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Facebook MMOgraphy: First impressions of The Agency: Covert Ops

Dan O'Halloran

Every two weeks, Facebook MMOgraphy brings you the latest news, guides and analysis about MMOs on Facebook and Facebook apps associated with MMOs.

SOE's upcoming spy MMO The Agency has been long in the making. We've been covering it at Massively for quite some time now. Though it's not quite ready to launch yet, SOE has surprised us this week with a Facebook gaming app, The Agency: Covert Ops. Though Covert Ops is a Facebook app based on an MMO, it's not an MMO itself. There is no real time interaction with other players, for example. However it does provide light entertainment for those who enjoy the spy genre and has the same tone and feel of their upcoming MMO title.

The Basics
The core of the game is leveling your spy via missions. The missions follow a storyline and some of them are accomplished simply by having the correct resources needed, others require you to complete a minigame. Rewards include in-game cash, experience for your character and components to build better equipment. Every mission requires a certain amount of Cover to complete and when you run out of Cover, you need to allow it to replenish over time or buy more through a microtransaction store. Pop ups provide a tutorial to walk you through the gameplay flow and videos explain minigame play.

Character Customization

After choosing your spy profession, you are presented with a number of customization options for your avatar. Most of the options require you to pay with in-game cash or Station Cash. The options are numerous and fortunately it's fairly easy to make in-game cash running the missions. SOE saves the flashiest visual upgrades for those who are willing to spend Station Cash. Normally I would understand this as people love to show off their shiny, but your avatar is rarely seen by other players, so your chance to put your fancy combat pants on display are few and far between.
You are also presented with your own spy headquarters. The set up is simple, but, again, you can customize it with in-game cash and Station Cash. It doesn't appear to have any effect on the game except for one. You can visit the HQs of any of your Facebook friends who also play the game. Not only can you marvel at their slick pad, you can disarm any bombs you find planted by the enemy for in-game cash, experience and a chance for crafting components.

Missions are on rails and take you through a distinct storyline. In the first one, you are sent to Amsterdam to uncover a viral plague engineered to blackmail the infected. Many of the missions are simple to accomplish as long as you have enough Cover required by the mission. Others require you to succeed at a minigame. These range from action side scrollers (like a mini-game very similar to Canabalt)to finding hidden objects within the time given to matching games.
The other kind of minigame often encountered is combat. It's essentially a game of rock, paper, scissors. You have three basic attacks and your computer opponent has the same. So one of the two attacks you choose will succeed and one will be neutralized depending on which attack your opponent has chosen. If one of your attacks lands, it has a chance of scoring a critical strike. You have a fourth option your opponent does not which depends on your chosen job at the beginning of the game.

Every time a mission is completed, you receive in-game cash, experience and sometimes crafting components. If you gain enough experience to gain a new level, you are given upgrade points to increase the stats of your spy. Your Cover meter will also be filled to maximum.

What's a spy without a gadget whiz toiling away in a hi-tech lab making him shiny new toys of deception and destruction? True to the genre, Covert Ops gives you Tripwire, an engineer who can craft new items for you if you can bring him the components. Components come from missions, visiting friends' HQs and Tripwire himself who will grant you one component every 12 hours. Crafted items include weapons, defensive clothing and gadgets that modify mission rewards and more. Crafted items can be upgraded as well.
Other features
Group missions are offered to you and can be run by forming a group composed of either NPC agents and/or Facebook friends who play the game. The group missions can be started and run in the background without any further involvement by you. They take a set amount of time and when they are done, your must extract your group out to be able to use them again. They reward in-game cash and experience for you.

Achievements have also been introduced to the game. These can be gained from doing what you normally would do in the game like running missions, gaining in-game cash and leveling. There are also achievements for specific activities such as completing a mission every day for an entire year.

Microtransaction store

In addition to buying in-game cash and the Cover replenish option with Station Cash, you can also buy a package deal called a Dead Drop. It includes an NPC, three crafting components and a Cover replenish.

Wrap up

Overall, The Agency: Covert Ops is a fast-paced, entertaining Facebook game. There is a solid storyline and lots of customization options available. Most of the game is playable without paying any real money if you don't want to shell any out. There isn't a lot of depth, but that's not why players turn to Facebook games. For a quick, enjoyable getaway to a well-crafted, immersive game, Covert Ops is a great choice.

Dan O'Halloran covers the emerging fields of mobile and Facebook MMOs for Massively. For suggestions or tips, send an email to dano at massively dot com.

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