The Agency First Look

Sony Online Entertainment shows off an early build of its espionage-themed persistent online shooter.

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While attending a recent Sony Online Entertainment press event in Los Angeles we were afforded our first look at the previously unannounced The Agency. Currently in development for the PC and PlayStation 3 at SOE Seattle, The Agency is an espionage-themed online first-person shooter in which you'll assume the role of either a spy or a gun-for-hire mercenary working for one of two factions in a persistent world. The Agency won't be a massively multiplayer online game in the traditional sense, but it will afford you plenty of opportunities to interact with other players in addition to the requisite cooperative missions and player-versus-player matches.

Cassie Nova doesn't appear to be the kind of spy who dresses inconspicuously.
Cassie Nova doesn't appear to be the kind of spy who dresses inconspicuously.

The brief demo that we were shown followed two spies named Gavin Eissen and Cassie Nova who were attempting to complete a co-op mission in Prague. Their objective was simply to retrieve a briefcase from an informant who was far enough away that they felt it necessary to procure some wheels for the first leg of their journey. Specifically, the spies had a helicopter drop a sports car into the area for them, and moments later we were treated to a look at its James Bond-worthy arsenal incorporating machine guns, rocket launchers, and the like. After a brief, action-packed road trip the spies arrived at their destination--a district controlled by a dangerous Lithuanian gang known as The Bones. It wasn't long before gang members started making their presence known, emerging from doorways, leaping out from behind corners, and shooting from windows with sniper rifles that dragged menacing red laser sights across the courtyard. As the courtyard became a battlefield, we noticed a children's play area with a merry-go-round, and that came into play as we were treated to our first "Agency moment." Agency moments are cinematic set pieces that give you an opportunity to earn bonuses for getting the job done in a particularly thrilling or imaginative way. You might leap between moving vehicles or cause a gigantic explosion with a single shot, for example; but on this occasion, as enemies closed in from all sides, the bonus was earned simply by getting the merry-go-round spinning and sitting on it with a machine gun.

Overlooking those who met their demise during this particular sequence, the enemies that we saw appeared to move both quickly and intelligently, and toward the end of the demo their actions afforded us a look at the gadget that you'll be able to use to bring colleagues back to life--assuming that you can get to their bodies without being taken down yourself. No spy-themed game would be complete without hi-tech gadgets, and while information on those that will be available to you is scarce, our understanding is that you'll have plenty to choose from.

Perhaps even more important than The Agency's gadgets and weapons will be your choice of attire, since the game employs an intriguing "you are what you wear" class system. Simply by changing your outfit you'll be able to switch between stealth, combat, and support roles. Furthermore, outfits known as aliases will serve as disguises so that when necessary, you can move among enemies and the general populace without attracting attention. To what extent you'll be able to customize your character to distinguish him or her from other players who are dressed for the same role remains to be seen and, given that you'll be spending the majority of your time in instanced mission areas that are open only to you and your colleagues or in player-versus-player arenas where enemy players are also thrown into the mix, doppelgangers are unlikely to be a major cause for concern.

The Agency's stylized visuals are already looking impressive.
The Agency's stylized visuals are already looking impressive.

Regardless of whether you choose to play as a spy in the employ of UNITE or a mercenary working for ParaGON, you'll start your career as a raw recruit with the goal of working your way up through the ranks and, eventually, establishing your own agency. As you progress through the story-driven missions and gain access to additional outfits, abilities, weapons, vehicles, and the like, you'll also unlock various non-player operatives ("living loot") who you can put to work at your agency. You'll be able to assign all kinds of different tasks to your operatives depending on their skills, such as gathering intel on upcoming missions or working on the research and development of new equipment. The tricked-out car that we saw during the demo, for example, was the result of a lot of work on the operatives' part. Interestingly, time will pass for your operatives regardless of whether or not you're playing the game, so if you're told that a new weapon will be ready for you in two days, that's how long it'll take. Furthermore, you'll have the option to receive updates from your operatives via real-world e-mail and/or text messaging, letting you know that your new car is ready or that enemies have been located, for example.

If you need to take a break from the missions and player-versus-player battles that are an elite agent's life in The Agency, you'll find that multiplayer shooting ranges, casino card tables, and the like are also included, though no further details are available at this time. Look for more on The Agency, which doesn't currently have a confirmed release date, when we report from the E3 Media & Business Summit in Los Angeles next month.

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