The last time I sat down with Sony Online Entertainment’s The Agency, it was twelve months ago at E3 2009. At the show, the developer was demonstrating what the game’s PVE would play out like, and, in this case, it played out like a fairly typical spy film. The players distracted guards, disabled traps, and stealthily made their way around the level, all the while encountering story cinematics and plot twists. When I saw it in 2009, one player showed off the first-person mode, while the other showed off the third-person, and the ability to switch between them seemed like an important element of the game.
You can imagine my confusion when, this year, the screens in The Agency booth looked like they were showing off players in a game of Unreal Tournament. I had some questions.
The level was The Black Abby, a monastery that is literally sinking into the murky waters of Venice. I watched as a developer ran through the halls, shooting down enemies before finding his way to a corner and taking cover. When in cover, the view pops to third-person, a familiar sight from the game showed off last year. After firing upon some foes, he jumped back to first person and zoomed in on an enemy with a sniper rifle. The sight slowly zeroed in on the enemy, and the developer waited until it was completely centered before shooting. Because he waited, the shot did massive damage. It’s a mechanic that was built into Team Fortress 2 in order to help balance the sniper, and seeing it in this game was truly confusing. I had to ask:
“So, has the game changed completely since last year?”
He said that it hadn’t. I was watching The Agency’s PVP, which is a bit more fast-paced than the PVE missions were. Instead of the story-driven, plot-twist-laden espionage of the PVE, the PVP is inspired by games like Team Fortress 2 and Call of Duty. Players jump into instances whenever they want, immediately finding themselves head-to-head with an opposing team of players. Third-person isn't an option here, and only shows up when the player takes cover. Even in the singleplayer it has been "controlled" according to the developers at the show. "You can still see yourself in some public areas, and there are times where cutscenes show off your character, but you can't just switch between them."
There are five roles the player can choose from, each built to have definite complimentary skills to make team play extremely important. The character being shown at E3, for instance, had a sonar-like ability that would reveal every enemy in the area to his entire team, an important ability in the dark, dreary Black Abby. After seeing this in action and getting a hands-on with the game, it was hard to really grasp the idea that this was the same Agency I had seen last year. I couldn’t imagine how the hectic PVP could tie into the PVE I had seen. Hell, I remembered a third-person stealth shooter, and this was more akin to an arcade FPS.
When I asked how the two modes tied together, Sony Online had an answer: the character. Players use the same character in PVP and PVE, and gear can be earned in both modes. In fact, some of the best gear in the game is given to players who perform admirably in PVP, which will undoubtedly make the game’s PVE go more smoothly. It’s still a spy MMO, they say, that hasn’t changed, it’s just that the cooperative, story-based gameplay is a good bit different than the fast, action-packed player-versus-player combat.
It was fun, just not what I had expected. The delay to 2011 is certainly disheartening, though I'm sure it's for the best. Either way, with promises of a release on the PlayStation 3 and PC simultaneously, I’m excited to see how it turns out, and to get my spy on, no matter what form it might take.
The Agency is due out simultaneously on the PlayStation 3 and PC sometime next year.