I'll let Raven for the professional reviews. I'll stick to comment some things of the game. I'm a slow player (in every sense of those words). I just finished the first Story Arc, also known as Saudi Arabia, and my opinion of the game is mostly positive.
- Price 50€: Bad. But if I paid it's because: Obsidian (I like them, sue me), Spy (action) RPG, no Steamworks (being distributed by SEGA, there was that chance...), I could afford the price. Still, quite the price.
- DRM: "Good" (not as good as Stardock DRM in any case). Online activation after installation (with serial from manual), then no need for disks (two DVDs!) or more validations. I don't remember right now more details about the system used though (I think I posted the link in the Civ V thread anyway).
- Theme feeling: Good. I like how, being an espionage PRG, it really makes you feel like one.
If I were to choose a game (that I have played) to compare it to, I'd choose the original Metal Gear Solid for PlayStation. Good story (so far and considering that still beginning... but it's well done) and in the action deparment you can go shooting anything that moves, blow up stuff and/or sneak all the way into the kitchen.
You start by selecting difficulty and then one type of character. Each type (Soldier, Tech Specialist, Field Agent, Freelancer, Recruit) has some ranks in some of the different skills available. I chose Field Agent that gets skills in Pistol, Martial Arts and Stealth. And this choice doesn't limit me when leveling up and buying new levels in any of the skills, just give you a starting point. The skills: Stealth, Pistols, Submachine Guns, Shotguns, Assault Rifles, Sabotage, Technical Aptitude, Toughness and Martial Arts. The limit level for each skill is 10 but when you reach level 4 you can pick a profession specialization, which will allow you togt 3 of them to have a max level of 15. My Mike chose Spy, raising to 15 the max level of Stealth, Pistols and Martial Arts. Each level up you get 10 AP points to spend in skills (Stealth levels costs 6 AP each, for example, while Technical Aptitude costs 3 each). Some levels give you passive bonuses while others give you active skills you can use during the game.
During play you can unlock perks that will give you bonuses. During converrsations, your choices may unlock some bonuses, like +5 to Endurance (acts like Shielding) if your first choices in the game are Professional. Things you do during the game can unlock others, like Black Belt if you defeat 50 enemies in hand to hand combat and that gives you +1 in close combat damage. Or even discounts in the Black Market! Also, during your missions you will have a handler that will assist you giving you information about the mission, and that provides you a temporal bonus during that mission (that bonus can be increased if your relation with the handler is good enough).
There is a Stat section in which you can check all you have been doing in game: how many shots with the pistol, your accuracy with it, number of times you have triggered the alarms or even the number of orphans created (!!!). Very interesting and detailed.
Conversations are quite cinematic and you get a decission wheel to choose your conversation "theme". The wheel is timed and you will have to choose quickly. There are no bad choices but you can gain or lose influence with the individual you are talking depending of your choices. Some trial and error and/or reading the subject's dossier can give you hints about how to treat them to obtain the better results (some prefer you to be agressive while others prefer you to be more professional). Depeding of the relation value, they will feel Neutral to you, Liked, Trusted or even Friend (not sure if there is more as I just got one of my contacts as Friend).
You can earn money during the game and you can use that money to buy upgrades for your weapons, or armours, or the gadgets. You can even buy intel for your missions. I must say that I like to buy all the intel I can. Some of the intel can be as simple as getting extra resource drops during the mission (extra magazines here and there), creating distractions near the Op site so there are less guards, dossiers (give extra information and bonuses) or even detailed maps of the location (stealth routes, cameras, computers...). The more intel you buy, the less money you have for equipment but depending of your level of skill, it may be a good investment.
Equipment of any kind can be upgraded. From oversized magazines for your assault rifle, to a silenzer for the pistol. All the mods affect the different stats of the weapon or armour and which ones you use depends on what you intend to do. Higher levels of Technical Aptitude skill allow you further bonuses in your equipment or even more Gadget slots during your missions. Those gadget include things like explosive grenades, EMP grenades (very useful if you don't want to bother disabling by yourself electronic devices), sound decoys, mines or medi kits.
Missions are in general quite free in how to solve them (different routes in some cases, for example), at least of what I have played. There are some points where shooting your way out of the mess will be the only option (like bosses) but in general your options are unlimited. In my first mission after the introductory one, I had a map marking the stealth route but I was so newbie that I ended shooting everything in my path (which is fine but ammunition is limited so better be accurate in your firing and/or look for extra magazines around). In my next mission I was a ghost, killing all my enemies in my path with my bare hands and avoiding unnecesary attention from others.
- The enemies patrol certain areas and will sound the alarm if they see or hear you, so skills like running silently and using cover are very important to avoid detection and/or kill the guards with your hands/legs.
- Some areas may have cameras (you can see their area covereage, unlike the guard's sight area) and they will trigger the alarm if they detect you.
- Doors can be closed and in need of lockpicking with a minigame based on the mouse and moving the elements of the lock. Some are trapped and will trigger the alarm too.
- Computers can be hacked with a minigame of tracing two different sets of number (one controlled with the keyboard and the other with the mouse) in a screen filled with moving sequences of numbers (you must located two non moving sequences of numbers in all that mess and that match your numbers; moving your numbers with the keyboard and mouse over then and "clicking" on them, will hack successfully the computer).
- If the alarm is triggered, more guards will appear and the present ones will enter alert status, actively seeking you. If you find the alarm device, you can enter a minigame based on a eletronic board and following some circuit paths to press the correct parts (quite easy actually) you can deactivate the alarm. Or you could have bought in the Black Market some false signaling devices that send an "All Clear" signal that deactivates the alarm (I haven't tried this myself though).
- During the mission, dead enemies may drop some money or ammunition, you can find ammunition, money, gadgets or mods for your equipment )until now I have found only 1 though) and in some walls there are medical kits if you need a quick healing (before the next Check Point or if you need to fall back from an awfull situation).
In between missions you are in a safehouse in which you can check the news, your e-mail, the Black Market (equipment, intel) and choose your equipment for the next mission. You can carry only two weapons at the same time, so you must choose the ones that you think suit better the type of mission and/or your style (for now I have stickied to Pistol and Assult Rifle tough) and the modifications to use (their modification slots, divided by type of slot, are limited). Armours also can have mod slots (for ceramic plates, for example, that would give you damage reduction) and a silence value that influences if guards can hear you while crawling through enemy territory (normal clothes are quite good for sneaking while SWAT is not so good... SWAT gives more protection tough). In gadgets you choose which ones you will be carrying onto the mission (lately I go with EMPs and medi kits but I do have explosive grenades as option too, for example). The gadget slots are limited altough they can be increased by better armour with extra gadget slots and/or high levels of Technical Aptitude skill. It's also possible to mod Mike's appearence in the safehouse: choose the skin tone, eye colour, hair style, glasses, beard or hat. Not super customizable but it's a nice touch in case that you don't like the default style for Mike.
Controls in general are good (you can use Xbox360 controller too), graphics are nice (love the details) and options during play are awesome. It doesn't seem that there will be any "roaming" tough. Unlike Mass Effect in which you could have side missions, I don't think Alpha Protocol will have any (or very limited at least, with optional missions that are not really necessary to advance).
<-- Happy customer of Alpha Protocol