A mystery probably too great for the Mystery Machine, a case too obscure for Sherlock Holmes to crack, and a riddle that would send Bruce Wayne batcrap crazy. Rockstar’s Agent is somewhere, its website still remains, showing a very outdated “Coming Soon” for the Playstation 3! Remnants of it are scattered across the world somewhere, in screenshots, concept art, maybe even some pre-alpha footage. Where is it? Why is it 11 years later, and we’re not only wondering why a hugely anticipated game disappeared off the face of the Earth, but why their creators don’t even acknowledge it anymore?
The Name’s Agent
E3 2009, after two years of Rockstar teasing a brand new IP, it’s finally unveiled as “Agent“. A stealth game, tackling the Cold War in the 1970’s, that will naturally explore the specifics and nuances of espionage, reconnaissance, and infiltration. It was Rockstar’s version of James Bond, but with Goodfellas-levels of F-bombs. Rockstar founder, Sam Houser, even had this to say about their upcoming game:
Agent is a game we have wanted to make for a long time. The team in Edinburgh is doing an amazing job combining intense action, atmosphere, and story in a great period setting to create something that feels quite unique. We cannot wait for people to experience this game.
This clearly wasn’t just a spur of the moment project, this is something Rockstar wanted to happen. Rockstar weren’t exactly bored with nothing to do though. They were continuing to expand GTA IV with DLC, they released Read Dead Redemption a year after, and L.A. Noire the year after that. The pipeline was chocked full of wondrous juices that the Rockstar machine was trying to maintain. But they have quite a few studios, so it should be easy to manage. Shouldn’t it?
However, time had elapsed, Rockstar was dominating the world with multiple, award-winning titles…but Agent had quietly crept into the backseat and presumably chloroformed itself. It was only in 2011 when the first purported images of the game came to light. A former Rockstar artist had posted these images in his online resume. Detailed interiors littered with characters. Friends? Foes? We’ll never knows.
Just when it seemed like all hope was gone and the legacy of Agent had been reduced to nothing more than a myth, Rockstar renewed the trademark in 2013. Only mere months before the release of the PS4 too. Originally announced as a PS3 exclusive, could Agent be the next-level launch title that the new generation needed? Again, we’ll never know. That renewed optimism was extinguished not long after as no details emerged. In 2015, more leaked images surfaced and once again teased the world to breaking point.
The most perplexing aspect of Agent’s whereabouts…is Rockstar themselves. I’ve scoured the internet and perused all the available resources to try and gain some understanding of why this project has never gotten further than a few scraps of concept art that wouldn’t be fit for a starving dog. Poor thing. It echoes the same silence that Valve have had for many years with Half-Life. At what point does this attitude stop feeling like a stern sticking to of their guns, and feel more like an ignorant slap in the face? Are we entitled as potential consumers to know why they’ve turned their back on the game? No. But many websites have reached out to them regarding Agent and been rebuffed.
Development hell is an insider term that everyone is aware of by this point. A project plagued by uncertainty, mishandling, and a general sense of misdirection – kinda like Terminator: Salvation (film or game). Duke Nukem Forever is regarded as one of the perfect examples of this misfortune. 14 years separated its initial announcement and its negative release. Overcome by antiquated mechanics, last-gen graphics and a myriad of other issues, the game sucked. Hell, even DOOM (2016)’s success was preceded by many turbulent years as DOOM 3’s successor was torn up and started from scratch. But the thing is, the public was very aware of these issues, and they were discussed by the developers, too. To make us aware.
We don’t even know if any gameplay ever existed for Agent. Do Rockstar think their reputation is iron-clad and cannot be buckled no mater what? It’s extraordinary for such a high-profile developer to completely erase one of their own projects from existence. Did they accidentally invent the Neuralyzer from Men In Black? Rockstar’s Agent is an enigma at this point. A code that can’t be cracked. Which is why it was an even bigger kick in the teeth when it was announced that the game had been cancelled 9 years after its reveal. The United States Patent and Trademark Office nailed the ‘apparent’ final nail in the coffin by declaring the Agent trademark, “abandoned”.
Just to reiterate, if Rockstar’s intentions and priories have indefinitely shifted towards other projects, e.g. GTA, Red Dead, etc., then a cursory comment would’ve sufficed. Instead, Rockstar’s Agent is in limbo, more so than the actual game Limbo.
Tomorrow Never Dies
Agent is still listed on the official Rockstar Games website. It’s still cited as being a PS3 release, so unless Rockstar just don’t pay attention to their own website, then maybe there is hope – even with the trademark cancellation. For all we know, the game is currently in development for the PS5 and Rockstar have dedicated a studio to Agent. It could fill a deep void and become the new Metal Gear Solid, capturing a whole market in the process.
There has certainly been some buzz for the possible second-coming of Rockstar’s Agent as a new image surfaced earlier this year that had more cryptic tomfoolery than a game of Guess Who. People immediately jumped to the conclusion that Rockstar was reviving Agent. It depends what kind of person you are really, you can allow yourself to buy into the feint, sliver of intangible hope that Agent – in one form or another – will take its first, precious breath. Or you can scoff and spit on it, treating the outlandish suggestion like a battered spittoon.
Failing that, there’s always the possibility that Rockstar is revisiting an old flame. L.A. Noire 2 is the strongest candidate for the treatment as the first game was extremely well-received, introduced some stunning new facial technology, and has had several re-releases. Personally, I’d love both. Rockstar’s policy restructure has been quite evident in the last 5-10 years, adopting a more business savy approach, as opposed to a pure gaming one. But it would be nice to have something different to the usual Grand Theft Auto, RDR cycle we’ve grown accustomed to.