Ripe for a Reboot: Alpha Protocol
Ripe for a Reboot is a semi-regular feature which takes a classic game or series which has been neglected by developers or publishers over the years and makes a case for introducing it to today's market in the form of a sequel, remaster or full reboot.
Gaming as a pastime has been around for a long time now, and it’s been a major part of home life since the ‘70s or ‘80s, when Atari and Nintendo really started progressing the home console S curve. Over that time period there must have been thousands of games, if not more (an effort to catalogue them got to 149,000+ in 2015 and that wasn’t in anyway comprehensive), and given how many people have played a game, or regularly play games, you can imagine there is an exponential number of combinations of individual gamer and game love stories. This makes it quite likely that for any given person there will be at least one game that they really wish had a sequel, a reboot, or even a remaster.
One such game that I would love any of the above for is Alpha Protocol, Sega and Obsidian Entertainment’s forgotten but damn fine spy-RPG. Released in May 2010, so still young and with potential for something to happen, your role — should you choose to accept it — is to play as Michael Thorton, an agency recruit who spirals up a path from trainee to rogue agent to elite spy on a global mission to thwart the evil conspiracy and the quite real threat to the world’s safety.
Taking in four main locations from Rome to Taipei, you get to employ a variety of tactics as you play your way through this third-person action RPG. Full disclosure here — the action takes some getting used to; the mechanics are not brilliant. I started the game and was shocked at what I thought to be broken gameplay, sticking the disc back in its box and on the shelf an hour or so into play. For some reason though my interest was piqued once again soon after. This time my immediate thoughts were different and I quickly got to grips with the game’s action, finding it not broken at all, just different and perhaps a little less good than you’d hope for a triple-A game.
It didn’t matter though as once I was comfortable with it the game as a whole totally gripped me. The plot was as over the top as you’d perhaps expect, taking in assassination, bombings, romance, double-crosses and much more. The crux of the game was the dialogue system whereby you could choose from three or four options with the voices of Jason Bourne, Jack Bauer and James Bond coming through loud and clear in three of them. The fourth option would become available if you had collected the right intel on the particular NPC you were interacting with.
What I found utterly fascinating was that these conversations and the choices you made in them — plus things you did or didn’t do in the game and the missions you went on — would lead to actual narrative occurrences, permanent ones, and ultimately to one ending out of a possible thirty-two. I enjoyed it so much that straight after the first playthrough I went again. I’ve played it more since, too. Alongside the different decisions and results there are also trophies which cannot be obtained the first time through, making the replayability both engaging and long-lasting.
Unfortunately the game upon release garnered a mixed reaction from press and gamers alike, which isn’t altogether surprising when I think about my personal experience above. I think perhaps Obsidian was ahead of its time with this one, giving the world a fully-formed and involving espionage thriller with depth and variety and real impact, before things like The Walking Dead really captured the world’s attention with the player choice and decision game model within.
Or perhaps it just suffered because it was published by Sega who needed to see more than the 700,000 sales the game managed. That number seems good to me, but when you’re a publisher with other titles that you ditch, such as Bayonetta, which are hitting over a million and that’s not enough, of course Alpha Protocol isn't going to make it.
Now, Obsidian has ideas on what they would do next, in a sequel. The challenge is that Sega owns the IP still and anything which does happen needs their blessing. Publishers are often reluctant to give up rights to something just in case, which means that I don’t get my next hit of Thorton’s spy career. I’m fortunate enough that I can at least get a hold of my PlayStation 3, insert my Alpha Protocol disc and play it again if I so choose. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure yet, getting the game requires you to find a used physical copy as recent expiring music licences led to the title being removed from Steam and generally not being available for sale anymore.
I urge you to do just that though, and play the game, experience the wonder and the joy and then join me in heckling Sega until they commission Obsidian, or let the rights slide so Obsidian and another publisher can do their thing instead.
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