Monday, July 1, 2013

Pacifist Run- Alpha Protocol

Recently I’ve had an urge to go into my video gaming with an eye towards ahimsa, finding ways through games without leaving a trail of bodies behind me.  It’s one thing to play a game like Arkham Asylum without killing anyone- technically the game doesn’t let you kill opponents, and even when you knock a thug off of a cliff or tower Batman is able to tie them up so they swing helplessly rather than drop to their death.  Playing games where killing is not only possible but in many cases expected presents a whole different challenge.  This is certainly not possible in many games, but a few role-playing and action games / series do make this a possibility- for example Deus Ex, Dishonored, Fallout, and one of my favorites, the “espionage role-playing game” Alpha Protocol.

I ran through Alpha Protocol as a “technical pacifist”- certainly ready to crack a few heads, but trying at all times to avoid killing my opponents.  This is actually quite fun in Alpha Protocol.  The game gives you lots of ways to avoid needless bloodshed, from talking your way through or out of fights, to a wide range of non-lethal combat options.  There are a large number of end-mission “bosses” to be fought, and after questioning them you are always given the option of execute or (as I chose) spare.  The clever game design rewards you for consistent game play, and by consistently sneaking around, bypassing foes, and doing non-lethal takedowns you are given a number of perks that make your character even stronger.
Sometimes a headbutt is a useful negotiating tool.

My original plan was to play with a style that was very close to Emile Antoon Khadahji, aka The Man Who Never Missed from the Matador series, relying primarily on tranq darts to subdue opponents with occasional use of hand to hand combat.  By bumping up my pistol skill I could potentially slow time to take careful aim and merrily leave a slew of slumbering foes in my wake. 

The plan didn’t last particularly long, as there are by my count there are less than 200 tranq darts available in the game.  I found myself conserving my darts, and instead went for sneaking up behind my enemies and putting them in choke holds until they passed out.  Alpha Protocol lets you build an impressive ninja-style character, eventually allowing you to become invisible for 20 seconds (or more depending on perks) at a time.  One of the most fun parts of the game was opportunities to turn invisible right before entering a room full of enemies, then silently putting the Vulcan nerve pinch on a half dozen before you became visible again.  Unfortunately because the duration does occasionally run out, and there are long cooldown times for powers, I did get stuck in situations pretty regularly where I had to just start laying out punches, kicks, and headbutts.  Tactically not the best, but it was lots of fun and the animations on hand-to-hand combat were great.  Coming out of invisibility at unfortunate times also got me in the habit of tossing around flashbang grenades and “shock traps” (think area-of-effect tasers) as a backup strategy.

Skilled in the arts of Tai Kwan Leap.

I did carry an assault rifle with me, and used it primarily for taking out automated machine guns that are in some sections of the game.  I had to use it on human targets a couple times.  The first was against a particularly annoying foe (Sean Darcy) who isolates himself in a tower without doors, using a sniper rifle and an unlimited supply of grenades (which he tosses three at a time) to make life miserable.  Look up any in-depth reviews of Alpha Protocol and you’ll see this is the most hated part of the game.  I had to use my assault rifle and blast past all of the body armor my foe wore using armor piercing bullets, but eventually got to a place where some solid shots with tranq darts took him out.  I regretted using up all of those armor piercing bullets moments later when a Blackhawk helicopter with a rocket launcher showed up, and once again I had to resort to the assault rifle (and a few conveniently placed rocket launchers) to take it down- apparently with the pilot surviving the crash.  Both of these happened in the last 30 minutes of the game, an odd choice in a game that until then rewarded subtlety and stealth. 

So how did my pacifist run work?  Alpha Protocol keeps track in exacting detail the number of enemies defeated, weapons used, and impact of defeating these foes on the world around you.  I did have one foe killed during an early mission.  I was sneaking into an airfield and came under fire from a machine gunner in a guard tower.  More guards came running as I took cover behind a truck and threw shock traps at anyone in range.  The truck caught on fire, and as I jumped away it blew up, taking out one of the guards as collateral damage in the explosion.  Fatality total- 1 killed by collateral damage, leaving behind three orphans.  And the non-lethal style?  34 enemies knocked unconscious by stun traps, 36 by tranq darts, and 462 knocked out in hand-to-hand, racking up over $1 million in medical bills! 

However as the credits rolled to the sounds of newscasters describing the world my actions built I also learned that by sparing the life of a terrorist leader earlier in the game he later killed hundreds in a series of West Bank bombings.  Here Alpha Protocol throws in your face the conundrum of global politics.  Do you spare the lives of terrorists and show them mercy?  What happens if they turn around and go back to the warpath?  Ahimsa, you are a tricky fellow.

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