I can pay no higher compliment to a sci-fi shooter than this: it plays like Tribes!
At E3 2009, Global Agenda was the one game that stuck us to a chair for an hour to just sit down and play. It wasn’t the cozy booth or even the allure of chairs during E3 – and believe me that is a strong siren’s call – but the sheer fun of shooting things.
Tribes, for those who do not remember it, came out in 1998. It was an arena based online shooter where everyone had a jetpack. It was simple, elegant and a lot of fun. PvP in Global Agenda is the closest thing to the thrill of Tribes I’ve seen in years. The maps are tighter, the jet packs less insane (you cannot shoot and fly at the same time… more on this later), but the feeling remains the same; even if they don’t seem to have a disc gun.
Don’t let my Tribes comparisons sell this short through. Global Agenda is a full fledged MMO.
The game features four basic classes: Assault, Recon, Robotic and Medic. To FPS fans, these should be pretty familiar. The Assault class uses rocket launches and automatic weapons. He’s the shock trooper. The Recon class can take advantage of steal to surprise enemies from behind. Robotic players use robots and turrets, they’re the engineers. Finally, the Medic keeps everyone else alive. Each of those classes then has three different trees off of it for further customization.
“From a gameplay standpoint it was important to have easily recognizable silhouettes,” said Executive Producer Todd Harris. Like a lot of games, they need to balance the desire for silhouetted characters with customization. How do you make everyone identifiable without making them identical?
They’ve put in a very extensive facial customization system to help. It has all the hallmarks of a modern game and, according to Harris most people can make a pretty good approximation of their own face with it, which is the ultimate test of any such system.
Largely it comes down to the armor. Each class wears a pretty distinct style, which is important in PvP. It’s fast, it’s tight and it’s noisy. Knowing who the enemy is doesn’t hurt.
The game features a pretty extensive dye system – three layers – that allows people to paint their battle armor and give them a unique look. When in combat, of course, the characters wear helmets, so they do look a bit alike, but the action moves so fast, they it didn’t really seem to make a huge difference.
The most obvious thing in Global Agenda, even before combat, is how well it moves. Hi-Rez clearly paid attention to animation. It’s a tough thing to explain. It’s just… smooth.
Character development is, as was a theme at E3, about options rather than necessarily power. Players can earn access to bigger guns and bombs as they progress down each class’s skill tree. Before each mission (PvE or PvP), the character equips themselves using a Device Point system. This limits the amount of stuff they can physically bring into each battle.
They also showed off a PvE mission. This was pretty standard FPS fare, but still made good use of the mechanics. It was essentially a dungeon and we shot a lot of robots as we moved through the hallways towards a boss monster.
The PvE still needs some polish. For example, they have this kind of checkpoint system that allows players to essentially pick up and carry a teleport pad so that when they die, they can jump back to a certain stage and not have to fly through the whole dungeon. It wasn’t immediately obvious, and after my second attempt to run two minutes through the dungeon after death, they finally showed me how to use it. These things, though, will improve with time.
The dungeon they showed had a few tweaks beyond enemies in a hallway. In one room, the floor was electrified, which forced players to do some fancy flying. The boss monster, was a stage based encounter that made the players pay attention to what he was up to in order to successfully kill him.
PvP is where the game shined. They had a live demo going with players back in Atlanta during the show. We sat down and got into the action right away.
One side was tasked with taking over a series of milestones, while the other side had to defend and try and hold them back. The action was fast, furious and as good as any arena based FPS.
As mentioned before, players can not use the jet pack and shoot at the same time. This is actually a good thing, as one complaint of Tribes was that a single fight could end up taking place over miles of terrain. With tighter maps, full on jet pack combat would be overkill. Quickly though, the game makes people learn how to use the momentum from their pack to swoop in on enemies.
What really made the combat fun though was not the array of crazy guns and jet packs.
Global Agenda pulls off hands-to-hand combat beautifully.
My Assault character had this absurd electric battle axe. It looked awesome and at first, it seemed pretty useless. But as I got more comfortable with the game, it became an amazing tool, powered by the tight maps.
In one area, we were having a firefight back and forth on a walkway, with one solid wall and one side open to the air. At first, both sides dug in and just lobbed rockets and bullets back and forth. It was a stalemate.
At least, until I broke out the battle axe.
I swooped around the open side and dropped (using the jet pack) in the middle of their toe hold. There is no faster way to muck up a carefully planned defensive position than to toss a highly armored trooper with an electric two-handed battle axe in the middle of the fray. Quickly, I cut down the medics and the rest never recovered. In moments, my own team had charged out of their area and we cut them to pieces.
Global Agenda features full common areas and cities that MMO fans expect. Content, PvE and PvP comes off of those areas in individual instances.
Every year, there is always a game from a smaller studio that jumps out of the woodwork and surprises everyone who takes the time to go see it. Global Agenda didn’t have the biggest booth, the fanciest models out front or the best position on the floor. What they did have was the most fun hands-on MMO experience at E3 2009.