by Marcus Mulkins
previewed on PC
Do not forget that this is a RPG. Michael is a low-level agent at the beginning with considerably more training than John Doe, of course, but nowhere near the experience of James Bond. Using an attribute and skill system that I suspect draws heavily on the Fallout SPECIAL character development system, the player will be able to shape and mould Michael in a myriad of ways. Thereafter, performing different actions successfully will accrue Advancement Points which may be spent on any of ten different skills, each of which have ten slots. One such skill is improved reaction time which allows you to study a group of enemies, note their placement, then pop up in slow motion mode and place an amazing number of very accurate shots while the Bad Guys are still trying to figure out where all those shots are coming from. Depending on your personal preferences, you can develop Michael to be stealthy, a martial artist whirling dervish, and/or weapons wizard. It’s up to you to decide whether it’s better to be a specialist or a jack–bauer–of–all–trade.
Much of the game will involve dialogue trees. Within any given dialogue, the player may decide to model his approach to emulate the J.B. of his choice: Jack Bauer (aggressive), James Bond (suave) or Jason Bourne (professional). It should be noted that Obsidian pointedly does NOT use these labels. But if it “walks like a duck and talks like a duck… However, you had better get the conversation right the first time, because you will NOT be able to re–initiate any given dialogue tree as you can in many other games. NPC reactions to you now will be influenced by what they have seen of you earlier. Personally, I think this is the aspect of the game that will stand out most favorably; the rest of the game will most likely play as you would expect a third–person Action game to play out. Bodies to the left of me; bodies to the right. NPCs learn about Darwin the hard way.
We have a developing situation on our hands
If I have any reservations about this game, it is that it centers around the character development of a field agent for an Intelligence agency. RPGs generally start with 1st Level characters and build up from there. However, in this case, you start with somebody that is already a potent force to be reckoned with. It is very seldom that some faceless minion from the Bookkeeping & Codebreaker Division is sent out to face off with terrorists and experienced enemy agents. Field agents are normally recruited from highly–trained outfits like Navy SEALs or Army Rangers – and then they are trained in spycraft before they get deployed.
With any other RPG, the experience points pile on at the beginning, but gradually it becomes harder and harder to advance. This is meant to reflect how a learning curve realistically bends: a sharp rise until forward progress becomes difficult to perceive. As a field agent, Michael Thorton should already be pushing against that slow advancement of the learning curve. Otherwise, why would the US government – which thinks that Thorton has gone rogue – apply so much pressure to neutralize him ASAP? That is, he is already perceived as a highly dangerous threat.
And then we start improving his abilities at a rapid rate? Time for a reality check, I think.
Is it here yet?
The initial anticipated release date is February 2009. However, the Obsidian designers are notorious for pushing back release dates “until the game is actually done.” This approach to releasing games has pluses and minuses: Plus, you know it’s gonna be good. Minus, if you get disappointed often enough, you’ll develop a bias that assures you’ll find the game’s shortcomings quickly and fixate on, “I can’t believe I had actually been anxious to get this piece of dreck!” And the additional minus is that the longer games stay in development, the greater the probability that the company’s finances get in a bind, resulting in bad things happening. This aspect was, in fact, one of the main reasons Black Isle fell apart.
So, I’ll just have to curb my enthusiasm and keep telling myself, “It will get here when it gets here, and not a moment sooner.” For some reason though, that little voice in the back of my brain is repeating the mantra, “Is it here yet?? Is it here yet??”