Global Agenda requires you to change your mind. Despite being built in the Unreal 3 engine, and despite looking really rather fine, it presents itself as an MMO. It's a third person view of your character, with a tray of icons along the bottom of the screen, health and energy top left. But try and play it like an MMO and you're going to end up dying rather a lot. This is fast, it's proper action, and until you accept both genres melded into one, you're going to be rubbish at it. Or at least I was. And then it clicked.
World War Three has been and gone, and the world's in a bit of a state. There's an oppressive government, and a group of fugitives are rising up against them. So okay, Global Agenda doesn't win any awards in the original storyline department. You're a rebel with cybernetics in your head... Right, I know, it's not getting better. You fight against robots? You form agencies as small factions, battling for territory? Look, it doesn't matter, because what makes Global Agenda so interesting is how fun it is to play.
The first thing you realise is that you can crouch. Ever played an MMO in which you could crouch? And not only can you jump, but you can do various types of jump. Regular bunny hopping, wall jumping, and even grabbing ledges and pulling yourself up. Jumping only gets better when you kick in your jetpack. Yes, it has jetpacks, and thus meets the John Walker Criteria For All Games, which clearly states that, "All games must include either a double-jump or a jetpack."
Further focusing the action on fun are the weapons. Based on recharging energy bars, rather than ammo, you're given a generous amount of fire power. This is for your in-hand items. Off-hand items, such as heals and bombs, have recharge timers. There's also melee weapons, which can attack and block. Crouching gives you greater accuracy. Weapons have alt-fires. Do you see? Do you see how this is a shooter, disguised as an MMO?
There's two major approaches to play, PvE and PvP. Of the former I played a mission in which I was charged with killing a particularly tough robot. It was a fairly simple affair, but I was soloing (you can play missions with up to four players in co-op), and playing as a Sniper. There's four basic classes: Assault (your heavy, can be specced as a tank), Medic (with the ability to hand out decent damage), Robotics (builds drones and turrets, etc, as well as with some healing abilities) and the Recon, specialising in stealth, decoys, melee and sniping.
The decoy is a fun time. You create a false you, with opponents able to see both, but having no way of knowing which is which. The decoy will mimic your actions, so if you attack, so will he, leaving your opponent unaware which is the real target. Even better, you can cast a decoy and then switch on your stealth - a generous amount of invisibility that lets you make a sneaky getaway. Leave the decoy behind and you can watch your opponent waste his time as you hide and heal. Then from this vantage point, snipe them.
My first couple of attempts to make it through the mission ended in quick failure, because both times I played it like an MMO. I figured, I'm more powerful than one enemy, I'll stand here and take it. I didn't. Then I embraced it as a shooter, and started playing quickly. Using my skills, sneaking off, sniping from afar then whipping out my melee weapon and attacking close up, before vanishing (which results in some rather lovely confused robot noises).
Next I switched out to play an Assault class, and picked from the array of available extras. These wouldn't ordinarily be available at the start, but for the sake of the demo I was offered a big selection of weapons and skills. Each is rated from 1 to 4, with 4 being the best and usually only available a way into the game. But cleverly you have only 15 points to spend with about seven slots to fill. You're forced to select carefully, even when you're a decked out player. Equipped with some rather excellent bombs, and a minigun with which I fell heavily in love, I entered a PvP area against a few of developer High Rez's employees. We were in two teams, trying to capture territory. It was frantic, and felt far more like Quake 3 than any MMO you'd care to mention. Except, with the array of MMO controls on screen. And I was loving that minigun, mowing down opponents in an enormously satisfying way.
Hi Rez reckon it will take about twenty hours before you have a fully skilled character (although with the implants, the scaling continues indefinitely), which then lets you into the second phase of the game, the Campaigns. By forming Agencies with fellow players, you enter technology races against other groups, in a 45 day campaign to build and defend a base from which you launch your assaults. This becomes a game of gaining territory, gaining or stealing resources, and constructing facilities, all the while fought using the action PvP and PvE missions.
Quite how all this latter stage play will work is unknown just yet. But of the earlier stages, while certainly not a deep MMO, Global Agenda is a surprisingly fast-paced and shooter-focused one. This is by dint of using instanced arenas and limited numbers of opponents in any combat, hence being able to fight in real time (as opposed to the botched version attempted in games like Tabula Rasa). It's going to be about good, tactical team play, lifting elements of TF2 and traditional team deathmatch shooters, combined with adapting skill trees, a selection of equipment, and the ability to re-spec your character in a way appropriate to the team you're in and the battle you're playing.
The visuals merit mention too. Unlike so many Unreal 3 engine games, it doesn't look like it's been smeared in Vaseline, but rather is crisp and stylised. It's a distinctive and smart design, with plenty of hyperbolic special effects. Beta sign ups can be pre-registered for at the game's site.