Up until my visit to Sega at E3 this week, all I had seen of Obsidian Entertainment's spy thriller action RPG Alpha Protocol was a few screenshots. Yesterday I got a chance to see a demo of the game in action, and I can safely say that fans of BioWare's space epic Mass Effect should be extremely pleased. In fact, had the Obsidian folks at the demo not denied it, one could easily assume the two games were using the exact same engine, with a few tweaks in place to freshen things up a bit.
Rookie CIA agent Michael Thornton finds himself betrayed by his superiors and hunted by the U.S. government after a mission goes awry. In order to get to the bottom of a conspiracy, Michael initiates the Alpha Protocol, going undercover to clear his name and besmirch a few others in the process.
So the story is different, but not too much else. Throughout the game Michael will be given dialoguechoices that effect the way the game plays out, increasing his faction with certain NPCs and decreasing them with others. The main difference here is that Michael has a limited amount of time to make his choices, and they generally fall into three categories - professional, suave, and aggressive.
Leveling up and combat also play out very similar to Mass Effect, albeit with only one character instead of three. You gain skill points which are spread across ten different skill sets, unlocking new powers as you progress. One particular nifty power was shown that involved Michael pausing the action, selecting three different targets, and then shooting them each in quick succession. Don't know if there are any Firefly fans reading, but it was very reminiscent of that one episode where River peeks out from behind cover and then delivers three shots, taking out each of the bad guys that had her pinned down.
Throughout the game you gain new weapons which you can upgrade, collect a variety of suits - from a classic spy tux to high-tech armours - some of which NPCs will react to differently. You can even modify your Michael with accessories, change his facial hair, and basically customise him to your liking.
Furthering the Mass Effect parallels, not only do the graphics look extremely similar, the game even uses a nearly identical font for its text.
All of these similarities are simply coincidence though, as the folks at Obsidian - who have worked closely with BioWare in the past - assured me that they had started work on Alpha Protocol before Mass Effect was being developed. Whatever the case may be, AP looks like it is shaping up nicely, and being compared to one of the best action RPGs ever created isn't exactly a bad thing, now is it?