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The Agency Preview

Massively multiplayer online games are big business at the moment with around 20 million gamers playing them on a regular basis. Sony's upcoming title, The Agency, is set in a very different world from the traditional "swords and sorcery" fantasy titles which tend to dominate the market. Instead, the setting will be a world heavily influenced by classic spy-fiction with an emphasis on action, stealth and role-playing elements in the gameplay.

The Agency Screenshot 1 

As with any MMO game, players are given a number of choices to determine the type of character they want to be and the sort of challenges that they will face. The key decision that needs to be made is which of the game's two Agencies appeal the most. The first organisation is The United Network of Intelligence and Tactical Experts (U.N.I.T.E) that will be very familiar to spy fans. U.N.I.T.E consists of the smoothest and most sophisticated secret agents, very much in the "James Bond" mould.

If subtlety and deception aren't quite your style, you could opt to join the second Agency, The Paramilitary Global Operations Network (ParaGON). This organisation is one of the world's largest private armies and as such tends to solve its problems with more of a direct, action-orientated approach. Unlike U.N.I.T.E, ParaGON has fewer morals when accepting contracts, so if you choose this route you can expect a few difficult choices. However, despite this, the agency still has an honourable code and if necessary will stand against any serious threat.

The Agency Screenshot 2

Once the players have selected their agency they will be required to specialise by selecting an individual class to play either combat, stealth or support roles. Each class has a different role within the game in a traditional MMO manner, the combat class being comparable to a "tank" class. In the preview, GameOn were shown mission gameplay with two U.N.I.T.E stealth operatives. The mission involved some glamorous jet-setting to an impressive looking mansion in Switzerland.

In secret agent style there is a meeting of world leaders at the aforementioned location and working together, the two spies meet with their inside man. Getting a tip off that some evil-doers are plotting something nefarious their goal is to head inside and investigate. Things aren't as simple as just heading inside though, as you'd be identified by the security straight away. Instead it is necessary to carefully infiltrate the venue using a mixture of stealth and action.

The Agency Screenshot 3

Graphically the game is colourful and has an exaggerated style which reflects the over-the-top nature of the genre it represents. Characters themselves tend to be larger-than-life and the tone is humorous and clearly doesn't take itself too seriously. Each character not only has a class and persona for general missions, but also has a traditional covert operative alias. So, your avatar will be equally at home dispatching waves of enemy goons with a silenced pistol or playing roulette with a beautiful woman in a foreign casino.

Back to the mission, it becomes apparent that there are plenty of security precautions in place. A bright symbol draws attention to a security panel which needs to be accessed in order to progress past a laser security grid. Highlighting these necessary tasks was a conscious decision by the developers who wanted to keep the missions enjoyable and not have the players spending hours searching for items or panels. A quick button press has the player interacting with the panel and after a quick mini-game, the route ahead opens.

The Agency Screenshot 4

The next area showcases The Agency's stealth action, which brings to mind elements of Metal Gear Solid's third-person gameplay. Here, having another player proved to be highly beneficial and the two agents quickly made short work of the guards with tranquiliser darts. A small mini-map at the top of the screen helps to track the enemies and careful communication between the players prevents any alarms being triggered.

The developers emphasise that any mission is possible to complete if you are on your own, but in order to access the better rewards and unlockables it is necessary to group together. Sometimes four players will be necessary in the more complicated missions to access the gold medal for an assignment. In the next area this was demonstrated, after the two spies changed into their alias disguises.

The Agency Screenshot 5

Tasked with photographing some mysterious devices it was necessary for one of the players to distract the guards while the other used the diversion to snap the images. This was a neat touch and helped to keep the gameplay diverse. It was also nice to see these multiplayer rewards for co-operating with team mates.

As the mission draws to a close the two characters enter a separate area where an evil villain appears. This location is accessible to a team of players or an individual and isn't the same as the more general "hub" zones. These areas act like "instances" from MMO games and feature specific mission events. Here the gameplay shifts into more dynamic action available in either third or first-person perspectives.

The Agency Screenshot 6

Swarms of baddies appear and both operatives switch out of their aliases to their general combat roles. Health and armour are represented by bars and the game looks distinctly different from other MMO titles and feels far more action orientated. Whilst stats and abilities will play a part, it seems that good reactions will be important to success rather than stacking attacks. Enemy characters can also use their skills and abilities, so you shouldn't be facing enemies that can't shoot straight. Health regenerates between bouts of gunplay and the mission concludes after both players reach their destination.

The Agency feels refreshingly different from most MMO models. Not only is its setting a breath of fresh air but the gameplay also looks designed to bring something new to a fairly traditional genre. With a range of game modes and styles which will be gradually revealed, this title will offer players a new way of building and developing a character in a very unusual online environment. Set for release on the PS3 and PC later this year, The Agency will ensure that the genre is shaken but not stirred.

The Agency Screenshot 7

evilgiraffeman | 25th June, 2009
TGK's picture
Looks like a very interesting title, nice preview - I look forward to your review on it later

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