Back when we attended Sony Online Entertainment's event a few weeks ago, we didn't really discuss anything... out of the ordinary. Some Everquest expansions, some downloadable PS3 games, cell phone games (okay, God of War looked great), and a new IP that had everyone talking -- Sony's spy and espionage themed online game, The Agency. Only we haven't been allowed to say much about it until now, even though it's already been hinted at, speculated about, and analyzed around the web. Is anything watertight anymore?

The Agency has been called a new MMO from Sony, though we don't think it's an entirely accurate label (neither does Sony's press release, which you can read after the break). At least, not an MMO in the traditional sense. You won't be running into the back alleys of Monte Carlo while tons of other players give chase with bullets and bombs -- as if you'd taken your Horde character strolling through Ironforge; instead, it will offer more mission-based gameplay, and will rely on coordination with other agents as you work your way through the stylized spy world they've created. *



Press release details are at the bottom.

The developers promise a huge amount of character customization, including a class-based system based on your clothes and gear that will determine what type of character you are. Details like weapons, outfits (down to the shoes you wear), and skills sets will be chosen by the user and upgraded as you progress through the game. You'll even be able to purchase vehicles that you can outfit with weapons and countermeasures, so you can finally get that red sportscar with optional oil-slick deployment features you've always wanted. All of the design elements (locations, characters, etc) feature a very stylized look that is almost comic bookish in nature, and there's definitely a big dose of humor thrown into everything, as can be seen in the trailer and interview video below.

You can also eventually form your own agency, and work with other players to expand your global reach. This wasn't really explained to us in the meeting and the gameplay elements we saw were just a small part of one mission -- basically a firefight in the alleys of Moscow. In it, the main male spy character -- supported by a female spy in an extremely skimpy outfit (and ... large caliber assets) -- are sent to try and retrieve a briefcase from an enemy agent. Things look quiet, but sure enough a gun battle ensues, and you have to sling hot lead in order to escape with the goods. The demo they played showed off assault rifles, a sniper rile, some melee moves, a rudimentary cover system, supporting fire from your partner, and an Agency moment.

Agency moments are key animations / events that occur when you find an Agency logo somewhere. In the level we saw, there just happened to be one on a merry-go-round. One of the characters reached it, and it triggered what amounts to a cutscene where any of you familiar with action movie plot devices can probably imagine what happened. If you guessed "the merry-go-round starts spinning and they mow down all of their attackers" you win. However, when you're playing online, will your opponent be able to try and stop you in that firefight? You can't really stop a key animation or "moment" from happening, so it seems like you won't be directly interacting with other players in hand-to-hand -- or gun-to-gun -- combat in the missions, although that will be offered up in minigames. But, we're just speculating at this point. They don't have a release date yet, but it definitely won't be coming out this year ... unless Sony has access to a time machine.

Here's what we do know:
  • The game is online-only, and is spy and espionage-based.
  • You can join one of two factions, the UNITE spy organization, or the ParaGON mercenary group.
  • Minigames will include casino games, the shooting range, head to head combat, and more.
  • The game will be on both PC and the PlayStation 3 platforms.
  • There will be some sort of offline interaction from within the game when you aren't playing involving email and instant messages.
What we still don't know:
  • Will it be cross-platform between the PC and the PS3?
  • Offline interaction sounds cool, but will it be two-way?
  • Will missions be able to be created and / or altered by users? For instance, could we stagger the security around our own intelligence center to try and prevent break-ins?
  • What's the ultimate goal? We like the way world domination sounds, but how does it work in the game?
  • When's it coming out?
  • Lots more stuff
What we were shown, although brief, certainly looks promising. If they can nail down a possible cross-platform solution and stay true to the spy genre, this title may end up on our shelves ... until someone sneaks in and steals it. Freakin' spies, man.

* -- We just got a note from Sony stating: "Although the Agency doesn't feature constant mass public PvP like Planetside [ed: or World of Warcraft] it also isn't all about fully private instances or missions like Battlefield or Phantasy Star Online. The Agency mixes traditional exploration of public areas with private areas to support cooperative missions and Player versus player action."

If you want to hear more information and speculation about The Agency, head over to PS3 Fanboy and give a listen to their latest podcast.


