GoldenEye: Rogue Agent
I've been agonising over what score to give this game. I keep swinging from it's an undemanding little shooter with slick presentation to it's a cynical marketing ploy to separate money from people on the Santa run. So in the interests of getting the review finished and in the realisation that it's not worth the trouble over such an inconsequential game I plumped for the middle ground.
Which, if you cruise to the bottom of the page, means that I think Goldeneye: Rogue agent is a towering achievement in practiced mediocrity. Okay, first things first. This game has nothing to do with the much loved N64 game of similar label. Neither the developers nor the publishers are the same. This time round you play an anti-Bond so the characters aren't even related. And, in a rather shameless attempt to push all the populist Bond buttons, G: RA plays merry havoc with Bond chronology, lining up all the major villains, henchman and babes of the pre-Brosnan era Bond in one continuity challenged smorgasbord. Oh, and you play a villain working for Goldfinger this time round. So if you are a Bond purist or a nostalgic fan of Rare's Goldeneye you should probably walk away now.
Otherwise let me report the information that I have gleaned from my time interrogating G:RA. First impressions are rather good, with a snappily edited intro scene leading up to a quick training mission followed by another flashy Bond-style opening credits. Unfortunately the game begins to betray the lack of concern that has gone into making this a fully finished product. The FMVs throughout the game are inexplicably jerky. And the music is weak commercial dance. The obligatory tutorial is also a mess. For some twisted reason the game's controls and GUI are explained while the player is engaged in a heavy firefight. Even when an instruction screen takes over the bottom half of the telly the combat rolls on regardless. Needless to say this approach does little to help the player become accustomed to the game's mechanics.
So it's fortunate that it's all standard FPS fayre. The GUI does a very good job of representing the direction of enemy fire through a combination of tracer rounds and hit indicators. There's no jump command and ladders are tackled with a tap of the A button and some movement on the right stick. Goldeneye moves around okay but seems to have a minor epileptic seizure each time he needs to aim his weapon. Some tweaking with the control settings improved things a little bit, but unless you opt for the 'practically plays itself' auto-aim option killing the bad guys is made a far harder proposition then it needs to be. The question as to why an FPS of such lineage has been allowed to ship with such crummy aiming can only be answered by the game's pre-Xmas release date.
The game's graphics also strongly hint that the title's development was very rushed. While there's plenty of variety in the locations, from raging volcanic lairs to a chase across the rooftops of Hong Kong, the number of polygons used to render the environments is often less then those pumped out by Nintendo's last generation console when it was running the first Goldeneye. The textures are also frequently bland. On the other hand both the weapon and character models are nicely detailed and well animated. The disparity between the two is depressing yet these problems can be overlooked if you find yourself getting sucked in by the gameplay.
Which is of the very basic run'n'gun'n'push school of design. The enemy AI is blessed with two options; skate back and forth along a single line until you shoot them or run around like a headless chicken until you shoot them. Each level's goal is more or less identical to the last with the player having little to do other than annihilate every baddie on the map and push a few buttons to open the way forward. This would soon become terminally monotonous if it weren't for the inclusion of Rogue Bonuses. These are awarded for inventive kills. The obligatory head shot and grenade kill is in there along with some more interesting methods. Such as the machine kill, which you get for disposing of foes by activating one of the many pieces of equipment that litter the levels. So you can get your evil thrills from offing someone with a blast of steam, by crunching them up in a grinding machine, poisoned by gas or one of a selection of other inventive and amusing methods of despatch. The more Rogue Bonuses you accumulate the more points you are awarded which makes available unlockables such as artwork and MP levels. The multiplayer side of G: RA is quite well fleshed out. There are five different gametypes to sample, a decent smattering of diverse levels and a leaderboard and ranking system. Saying this, I spent just enough time to get a feel for this side of the title and determine that it wasn't a disaster, preferring to spend my time with a proper online shooter like Halo 2 then G: RA's tepid online component.
Goldeneye also gives the player four optical toys to play around with such as X-ray vision and an energy shield. These are a mild distraction and rarely necessary to complete a section of the game. But they do show the developers were at least trying. Yet they were up against their corporate masters who no doubt were clamouring for a Bond 'product' for the 2004 Xmas period. The casual disregard for the heritage of both Bond and the Goldeneye name is yet another depressing instance of the greed of corporate executives squashing any passion out of the projects they oversee. Yet while G: RA may be one of the most cynically exploitative licensed titles (and in a field more exploitative then the fruit picking industry) I have ever seen, it's not a total train wreck of a game. It may be simplistic and repetitive but the high production values and solid game mechanics allow G:RA to be a guilty pleasure for a gamer looking to take a break from AAA quality titles. Like a trashy airport thriller or the existence of Eastenders G: RA fills up that spot for an undemanding escapist diversion. I think many EA games come in for unduly harsh criticism. A criticism I'm beginning to believe stems from a sub-conscious realisation amongst its harshest detractors that even a shit game can be fun to play.
I can't honestly recommend this game if you are a fussy gamer. If, on the other hand, you are able to enjoy a game that doesn't do anything new and often doesn't retread familiar ground with an overabundance of skill either, then G: RA should keep you happy. It's also a fine game for the younger player as it's a simplistic run and gun gameplay requires less of the spatial awareness and mental agility that the more refined games can dishearten youngsters with. If you see it in the bargain bins after Christmas - an eventual destination of many games bought by ignorant relatives this festive season - it may also be worth a few notes.