Recent Game Reviews
Alpha Protocol is an espionage action RPG. If you've played games like Mass Effect or Deus Ex, some of the gameplay concepts are similar. Unlike many action games however, you can't carry 10 weapons with you at the same time - you're limited to two weapons, an armour jacket, and whatever gadgets you can fit in the armour's pockets. This makes inventory selection a much more tactical affair - are you going to go in guns blazing (which you can do, although depending on your handler you may lose reputation for it) in which case you might want an SMG and a shotgun, or are you going to try the stealth approach, with a silenced pistol and an assault rifle.
The lock-picking/safe-cracking mini-game is quite well done provided you are playing with a 360 controller (they really need something different for mouse users) and the keypad and computer cracking mini-games are also suitably difficult - though putting points in the Sabotage skill does make these easier, and you can also use EMP charges to bypass them (but you can only carry 2 at once).
The story is a plausible 21st century terrorism/corporate conspiracy plot, but as the game's tagline "Your Weapon Is Choice" suggests, the choices you make both in conversations and missions do indeed affect the storyline. Like Mass Effect, the game offers you different conversation options, however they are not simply "good" or "bad" and also the options do not tell you exactly what you're going to say, instead they typically indicate your general "stance", e.g. "professional", "suave" or "aggressive". Some characters react better to certain stances than others. And while there are several romantic encounter possibilities in the game, picking the choices you make do affect Alpha Protocol's storylinethe "suave" stance all the time is not the way to get them!
For some reason this game got panned by critics upon its release, but while there are a couple of bugs they can be worked around and the rest of the game is really very well done. The branching story system means there is plenty of replay value in it and it seems just about the right length for that (my playthroughs are averaging around 14 hours). The PC version supports the 360 controller (and even displays the correct button prompts for it) and since it is cheaper I highly recommend picking that version up.
Duels of the Planeswalkers is the latest computer incarnation of the long-standing collectible card game Magic: The Gathering. Unlike previous computer versions of Magic it is both more polished and less pennypinching - during the single-player campaign there are many decks you can unlock, and when playing with these decks you can even unlock extra cards for them by winning, for no extra monetary cost. There is also a co-op mode, although I haven't had an opportunity to try that out yet.
For those of you not familiar with Magic, Duels of the Planeswalkers is a great introduction. It has thorough tutorials and glossaries and it will guide you through your first game, plus you do not need any prior knowledge of the Magic "multiverse" to be able to play. Finally as an added incentive, people who preordered the game through Steam got the first expansion pack as a bonus, and also a voucher for some free real-life Magic cards at their local Wizards of the Coast approved stockist.
There's something to be had for both the casual player and the hardcore player, in my opinion, and Duels of the Planeswalkers is good value at £6.99 (or $9.99 in the USA).
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