The Secret War is a small and simple mini-game played in your browser (well, most browsers) and you can earn freebies for the MMO including access to the open Betas, and if you're really good/lucky there's a trip to Montreal and the FC studios in it as well. Warning: requires a FaceBook account.** Also required is a FunCom account for TSW so that you have something to tie any in-game winnings to, should you go ahead and buy the MMO at some point. At least it's not as invasive as an EA account...
The idea is that you pick which of the three main factions to throw your lot in with and you assume the role of an operative for that faction. You spread propaganda in the form of exclusive screenshots and trailers, recruit people to your cause and send agents out to bring various countries (and each individual US state, presumably because FC has aimed primarily at the US market) under your faction's control. The control updates are in real time, you can deploy agents every hour and spread propaganda every 6 hours. It's all pretty straight forwards.
The three factions are as follows:-
The US-based hypercapitalist masters of influence and control who seek to dominate the world from the shadows and drive out the competing supernatural forces that lurk behind the scenes. Not as new to the scene as their modern paradigm suggests, the Illuminati are masters of subtlety and misdirection. The colour blue, pyramids with eyes and the assault rifle are their trademarks.
An ancient european secret society thought to be long dead but in fact still holding vast swathes of power throughout the old world and africa. Ditching their old religious dogmas, they're moving with the times to bring back the old days of glory and sanctity, and do battle with the evil forces that terrorise humanity so the world can truly be called safe. The colour red, twin pistols and the Templar Cross are the Templar calling cards.
Not so much an ancient order as a collection of groups and networks from the far east that simply share a common goal: to expose the corruption and darkness and to throw off the blanket of lies and secrecy and show humanity the world as it truly is. From the change this will bring, humanity can move forward. Dragons show the colour green and are associated with the katana, and take a stylised dragon dancer mask as their sign.
The three factions are old enemies and whilst from time to time some of their number may ally with others, this never lasts long. Once you've picked a faction for The Secret War, you cannot go back, although I don't think this has any impact on what you can do in the MMO once released. Facebook friends who've picked the same faction as you become Agents you can deploy, and you do get a basic starter agent as well. Those who picked different factions become Rivals, but I haven't found that this has any impact beyond knowing who to boo at down the pub.
The contributions you make to your faction in a country you click on will help determine what proportion of a country's influence your faction holds. You can direct propaganda at a country by having people click on the screenies and video links on your Facebook Wall posted from the country interaction screen. This counts as sending a one-shot agent off to that country to do your faction's bidding. The most direct method of gaining control over a country is to deploy agents once an hour.
You can see realtime faction control updates, and it's interesting to note just how far each faction can rise and fall, from dominating over 50% to scraping under 20% of the world in the space of a single day. The over-arcing reason to ensure your faction maintains a high degree of control is to unlock exclusives for your faction. Currently the race to unlock a new trailer is underway and as of writing this the three factions are very close in terms of progress.
In-game phats, you say
As you accumulate points from agent deployments and propaganda-spreading, you gain points. Once you reach a certain number of points, you unlock in-game items and advance in Rank. Items include costume bits, XP-boosting consumables and unique weapons. I didn't see anything particularly game breaking, thankfully, and there does appear to be something for everyone in terms of a wide variety of magic and weapon items. The higher the rank you attain, the more freebies you accumulate.
The ranks follow a progression from your basic unranked nobody, through Initiate, Loyalist, Operator, Infiltrator, Agent and finally Secret Agent. There's weekly leaderboards and achivements and so on, of course.
The main prize is access to the open Betas in May and you need to hit the final rank of Secret Agent to unlock that. Depending on whether you make a throwaway FB account and hook up with the relevant Facebook groups to mass-add and be mass-added by, or carefully hand-pick friends you think might actually enjoy hitting it up, it might take you a day to hit Secret Agent, or you might run it close to the wire when the game 'finishes'. There is no finishing date given, incidentally, and whilst the beta access will eventually become redundant, the game and the rest of the freebies might continue after the MMO launch.
And if I want to sign up?
Then have a shufty here (links to my recruitment portal):
** This part was initially a big put-off for me because I loathe forced social network linking (Massively, I'm looking at you too). What I didn't realise was that it links directly into a FB Game app. You know, the kind that clogs up your news feed... The fact I didn't realise this until after the game had started spamming my wall with app updates hacked me off rather a lot. I was trying to post screenshots and a video to my news feed because I thought some people might be interested, but those were restricted by the app to my own wall. Instead, the other annoying updates on my progress was what ended up going out to everyone. Nice way to piss off my friends and to hamper their own marketing strategy. Oh FunCom, don't you ever change...