Global Agenda, a first offering from the rookie developer Hi-Rez Studios is not your typical MMO. Right smack in the middle of the official FAQ on their website, the developer tells us that their game does not have any of the following: a large, seamless world to explore, quest givers, open world PvP or PvE, or elves. They then boldly proclaim, "If you consider any of these items to be must-haves within your MMO, we may not be the game for you." So when rating Global Agenda as an MMORPG I've got to rein in my typical expectations. I can't fault a game for not having something it was never intended to have and instead I've got to base this review on what Hi-Rez Studios claims their game to be: an action-based shooter MMO. And with such an amalgamation of game mechanics in place, I beg forgiveness if I miss something crucial.
The "TLDR" version? Global Agenda is a great game that's not easy to categorize. In fact, it is probably better served by that very fact. It's got a little bit of everything at its core, and yet somehow retains its own identity as a worthy offering to gamers looking for something a little different.
Technically, the game runs rather flawlessly on my modest machine. Running on a 9600GT and 3GB of RAM, with a Dual-Core Pentium 2.66GHz, I never saw my frames per second dip below 30, with settings on high and the resolution set to 1680x1050. Hi-Rez has seemingly expert control over the Unreal Engine, and in a game that requires so much reliance on player reflexes, it had better run smoothly during a hail of gunfire. Your mileage may vary, but Global Agenda ran better on my rig than most newly released MMOs and even better than some that have been out for years.
The graphical style is one of futuristic espionage... I'm reminded of both Star Wars and Blade Runner for some reason while playing, and that's not a bad thing. The neon palette, intricately detailed avatars and weaponry, and fantastic particle effects make it sometimes hard for this reviewer to pay attention to the action when instead I'd rather stare at all the pretty glowing things. One quip from seasoned MMO vets may be that there is little to distinguish one character of a given class from the next, the reason being that Hi-Rez is following the Team Fortress 2 motto of making sure each class has a distinctive silhouette. While there are already quite a few variations of armor for each class in the game, the truth is that every player of each class will wind up looking like most everyone else. So while you may be able to quickly differentiate between the opposing players in your matches, the drawback is that you'll never be quite as unique as you might hope. This detail matters more to some than others, and personally I was more focused on keeping my teammates alive than just how good I looked while doing so.
The only complaints I can offer about the visuals is that I'd like to see a few more locales as I'm sure will be added in the future, and that the animations on jumping and melee weapon wielding seem somewhat odd and stilted. These are minor quibbles with an otherwise gorgeous game.
The sound is similar in scope to the graphics. Lots of gunfire, explosions, robotic whirring, jetpack "whooshing". It's all very Sci-Fi appropriate, adequate and standard fare, if not extremely memorable. The most standout sound-bite that comes to mind is the annoyed sayings of vendors from Hub City when you leave their shop without buying anything. It's almost enough to make me wish I could commit NPC-icide. The real matter of sound in Global Agenda is whether or not the VOIP works and how well. I'm pleased to report that in my experience the voice chat is rock-solid. Most Agencies and Alliances will still be using their VOIP of choice (Ventrilo, Teamspeak, etc.) but as a fallback it's nice to know that Hi-Rez has you covered. And in a game with such breakneck pacing, voice chat is almost an absolute necessity.
There are four classes to choose from, each with their own unique skill-tress to assign points to as you level. The Medic is your healer, the Recon is the stealth and sniper expert, the Robotics is adept at defense and different utility skills, and the Assault is your Duke Nukem balls to the wall kind of gun nut. Each of these classes plays very differently and has their own strengths and weaknesses to boot. Worth noting is that the shooting mechanics of the Medic make the class enjoyable to the point where you'll rarely find yourself wondering why more people don't play healers. There are plenty of band-aid dispensers in Global Agenda.
While class-balance will always be a sticking point in a game so engrained with competitive play, Hi-Rez assures its players that they have some very robust tracking tools at their disposal, and should some changes be needed, it's unlikely that players will have to wait months for the fixes to come. And while more classes to choose from might have been nice, in a competitive shooter, it's plain to see why having only four at launch might have been the best route to go.
There are three main game modes to choose from. All players have access to both the match-made PvE missions and PvP matches. The third mode, and what players must pay the $12.99 per month to access, is the Conquest Mode, a persistent world domination type board game where competing Agencies and Alliances fight over plots of land and resources: wealth and the power that comes from it being the driving factor. Obviously the tune being sung by Hi-Rez Studios here is one of "competitive gaming". But killing and being killed by other players isn't the only thing you'll wind up doing with your time.
There are a handful of PvE mission types in which you'll be matched up with three other players (unless you have a team formed), and be sent out against the NPC faction known as the Commonwealth. Now I won't get too deep into the story of the game, as while detailed it's rather secondary to the action and competitive gameplay, but the Commonwealth are what would happen if Microsoft perfected robotics, weaponry, and managed to assassinate Steve Jobs. They're bad, mm-kay?