Publisher: Sony Online
Developer: Sony Online Entertainment
Release Date: TBA
The massively-multiplayer online first-person shooter genre isn't one that really sees a lot of time on most gamers' radars. Though some good titles have been released for it in the past (See: PlanetSide, pre-Core Combat expansion), most people are hard-pressed to think of a handful of decent ones. Sony Online's upcoming The Agency was unveiled at a press event we attended last month, and we got the chance to chat with many members of the development staff. Even though the game is just being unveiled, it's looking like fans can expect The Agency to be a quality title to help populate the sparse genre.
The Agency isn't a game that takes itself incredibly seriously. The title is set in modern times and allows players to create a chic super spy working for the agency known as U.N.I.T.E. or as a gung-ho mercenary working for the Paragon organization. On paper, the design still sounds like it could be serious in nature, but those thoughts quickly end when one sees that the character design of female U.N.I.T.E. spies involves outfits that incorporate the cool-looking but laughably improbable "combat heels." Meanwhile, cut scenes that showcase the game engine showed off scenes where a member of Paragon kicks down a door and unloads thousands of rounds from a mini-gun into a largely empty room, all the while screaming and obviously enjoying himself.
The title will use the Unreal 3 engine to power its visuals, which are more cartoony than photo-realistic to keep in step with the more upbeat feel of the game, and will be released on both the PC and PS3 platforms. What's more is that the developers are aiming to incorporate not only built-in voice chat using the popular TeamSpeak software but are also planning on making the two platforms intertwined to allow for people with either version to play with, or against, each other. The Agency also has a fairly advanced physics engine that is both self-scaling and quite capable of delivering realistic ragdoll effects; if the gameplay would be affected aversely by a lot of physics operations going on at once (imagine a grenade going off next to a lot of boxes), fewer physics effects are used.
Though the game isn't bent on being serious, The Agency is still far from a kid's title. On one mission, two agents are set to meet up with an informant, who suddenly gets taken down by a headshot right in front of them. The two run down the alleyway from whence the shot came, only to find more enemies with guns trying to mow them down as well. Gunfire is exchanged and people die, and though the blood effects are rather tame and aren't meant to be gory, there's no mistaking the action scenes in The Agency to be intended for anything less than what you would see in "Mature-" or at least "Teen-"rated games.
The Agency will have three classes for each side to play as: Combat, Stealth, and Support. While the exact details of each class have yet to be nailed down, it's been put on record that in The Agency, "you are what you wear," so if you are wearing primarily Combat-oriented gear, your character's special abilities will be skewed toward combat. This allows for players to change their "class" at will (assuming they aren't already in the middle of a mission), rather than being stuck in one class until they realize they don't like it, which is a problem with many other MMO titles. The only choice that is permanent is whether you join U.N.I.T.E. or Paragon, and it's not as if most players won't have a character on either side.
The PvP aspect of The Agency will be handled in a somewhat unique way; contrary to what you may expect, the two sides are not diametrically opposed but work together more often than not. Instead of haphazardly pitting one side against the other, scenarios will be created, with one such idea being that of a prison break. U.N.I.T.E. forces may be working undercover with terrorists to try and break their leader out of a police station, while at the same time Paragon will be trying to stop all of them. No tangible details were given as to how many scenarios there will be, or of how many players can participate at a time, but regardless, the idea seems like a sound one.
When they are not saving the world from henchmen in similarly colored outfits or fighting each other in high-stakes breakouts, players will be able to socialize in nightclubs and dance halls, like any self-respecting super agent would. The game is based on a spoke and hub system where players interact with each other in a main area, and though some combat between players and NPCs will take place in the hub area, most missions will primarily occur in instanced "spokes" so that it is up to the player's team (of up to three fellow agents) to complete the mission without interaction or interruption from any other players.
The Agency has many other features that, while not fleshed out yet, sound quite interesting. Each player will have a band of operatives that work for them, researching new weapons, vehicles, and gadgets for their use in the field. A player may have his operatives customize the color scheme of a pistol, and, if they have the ability to do so, equip it with bells and whistles such as an extended clip and silencer. If the player runs out of ammo or drops the weapon in the field, operatives can airdrop in a replacement or simply make a new one for the next mission. Given that some missions have vehicular sequences not unlike any self-respecting spy film, players may choose to have their operatives research the latest and greatest sports car fully equipped with mine layers, missile launchers, and the ubiquitous pair of hood-mounted chain guns.
If there's one thing that's a detriment to The Agency, it's the fact that at the time of writing the game is still in fairly early development and full details of how much of the game works still haven't been fleshed out. There are many nuggets of information that still have yet to be nailed down, such as how it has been mentioned that the game could support lip syncing to players' voices, or of how it may be possible to set up SMS messages to be sent to your phone from your operatives to let you know of project completions or delays. (Favorite example so far: "Uh hey boss, I've kind of been captured. Can you send them the ransom money they want?" [Press 1 to send the ransom money. Press 2 to let them whack him.])
The Agency is shaping up to be set squarely in the realm of goofy enough to be a lot of fun, but deep and serious enough to not be slapstick. It doesn't hurt matters that the gameplay looks to be amusing, and a lot of the features that have been nailed down look quite interesting. (Raise your hand if the first thing you'll have your operatives do is take after the almighty Q and equip your starting vehicle with a weapon system. Anyone?) Keep checking back here at WorthPlaying for updates on The Agency as it progresses down its development path.
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