Recently, we got a sneak peek at The Agency and today, with SOE’s announcement, we bring you our first look at the upcoming spy MMO/FPS. Developed at the new SOE Seattle studio for both the Playstation 3 and PC, The Agency represents SOE’s attempt to bring MMORPGs into the mainstream and move away from an endless stream of swords and sorcery fantasy games. Earlier today, along with their press release, they put out an introductory trailer, some screenshots and some concept art for you to enjoy.

WarCry Preview: The Agency
Based on demos & interview with Matt Wilson (SOE Seattle)
Article by Dana Massey

Cassie Sniped (screen)

Cassie Sniped (screen)

At its most basic, SOE’s latest announced title is a spy-themed MMO, but to say that doesn’t truly communicate the sheer originality of the project. The Agency whittles away most of the MMO genre’s base assumptions and strives to be pure, unmitigated fun. It’s fast, it’s sexy and it’s utterly ridiculous. It’s everything people have come to expect from the contemporary spy genre and it’s an MMO.

Two years ago, Sony took in the cast-offs of Microsoft’s canceled Mythica MMORPG and put them to work on something original. “We got our implants removed and basically joined up with the other evil empire,” studio head Matt Wilson quipped. Throughout a recent event in New York City, SOE executives emphasized their desire to grow the MMO genre beyond fantasy hack and slash. The Agency is their first and most significant attempt to reach a broad, mainstream audience and draw them into an MMO.

“We wanted an MMO for the rest of us,” Wilson told the audience as he introduced The Agency. The game’s goal is to meld single-player action with the possibilities of MMO. They also made very clear that this would be a game with almost no barrier to entry. For an IP, they took the best of the spy genre and folded it into a game. This is not the recent kind of gritty spy game – see Casino Royale – but rather more in the style of the camp movies. It’s exaggerated and absolutely off the wall. In one mission, the players needed a new car. Rather than go pick one up, a helicopter flew in and dropped a crate on the street. It fell apart, revealing a car inside.

Unite Team (screen)

Unite Team (screen)

It’s also grown up. The characters drink, smoke, gamble and cuss. Sony wouldn’t comment on what rating they expected, but given the combination of sexuality and violence, “Mature” or higher would not be an altogether unreasonable guess.

Like all high-brow spy fiction, The Agency is also set in fantastic locations. Wilson pointed out, quite accurately, that almost every game builds on some epic tragedy and puts players in a world where they would likely not want to go in the flesh. The Agency takes place in beautiful old European cities, casinos, jungles and other exotic locations. These are places everyone dreams of going, but usually cannot. Too often, games represent the player’s fears and not their fantasies. The Agency reverses that.

At its core, The Agency is a first person shooter, in that players aim and fire their weapons. However, it also borrows a lot from MMORPGs. Most of the mission take place in highly focused instances, which make perfect sense given the mission-based narratives of the spy genre, and players must advance their characters to unlock new items, skills and abilities.

Bones Alley (screen)

Bones Alley (screen)

Visually, The Agency looks more like a movie than a game. They claim nothing they showed us – see the trailer released earlier today – are pre-rendered cinematics. It all felt plausible, if exaggerated, and maintained a break-neck shooter tempo throughout.

In the mission we saw, the players went into an instance to meet someone who had some information for them. As they entered the instance, their target – briefcase in hand – stood on a street corner outside a trendy Prague nightclub. Seems too easy? It is. In true spy fashion, the operative was eliminated just before the players got there and the briefcase taken.

The players then ran in pursuit, only to met by gunmen who jumped out from behind barrels, popped their head out of windows and materialized seemingly out of nowhere organically. Slowly, the team made its way through the cramped European alleys and towards their ultimate goal.

U.N.I.T.E. Roles (concept)

U.N.I.T.E. Roles (concept)

There, they saw an environmental hot spot, something new to The Agency. In this case, it is a children merry-go-round. Rather than just hide at the mouth of an ally and pick off their enemies, the players activated the hot spot, ran forward and leaped on. In an extremely cinematic scene that used their real characters, they spun and fired their weapons. Wilson told us that despite the cinematic look, this is interactive. If there are three players, then three will jump on and inflict more damage than if there were two.

The most impressive part of the instance came only after they eliminated all the nameless henchmen. Through a barred doorway at the back of the courtyard a door smashed and in came the “boss” of this instance. Normally, he’d sit around at the end of a dungeon, waiting to be killed. In The Agency, he smashed through a door, and in true Quentin Tarantino fashion, had his face and name plastered across the screen and even his own theme music.

In an interview after the presentation, Wilson told us how he believed the game could stand out from other upcoming spy-themed MMOs thanks to the sheer quality of their product. They’re building off the Unreal Engine and clearly put a lot of thought into both the production, but also the setting. The game felt sleek and easy to play, which is impressive, given how far away it is.

ParaGON Roles (concept)

ParaGON Roles (concept)

He also expanded on how The Agency does away with some of the boring parts of traditional MMORPGs. For one, instead of crafting and such, each player has their own private collection of operatives. These people support the agent with information, supplies and briefings. Players need to collect them, negotiate their distinct personalities and give them the tools to do their job. In our demo, they provided maps and a car, but potentially they could also do anything from passive help like new guns, to active intervention in the form of sniper support. Unfortunately, in the first incarnation, Wilson told us there are no plans to actual model the home base where operatives work.

In The Agency, players “are what they wear”, which means that if a player wants to run into a situation all Rambo-like and blow everyone away, they just need to put on their body armor and get out the big guns. If they want to sneak in, then wear the appropriate gear. If they want to just walk into a casino and play some roulette, then a tux would be in order.

For the presentations, we saw two signature characters who are meant to embody the virtues of the two major factions of The Agency: U.N.I.T.E. and ParaGON. The former, embodied by the female character in the video, embrace stealth and style to get things done. The later, embodied by the male character, use brute force to blow things up on their way to success. In the trailer, the scene where the female character sneaks in and finds aman tied up, only to narrowly escape death when the male busts down the door and sprays the room with a Gatling Gun more or less sums up the two approaches.

Helo Attack (concept)

Helo Attack (concept)

Spy fiction is also dominated by the idea of fake identities, so what is The Agency doing there? Wilson was vague, but did say he wants players to have aliases and false identities and that they’ll need collect and protect them.

So, with such an instanced game, what makes this qualify as an MMO? The Agency also promises to have regular FPS-style zones where players can enjoy some light combat, or even go off and enjoy some flag based PvP. They also promise non-combat public areas that include mini-games of various forms (gambling!). These later areas are where one would assume that the night gowns and tuxedos will come into play.

Despite its early phase, The Agency looked like a refreshing blast during our recent look. However, if experience has taught me anything, most early (and tightly controlled) demonstrations always look good. It was clear that they’d carefully produced what they showed us and there are still countless questions to answer before the full picture of the game comes together, but so far, SOE Seattle is off to a fantastic start.

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