The folks at Sony Online Entertainment are one of the few gaming companies who have a presence at CES, showing off upcoming wares like The Agency, the MMO that's heavy on action and light on grind. The development team walked us through a video demonstration of the game, one that was played live, but filmed from multiple perspectives and edited to show off the game's features, giving plenty of details on how the PC and PlayStation 3 game will work.
One thing's for sure, The Agency isn't even remotely attempting to attract lapsed Everquest or EVE Online gamers or anyone who feels that chopping virtual lumber is a fun way to spend a Friday night. No, The Agency is all tits, ass and guns, and I mean that in the nicest way possible. There are no bearded dwarf women or obese two-headed trolls to play, just foxy chicks in skin-tight outfits with overtly sexual walk animations and super cool, badass dudes that come in two flavors: sleek and burly.
That may sound like there's a limited character customisation option, but it's actually quite broad, from what we've seen. It's just that everyone seems to be painfully attractive, as the game is striving to be the MMO equivalent of a Bond flick. Character design seems to have a bit of Team Fortress 2 aesthetic to it, with an emphasis on more caricaturist silhouettes. The two agency factions, UNITE and Paragon, will add more variety, as the former is more upscale with the latter more a gritty merc type.
One of the design decisions that will probably be welcomed by non-MMO types is that character creation doesn't lock you into a class, as the game is essentially classless. Your class is what you wear, so if you want to play as spec ops or a field medic, you'll have to deck yourself out in the appropriate gear.
The game is running on the Unreal Engine 3 and even in it's alpha stage, looks like a graphically competent shooter and a rather pretty MMO.
Being heavy on action as a shooter and a time-investment as an online multiplayer game, there has to be something to do between the bits of target tracking and large scale firefights. You won't be craft grinding, however, as NPC agency operatives will pick up the slack for you there—think 24's Chloe to your Jack Bauer or Q to your Bond. They'll not only help with tech, you can call on them from the field to support your stealth efforts. There won't be much in the way of blacksmithing or pelt gathering. Instead, the team has added things like casino games and intel gathering by taking photos, along with vehicle challenges, to spice up the gameplay. You'll also be able to play a game of Q*bert, should the mood strike you, as it's one of the included mini-games.
One of the more interesting aspects is The Agency's reach outside of the console or PC. The team is planning to feature SMS support in the final product, so, if you opt-in for it, you can receive text messages from your agency operatives with updates and story driving situations. Talk of PSP and Home support was mentioned, but given the vagueness of those plans, we'll wait for a future update before getting too excited about such talk.
It sounds like the gang at Sony Online Entertainment are trying to do something original with their latest MMO effort and the game seems to have a solid set of original ideas. Whether those disparate parts can come together to be an ultimately satisfying shooter and an online RPG remains to be seen, as the game is still early. We're looking forward to playing at least one of the betas, a time frame for which wasn't provided.