Agent: Rockstar’s PS3 Exclusive That Never Escaped the Shadows

Rockstar Agent
Rockstar Agent

After the global phenomenon that Grand Theft Auto had become in the early 2000s, Rockstar was the biggest developer on the block. Most of their games had toppled sales north of 10 million each, out of which GTA 4, San Andreas, and Vice City were the highest earners. But that success wasn’t just limited to Rockstar since PlayStation benefited greatly with all of the above-mentioned games being console exclusives.

With Rockstar obviously becoming one of the backbones of the console maker back then, Sony teased in 2007 that they were collaborating with Rockstar on a new project. This untitled project at the time was built up as a “whole new way of experiencing video games,” but actual details about it weren’t revealed until E3 2009. This all-new IP was action-espionage, exclusive to the PS3, and it finally had a name, Agent.

Rockstar promised big time with Agent, and given how they were delivering one banger after the other back in the day, people were ready to have their minds blown away by the action-espionage that delved into the grim world of the Cold War at its peak in the 70s. Development on it was being led by the Houser brothers and Rockstar North — “The A-Team,” as they would call it. Because of that, both Sony and Rockstar were confident that it would potentially rival Grand Theft Auto, but it seems that Agent was just too far ahead in its stealth genre. So much so that it’s MIA to this day.

This is a look at the inception of Rockstar’s Agent, where things went wrong for it, and how it went from being one of the most anticipated games of the PS3 era to a forgotten and abandoned project.


Agent’s Inception, Announcement, And Exclusivity

With PlayStation being the only major console manufacturer, every new AAA game had to be on its latest system to reach an audience, and for Rockstar it wasn’t any different. Rockstar didn’t plan on it but soon their GTA became the best-selling franchise on the PlayStation 2 once GTA 3 and Sam Andreas hit the console. That would still hold true for the next generation when GTA 5 would become the best-selling game on the PS3, though in 2006, Rockstar didn’t know about that yet.

Seeing as how strongly both companies started to rely on each other, the relationship between PlayStation and Rockstar was evident, and we all know how Sony loves their games cooked: exclusive. As such, in 2007, Sony was excited to tease that Rockstar was developing an exclusive game for them. They called it a genre-defying experience that would “set the bar for the industry” and left it at that until E3 2009 when they finally decided to give the IP a name. Sony Computer Entertainment America’s CEO Jack Tretton walked on stage, revealed Agent was the exclusive Rockstar North was making for PlayStation, and gave us some insight on what it’d be about.

Rockstar North’s Agent would take players on “a paranoid journey into the world of counterintelligence, espionage, and political assassinations during the height of the Cold War at the end of the 1970s”. Though he didn’t say it out loud, the world knew this was a type of James Bond-inspired game.

In the latter half of the same year, more details about Agent emerged in a since-deleted Q&A on Rockstar Games’ official blog. The blog post commented on the 2010 ambitions of Rockstar, claiming that “we are working hard on a line-up of PlayStation 3 releases for 2010 that we know you will be very excited to play – including Red Dead Redemption, Max Payne 3, and the PlayStation 3 exclusive Agent, which is a brand-new title from Rockstar North, the creators of the Grand Theft Auto series”. This seemingly confirmed Agent would be released in about a year from then. However, the lack of any gameplay footage, trailers, and media promotions made everyone doubt that’d be the case. But again, Agent had been in development for quite some time now, perhaps since 2006, so 2010 didn’t seem like an impossibility, until, well, the delays started happening.


A Story of Delays & Development Hell

Red Dead Redemption
Red Dead Redemption

When the following year arrived, Take-Two, Rockstar’s parent company, held a Q1 financial call. During it, CEO Ben Feder dodged a question about Agent’s release by simply stating it was “still in development”. Later that same year, Max Payne 3 was pushed back into 2011 too, and that left the status of only one of the three originally announced games for 2010 unsure. HD game development was a big step up for pretty much every studio, and Rockstar was no different. Luckily, Red Dead Redemption was released in May 2010, and while two of their games were delayed, the critical success of Red Dead Redemption did more than just save face for the company.

Fast-forward to 2011, fans saw their first unofficial look at Agent when an Environment Artist at Rockstar North updated his portfolio. However, the images could hardly even be considered sneak peeks since they were all still work-in-progress renders of the environment. In the same year, in another earnings call held in May, Take-Two Chairman Strauss Zelnick had the same thing to say about Agent that Ben Feder did in 2010: it was still in active development. At E3 2011, things only got worse. This time Sony America’s CEO Jack Tretton was on the receiving end of the questions about Agent in an interview with GTTV, and his response was far more underwhelming. Tretton said, “Agent is still in development…but I’m not sure exactly where we’ll land on that, that’s more something for Rockstar to decide, but I’m sure we’ll have a great offering on Agent for PS3.”

