Saturday, February 23, 2013

Disclosure Alert: Alpha Protocol: Episode 9: Shaheed Saudi Writing on the Wall

And now, Saudi Arabia comes to an end. Thank goodness for that, because the game becomes more interesting AND more fun once we get to the core of it.


I think the confrontation with the Al-Samad Lieutenant was a pretty well done section of game. It's short, yet the scene is set up in such a way that there are a couple of different routes you can take to finish it. It allows for either combat or stealth characters to do what they enjoy doing most, whether it's getting the drop on somebody or abandoning discretion in favor of mass violence. As an interesting side note, the Al-Samad Lieutenant is one of the few characters in the game that you actually have to kill. Aside from him and Darcy, the game allows players to choose exactly how murderous they want to be.

I'm significantly less charitable about the fight against the tank. On at least 2 of my playthroughs, the fight against the tank went very much the way Varewulf described it. I had run out of missiles to defeat the tank with, so I was left using the Pistol and my backup Assault Rifle to fell a TANK. I was surprised to see that the Halbech missile launchers didn't respawn. And like Aldowyn, I remember having a few mishaps where it looked like I had a clean shot, but something in the environment got in the way, making me either miss the tank or blow myself up. This game does have the problem Deus Ex: Human Revolution had where the bosses feel entirely out of place. As we progress through the game, you'll learn what I mean by that. (And as an aside, Aldowyn has a huge problem with not using First Aid when he really should. So much so that we almost made that his title in the credits.)

I said this in one of the earlier episodes, but I really like the idea of using the interrogation as a framing device. In the scene that plays after the Graybox is finished, players are initially led to believe that Thorton is the one interrogating Leland. Now that we've finished Saudi Arabia and as we head to other hubs in the game, we then realize that Leland is the one whose interrogating Thorton. It's a really subtle plot twist that I thought was really well done and had me hooked. All throughout my first playthrough I was wondering "How did Thorton get captured by Halbech and thrown into the Graybox?" And, as anaphysik notes, the dialog between Thorton and Leland is really well written and there's a lot of subtext behind it.

The conversation with Shaheed represents a very big turning point in the game. This is the point where Michael Thorton stops being a tool for Alpha Protocol and starts to really think and plan for himself. This is where the game starts offering choices and consequences that reach farther than the hub they are made in. Choosing whether or not to kill Shaheed is a very morally gray decision. On one hand, he is being set up just as much as Thorton is, another tool for Halbech to use and dispose of. Also, he is a man of his word and keeps all of his promises. On the other hand, he is NOT a nice man. He is very much a terrorist and openly admits to planning further attacks, promising to do more harm to innocent people. It's not an easy choice to make and players can justify making either decision.

So this is where we get into the game's main premise. Alpha Protocol has been infiltrated by Halbech and hijacked for their own ends. As a result, we are now a rogue operative. However, thanks to all the secrecy and the "Yellow-Brick-Road" policy that Alpha Protocol maintains, where operatives must find their own resources, safehouses, and funding, we can utilize Alpha Protocol as well, finding safehouses and gathering weapons or intel relatively easily. There are three leads we can choose to follow: A Halbech connection selling missiles in Moscow, an Al-Samad sleeper cell being activated in Rome, and the impending assassination of the President of Taiwan. As Aldowyn stated, this is the usual Bioware MO of making you go through a tutorial mission and then opening up, giving you the freedom to choose the order you take things on yourself and dividing the game into small mini-stories than culminate in the finale. It's a style I enjoy and appreciate.

As anaphysik said, the first meeting with Scarlet Lake seems WAY too convenient. Right after you find out the Halbech's get-rich quick scheme to start a Cold War will end up causing World War 3, you meet a reporter who's clearly trying to use you to get a scoop because her journalistic instincts tip her off to you. The real reason she needs to meet you at that point is because of something we'll talk about in the Taipei mission. I have more to say about her, but right now you're lacking the context, so I'll save it for when we post the first half of Taipei.

I really like the Taipei safehouse. It feels ripped right out of a spy movie, very fitting for a game like Alpha Protocol. And like anaphysik, I enjoyed the news channel you can watch throughout the game. They offer not only a nice source of humor, but also a way to gauge how laymen in the world are reacting to your actions. It's a nice little touch that I can appreciate, much like the dingy apartment we only see in one brief scene.

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See! I told you this post more be more substantial!

18 comments:

x2eliah.com said...

