I’ve just passed the mid-point of E3, and by this point, no matter how hard I try, it’s all starting to blend together. It’s at this point that you might start to hallucinate that everything you’ve seen was actually all just the same game - a music title set in a decaying city that featured instrument peripherals with hundreds of buttons.
Thankfully I’ve kept it together a little more than that. Though perhaps not enough! Because when I was showed Alpha Protocol, Obsidian Entertainment new action RPG set in the world of espionage, I was positive I was just being shown Mass Effect. Positive!
I guess it kind of makes sense, considering that Alpha Protocol has been built using what I presume must be the Mass Effect engine. The resemblance is uncanny, and I can’t help but hope they do more to differentiate the games.
[UPDATE: We checked this out with Obsidian, and the games are developed separately off the same Unreal 3 technology. There's no shared tech bar that. Their look just seems to be very similar. And we apologise for the error in previous versions of this story.]
They did show a few different mechanics outside of the other major difference (the setting) – such as up weapon skills so you’re able to, say, line up head shots from cover or enter bullet time – and also that you’ll be able to dress up the main character, Mike Thornton (where do they get these names?) pretty much as you’d like. Though he looked incredibly lame in the baseball cap, goatee and sunglasses the Obsidian staffer picked out.
Conceptually Alpha Protocol isn’t lame. There is a lot to be said for transporting Mass Effect’s morality system to a world where your morality’s flexibility would have obvious results. During the demo I was shown a mission where Mike was on the hunt for an arms dealer as his assigned mission from the CIA, but if you choose to allow him to escape (after being bribed, of course) he’ll be available as a black market arms dealer later in the game.
It wasn’t obvious from that small demonstration exactly how many different paths through the game there were. It’d be nice if Alpha Protocol broke the trend of “you can be good or evil, but you’re still a hero in the end” but I currently doubt it.
Next at Sega I checked out Empire: Total War. Now, the Creative Assembly staff on hand let me know that Jim was going to see them next week some time, so I’m not trying to steal his thunder with my quick preview, but it is absolutely stunning and I did only manage to get to see the new naval battle system in action.
I’m not much of a real time strategy kind of guy (and yes, I know there’s more to the Total War games than just the real time battles) so I haven’t really kept up on what is currently possible, but even if I’d been paying attention I still think I’d be stunned by a game in where the naval combat featured ships with all of the seamen that are actually on the boat visible (from the admiral at the back to the men working the cannons) and above that uniquely dressed.
That sounds like graphical gorgeousity for the sake of it, but in combat, you can actually judge how functional your ships are by looking at them to see how many men you’ve got on board. They’re more than just numbers. And they’ve even gone as far as modeling everything in so much detail that if a cannon ball is fired, it isn’t just a scripted graphical effect – it sails through the air based on physics, and rips sails and smashes holes in boats based on exactly where it hit the boat and how hard.
The battles aren’t limited to cannon fire. Ships can board other ships, with a completely realistic (and not scripted) sequence of hooking the chosen ship with ropes and soldiers swinging across to enter battles – and soldiers don’t just line up and fight in formation, either. They actively “pair off” and skirmish with each other in a way that almost forms miniature narratives in each battle. It’s quite captivating to watch and really does feel like the chaos of a real battle.
As I said though, that was all I really got to see, but they did chat with me for a while about the potential for battles on land. Cavalry will actually feature different types of horses. Your units will be able to occupy houses on the map for cover (but they can be as easily destroyed by artillery) and weather effects will have a serious effect on battle, with mud bogging down your soldiers, their guns misfiring more due to wet gunpowder…
I can’t wait to try out a full campaign again – not only because everything they showed was so impressive, but because I’m itching to help Canada burn down the White House again…