This statement seemingly confirmed that Agent’s PS3 exclusivity, which Sony so proudly announced back in 2007, was out of the window and we were nowhere close to seeing a speck of what Agent was like. It was the same situation in 2012, as Rockstar’s promised sleuth-em-up was a no-show at E3. Then 2013 arrived, GTA 5 was launched to critical acclaim, and at the same time, sales numbers for Red Dead Redemption came in. The western shooter had sold 12.5 million copies in 18 months, becoming another record-breaking franchise for Rockstar, something that the studio had been searching for all this time. From the way they originally teased Agent, it seemed from the get-go that Rockstar intended for it to be bigger if not on par with GTA, but here we are a few years later and Red Dead Redemption is the golden boy, not Agent.

Maybe that’s what led Rockstar to put the game on the back burner until they just completely turned the stove off. A glimmer of hope did arise when Take-Two renewed the trademark for Agent in 2013, but as expected, 2 years flew by in a blink of an eye and nothing had changed. Everyone had lost all heart at that point, however, a new set of in-game screenshots leaked on the internet when another Rockstar artist, Darren Charles Hatton, updated his portfolio. This was a larger leak in comparison to last time since these screenshots showcased entire levels. One level seemed to have a Middle-Eastern look about it, having densely packed buildings, stalls, and some palm trees.

A similar leak happened in 2017 when concept art for Agent and Bully 2 surfaced online. Three of the five leaked Agent concept art images depicted a snowy region while the other two were sketches of what could be the villains of the game. There wasn’t a date tied to these photos, but considering how long it’s been, they were likely really old. Perhaps as old as 2009 when development on Agent was still happening. In 2018, the trademark for Agent was announced as abandoned by the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Take-Two Interactive hadn’t filed for renewal. Everyone knew the game was dead, though until it was official you couldn’t rule out the possibility.


What Went Wrong with Agent?

Agent PS3
Agent PS3

That said, where and when exactly did things start going downhill for Agent? This has always been one question you never could find the answer to. But in November 2023, things became a little clear when Rockstar Games’ former technical director Obbe Vermeij shed light on his time at the company in a blog post. The original post was later deleted by him out of respect for his colleagues but the people already had what they wanted.

A portion of the post mentioned what was happening with Agent behind the scenes. Obbe explained that full development on Agent continued for over a year and that it was internally codenamed “Jimmy” because that’s the name of the Scottish version of James Bond. Vermeij added, “I think there was a hang glider and a car that turned into a submarine or something”. Yeah, that definitely sounds like Bond. There were huge set pieces planned for the game. One was a “downhill skiing chase scene with guns for instance” and in another, players would visit “a French Mediterranean city, a Swiss ski resort, Cairo, and at the end there would be a big shootout with lasers in space. Classic James Bond. The vibe was very cool”.

Obbe expanded on that statement, expressing that while Agent was still being worked on, their progress was slow, likely owing to the fact that Rockstar North was split down the middle at the time. One half was fixated on GTA 5 while the other had its hands full with Agent, “It was inevitable that eventually, the whole company would have to get behind the next Grand Theft Auto…It became clear that [Agent] was going to be too much of a distraction for us and we ditched it. I think it was handed over to another company within Rockstar but never got completed”.

Shortly after Vermeij uploaded the blog post, he was emailed by Rockstar. According to Vermeij, his blog post “ruined the mystique of Rockstar” and some of the old employees who worked on the game were a bit upset that Vermeij had spilled the beans. Vermeij later chose to take down the blog post out of goodwill and stated that there was “no pressure from Rockstar”.


Agent, Rockstar’s Stealth Action Game That Never Was

Agent PS3
Agent PS3

It appears that it was either prioritizing development on GTA 5 or Agent in 2011, and given Rockstar’s portfolio, the decision was a no-brainer. Then, when GTA 5 became the best-selling game of 2013 after launch, Rockstar likely wanted to keep riding the wave and go all-in with GTA Online — another decision that has been paying off for Rockstar to this day.

But otherwise, the final nail in the coffin for Agent was undoubtedly the success of Red Dead Redemption. Red Dead Redemption was so successful that Rockstar simply couldn’t risk not capitalizing on its success. Red Dead Redemption 2 was reported to have been in development for nearly 8 years when it was released, which meant work on it started right after the first game launched in 2010. Given the scope of Red Dead Redemption 2, Rockstar involved all of its subsidiary studios in its development, leaving no room for them to work on other projects such as Agent and Bully 2. Or even a second Rockstar’s Table Tennis. That’s the real victim here.

It’s no different right now either. Rockstar’s burning the midnight oil working on GTA 6 and after that, it’s odds-on they will be back to Red Dead Redemption and printing money with GTA Online again. Because of GTA being Rockstar’s flagship, then Red Dead Redemption reaching the same heights, and GTA Online proving to be a more than worthwhile investment, stretching the crew thin on more IPs might not have appeared practical to the studio back then. Rockstar Games was indeed able to capture lightning in a bottle twice, though not in the form they had hoped. Red Dead Redemption became the GTA rival Rockstar so badly wanted, and while that meant the company now had two flourishing IPs they could heavily milk, that also had an unfortunate byproduct: the cancellation of what could’ve been one of the best spy games of all time.

That’s the life, death, and legacy of Rockstar’s Agent, the stealth action game that never was. As for what’s next for Agent’s story, it appears to be shaken and stirred. That said, there’s absolutely Dr No chance more information about the game won’t see The Living Daylights in the future in one form or another.

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