Living in Georgia, getting some hands-on time with a game still at a relatively early point in development generally means packing my bags, finding someone to watch the cats, assigning a backup person to check on that person, and plenty of time eating bad airport food. Not so for Global Agenda, a fast-paced action MMO being developed by the Atlanta-based Hi-Rez Studios. All that took was a quick shower, an application of some mostly clean clothing, and a fifteen-minute drive north. That kind of convenience is addictive. We need more developers in Georgia if only to keep me from running down the street every afternoon to stare into Hi-Rez's windows to see what they're doing - most likely testing out the gameplay in Global Agenda, which is exactly what they were doing when I showed up at their offices last week. See? Convenient.
So what is Global Agenda? Let's quote the official press information: "GLOBAL AGENDA is a fast-paced action MMO using Unreal® Engine 3 set in Earth's near future, a spy-fi world of advanced technology and player-driven conflict." The game is set in the 22nd century following a severe global disaster. Players created factions fight and scheme against each other while going up against totalitarian world government hell-bent on completely dominating the populace. Full scale wars have been replaced with covert operations taking place all over the planet between rival factions.
So, after taking a tour of the offices and spending way too much time talking to the guy working on rendering a new cinematic about his Transformers collection, I was led into the room where the regular weekly testing group was playing. Comments and taunts were flying as a wide variety of people took up arms against each other in what looked like a rather intense multiplayer match. Being slightly terrified of jumping right into a match with experienced players playing a game I've never touched, I was relieved when I was told I would be guided through a solo mission with bots first.
Character creation at this point was pretty straightforward. You select a head, some hair, your sex (though only males were currently available), and then pick a class from one of the four available - soldier, scout, medic, and robotic-technician. After picking a soldier for the sake of simplicity and making him suitably handsome and rugged (live the dream!), I logged into the game, where I was given a chance to outfit my character with various weapons, pieces of armour, and technical devices. Each piece of equipment came in variable strengths, each taking up an increasing number of skill slots. Having only a certain number of slots available (20 in this case), I assigned my character a powerful rocket launcher and mini-gun, a melee weapon, some EMP grenades to deal with machine foes, and a few other odds and ends to make things difficult for my enemies to take me down. Once I finished overflowing my skill slots and then paring my load out down to something a bit more realistic, I was launched into a solo match, with bots filling out the enemy roster.
Fighting takes place in third-person view, with your mouse controlling a targeting reticule. According to the devs, they had experimented with a variety of targeting techniques including assisted targeting (boo!), eventually settling on a system much like your traditional online shooter, only a bit more forgiving when it comes to precision. Weapons and equipment are loaded into a hotbar across the top of the screen, making it easy to toss aside your rocket launcher and pull out your mini-gun when the situation calls for it.
The mission, which took place on in an icy environment, consisted of three separate goals. First my bot companions and I had to take over a control point, which we achieved relative quickly thanks to my missile launcher. Unfortunately, blowing up large amounts of enemies in one shot tends to attract attention, and I died and respawned several times.
Once the point was captured, our next goal was to push a container through a narrow canyon as the enemy tried to push it back. This took a bit longer, but eventually I found some high ground on the canyon edge and helped my AI buddies save the day.
The final task was a battle against a gigantic spider-like mech, and I helped out the team by dying over and over again. I am not sure, but I feel they appreciated it, in bot sort of way. Unfortunately the timer for the mission expired and we failed, but I feel like I made a few friends.
The combat itself was fast and responsive, and rather enjoyable, especially when fighting against bots with bots. The AI they had in place actually had me getting healed now and again, which was pleasant. If I had to compare it to anything, I'd say Unreal Tournament III is a close comparison, which makes sense given that they're using the Unreal Engine 3 to build the thing.
Once my mission was over, it was time to fight against the real players. I created a new character, this time opting for the scout, which might have been a mistake, considering my usual shooter play style of running at the enemy screaming until they die. I am not good at stealth. The results of the round showed this.
The match was a basic multiplayer affair, with our team defending a control point from the enemy team. It became clear from the get-go that Global Agenda is going to be a game where communication and strategy is key. If fact, from the brief time I had, I would say that this will be the sort of MMO that traditional shooter clans could do very well at indeed. As it stood, the two teams were communicating throughout the match, in between my apologies for dying as quickly as I did.
My scout carried a rifle that could only be fired in scope mode, which enabled me to actually get a few kills before my normal run-and-gun instincts took over. My sword took out a couple more of the opposing team, though more often than not I was the one on the end of the blade. For powers I somehow missed out on taking stealth (stupid) and instead chose bionics, which allowed me to run faster and jump higher for a period of time, but sadly didn't help my dying situation much.
Still, despite my ineptitude I did manage to have a great deal of fun. The best thing I can say about Global Agenda is that by the time my play session ended, I wanted to play more, which happens with far less frequency than you would think.
I think focusing on the core combat systems was a good strategy for Hi-Rez to adapt. Too many times the more froo-froo bits of an MMO can detract both programmers and players from flaws in the gameplay until it's too late. Global Agenda's combat, even at this early state, has a great deal of potential. It's definitely a game I'll be keeping track of as they flesh out the world these entertaining battles take place in.