Games currently playing:
Star Battalion (ipod)
Coincidences, conspiracies and agendas
Its a strange coincidence that I started playing Global Agenda at about the same time as I started becoming interested in applying for SCAD. A cynic might assume I started playing precisely because it is a game created by a growing game developer near the school where I was going to be studying. The truth is the two are (or at least were) completely unrelated events. I’m not sure I remember how I came across Global Agenda; possibly through a Steam promotion or perhaps during one of my periodic searches for a good Sci-Fi MMO to play. Whatever the case, I have come to be interested in GA both as a gamer and professionally, and its become sort of my go-to game when I have time for just a quick session. I think its therefore past time that I focus a gameplay notebook on it.
Global Agenda is a class-based third person shooter with RPG and MMO elements. I often consider it part of a recently released trio of games that all hybridize RPG and shooter elements; the other two being Mass Effect 2 and Borderlands. The three create an interesting spectrum; ME2 is a single players, Gears of War style tactical cover-shooter with character advancement. Borderland is a cooperative first person twitch shooter that is where character advancement is key and an intricate randomizing loot system, and Global Agenda is an online competitive/cooperative team based class shooter with some character advancement but emphasis on class-based tactics and twitch-skill. Of the three, GA is oddly though perhaps appropriately due to it competitive nature the one where character advancement matters the least as opposed to player skill. HiRez has managed to strike a very delicate balance and the game succeed because of it. I’ve said it many times and insist upon it; GA succeeds because the core gameplay mechanics work. As a persistent world or MMO of any type GA is a bit thin and repetitive, frankly. Much less so now than when I started playing just before the summer, and reportedly even more less so than when it lunched, but it still has much more in common with an online shooter like Team Fortress or Unreal Tournament.
That being said, it has started to borrow some of the more addictive aspects of RPGs and this has served it well. Even though character advancement and loot plays a smaller role in GA than in almost any other online RPG; it does indeed play a role; and having a persistent character with customized appearance adds a sense of personal investment into matches that would otherwise be irrelevant or disposable. However, all those RPG elements would be worth little if the core game wasn’t as solid as it is. The four classes feel useful and powerful; the games pace, speed, and physics all work well and the interactions between the classes successfully create a wide variety of strategies to attempt in the matches. I’ve heard the producers at HiRez speak several times now, and they always emphasize how it was the iterative process that led to GAs current system and I find that quite easy to believe. It definitely feels like a fine tuned machine. Just about the only criticism I can level at is that maybe it too sleek and shiny and as a consequence not very deep. There is perhaps a hint of a feeling of “design by committee”; the gameplay has been smoothed out to the point that is suffers from occasional lack of personality. That is not to say that GA doesn’t have aspects that are distinctly its own, but in the end it is a game that finds is greatest success from playing a balancing act of various genres while relying on rock solid gameplay to sustain it as it continues to be fleshed out.
I have to note that it was absolute genius on HiRez’s part to drop the monthly fee requirements for several reasons. As a small-to medium studio they would have been hard pressed to justify a monthly fee, and frankly the game does feel a bit too thin in the content variety department to justify a repeating investment. I must say the Sonoran Desert summer expansion was exactly what that game needed; it continued the introduction’s storyline at last, and added some much needed personality and landmarks to the game while also adding new gear and competitive/cooperative game modes. If this was a preview of the expansion model they are pursuing, I believe they have a very solid business model to go along with their solid gameplay. I had long bemoaned the fact that more companies hadn’t adopted the Guild Wars-style MMO model, but I believe that HiRez is doing that brilliantly with a few twists of their own. As a SCAD student and gamer its exciting to watch this happening in what is practically our own back yard.