Its arrival was accompanied by the sound of golden trumpets; there was merriment; children laughed and birds sang. It was to summon forth a heavenly chorus to speak to humankind of its virtues. It was to usher in a new age of entertainment enlightenment and gameplay peace. And lo, a second GoldenEye came upon us. But, hark, it was a false prophet, and darkness swept across the land. It was not the GoldenEye that years ago miraculously healed the sick and brought sight to the blind on the N64. It was a heretic, proclaiming itself as the successor to arguably the most holy of first-person shooters.
The story finds you, a loose cannon of Her Majesty’s Secret Service, disgraced and ejected from the organization for being too ruthless. Yes, someone with a license to kill – ejected for ruthlessness. After a grave injury, you’re taken under the wing of one Aurric Goldfinger, the legendary villain from the Bond bad guy pantheon. In what amounts to an “I’m more evil than you are” game of one-upmanship, you’re pitted against the forces of Dr. No. For any Bond fan, the idea of these two uber-villains squaring off in a battle of resources and wits is enough to send you into a giggling fit of excitement. At least until you realize how denuded the concept is where originality is concerned. Or how it plays much like a pitiful piece of Star Trek fan-fiction where the creators have thrown together whatever characters and elements they thought would strike a chord of familiarity with the fan base.
Before we go any further, let’s summarize: EA have made a video game, and they’ve seen fit to call it GoldenEye: Rogue Agent – but it is far removed from the original N64 GoldenEye. Oh, and it really has little to do with the 007 universe, too. Why not release a Halo game without aliens while you’re at it? Why not develop a Nascar game without any cars? Why not go the whole nine yards and publish a Zelda game set in outer space – without Link? That makes about as much gaming sense as making a Bond franchise game without Bond.
This concept of you-as-the-villain doesn’t translate well into Rogue Agent’s gameplay, either. The marketing hook here is to play as the bad guy, but very little you do is actually evil. In fact, things amount to barely more than shooting an endless parade of incompetent thugs. If playing as evil is the game’s selling point, then make it the point of sale and let the player earn the distinction. Evil? Allow for the taking of hostages, the destruction of buildings, or the poisoning of diplomats. But, in the post 9/11 landscape, true evil is hard to depict (regardless of medium) without seeming overtly insensitive and tasteless.
The game’s aforementioned thugs are little more than mindless chatterboxes with varying degrees of shielding. Part of the allure of the 007 series is Bond matching intellects and skills against a cunning and nefarious villain. Even the enemies EA care to name in Rogue Agent are only cosmetically different from the generic cannon fodder that’s thrown in your path. You don’t have to find an intuitive way to defeat them, you don’t have to figure out their methods and exploit their weaknesses – you simply shoot them more than you shot the last batch of on rushing idiots. The lack of challenging A.I., coupled with a naturally regenerating health meter adds scant little challenge to the game.
The only element setting Rogue Agent apart from any other cookie-cutter FPS title is the titular GoldenEye. And, no, it has absolutely nothing to do with the space-based weapon from the movie of the same name. Goldfinger has given you a cybernetic eye straight out of the most derivative science fiction games. You acquire different abilities for your (golden) eye, such as X-Ray vision, computer hacking, and a low-level telekinesis. While that’s all well and good, the eye’s inclusion feels a little (too) out of place in the 007 universe. It’s almost as though development was well under way when EA decided to add in Bond lore as almost an afterthought.
While the eight level single-player campaign sounds somewhat paltry, the sprawling and erratic levels become tedious before too long. And, sadly, they don’t seem to grow in intensity as you progress, either. Remember the final few hours of Halo and the repetitive drudgery that went along with it? Well, that’s what’s waiting for you in Rogue Agent. Unfortunately, in order to open more multiplayer elements, you have to tough it out – but to be honest it’s just not worth the effort.
Graphically, Rogue Agent is perfectly acceptable, but altogether unremarkable. There are some crisp and pleasing character animations, death sequences, and recognizable villains, but the game fails to shine on all fronts. Regrettably, success could have been so easy for Rogue Agent. In essence, if EA had (truly) wanted to cash in on the original GoldenEye, all they had to do was take the N64 title and make it prettier. That would have been enough. Personally, I couldn’t help but wonder what the ?Facility’ level would have looked like on the Xbox? The detail gradient of Rogue Agent’s environments might seem eye-catching at first but, once they start repeating, you soon realize you’re running through unconvincing, alternating sequences consisting of the same items you saw earlier in the level.
The sound, however, is something of a highlight in an otherwise bland offering. The music is distinctly 007. True, it doesn’t stray far from the classic old formula, but how can it? That would be like seeing Star Wars without the lovingly familiar John Williams accompaniment. The large variety of weapons in Rogue Agent all sound appropriately satisfying, but it is the enemy voice acting that really shines. While their voices do become repetitive, they always react accurately to situations around them. They often call out warnings to one another – based on your movements – which provides extra personality to otherwise wandering, strategically challenged minions.
How dare they (EA)? That’s likely to be your initial response during the first few minutes of gameplay. Even an excellent video game would be presumed somewhat bold to rashly take up the moniker of ?GoldenEye’. But Rogue Agent actually has the flagrant hubris to attempt to fool us into believing it’s fit to wash the feet of the original title. Predictably, it falls some way short of not only the name GoldenEye, but it’s also a largely forgettable shooter – at best. All in all, Rogue Agent is not just an insult to gamers, but also an affront to a far better game.