In a fall season slammed with AAA first-person shooters, Electronic Arts' move to release GoldenEye: Rogue Agent
only two weeks after Halo 2
and one week after Half-Life 2
can be seen as either gutsy or stupid -- either that or just plain bad luck. One really must wonder. However you dice it, EA took a chance with the Bond license, giving gamers the opportunity to play as an evil agent, an anti-Bond character with all the skills and smarts as the world's most famous British spy, but with none of the rules, restrictions or ethics.
Conceptually the idea sounds brilliant, but in actuality the game is a superb bore. From the deceptive name (it neither plays like the original N64 classic nor is it in any way related) to the me-too Halo gameplay to the distinct lack of personality, story or level variation, GoldenEye: Rogue Agent is a bland slog of a game. Its slightly above-average gameplay disappoints more than it succeeds, and its dual paths -- the attempt at nailing the visceral combat of Halo and the technical features of the character's "golden eye" -- forces one to wonder what exactly the team was going for. In the end, Rogue Agent is just another Bond game that could have been.
GoldenEye: Rogue Agent is a first-person shooter that takes a different look at the Bond universe. You take on the role of a "00 agent" who is let go from duty thanks to reckless brutality, taking a turn to the dark side of the world and joining Auric Goldfinger's criminal organization. The interesting theme of man vs. machine is briefly touched on as Dr. No's shot to the head turns the former 00 agent into cyborg of sorts, but instead of creating empathy here, you get nothing. Instead of delving even minimally into the cause of your character's downfall, the thin excuse for a story melts into a puddle of who the heck cares. Your character doesn't talk much and there is no character development to speak of. Since there is little to like or dislike about him, caring about his outcome is simply not an issue. This simple theme is repeated in booming echoes throughout the game's entirety.
But Rogue Agent could have succeeded without a good story. For years, videogame design teams have searched to tap into Hollywood's magic, but in lieu of it, gameplay, graphics, sound, and originality, usually make up for it. Sadly, after a level or two, the hope for any fleck of originality quickly fades. Once you get past the idea that Rogue Agent is actually not a sequel in any way to the Nintendo 64 game -- nor in any way related -- you'll wonder why it's actually called GoldenEye in the first place. Sure, the guy's eye socket is teeming with evil "golden eye" technology, but it's surely no coincidence that this James Bond game is named after the best Bond game ever.
So you turn to gameplay. From the get-go EA has told us that Rogue Agent is all about being bad, being evil. Using a Halo weapon set-up (two weapons and a grenade), players find themselves rewarded with points for being evil, over-the-top, and roguish. Unfortunately, being bad here is like being rewarded for simply playing any FPS. You're rewarded for headshots, using human shields, grenade use, using the golden eye technology, etc., but not one of these things is particularly evil or bad -- as videogames go.
Are Splinter Cell's Sam Fisher, Halo 2's Master Chief, or Killzone's Templar deemed "evil" for blowing guys lights out? Nope. Your GoldenEye dude is void of doing anything more evil than Insomniac's furry platform character Ratchet. He shoots stuff, right? If you want bad-ass or evil game characters, play The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay or Manhunt; both are dark, violent games that genuinely explore the darker side of human nature. Rogue Agent is vanilla in comparison.
Split into eight massive levels, each with multiple missions and segments (20 in all), Rogue Agent is designed to play like Halo with strong hints of Psi-Ops and Second Sight woven into the mechanics (and in a nice touch, it retains the original dual-wielding from Rare's N64 classic). It's a visceral run-and-gun shooter that drives players to find cover, continually move and shoot on the go, and rely on a combination of weapons to achieve their goals. If it actually controlled like Halo that would have been a feat, but it's neither as smooth nor as fluid. In fact, it's difficult at any sensitivity level to find that sweet sense of control, and it becomes frustrating quickly. You can grab enemies to use as human shields too, but these mechanics are mildly awkward, and this function is not nearly as fun as using a gunbutt to smash an enemy dead. It's also really weird to hold an enemy and throw them because they die after you throw them. Even if you simply throw them two feet, they die.
Whether by design or mistake, dual wielding mostly makes up for the semblance of precision control. EA's first-person shooter relies heavily on dual-wielding -- one of its brighter spots -- enabling players to pick up and independently brandish a variety of guns. You've got the standard automatic rifle, shotguns, submachine guns, .44 Magnums, and rocket launchers -- all creatively named here. But it's only through the sheer volume of bullets that you'll do any substantial damage.
