Have You Played... Alpha Protocol?
Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.
It's nice and all that Obsidian are crowdfunding a trip back to the '90s, but I wish they were able (and willing) to revisit something a little fresher. Alpha Protocol is my favourite game they've made, an RPG from 2010 which used timed conversations and silent branching to make the adventures of a super spy feel exciting and unpredictable. Yes, it's jolly wonky in ways - Obsidian made it - but it feels like the fresh green bud of what could've been an exciting branch for RPGs.
You're Secret Agent Manchap, out investigating something or other when something goes wrong and your own agency ends up hunting you. It's fairly generic spy movie stuff on paper, but it feels exciting as it becomes a personal adventure. Choosing the order you go globetrotting in will silently send the game down different paths, and you might miss opportunities with other characters. This may only become clear on a second playthrough - or because you read some fool like me going on about it. It makes you want to think carefully about consequences to actions, but it rarely lets you.
Conversations run in real-time, requiring you to quickly select the attitude of your response before it's your turn to talk - no pausing while you agonise over dialogue choices here. You roll with gut feelings then need to deal with the consequences, feeling like a secret agent in the field rather than someone staring at a blinking cursor in an IM window. This feeds into a nice system of relationships, where you get different bonuses from different handlers who'll watch you on missions, which are of course affected by conversations and decisions. The Witcher (mostly) lets you hesitate over big decisions, but Alpha Protocol pushes you to act.
Combat's a bit of a boring mess until you reach the higher ends of skill trees, but then sneaking around as an invisible man with superpistols is pretty fun. I never explored the other branches that much because they started out too dull.
It's notoriously buggy, mind. And enemy AI is bad. And... I could grumble more, but Alpha Protocol's bright ideas were enough to keep me happily playing. I'm sorry it's unlikely anyone will ever give Obsidian enough money to have a second crack at it.
You could wear ridiculous shades and beards too.