The Global Agenda beta event that I jumped into this weekend was short and pretty limited - I didn't get to see any of the large-scale Agency vs. Agency territory control combat that's going to make up the bulk of the game's subscription-based content, I only experienced two of the five PvP modes, and none of the economy elements like the crafting or the Auction House - but it was extremely effective in reinforcing one prior belief of mine: Jetpacks are freakin' awesome.
If you can imagine a world in which World of Warcraft and Team Fortress 2 had a baby (though WoW always wondered if Planetside had actually been the father instead) and then they slapped a jetpack on that baby's back, then you've clearly got an overactive imagination - but you've also got something similar to the ambitious Global Agenda. Like TF2, it's a class-based online shooter, but there are more RPG elements to it: Your character levels up, you gain new moves and new abilities, and you can spend points in skill trees to boost your effectiveness in specific fields.
While you can skip the first tutorial missions entirely and get a level 5 character right off the bat, they do a decent (if not exceptional) job at introducing you to the world of Global Agenda - a dystopian future where humanity is ruled by the totalitarian Commonwealth, whose dominion is challenged by small coalitions called Agencies. You're freed from the Commonwealth's control, you hook up with an Agency, etc. - we've seen this song and dance before.
Unlike online games like TF2, there's a PvE (Player vs Environment) mode to the game that features a team of four Agents assaulting a Commonwealth facility, and while these missions start off incredibly easy, they ramp up in difficulty rather quickly - I only tried one High-Security job, and we didn't even manage to finish it (to say nothing of the Max-Security missions). While the content isn't exactly groundbreaking, it's a great introduction to the game, and it provides an easy outlet for newbies to cut their teeth on how their class plays, to level up some to get the shiny new abilities, and to get money to buy badass new suits of armor.
It's a decent diversion, sure, but the PvE is just a warm-up for the game's PvP battles. While the game lacks the polish of, say, TF2 or Modern Warfare 2 (especially in its Beta state), the multiplayer fragfests are a ton of fun, and it's here that the jetpack shines the most. Thanks to the little rocket pack you've got on your back, fights in Global Agenda are very fast and mobile, and there's something that's just incredibly satisfying about jetting up to somebody, dropping a grenade at their feet and then zipping away out of danger. It's a bit strange to get used to the idea of not being able to use your jetpack at the same time as any of your other weapons, but you learn to quickly swap back and forth before too long, and it's an interesting balance choice.
Speaking of balance: While obviously the game is still under construction and balance is far from complete, it's refreshing to see that newbies don't automatically get destroyed by long-time players. As you level up, you get more skill points to spend in the trees and more weaponry to choose from, but you don't get any extra health or any extra damage (unless you spend points on it). So while a level 5 player is at a disadvantage against a level 20 player, it's not an insurmountable climb. As far as I could tell, armor and equipment was almost purely cosmetic: Money can't buy you love, and it can't buy you victory, but it can buy you a rockin' new set of duds that you dye ninja black.
And honestly, isn't that what we all want, deep down inside?
Bottom Line: Clearly rough (well duh, it's a Beta) and the PvE hasn't shown any flashes of inspiration, but jetpacks are as awesome as they've ever been, and massive aerial combat is just a delight. There's a ton of potential here in Global Agenda, and one can only hope that the developers will tap it.
Global Agenda hits shelves on February 1st, 2010!