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April 10, 2009
GDC 2009 - An Inside Look at Hi-Rez Studios’ Global Agenda

By Paul Philleo

Hi-Rez Studios has been a stealthy Atlanta-based studio that has been flying under the radar for a few years, but it became much clearer what their payload was at GDC, with the public unveiling of Global Agenda. On the Hi-Rez Studios website you can see the company has noted they’ve retained developers who were behind The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, City of Heroes and Call of Duty, because you can absolutely see the influence from these gaming mainstays.

A futuristic science-fiction action massively multiplayer online game, or “spy-fi” as the developers term it, Global Agenda has a familiar but highly refined Unreal Engine 3-powered look and feel many gamers have come to expect in visual standards. The back story describes a futuristic 22nd century world replete with chrome, steel, and glass where players create and develop their spy character through role-play and combat. While Global Agenda offers persistency, guilds, grouping and community engagement on a scale typically associated with slower MMOGs, it helps to remember that fast-paced action definitely owns the driver’s seat with this game. In the greater scheme of the things, players will simultaneously face an overarching PvE scenario against a totalitarian regime and PvP scenarios against player-created spy agencies. So far so good, but it seems like something seen before on paper -- until you actually sit down and play Global Agenda.

First things first, to start at the beginning: I was given the opportunity to customize my character. As with City of Heroes and Oblivion, character creation proved to be a distracting form of entertainment in itself. Players are given the opportunity to craft every detail in their character’s head, eyes, ears, cheek bones, nose and so on. If a player wishes, he or she can randomize the character also. After sculpting the perfect look for their character, players then choose their class and assign specialty bonuses to class-specific categories from a limited pool of starting points. Players may choose from the Assault, Medic, Recon or Robotics classes, which allows players to specialize as tanks, healers, spy specialists and engineers respectively.

Having taken the opportunity to try the game twice, courtesy of Hi-Rez Studio’s Michal Adam, I explored the training level and a PvP level. The PvE level was a snowy wasteland, and I as a pre-configured medic, jumped in to support my squad of bots in taking down a slow-moving armored vehicle. My weaponry was largely a pistol, but my healing ability was what kept enough of us alive until we accomplished the relatively basic objective.

Now, I have to confess my team and I were pretty much handled in PvP (against the developers, in my defense), but I am actually pleased to say I can’t hide behind the interface, lag, or control as a reason for getting my smoldering tail handed to me. The capture the flag PvP level I played, Ice Gorge, felt as well-designed as any standalone first person-shooter (FPS) game one can think of, such as, say, Call of Duty. The level was complex, with snowy, craggy open air environments to tunnels and mechanized interiors, with a high level of detail, logical design for a CTF map, with no cheap sniper points and dead ends. Given the moderate learning curve, a seasoned FPS or MMO gamer shouldn’t have any problem absorbing the controls and interface. Personally, I was most comfortable in the Assault class and camping in an open air corner above the floor-level action, using my rocket launcher with a zoom-able targeting scope as often as possible to pick off more agile opponents, while running and using my jetpack to re-position myself when the enemy team closed in. I can describe it best as simply a lot of fun.

While Global Agenda is nearing the end of alpha testing, the game is already showing almost as much polish as a washed and waxed Ferrari. That’s not to say there aren’t a few visual quirks you’d expect from a game at this stage of development. There were issues with collision detection, a few strangely meshed polygons in the characters and environment and a need for greater visual distinctions when engaging friendly and enemy team members in PvP play, which are minor concerns likely to be squashed in the next few months. Looking ahead, if Global Agenda can at least maintain the same quality of game play experience I observed at GDC, as further development and polish is incorporated, then this sci-fi MMO game will be a serious force to be reckoned with.


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