THE AGENCY™
TAKES ONLINE GAMING INTO THE PROVOCATIVE WORLD OF ESPIONAGE, ACTION AND INTRIGUE

Sony Online Entertainment Announces New Mainstream Online Action Shooter
_______________________________________________________________________
SAN DIEGO, Calif. – June 11, 2007 – Sony Online Entertainment, (SOE) a global leader in the online gaming industry, announced it is developing The Agency™, a fast-paced online action shooter filled with espionage, intrigue and betrayal. The Agency is being developed at SOE's Seattle studio for both the PC and the PLAYSTATION®3 computer entertainment system.

The Agency is a pick-up-and-play experience where players assume the role of elite agents in a modern-day world. Both solo players and groups will enjoy a wide variety of cooperative and competitive story-driven missions set in exotic locales across the globe.

"The inspiration for The Agency came from the spy and espionage genre. We want to put players in the heart of the action to experience what it's really like to live the life of an elite agent," said Hal Milton, Lead Designer, Sony Online Entertainment. "Players will jet set around this virtual world to exotic locales, infiltrate enemy organizations to steal secrets and perpetrate sabotage, all the while building their own agency with an eye towards global domination."

Persistent character development allows players to supplement their gear with exotic and powerful skills that make them feel like the elite agents they've always dreamt of becoming. Additionally, in lieu of the typical class systems in many other games, The Agency's approach is simply, "You Are What You Wear." Players will customize their character's attire based on the mission at hand, emphasizing combat, support, stealth, or even cover identities.

Players begin their experience by choosing to be a slick UNITE spy or a gritty ParaGON mercenary. Both factions will have players tangling in illicit activities such as drug smuggling, assassinations, espionage and counter intelligence. As they gain ranks within their chosen agency, players will increase their influence over the world while experiencing a deep story of action and intrigue. Along the way players will be able to build their own agencies, team with others to create joint agencies, and recruit a roster of useful Operatives.

Operatives are "living loot" characters that wait in the wings for orders to build that new sports car, gather intel for the next mission, or provide that satellite scan to expose the enemy. As players advance through the game, they will collect more powerful Operatives that will better assist them with missions. Players can use their roster to help themselves or their team and even trade Operatives with other players.

"SOE is looking to take the online gaming industry to new places with The Agency, not only in terms of its theme, but also in its design. It's accessible to all types of players, blending genres and changing up established conventions. It's different from anything SOE has released before," said Matt Wilson, Director of Development, SOE Seattle. "Our goal is to break from traditional online games and provide players with a 'fun now, no waiting' gameplay experience in a dynamic, ever-evolving online world."

About The Agency

The Agency is a fast-paced, online persistent shooter in a modern setting of bullets, bomb blasts, and betrayal. Live the life of an elite agent in a world of super spies and rugged mercenaries, who use both the highest technology and the lowest tactics to accomplish their goals. Featuring cooperative and competitive play, The Agency is designed to provide instant action and long-term strategy for all fans of espionage, intrigue, and explosive gameplay.

Features

• Become An Elite Agent: The Agency offers hundreds of unique missions with varied end-goals requiring combat, stealth, and style. With gameplay ranging from sneaky assassinations to all out assaults, from vehicle challenges to casinos loaded with mini-games, there's something for every aspiring agent.

• Build Your Own Agency: As players advance through the ranks of their faction, they'll also begin building their own Agencies. Players will increase their power even further by creating Joint Agencies with others.

• Mercenary or spy, the choice is yours: In the Agency, collect the right weaponry, gadgets, vehicles, gear, attire and aliases to gain access to various locales and influence over the people within them.

• Put Operatives to work: Operatives are collectible non-player characters who provide the goods player's desire, the services to keep them alive, and allow them to concentrate on the mission at hand. Operatives work 24/7, regardless of whether players are logged in, and they can even keep them up-to-date through email and instant messages.

• Fun Now, No Waiting: The Agency is not about waiting for the fun to start. At any point, players can take a break from their high-flying career to engage in a number of other activities. Veterans and new players alike can take on other players at the card tables, the shooting range, or in head-to-head combat.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.