The Agency: Covert Ops is a stylish RPG that suffers from a lack of variation.
It’s a little-known fact that all spies are actually stunning supermodels who infiltrate enemy bases in between photography gigs for posh magazines. Or, at least, that’s the impression one gets from playing The Agency: Covert Ops, the action-packed Mafia Wars-style RPG by Sony Online Entertainment. At first, it’s tempting to dismiss this fulsome helping of eye candy as little more than a flamboyant advertisement for Sony’s upcoming MMO shooter of roughly the same name, but after only a few frantic player battles and rooftop escapes, it’s clear that Sony has created a game worth visiting.
Placing you at the head of a local branch of a world-spanning spy organization with a heavy nod toward the James Bond franchise (even down to the music), Covert Ops gives you the choice of playing five different classes with varying abilities. Quests—dealt by a buxom operative named Chelsea—only require repetition until you find what you’re searching for, and, perhaps best of all, five engaging minigames often take the place of many text-based quests. Depending on the mission, you can crack safes with Sudoku, hack computers with Hangman, chase down enemy agents in a 1980s-style sidescroller, and even rummage through a suspect’s office through a hidden object game.
The beautiful operatives at The Agency require beautiful clothes, and as you progress, Covert Ops supplies a wide range of avatar customizations, from bulky combat armor to skimpy stars-and-stripes bikinis. These and other items are bought with quest money and, occasionally, “Station Cash,” which can either be obtained 25 at a time every ten levels or bought directly from Sony.
But is it social? It’s obvious that Sony wrestled with this question, succeeding with some ideas but failing with others. Players can fight similarly leveled agents in a rock-paper-scissors combat mode that basically amounts to randomly clicking separate buttons and occasionally activating your class’ special power. You can bring your friends to lengthy group missions—for several hours to several days—that require you to extract them after they’ve gained intel in hostile environments, though these seem underdeveloped and uninspired. Lastly, there are constant reminders to visit your friends’ headquarters, which can be pimped out with everything from toilets to high-tech computer workstations and poker tables with quest cash and Station Cash, but there’s little incentive for doing so since these are mostly cosmetic.
One benefit, however, is the chance to acquire components. By debugging a friend’s headquarters once a day (which is about all you can do there), you’ll win a random component for making or upgrading weapons. The component system sounds like a good idea, but it’s occasionally nightmarish in practice. For one, unless you buy them with real cash, components are agonizingly rare and can occasionally hold up your quest for days. A techie NPC named Tripwire randomly offers components every twelve hours, but the success rate is just as random. If you’re limited to one or two fellow operatives, you’ll eventually find it difficult to succeed without purchasing components with Station Cash.
On the surface, Covert Ops is every bit as glamorous and impressive as its magazine-cover agents. But somehow it falters in the details. The magic slowly wears off in the higher levels, and it’s suddenly obvious that Covert Ops is plagued by issues of repetitive game play, awful character balance (particularly when your opponent has bought several of the aforementioned components), and a lack of variation that could easily have been avoided.
Take, for example, the hidden object game: it never changes. Whether you’re tender-footing in Amsterdam or giving James Bond a run for his money in China, your suspect in each country keeps his shoes and toy fighter jet in the exact same place. Owing to lazy encounters such as these, TACO (as it’s affectionately known by its devotees) suddenly sags heavily under the burden of “more of the same” somewhere around the Level 50 mark.
Despite these concerns, one can’t say the trip isn’t entertaining and moderately addicting, particularly in the beginning. While Sony may have done little more here than successfully transcend the label of a throwaway advertising gimmick, The Agency: Covert Ops is a highly polished step in the right direction toward better Facebook games. Ultimately, Covert Ops is a trip worth taking—but perhaps not all the way to the end.