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Sometimes, a unique idea isn't unique at all. Instead it is a combination of previously concepts which has been so thoroughly ground, processed, and pureed that the idea has become something entirely different than what its ingredients might suggest. It has become more than the sum of its parts.
Global Agenda is such a game. HiRez studios has taken the leveling progression elements from MMOs, the over-the-top combat feel of old-school shooters, the team-based aspects of games like Tribes, and thrown them all in a blender. The result is a strange but interesting shooter-rpg which is like nothing or everything that has come before, depending on who you ask.
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Gameplay - Shooter Elements
Ever since Counter-Strike became popular, shooters took an unfortunate turn towards so-called realism. Suddenly it was fun to die in one shot. It was considered more tactical and interesting to be killed by opponents before you even have a chance to react. It was a trend I absolutely hated, resulting in my voluntary near-exile from playing first person shooters online after years of enjoying games like Quake II and Tribes.
Fortunately, the tides seem to be turning again. First Team Fortress 2, then Borderlands, and now Global Agenda. Based on the Unreal 3 engine, Global Agenda feels like a true old-school shooter. Players have lots of hitpoints, move impossibly fast, and any idea of taking cover only becomes relevant when someone is already shooting at you. This is how shooters used to be played, and admit it, you loved it.
The mechanics aside, Global Agenda is an online-only shooter (although there is a co-op mode), and so it can only play as well as its netcode allows. Many good shooters have been ruined by poor netcodes, including previous online shooter-rpg hybrids like Planetside. Fortunately, Global Agenda's netcode is made entirely out of cream. It could not possibly be smoother. Shots connect when they feel like they should. Opponents never warp. I was never once disconnected (except for one pre-announced server re-start). Whoever is doing the netcode work at HiRez deserves a raise.
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Gameplay - RPG Elements
To be honest, the shooter elements of Global Agenda would probably be enough for it to sell as a low-cost stand alone game. But to flesh the game out, Global Agenda also includes substantial RPG elements. Players gain experience from (and only from) completing online matches either against the AI in co-op or against other players. As players level up, new gadgets and weapons become available. Players have a limit on "Device Points" which prevents them from taking everything but the kitchen sink into battle, so picking the appropriate load-out is a big deal.
At first glance, the different weapons and gadgets available don't seem that important. But as more levels are gained it becomes apparent that HiRez has put a lot of thought into them, and some of the gadgets are more clever than anything you'll find in Team Fortress 2 or other online shooters. One of my favorite is Decoy, which is for the Recon class. It literally creates a duplicate of the player which is extremely durable and will chase around opponents with a sword. Watching enemies run away from this sword-waving faux-madman is not only hilarious, but also a great way to distract the opponent while you sneak around and dismantle their defenses.
But don't let the RPG elements fool you - this is not World of Warcraft, or even Borderlands. Leveling does not make players immune to lower-level players, nor does it result in insurmountable bonuses. Higher-level players have more tools available to them, and have some bonuses depending on the skills they choose. It is possible, however, for a level five player to drop someone who is level forty.
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Gameplay - Conquest Mode
There is also an entire Conquest game attached to Global Agenda for players who wish to join an "Agency" and compete against enemy teams. This game involves a hex-based map which Agencies fight over in order to control resources and bases. Players are requried to pay a monthly fee for this, as with an MMO, because it is persistent. To be honest, I'm not sure if its worth the fee, and I come away from it feeling as if HiRez still has a lot of kinks to work out in the way it plays. Still, it is an interesting mechanic, very similar to what took place in the old RTS-MMO Shattered Galaxy. Once Shattered Galaxy found its feet it was a great mechanic, and I believe the same will be true with Conquest in Global Agenda.
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Graphics and Sound
While I love the gameplay of Global Agenda, I must admit that it seriously stumbles when it comes to graphics. As mentioned, Global Agenda uses the Unreal 3 engine, and while this seems to result in a smooth feel to the gameplay it unfortunately hasn't resulted in great graphics. Textures are plain, character class designs unimaginative, and poly counts low. Global Agenda looks like a game that should have come out three years ago.
This would be completely forgivable if the game ran smoothly as a result, but to my surprise I couldn't turn the graphics to max. Considering that I can run Crysis at fairly high detail settings without problem, this surprised me. Global Agenda looks like something from the stone age compared to a game like Crysis, so the fact that Global Agenda also seems to tax my system's video card with certain settings enabled is puzzling.
My ears were no more pleased than my eyes. Global Agenda's sounds are functional, but that's all. Explosives are particularly unsatisfactory, sometimes sounding more like someone wading up a piece of paper than a real explosion. The music, which reaches a climax whenever something vaguely important happens, like a point trading hands or an objective being secured, sounds as if it came straight from a 1980's sci-fi film.
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Global Agenda caught me off guard. I wasn't sure what I was getting into when I purchased the game, and bought it only because some online friends were stating that it was kind of like Tribes, an old favorite of mine. To be honest, it isn't much like Tribes (although players do have jetpacks). It is, however, an amazing shooter with strong RPG elements laid over it. The result is a game which I can't seem to stop playing. If you're a shooter fan, take the chance and buy this game. I know I'm glad I did.