100 Levels of The Agency: Covert Ops

So I did it.  I played SOE’s Facebook game, The Agency: Covert Ops through 100 levels.

The Level Achieved

That meant getting to level 101, since there is no level 0.

The overall time commitment wasn’t that great.  As I said in my initial post on about the game, it has a not-atypical method of doling out play time for a Facebook game.  In the case of Covert Ops, you have a pool of “cover,” a resource that allows you to go out on missions.  You spend some to do mission, and when you’re out, you’re done.  Cover comes back slowly over time, or you can spend some Station Cash to buy some additional Counter Intel, each of which basically refills your cover pool.

And that leads us to the first gripe.

SOE will toss you some free Station Cash when you start playing, but to use it you have to create a Station account.

No problem there, I already have a Station account, and I have for years!

Only, you cannot use your current Station account.  You have to create a new account.  A believe me, there is nothing I need less than another ID and password to remember.  In fact, I’ve already forgotten both for the new account I had to create.

That is going to make it really tough for SOE to get any money out of me.  Not that such an event was likely, but you want to make spending money on your game easy.

And I can guess why they did this.  I would bet that SOE has to pay Facebook a cut of Station Cash sold for Covert Ops.  However, I think SOE treats Station Cash as a single pool of funds usable across multiple games.  So they had to keep the Facebook revenue separate.  That is my theory.

Anyway, 50 days of play, 100 levels.   And after that very un-Eurogamer like effort, I should be able to answer the magic question:  Is it fun to play?

No, it is not.

I will qualify that however.  There are bits of it that are fun to start with.  The mini games, for example, were fun for the first few passes.  The mini games are:

  • A linear run, jump, avoid obstacles
  • A simplified version of suduko (you get wild cards)
  • A “Where’s Waldo” find several items in a scene
  • A mini Husker Du? matching game (Who else had Husker Du?)
  • A version of the Jumble word puzzle

Except for the first, I had fun playing the mini-games.  But aside from the word puzzle, which at least has new words each round, the fun wears out quickly.  You learn how to jump, how to spam through the matching game, how to form up suduko, and where everything is hidden in the scene after a few rounds at most, and then it is just repetition.

Aside from the conflict resolution system, which I will get to in a bit, the rest of the game is clearly in the Mafia Wars vein.  You get a mission, if you have sufficient cover left, you click to do it, collect your reward, and move on to the next mission.

Only Covert Ops does not farm the ground that Mafia Wars does (see the Mafia Wars deposition) when it comes to collaboration with your Facebook friends.

You do not have to go through the annoying add friend routine that Zynga seems to be locked into, and which I hate.  Instead you are automatically friends in-game with anybody on your Facebook friends list, for which I give SOE full marks.  I’ve already committed to those friendships, don’t make me repeat the whole invite thing.

But once you have friends, there isn’t much you can do with them.  You can send them off on a mission for a reward (which you can share with them via a post to their wall) and you can visit their homes to sweep them for infiltration once a day, which always yields a small reward since everybody’s home seems to be infiltrated daily.

But the whole mob-family support mechanism and the endless gift request/gift giving are mostly absent.  Not that I miss the latter that much, but SOE hasn’t replaced it with anything better, they’ve just got their own minimalist version.

So the whole thing is a bit less social than FarmVille.

They have added in the ability to fight other players for rewards.  However, it uses the conflict resolution system of which I have written about before.

Let's see, rock, paper, or scissors this time?

The rock, paper, scissors method isn’t the worst way to resolve a conflict.  You might even view it as an additional mini game, except for the tedious nature of the system.  And you end up having to go through this routine a lot.  And the fights scale with you, so the only way to gain any advantage over your opponent is through equipment and upgrades.

You can spend your money on a few things.  You can buy new clothes.  You can furnish your home.  Or you can buy equipment and upgrades.

Your appearance doesn’t change the game, and a fancy home buys you little, but you need equipment upgrades, so that is where almost all my money went.

My home, with minor upgrades

To win the conflict resolution consistently, you will need the bonuses equipment gives you.  Some of the parts you need for equipment you can buy with the in game cash, but key pieces come only from mission drops or via Station Cash.  And at a number of points you will hit an equipment check gate and won’t be able to proceed to the next mission without an upgrade.

That means either spending Station Cash, which I refused to do, or going back through your old missions to find the one that drops the piece you need.  Then you run that mission.  Over and over.  Until you get the drop.

Now, it is nice that you can go back and re-run missions.  You still gain experience and get rewards.  They even look to have some sort of mission mastery indicator built into the UI, though I did not see it activate in anyway.

But running old missions uses cover, just like your current missions.  So when you are doing one, you won’t be able to do the other.  I once spent three days running the same mission in Italy to get one part to drop so I could get an upgrade to move forward in the game.

Now, three days sounds like a long time, but unless you buy additional cover, you end up spending about 5 minutes a day playing.

But in the end, it was the conflict resolution system that wore me down.  Just at level 101 I hit a boss fight that needed an equipment upgrade.  To get that upgrade I needed a piece that was only available as a drop or via Station Cash.

I ran back through missions until I found one that would drop the right part, but it turned out to be another boss fight with the conflict resolution systems.  And since anything in that system scales to your level, and since the components rarely drop, the grind required to proceed overwhelmed my meager desire to play and I stopped.

End of game.

Summary

The game has decent art assets, though they get used over and over again.  The guy you talk to in Amsterdam looks just like the guy in Naples, New York, Dehli, or Los Angeles.

The game is story driven, and it looks like a lot of time was spent on story.  At each location you are guided through a series of events that lead you to that final boss fight.  Unfortunately, since 80% of game play is clicking a button to complete a task, you do not really get engaged and you soon stop reading the story.

The mini games are fun at first, but there only a few and they get used in the same way at the same story points over and over.  Again, this does not get the player involved.

The conflict resolution system is mediocre.  You fight people, dogs, submarines, and so on using the same rock-paper-scissors system.  These conflict events come up a lot and I began to dread them.  Of course, dreading what is the core of the game play is a bad sign.

The social aspect of this social game is seriously lacking.  Seriously.  While I like that your friends who join the game get automatically added to your in-game list of operatives, there isn’t much you can do with them after that.  As annoying as Zynga’s wall spam can be, they do social interaction better.

Farmville is a more compelling social game frankly.  You can play sim farm at least and tell your friends about what you’ve accomplished.  In Covert Ops, all I could really remember was the names of the cities where events took place.  “I fought some guy in Amsterdam” is less social than, “I’m trying to build a barn, can you send me some wood?”

In the end, The Agency: Covert Ops is a Mafia Wars clone that tried to trim some of the annoying parts of that game, but ended up going too far.  They trimmed out what I am told makes Mafia Wars compelling to play.

And while the game is technically in beta still (as is every damn game on Facebook I think… I’ll invoke the Heartless_ statement that if you’re taking money for your game, you are not in beta) and they have been changing things up some, the core game hasn’t changed since launch.  There really wasn’t enough there to keep me interested once I hit my self-imposed goal of 100 levels.

So I won’t see what location comes after Los Angeles in the story.  But I don’t mind.  I’m pretty sure it would look very much like Amsterdam, Naples, New York, or Dehli.

The tag line for the game is “Live the Life of an Elite Agent!”

What a dull and repetitive life that seems to be.

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