The Agency Packages James-Bond-Style Thrills into an MMO

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While traditional massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMOs) usually revolve around fire-and-brimstone fantasy tales, Sony Online Entertainment has cooked up something entirely fresh for its latest MMO – The Agency. After over two years in development, we had a chance to check out the high-tech espionage title behind the scenes at SOE’s E3 exhibit.

In The Agency, players choose to step into the shoes of either a mercenary or spy. The Unite faction represents the down-and-dirty way of dealing with things, while Unite takes more of a James Bond approach. Our presenter picked the stealth class on Unite – though he was stuck with it for the mission, you can apparently change classes by returning to your agency, meaning you won’t be stuck in the first role you try.

The demo mission involving infiltrating a Swiss chateau, which really showed off the game’s engine, generating glittery, snowcapped houses outside and lush, rich-feeling interiors. Some aspects of interacting with the environment, like picking locks, turned into mini games. To get through one gate, our spy had to hit the right combo of directional keys quickly in sequence, with only a limited number of tries.

Skills and certain weapons appear on a “skill wheel” in the lower left-hand corner of the screen. Our spy had blow darts and EMP grenades, which she used to stun enemy guards and knock out electronics, respectively. Having a teammate on a mission turned out to be essential in many cases. For instance: needing one guy to turn off a laser barrier and another guy ready to walk through it while it’s down, or one person to distract a guard while the other snaps photos of hidden cameras. According to SOE, many missions will have different levels of accomplishment (bronze, silver and gold) with the higher levels requiring more players in a party to achieve.

Of all the demos at SOE’s booth, The Agency definitely struck as one of the most unique and promising to come down the pipe in a long time. While it probably won’t be as absorbing as more full-featured MMOs (SOE promised only 100 hours of gameplay), we think it will find a niche with more casual fans turned away by dragons and swords and entranced by a more contemporary espionage angle.