by John Constantine
Sony Online Entertainment treated me to a short demo of their massively multiplayer online shooter “The Agency” today and while they’ve certainly made themselves a multiplayer online shooter, it’s unclear just how massive it’s going to be.
Two members of the SOE team played through a story mission as members of the Unite spy faction, the classy sleuths to opposition Paragon’s big gun bruisers. The mission took them through a swanky world-powers' meeting in the Swiss alps, infiltrating a party to retrieve some sensitive intel. Mission groups will be made up of three to four players filling out combat, stealth, and support roles, each one with unique weapons and selectable skills. The combat player in the demo had Martini Bombs, grenades that need to be shaken (hardy har) before detonating and freezing NPC enemies.
After sneaking around the building, the two entered the party slipping into their Alias Roles, stealth costumes every character has for going incognito. These kept NPCs from noticing their presence as well as completing XP-rich side missions like photographing weapons inside the party. After meeting up with their contact, the two had to escape through a furious firefight. The shooting looked competent, if not a little light; “The Agency” won’t be replacing the “Socom”s of the world any time soon.
What was unclear after the demo was how other players, especially those in other factions, will effect situations like these. While parts of the level were described as “public areas”, it was impossible to tell how many players outside your party would be present or how their presence could effect the flow of play. Outside of PvP locales, just how will the community work?
This is why successful MMOs are typically RPGs. That genre lends itself naturally to having hundreds of people in the same environment. A shooter, especially one about spies, is tough to populate and keep engaging at the same time. It’s impossible to know how “The Agency” will fare until it’s in player’s hands, but that’s still a long time off. SOE says the game is still “in development”. It’s up and running on the Playstation 3 though. Good start.