Global Agenda

Lasers, energy katanas, and espionage aplenty in this 'spy-fi' shooter MMO

In our perfect world, everyone wears a jetpack. Like rainbow sprinkles, they tend to improve anything they%26rsquo;re attached to, and that includes shooters - just ask the 30-foot war obelisk we%26rsquo;ve commissioned to commemorate Starsiege: Tribes.

When we touch down in the testing area at Hi-Rez Studios, 15 high school students are jetpacking about in a 10-on-10 match - screaming taunts, strategizing, dropping force fields and sticky mines, hurrying to deploy turrets. It%26rsquo;s a loud little LAN at the independent dev, but Erez Goren doesn%26rsquo;t mind the ruckus - the self-made software entrepreneur has dropped more than 20 of his own millions to get Global Agenda off the ground. He%26rsquo;s the lead designer of his own dream project, one influenced by his affection for City of Heroes and a hundred-hour investment in each of Team Fortress 2%26rsquo;s character classes (yes, even the Scout). In one brief skirmish, we%26rsquo;re seeing a kind of TF2 with lasers, even a second coming of PlanetSide on a smaller scale.

We roll onto a capture point with our sneaky recon class character, decloaking behind a medic (who%26rsquo;s tethered his heal ray to a minigunning assault class) to take a slash with our katana, felling the medic in three swipes before a missile turret blasts us down. Sound familiar, TF2 vets? Gameplay straddles a kinetic and cooperative feel - in a given round, we%26rsquo;d cycle our weapons to fit the situation (like using a thermal grenade launcher when we stumble on a group of enemies), protect a turret-building teammate so he can hold the middle of the map, dish out heaps of splash-damage, and hover through vast vertical space.

Where%26rsquo;s the MMO meat? The massive aspects (sci-fi styled lobbies, PvE missions, training areas) are more in place to frame your matches and create persistency within a player-driven space. Character customization (most of it stylized, some of it quirky, like holiday-themed reindeer antlers) and other MMO vitals are here, too, but for a flagship feature, Hi-Rez is introducing a month-long PvP alliance campaign that agencies (GA%26rsquo;s player-formed guilds) compete in simultaneously. On a macro level, it looks like a board game - each agency is allotted its own map of hexes that they develop by terraforming territory and building structures that earn resources or add defensive buffs once you%26rsquo;re in combat. Week-to-week, other agencies target individual hexes to attack, which each represent a map instance for scheduling a match. Lose the match, you%26rsquo;ll need to rebuild that area - you%26rsquo;ll do better if you%26rsquo;re able to build a safe border of structures to surround your HQ.

On-screen, Hi-Rez%26rsquo;s tweaks to the Unreal 3 engine look good - neon-hued weapon effects and shiny suits slot well with bright environments. Otherwise, we loved one game mechanic in particular: the power pool that anchors your actions. Rocket launchers and other weapons don%26rsquo;t use ammo, they pull from a shared battery used by your jetpack and other items, meaning you always have a sense of your combat capability as it drains and restores.

Although a shooter-MMO has yet to find lasting success on any platform, Global Agenda - which repackages the fond, familiar cooperative and mobile combat of TF2 and Tribes with layers of MMO goodness - seems as sound a candidate as we might get this year. Look for the beta to drop during second quarter preceding a year-end release.

+ A promising genre hybrid with a fundamental focus on action over slow-paced MMO conventions. Refreshing character design; abilities like super-leaping, flight, and invisibility made us feel like a sci-fi supersoldier.
%26ndash; Being light on lore and mission content, a good part of GA%26rsquo;s experience will rely on player conflict to keep it interesting.

Mar 9, 2009

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