Please support Game Informer. Print magazine subscriptions are less than $2 per issue

e3 2010

The Agency Is Much Improved This Year

by Adam Biessener on Jun 17, 2010 at 01:40 PM

I was an unabashed hater of this PC/PS3 action-oriented spy MMO from Sony Online at last year’s E3. I’m not ready to anoint it as a savior after seeing it this year, but at least it’s something I’d consider playing. The Agency actually looks fun.

SOE showed off the game’s PvP action on PC, and it looked solid. Players take on one of five roles, from Recon to Suppressor or Commander, each with its own passive skills and weapon and gadget loadouts. Force fields, highlighting of enemies through walls, teleporting, and more are game-changing abilities available to the various classes.

The live PvP we saw is reminiscent of Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory. The tight interior spaces make for intimate firefights, and players have to support each other with their roles’ unique abilities to make any headway against a decent opposing team. The main difference (beyond looking much better than that old game, thankfully) is that special powers are far more dramatic. Roles aren’t defined by their collections of passive move speed, armor rating, and primary weapon. Their abilities are far more important, and knowing when to deploy these cooldown-limited powers is key.

Players accumulate experience in and gadgets for each role separately, though there is some bleed in XP that lets you slowly improve roles that you’re not currently in. In addition to collecting new equipment, you can also get mods for your gadgets. For instance, you could increase the radius of your force field at the cost of duration, or get grenades that do more damage but can’t be thrown as far. Every power in the game can be customized, which SOE hopes will lead to the diversity in avatars and playstyles that players expect out of an MMO.

The Agency’s elder PvP game will consist primarily of “World Domination” mode. This pits player factions against each other in battles for control of persistent objectives, which grant global bonuses to the side that holds them. There aren’t many details on this mode yet, but the idea has potential.

Two potential issues come to mind even though the gameplay itself is tight, fast, and entertaining. Since roles and your progression in them are persistent from match to match to a far greater degree than in a traditional class-based shooter, you aren’t able to switch modes when you respawn to respond to an enemy squad with a loadout that your team doesn’t match up well against. Second, there were only six players on a side – hardly a massively multiplayer online undertaking. SOE says that it hasn’t capped out the size of individual matches yet and that the team is going to “crank that dial as far as they can,” but six-on-six is frankly weak. Hopefully that number will get up to an acceptable range by launch.

There’s a whole PvE element to the Agency that SOE isn’t showing off right now. The developer/publisher assures us that players will be able to progress to the endgame and participate in engaging endgame content in whatever mix of PvE and/or PvP they choose.

PS3/PC cross-platform play was formerly the plan for The Agency, but SOE is now questioning the feature from a balancing perspective. The company says that the technical implementation isn’t a hurdle, but that it isn't sure if it can find a satisfactory balance between console aim assist and mouse/keyboard precision.

This year’s showing of The Agency didn’t answer all of my questions, but I left with a positive impression that I didn’t foresee at all. If it improves as much between now and its 2011 launch as it did between E3 2009 and 2010, this formerly troubled project could surprise us all yet.