I’ve been replaying Obsidian Entertainment‘s game Alpha Protocol, and I have to say I’m coming to like it more and more. I defended it even on its release, but now I’ve come to appreciate subtleties I missed at the time. Specifically, the characters. They aren’t all uniformly excellent, but those that are fully realized are truly well-written.
Take Conrad Marburg, for instance: (Spoilers follow, and if you haven’t played the game, you won’t know what I’m talking about anyway.)
Marburg acts like such a jerk through most of the game, not to mention that he’s working to thwart Michael Thorton (the player character) in one major mission; and yet you still kind of feel sorry for him because you know why he’s so upset—in important respects he was Thorton, as he says, “twenty years ago”.
And then there’s his awesome scene in the Roman museum. His line “Deus Vult” is all at once an ironic reference to his status as a corporate lackey, a reference to the Roman locale and the surrounding exhibit, and sort of an “It’s Chinatown” moment between him and Thorton, (“Deus Vult” being an organization that treated Marburg much the same way “Alpha Protocol” is treating Thorton.) That’s three layers of meaning in two words from a dead language. That’s brilliant writing.
Now, admittedly, it’s not that great throughout. And it has many other flaws that many players may find irritating. I can’t quarrel with most of the criticisms of the game, be they of its graphics, gameplay, or plot; but nevertheless, such high-quality writing in games is something that ought to be highlighted, lest games really become the shallow things non-gamers think they are.