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Obsidian's espionage RPG Alpha Protocol returns to store shelves after four years in license hell

Maybe still my favourite Obsidian game?

Talking about computers in an Alpha Protocol screenshot.
Image credit: Sega

It's deeply frustrating and disappointing when games get pulled from store shelves due to licenses expiring, and too few ever return. So it's great news that almost four years after Sega stopped selling Obsidian's fascinating spy thriller RPG Alpha Protocol on Steam due to music rights expiring, it has returned to sale on GOG. I'm always surprised that Alpha Protocol hasn't reached serious cult classic status because, as much as parts are distinctly wonky, the globetrotting sneak-o-shooter fizzes with ideas for intense dialogue, branching plot, and reputation systems with consequences. You do feel like a spy going up against the world, backed up only by shifty allies and a ridiculous pair of giant sunglasses.

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Alpha Protocol is the story of Michael Thorton, a secret agent who you are honour-bound to give a big beard and silly sunglasses as soon as it lets you into character customisation. As is a common job hazard, he ends up kicked out and hunted by shadowy forces, scrabbling for allies as he fights impending disaster. It's a jolly old genre romp, made quite surprising by how your story develops through the game.

It's not a game where you can do everything right. So much of what you do and say can have consequences, and you're rarely able to understand what they will be. This is good. Alpha Protocol is a spy game and Mikey is some poor fool tossed into a deep sea with political and personal currents he does not understand. Everyone has their own agenda, and wants to use Mike to pursue it. So as you sneak and shoot and hack and chat around, you're building and losing reputation with a range of spies, mercenaries, and criminals who might help or hinder you. This is made more intense by timers ticking down during dialogue options, pushing you to act without fully considering consequences. These consequences might also not become fully clear until a fair while later, or even until you discover other plot paths on another playthrough. You can't game the system (unless you've played it before or are following a guide, obvs), you must become your own Michael Thornton and follow his instincts. It's a great experience, and still a welcome contrast to how so many other RPGs handle choice and consequence.

Michael Thorton with a giant beard and ridiculous sunglasses in an Alpha Protocol screenshot.
You must make him look absurd, that's just the rules, sorry | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Sega

Alpha Protocol is also offputting and frustrating, mind. Thornton starts out so inept that he's barely able to shoot a gun straight, so please do trust me when I say you can eventually become the world's most absurdly overpowered secret agent/mass murderer. It really does have one of the worst hacking minigames too. And being an Obsidian game from 2010, yeah, it could be pretty buggy.

"It's not a brilliant game, but it's one packed with imagination and inspired ideas," John Walker said in our Alpha Protocol review back in 2010. A few years later, I called it my favourite Obsidian game and I'm keen to revisit that opinion with a fresh playthrough.

You can now buy Alpha Protocol on GOG, where a 10% launch discount brings it down to £14.39 until the 3rd of April. No, it is still not available on Steam (though if you already own it there, you can still play it). GOG say their new release comes with polish including "full" controller support, cloud saves, achievements, and yes, that troublesome licensed music.

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