Top 100 Games of All-Time: #40

Alpha Protocol

Release Date: May 27, 2010

Platform Played On: XBox 360

2018 Placement: #40 (=)

What It Is:

A western-style action RPG where your choices matter and isn’t in the high fantasy setting that every other RPG uses. Instead of swords and goblins, you’re put in the shoes of Michael Thorton: a secret agent working for the titular Alpha Protocol who must travel around the world and tackle a conspiracy regarding the agency he’s working for. It’s spy thriller meets dialogue-heavy RPG and it’s one of Obsidian’s finest works.

The main chunk of the game involves going to three different destinations, each of which is peppered with both combat decisions and dialogue decisions that will affect what happens at the other destinations. Your order matters and how you interact with the rest of the game’s cast will make them like you or hate you, which will open up or close off options later in the game. And while it plays sort of like a shooter in combat, there are RPG-like percentages that make the gameplay not 100% skill-based point-and-click on heads to win.

Why It’s Important To Me:

Look, I love RPGs as much as the next person. But there’s so many genres to explore beyond “evil wizard wants to destroy the world while the protagonist learns the meaning of friendship and there’s also probably magic and a cute mascot animal.” I love James Bond and spy thrillers and Alpha Protocol explores and satirizes this genre at the same time to a wonderful end. Each conversation always has three options, Professional, Suave, and Aggressive aka the three JBs: Jason Bourne, James Bond, and Jack Bauer. It’s so fun to watch Thorton go from raging asshole to smooth motherfucker depending on who he’s talking to.

It was also just mind-blowing to see a game where your decisions actually mattered. It wasn’t just surface-level good or evil choices, either. Getting the right character to like you can make or break your playthrough. But also, maybe you just want to be an asshole to everyone and burn everything to the ground. It’s a true role-playing game that lets you be a superspy and there isn’t anything else on the market that has even attempted this.

My Strongest Memory:

The game, like any good spy thriller, has several romance options throughout the game. Depending on your choices, you can get many different endings in the game. While the ending has a general framework, there are so many branches depending on choices you’ve made during the game and during the ending mission that you can get all sorts of combinations making each playthrough very unique. Some of these endings have you riding off into the sunset with your romantic entanglement.

My favorite character in the game was none of these romantic interests – instead it was the Nolan North-voiced Steven Heck, an absolute gem of a madman. Imagine if Nathan Drake actually acted like the psychopath that everyone says he is when they talk about Uncharted’s ludonarrative dissonance. Anyway that’s Steven Heck. And my happy, romantic ending was Thorton riding off into the sunset with Heck, psychopathic buds who were thick as thieves. God it was beautiful.

Why It’s #40:

There isn’t any game like this. Yes, there are games that let you make choices and have branching dialogue trees. Yes, there are spy shoot ’em up games that give you all sorts of gadgets and ways to get through combat. Yes, there are games where Nolan North wisecracks. But none of them are Alpha Protocol, which manages to have all that and more. When Obsidian’s on fire, they’re on fire, and this game is a prime example of it.