The range and mix of weapons, however, creates an interesting dynamic. You can use a Venom poison gun to stun someone, and then with the Mamba shotgun, turn them into pizza. Or you could grab and use them as a shield. Or throw them. You can dual wield a Jackal handgun and a submachine gun, spraying bullets to intimidate them, and then puling off a headshot to finish them. The Mk Detonator is good stuff too, as it sends off a manually controlled explosive that sticks to walls and enemies alike. The assault rifle, sniper rifle, and the railgun are the only reliable precision weapons that can be used with satisfactory accuracy.
The AI stands out from the pack. Its pesky and dogged. There are multiple AI types, all of which find cover, shoot blind fire, detect your movement and react smartly to it. They're not EVIL as EA says they are, but their sophisticated movements and attack patterns create a dynamic game.
So, in one way, Rogue Agent feels like a Halo clone, but it lacks the controls, the character, and the soul of such a game. On the other hand, it wants to be like Psi-Ops and Second Sight, but similarly isn't as good. On that note, the GoldenEye enhancements, which you earn by progressing through the game, contain mildly interesting Psi-Ops-like features at odds with the game's predominant run-and-gun style.
The Magnetic Polarity Shield (a temporary shield), MRI Vision (which enables you to see through most objects), the Electromagnetic Hack (which enables you to open doors and temporarily lock enemy weapons), and the Magnetic Induction Field (which enables you to pick up and throw enemies) are easily ignored for the first two-thirds of the game.
If the mechanics and gameplay style don't get you in the mood, the level design certainly won't either. The plainly-textured, open hallways and arenas are dull to look at and play through. They're incredibly non-descript, repetitive, and unimaginative. They all look and feel like temporary game levels, with minimalist textures slapped on.
On each console the framerate holds at about 30 FPS, with the Cube version controlling surprisingly well, and the Xbox and PS2 handling moderately well.
As we all know, the single-player game isn't everything. Rogue Agent has a robust multiplayer set of maps (20 in all), with solid four-player split-screen options for all versions, and online play for up to eight players on Xbox and PS2. We played a substantial amount of online games and they held up well. There are tons of options, game types and famous Bond locations (the Golden Gate Bridge from View to a Kill, the Pyramids from The Spy Who Loved Me, and the satellite from GoldenEye to name a few). Also, while the deathtraps are almost worthless in the single-player game, they make a good showing in the multiplayer modes.
Despite all of the high-powered talent from numerous design teams, the visual quality of Rogue Agent is remarkably dull, forgettable, and unimaginative. Yes, you'll see re-creations of cool sets, but they're bland in structure and texture work in the game. Rogue Agent does a better job of presenting good character and gun animations, and a workmanlike particle system.
You'll see quick clips of famous Bond characters, from Judy Dench's M to the impressively re-created look of Gert Frobe's Auric Goldfinger, Famke Janssen's Xenia Onatopp and good 'ol Oddjob. But you'll see little of them, as they're used more as visual props than actual characters.
All three systems support wide-screen mode, but only the Xbox supports HDTV 480p progressive scan. The Xbox version is the best looking of the bunch, with the PS2 and Cube coming in second and third, respectively. The Cube version shows off better textures, but its framerate is not quite as good. Both the Cube and PS2 versions also shimmer and display anti-aliasing.
In the audio department, even DJ Paul Oakenfold's work is barely above average. You'll hear complex and sophisticated textures and rhythms, but overall the music is just as repetitive, unimaginative and uninspired as the rest of the game. He's created a world of great music in his lifetime, but the music in this game won't go down as terribly memorable.
The sound effects are solid, ranging from an excellent assortment of guns and their reload sounds to the explosions and background sounds themselves. The voice acting is high quality and accurate from the professional voice-actor's level (like, for instance, Judy Dench), but after that, the enemy grunts, yells and commands are repetitive and sometimes downright annoying. Goldeneye is pretty much voiceless, and the creepy doctor who gave him the golden eye talks like a mad scientist who's risen from the crypt. At least the sound is high quality, with each version supporting in-game Dolby Digital (and the mysterious THX certification), and providing a good wall of well-separated sound.
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