MMO overload. That's what it feels like at the moment. We've got MMOs coming out of our ears. It's all Blizzard's fault of course. More developers than we can think of have been quoted saying World of Warcraft opened up the MMO market to people who would never have played MMOs before. And now everyone wants a piece of that particularly lucrative pie.
Including console manufacturers, like Sony. Hence The Agency, the PS3 and PC spy shooter MMO that's got a targeting reticule firmly focused on a Martini. We checked in with the game at Leipzig Games Convention to put that theory to the test.
Whenever we're faced with a new MMO we want to know what makes it different, what makes it unique and what makes it not WoW. While The Agency follows many MMO standards (pick your class, customise your character, gain experience and skills with other players), the developers have come up with more than their fair share of new ideas and interesting game mechanics that could help raise the game to the top of our console MMO wanted list.
The first is the Operative system. Essentially a trading card game built into the main gameplay, players will be able to use computer controlled Operatives to help them out on missions or even have them working on crafting new equipment and weapons while you're offline. Say, for example, you're finding a solo mission too hard. You'll be able to call in a sniper operative who'll provide covering fire as you battle your way through the waves of goons. Or, say you're up against a guard who's blocking your path into a secret passageway. You can call in a distraction, via your mobile phone, and after a few seconds a pipe will miraculously burst, allowing you to slip past unnoticed. Or, perhaps you need some ground support. You call in say five melee operatives who'll help you when the going gets tough.
There will be over 500 of these Operatives at launch, from which players will be able to form a deck of up to 100. They'll level up, too, much like players will, and, now here's the interesting part, you'll be able to trade them with other players and sell them on The Agency's auction house. Neat.
The Operative system is, to us, one of The Agency's most stand-out features. It's something that should help players get through missions on their lonesome - which will endear the game to non-MMO playing PS3 owners - and spice up general instanced group play as well.
How you'll unlock them is intrinsically linked to the humorous tone of the game. Take Roundup, for example, a pole dancing, cowboy hat-wearing Paragon operative (rough and tumble mercenaries who likes to duck tape their weapons together and do their talking with explosives). She'll only join your deck if you beat her time on the button bash pole dancing mini-game. Or take the resident computer geek on the U.N.I.T.E side (United Nations Intelligence and Tactical Experts - super spy James Bond types who like Martinis, gadgets and high class women). He'll only join your deck if you get at least 5,000 points on the officially Sony licensed Q-Bert arcade game in their high tech Field Office.
Every virtual pour we've seen suggests the developers are having as much fun as they can as they craft The Agency's world. U.N.I.T.E's safe house in central Prague, one of the main hubs (other player hubs include Kiev, Amsterdam and Panama - jet setting is very important in the life of an elite agent), is accessed through the back of an innocent-looking flower shop. Inside, players will cross paths as they get missions, buy gadgets and enjoy the sleek lines and curves of the high tech hideout. They'll also be able to sit back and watch persistent Q-style experiment skits inside the R&D lab. They'll change with the seasons, too. At Christmas, for example, the bullet proof bustier might be swapped for a flame thrower snowman. On Valentine's Day you might see a female agent trying out poison lipstick.