Obsidian Entertainment is perhaps best known for being a foster home for franchises. After expanding the words and worlds of others with sequels to Knights of the Old Republic, NeverWinter Nights, and the forthcoming Fallout: New Vegas, Alpha Protocol grants the developer an opportunity to construct a role-playing game that need not abide by someone else's rules. Obsidian's strengths in storytelling and technology stand unsupported in the spotlight this time.
It sets the stage for an inescapable comparison between Alpha Protocol and Mass Effect -- provided it's Mass Effect one we're talking about. Like BioWare's first attempt at combining third-person, cover-based shooting with long-term character building and narrative choice, Alpha Protocol seems intent on telling a gripping story, even while the cardboard scenery falls down. The character models look dated, screen tearing is distracting and those extra months of post-delay polish don't shine through.
And just as with Mass Effect, the technological struggles of the engine might be relegated to the background and forgiven once your attention turns to Alpha Protocol's cast of duplicitous operatives. Yes, dry spy guy Michael Thorton doesn't make a good first impression -- more Luke Skywalker than Jack Bauer -- but he definitely makes one, as evidenced by two possible scenarios viewed side-by-side. In one, Thorton meets his Rome contact , Madison, for a sweet and earnest bedside discussion. In the other, at the same point within the game's timeline, her reception is icy and violent. What on earth could you have done in an alternate playthrough to lose that many points with her? You know, reputation points.