Monday, February 15, 2010

Global Agenda Review

Global Agenda, developed and published by Hi-Rez Studios.
The Good: Extensive character customization, varied class-specific weaponry, strategic conquest mode where agencies can build support weapons using captured resources, several PvP game types, monthly fee is optional
The Not So Good: Tedious and repetitive and linear PvE with terrible AI, poorly balanced gameplay due to health spamming and overpowered turrets that are difficult to destroy, subscription portion only suitable for dedicated and organized clans, most interesting components locked from new players, can't fly and shoot simultaneously, central server performance issues
What say you? This class-based MMO third person shooter offers nothing better than the established competition: 4/8

There are two reasons why I do not play MMOs (an abbreviation for “where did my money go?”): I don’t have enough time (as I average two new games to review each week) or money (as I get no income from reviewing said games) to spend hours online going on “quests” for “loot” with “friends.” There is certainly an audience for them, as evidenced by the extreme popularity of World of Warcraft and many others, but they just don’t tickle my fancy (sounds sexy!). I do, however, enjoy non-subscription online games, as I can jump in for an hour or two and play some DiRT 2 or Section 8 or Demigod. The developers behind Global Agenda are trying their hardest to foil my evil plans, as their MMO game has an optional subscription (for certain features) in addition to the usual third-person action action. Two questions arise: is Global Agenda good, and is part of it worth a monthly fee?

Utilizing Unreal Engine 3, Global Agenda successfully conveys a futuristic setting gone horribly, horribly violent. While you will need a somewhat beefy computer in order to crank up the details to the max, the game’s level of detail is quite pleasing. Each of the classes in the game has fluid animations and nicely detailed textures, and the environments have a great sense of ultramodern shininess. The game is mostly played in third person, probably to show off the hard work on the character models better. The settings can get repetitive, though, as most battles take place in “Generic Metal Building 14.” The weapon effects are somewhat generic, punctuated only by the use of dyes for varied colors coming at you in high definition. Still, I was pleased with the graphics that Global Agenda offers. The sound design is decent enough: there is a small amount of voice acting in the game that is bearable, and the combat effects are chaotic. I found no glaring deficiencies in the presentation of Global Agenda, so that’s good.

Global Agenda has portions of an instanced MMORPG (like Guild Wars) wrapped around a third person shooter. The first thing you’ll notice is that you have to register the game through the official site (after installing through Steam if you bought it elsewhere) and create an account; why they couldn’t just use your Steam login is beyond me. The second thing you’ll notice is that you have to manually input your password every time you play; your login is saved, but the developers have made sure that people who brake into your home just to play Global Agenda won’t be able to. Take that, computer-savvy thieves! You can skip the boring introductory tutorials (which, sadly, aren’t quite as boring as the regular PvE games) and instantly warp to level 5, if you so choose. The central hub of Dome City involves no exploring: just a map with all of the shops needed to increase your character and just enough walking to make it annoying with repeated use. You can enter a queue and go shopping while you wait, although wait times I encountered were short (usually less than twenty seconds for either game mode).

Matches in Global Agenda come in two flavors: against other humans (PvP) and again the AI (PvE). PvP is far better, a ten-on-ten contest with several game modes: control (three points to capture), payload (an assault mode), demolition (capture the flag), scramble (control with one randomly changing point), and breach (linear control points). In addition to the normal game mode where you earn experience, you can test out your character attributes in the virtual arena for no real apparent reason. Matches are laggy because of the use of central servers; the game can’t really seem to be able to handle twenty players, which is a problem in a shooter. The conquest mode of Global Agenda requires a monthly subscription, and it’s really only appropriate for organized clans. Agencies fight over control of hexes on a game map, using several teams of four to fight breach matches. Leaders of an agency can construct support weapons (dropships, mechs, turrets) using resources collected from controlled hexes. Hexes can only be fought over during certain hours of the day, making sure that ground isn’t lost while you are sleeping or playing better games. You can also form alliances with other agencies to team and up and take on a superior competitor. You must request to become a member of a specific agency; there isn’t an automated system of placing people together with those from a similar geographic area (like Delaware or Kansas) and automatically choosing the leaders based on in-game experience. While established and organized clans might find a justification for conquest mode and the monthly fee, but nobody else will.

PvE missions in Global Agenda are awful. The game takes the usual grinding tedium of MMORPGs and adds a whole bunch of repetitive levels to make it even more monotonous. Four people take on a number of low-level enemies followed by a boss at the conclusion of the level. There are two or three map layouts in total, resulting in the same exact experience every time you play. Fun! Nothing is randomized: neither the map paths nor the enemy placements. Sometimes you encounter a different boss, but it’s a small consolation. The difficulty level is also quite low: the AI is completely dumb and you can respawn as often as you want without penalty. Adding to the problems is the fact that people do not start the game simultaneously: PvP has a countdown timer, but PvE does not, meaning your teammates may be far ahead by the time you spawn in the game. PvE is only difficult when you have numerous enemies to deal with, as individuals are not talented robots. This is a huge grind instead of offering exciting, compelling, varied gameplay. Unfortunately, you have to play PvE in order to earn parts to craft new weapons and armor. Boo/hiss.