Hmm. Well, yeah, the whole Saudi bit was a tad lackluster in it's concept... Though I founnd the bulk of Russia more or less just as boring (I haven't seen the other two places - went straight to Moscow after finishing S.Arabia, ragequit after a few (different) bad boss battles). And, well.. Here are the boss encounters I know: - this lieutenant dude, who on Normal was a damn bullet sponge and took multiple reloads to kill (with assault rifles/shotguns), followed immediately by a glitchy tank battle (somehow tank/protector weaponfire went through stuff that my missiles blew up against). Next, in Moscow, I had a bossbatle against some goth teen kid on a boat (what the everloving hell? A goth teen kid with smgs? WTF.), then the Drago/Brecho (whatever that name was), then an impossible escort mission to protect some old npc granpa against a military assault. All of those boss battles were a massive pain to play through, and felt extremely.. well, poor.

From the little I played, I also didn't like the 'betrayal' thing (omg Alpha protocol is baddies now), for the following reasons:
- it is cheap as hell. How many spy movies/novels have the angle of 'the agency turning against the hero'? Way too many. When the totally-not-Osama warned Thorton of this, I literally facepalmed.
- it didn't really change mission feel. Before this, you worked on your own, gathering money on your own, keeping in touch with few people who could provide remote help, operating out of a super-equipped apartment. After the betrayal, you work on your own, gathering money on your own, keeping in touch with few people who can provide remote help, operating out of a super-equipped apartment. Spot the difference? 'Cos I sure didn't. :|

newdarkcloud said...

The bosses are one thing that I will not defend in this game. Almost all of them are just do "video-gamey" and out of place in a game that otherwise makes sense. (And his name is "Brayko." We'll get to that.) ;)

Considering that Alpha Protocol borrows HEAVILY from the typical spy movie trope list, it is not surprising that they used the "Agency betrayed you" plot twist. Though I did like the execution here.

The gameplay itself doesn't change. The whole point of Saudi Arabia is to teach you the systems of the game in a contained environment. Once you leave Saudi, then start to see the factions and the interplay between them. We'll start talking about it much more when we get the chance to.

Ringwraith said...

Brayko is too too ridiculous to hate for very long I find. The music helps. Though maybe that's just because shotguns really do put anyone on their backside.

newdarkcloud said...

Brayko does have pretty sweet background music. I have it as an MP3.

He got better when I wasn't playing as a Recruit on Hard with Assault Rifles.

Thomas said...

The agency betrayed you is doubly cool here because it's the whole point of Alpha Protocol is that agents go rogue and still operate, Thorton gets to sue their own tool against them and the whole game is a demonstration on the power and danger of unsupervised black ops intelligence. Every blow you strike is a good reason why Alpha Protocol should never existed in the first place, but also the advantage of it existing.

And its pretty clear it will happen and they don't dwell on it. Thornton doesn't spend most of the game moping or disbelieving about it, he just moves straight on. And the paranoia is good for changing the way you view the relationships of all the other ppl you meet

newdarkcloud said...

The fact that agents go rogue will come up a few more times later on in the game. Once we learn more about some of the factions, I'll have more to say on the subject.

Ringwraith said...

Though they did kind of spoil this game-changing plot-twist in half of the promotion, which is rather annoying.

anaphysik said...

Meh, the heart of the game is in being rogue through Alpha Protocol. Not spoiling that would have misrepresented the game. The fact that they still do a good job of masking the betrayal anyway is just good storytelling.

Ringwraith said...

Except I'm pretty sure they spoiled the whole section, like precisely where it happens, rather than just being vague about it.

Ringwraith said...

Good job replying there, me. Oh, the want for an edit function.

Jokerman said...

It really easy to forget Shaheed is a terrorist who killed so many people, i found my self trusting him almost right away without question.

Jokerman said...

Just found this site, im reading through all your stuff from the start. This place is going into my bookmarks :D

newdarkcloud said...

Awesome! Thanks for the bookmark and I hope you enjoy your time here!

newdarkcloud said...

Honestly, I forgot that fact to when I first played the game.

Ringwraith said...

I just did the same as I did with Nasri; that's there's a bigger picture here that needs unravelling, and technically he can always be dealt with later, but I won't ever get that information if I remove him from play now.

newdarkcloud said...

I arrested Nasri to turn him into the authorities.

After speaking with Shaheed, it was clear the authorities were not going to help, so I agreed to let him go.

Jokerman said...

Letting shaheed go does does some metagame like knowledge that Thornton does not have, all he really has at this point is Shaheeds word. Yea...i also let him go, im in a spy game after all.

Jokerman said...

Does does?

Im lost without an edit button....


"Letting shaheed go does use some metagame like knowledge that Thornton does not have"