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The Way Back Machine: The Agency: E3 2009 Preview

Drew Wood Posted:
Editorials 0

As a person who rarely finds himself getting very excited for any of the forthcoming MMOs on their way, March 31st came as somewhat of a blow for me. The Agency has been cancelled. Now, just because I'm disappointed about the game doesn't mean that I don't see the true tragedy that came with the announcement. I feel for the ladies and gentlemen who unfortunately lost their jobs. A lot of us have had to feel the pain of being laid off because of budget and it can uproot your life. We all wish those ladies and gentlemen who did lose their jobs a speedy, uncomplicated turn around and all of the best in their futures. I am here today, though, to talk about the game.

The Agency was one I wanted to see blow the fringe-MMO competition away. As a life-long James Bond movie fan, the super-spy world was one I always wanted to tinker around in, and in all honesty, from what we had seen of the Agency, it looked like they might actually effectively pull it off. Of course... we hadn't seen all that much, had we?

It came as no surprise to me that The Agency was the title that was axed, out of all of SOE's crop. It had always seemed to play second fiddle. No information ever really came out about it. We had no hints of Beta, or teases of so much as a release date. It should come as no surprise that when an axe needed to fall, it fell directly onto the Agency; as unfortunate a thought as that is.

In memory of the Agency, I give you Dana Massey's look at the game from 2009's E3.


For the last several years, SOE has shown their super-spy MMO The Agency. At E3 2009, it was the first time that the game looked like the end (launch) may be in sight. Of course, SOE had no comment on Beta or launch dates, but it looked like a game that has come a long way.

Visually, The Agency was by far the best looking MMO that people could actually play at E3. The few areas they showed had their own unique styles that felt alive, and the characters moved beautifully.

The Agency is a 3rd person MMO shooter, set in an exaggerated - but not totally comic - spy universe. Think more James Bond than Jason Bourne or Austin Powers. Players can play as either ParaGON, a brute force, over the top Rambo-style group; or as U.N.I.T.E., a subtler, fancier brand of super spy.

”It's still a shooter at its heart,” said Designer Kevin O'Hara. The action takes place in a 3rd person view that should be familiar to MMO gamers.

Like a lot of upcoming games at E3, though, the game combines shooter mechanics with a persistent world, common adventure areas and character advancement.

As players advance, they gain more options and skills to take into combat. “It's not like a level 20 and a level one cannot play together,” explained O'Hara. Instead, these skills are, for example required to counter things that higher level enemies will toss at them.

The world consists of stylized versions of several major cities, for example Kiev and Prague in Europe. These are the common areas where agents can adventure, and take part in missions in a true MMO-style world.

A lot of the content, though, takes place in instanced areas off the map. From a fictional standpoint, this means that the spy leaves Prague and jumps into the mansion of some terrible tyrant somewhere.

One new system they showed off at E3 is the Camera System. Every spy movie has that point where the hero has to gather some evidence. In The Agency, this is replicated. Characters will need to hunt down clues in the world. During the demo, Cassie - the iconic female U.N.I.T.E. spy - wandered around a high class party, covertly snapping photographs of key people and locations within the party.

She was, of course, undercover. This plays into their “you are what you wear” system. It's a phrase they say often, but it is truly new to MMOs. In each situation, the traditional role or “class” of a character is determined by the equipment they bring. Dressed in a party dress, Cassie was clearly undercover. Equip her with a machine gun and a more athletic outfit, and she's ready to run into action.

And how does she get that outfit or that new gun? Every spy needs support. Players collect cards throughout the game. The “living loot” are the specialist that can help them out. They range from “Q” like characters who can build new cars (in real time, whether the player is logged on or off) to agents that provide key intelligence on missions.

At E3, the game was on display for the Playstation 3. They have not yet confirmed their plans, but while they plan to simultaneously release on both the PC and PS3, odds are that given the nature of the game, the two systems will not play on the same servers.

There is not yet a release date, Beta date or business model available for this game.


Well, there you have it. The Agency's time has run its course, from a preview at June 2009's E3, to it's cancellation announcement, March 31st, 2011. The premise was promising, the gameplay looked interesting and, perhaps most appealing of all, different. Maybe it's another example of how, more and more, people are starting to get scared of seeing something different. Or, maybe it's another example of how a decent concept just couldn't get off the ground in an MMO setting. I suppose, we'll never know.

I wanted to once again mention that losing the game is not at all the biggest tragedy to come out of these SOE closures. The 205 people who lost their jobs with the closures of SOE's Seattle, Tuscon and Denver offices will never see it that way. On behalf of the entire staff here at MMORPG.com, I'd like to wish those employees the best of luck in bouncing back from this unfortunate closure. Keep gaming.


Drew Wood