July 12, 2007 - I'm ready for the MMO craze to be over. Seriously, I've killed enough wolves, I've returned enough of their pellets, and I've been accosted by more than enough citizens who are apparently incapable of leaving their own homes to do their own errands.
While Sony's The Agency will have its fair share of fetch quests, the fresh espionage setting, a breath of fresh air from the hundreds of fantasy- and space-themed online games, sets the stage for a little something different. Missions can be done solo or with a partner, though the latter is being touted as the preferred method. Teammates can revive fallen comrades as well as provide much more reliable cover fire than their AI counterparts.
Operatives, NPCs who craft items for player agents, aim to take some of the tedium out of typical MMO crafting systems. Agents can contact an operative specializing in automotive operations to design a cool custom car, then log off the game and wait to be notified of the car's completion via a real-life cell phone text message. Need to take a break to do real-life things like go to work or eat dinner? Just log off and wait for a notification.
The convenience factor of notifications also manifests itself by way of not spamming the user with constant duplicates of, "Hey! The work is done!" Using the previous example, players can get their new vehicles when they're ready, not when the game says it's time. Another example stems from a hostage situation in which an operative who has been sent to gather reconnaissance gets himself captured by the enemy. Said villains will contact the player via a text message saying something akin to, "We've got your guy. Text '1' to pay the million dollar ransom fee; text '2' to let him die." Players can respond however they wish when it is convenient for them to do so. Good thing bad guys are so patient!
Though I was more than impressed by what I saw of The Agency's gameplay mechanics, I found its visual style most appealing. Colorful cartoon-like animation adds fluidity and feeling to the game. One example sees an agent rappel down from a skylight to free a colleague bound to a chair. The hopeful rescuer braces herself against the floor as she lands, looks around carefully, eyes rising and narrowing as they glance from place to place, then glint cockily as she realizes the coast is clear--until they fly open like window shutters when a mammoth man wielding a chaingun bursts into the room.
The situation took a humorous turn at this point, as the gunner sprayed the entire room with bullets for a good ten seconds. I watched incredulously, thinking the agents would surely be dead. As the gun wound down, the camera panned to the agents, who were just as surprised as I was to find the entire room peppered with bullet holes--but otherwise free of harm. The agents opened their eyes, blinked, looked around, felt their bodies, breathed collective sighs of relief, then engage the enemy.
I was very disappointed to not receive any hands-on time with the game, but from what I saw, it's looking on right on track to be something different enough in the MMO genre to warrant a purchase.