vast open world wondering what to do next. And there’s no grinding through battles with random enemies just so you’re in a position to actually complete the next bit of the story, either.

Still, without being under any illusions about going back to Fallout or getting stuck into Baldur’s Gate or Oblivion, I reckon I’m ready for another action RPG. Knights of the Old Republic, perhaps? Or Mass Effect? Next time, though, I don’t think I’ll write about it. Because this whole feature hasn’t really worked, has it? [No – a reader]

The game, by the way, is flawed but worth a play. Yes, it’s buggy and there are bits that don’t work quite as well as they should and it’s all rather rough around the edges, but you do seem to have some genuine control over how the story progresses, and not just in an obvious ‘be good/be bad’ kind of way. As the end credits rolled, playing a news report summarising how the game world, and the various characters and factions within it had ended up as a result of my actions during the game, I started to contemplate what I might do differently were I to play it again.

I’d say more but the internet’s full of reviews written by professionals who are paid to tell you about modern games like this, so you can go and look at those if you want. Although I’d point you in the direction of Zero Punctuation for the most pithy and entertaining summary.

Next on FFG: a genuine review of an old-(ish) game, perhaps?