The Agency

Sony Online Entertainment have been behind the mighty EverQuest, the thoroughly messed-up Star Wars Galaxies, and the innovative online FPS PlanetSide, so you can be sure it was a big deal when they announced a brand-new MMO late last year. In The Agency, you get to live the life of a James Bond-style agent taking sides with one of two organisations, arming yourself with some cool gadgets and modern weaponry to defeat ridiculous world-domination plots in a fast-paced shooter with the persistence of an online game.

The two factions, ParaGON (Paramilitary Global Operations) and UNITE (United Nations Intelligence and Tactical Experts) differ in their methods and means, but they aren’t strictly opposing each other. “Think of them as friendly rivals who, on occasion, blow each other up,” laughs senior world designer Kevin O’Hara. “On some missions, you’ll have to work together with the other faction to take down a major world villain. Much of the time, however, the two factions will find reason to get in each others’ way.”

Apparently there’ll be a good number of PvP maps for UNITE and ParaGON to necessitate violence between real players across the world, and familiar modes like Capture the Flag, Deathmatch and Control Point, as well as special mission maps where you have PvE goals - effectively you versus the game, while avoiding the other players. “We’ll also have PvP maps where you can choose either side of the battle regardless of your agency,” continues O’Hara. “But if you don’t like PvP, don’t worry, you won’t ever have to do it, but hopefully it should be easy enough that everybody tries it out to see it isn’t as punishing as many MMOs.”

When you’ve chosen your role, you can head out and meet other player agents looking for a team to help with missions - you can do missions solo, but the best ratings and rewards are more achievable with backup, with a typical mission lasting between 10-50 minutes. However, another major aspect of the game is the presence of NPC ‘operatives’ whom you can collect and send out on assignments using a tactical map.

“They may be working to build you a new gadget or weapon, gathering intel to help you unlock a mission, or working on building your resources,” says O’Hara. “One of the neat things about operatives is that as they do assignments, they’ll gain experience and rank up. Higher ranked operatives will help you on advanced assignments or might even be good to trade with other players.” After logging in, you can check with your operatives to see what they’ve accomplished in your absence, then select a mission and decide the role you want to play. There are six roles, each with their own look and feel; Sony Online reckon they’re more similar to Team Fortress 2 than WoW, but with a broader range of skills and responsibilities.

“The two stealth roles will be about getting to places unseen, doing recon for the team and taking down enemies silently. Unlike Team Fortress 2, the stealth roles will have reasons to stick with the team and not just go off on their own,” adds O’Hara. As well as a de rigueur stylised cartoony look, Sony Online are currently developing The Agency for the PlayStation 3 with half the team playtesting with controllers and the other half with mice and keyboards. However, whether PC players will be able to spy on console players is still undecided according to O’Hara: “We could allow it, but the bigger question is should we allow it? We’re well aware of the arguments against doing so. In fact, our own internal rule is: we won’t compromise one platform’s gameplay just to support both.”

Apr 22, 2008