There are four classes to choose from in the future world of Global Agenda, adapted (stolen) from other class-based shooters. The assault class is your typical soldier, built to kill. The recon class has a sniper rifle and can disappear. The medic heals. And the robotics class is the engineer that constructs turrets. You can have several characters per account, all using the same name to avoid confusion, to allow you to use all of the classes. Items and experience cannot be transferred, however. Appearance options are robust, and the personal favorite option of randomizing your looks is thankfully included. Global Agenda features a nice level of customization, rivaling those utilized in dedicated role-playing games. Each character gets a melee weapon, ranged weapon, specialty weapon, jetpack, boost item, and three thrown items. While Global Agenda features a large number of weapons and items to choose from, almost all of them are locked to begin with, severely limiting your strategies. You can choose which weapons to use, and each item has four levels of effectiveness. You are limited to fifteen total points divided between ranged, specialty, and offhand items, similar to the method used in Section 8. Since there is only a maximum of twenty points you could use, there really isn’t any strategic limitation and you can max out pretty much all of your weapons: a nice idea in theory but poorly executed. There are seven upgrades for weapons and armor you can purchase or earn in PvE (if you can stomach it) and three skill trees for every class that add small incremental bonuses to tailor your character towards a specific role: a nice RPG-like feature. You can also purchase better armor, weapons, dyes (to make your guns shoot all the colors of the rainbow!) in addition to increasing your stats, but all of those things must be done at specific shops in Dome City, instead of from a simple menu system. This wastes an incredible amount of time, walking around the game world instead of shooting people in the face. Additionally, all of the interesting weapons are locked from the start, reducing your tactical options for quite a while.

Typical for a shooter, the interface in Global Agenda has one added benefit: your health and energy are constantly displayed right next to your targeting reticule, reducing the need to look at corners of the screen while in intense combat situations. This is quite useful, although it can obscure enemies as it is not translucent enough. One interesting aspect of Global Agenda is the use of energy: it is used for all weapons and your jetpack and recharges automatically. While this eliminates the tedious need to search for ammunition, energy recharges way too quickly, resulting in a constant rain of bullets. You can also rest on the fly, rehealing but suffering a movement penalty. Coupled with the proliferation of medics, coordinated teams of players will rarely die. The game has a very fast pace and ultimately comes down to when to use your items. Each class has things that make them overpowered: shields, turrets, healing guns, and camouflage. Essentially, you just have to wait for the cool-down period to make any headway as none of these things have good counters: shields provide immunity, turrets are powerful and tough to destroy, healing guns are proficient, and camouflage is quite effective. In fact, two medics working in concert are effectively invincible. There are some nice things that the combat of Global Agenda features, though. Forward spawn becons, portable but also destructible, reduce the tedium of running from your base to the frontlines every time you die. Also, the game places an emphasis on melee combat (and blocking) that few action games do: it’s a viable tactic. But then we run into shortcomings yet again: while you are equipped with a jetpack, you can’t fly and shoot simultaneously, as the jetpack is treated as just another weapon. Finally, the AI is very poor, rarely using cover and only challenging because of superior numbers. There are too many problems with Global Agenda that make it yet another game with good ideas that are poorly executed.

The player-versus-player action of Global Agenda isn't better than the likes of Section 8, Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, Counter-Strike, Battlefield 2, and Team Fortress 2. Additionally, the player-versus-environment portion of the game is mediocre role-playing game drudgery and tedium. The game has a very bare MMO feel, with a central hub that cannot be explored but invokes tons of pointless walking. Global Agenda does have a ton of weapons and items, the game’s strong suit. However, all of the interesting things are reserved for higher-level players that have logged an arbitrary number of hours with the game, and there is very little loadout strategy since you can max out almost all of your equipment. Alas, things don’t get interesting from a character design standpoint until much later in your career. The PvP game is more interesting, featuring a fast-paced, chaotic race for control of a map. It is, however, not without its problems: energy recharges too quickly while turret and healing spam is the rule of the game. The PvE is horrible: tedious and linear, where you encounter the same enemies in the same order in the same couple of levels. The AI is terrible and everyone spawns at a different time, making coordination that much more difficult. When the tutorial offers more surprises than the normal PvE game, then you know there is a problem. The paid conquest mode is only appealing for organized clans, and server lag is an issue: twenty simultaneous players is about fifteen too many. But the game looks good, so shallow gamers will be pleased. Global Agenda reminds me of a lesser version of Fury; this attempt will probably suffer a similar fate.