GoldenEye: Rogue Agent

12/06/04

GoldenEye. The name brings memories of late nights on the N64, an image of the split screen burned into gamers’ retinas. Easily the best console first-person shooter of its time, GoldenEye was one of two reasons to own an N64. With the game held in such high regard, EA’s announcement of a sequel answered many gamers’ prayers, and raised several suspicious eyebrows, at E3 2004.

For the first time in a James Bond game, GoldenEye: Rogue Agent would let players assume the role of a villain. This was a dramatic change for EA’s Bond franchise, but along with the twist, EA promised a bevy of gameplay tweaks to go along with the thematic change. Yet somewhere between May and November, the game lost its E3 swagger, proving those suspicious eyebrows correct. Rogue Agent isn’t on par with its predecessor, but even worse, it fails to live up to most other shooters available today.

It seems like modern games are unfashionable unless they implement dual-wielding, and Rogue Agent is definitely a modern shooter. Armed initially with a pistol that has unlimited ammo, players can pick up and dual-wield any weapon in the game. This eliminates the ability to use grenades, but like Halo 2, it results in some serious firepower. Heavier weapons such as the rocket launcher and assault rifle must be wielded alone, but for some reason players can hold two shotguns at once. Obviously firepower in Rogue Agent rules supreme.

Using cover is also important, though, as Rogue Agent’s enemies are as judicious with ammo as the game’s protagonist. With that in mind, weaving from crate to crate and pillar to pillar is par for the course, with exploding barrels causing unpleasant surprises if GoldenEye, or an enemy, chooses one for cover. Should that cover diminish, players are left to rely on a replenishable shield and a rechargeable health bar. Yes, a rechargeable health bar.

Inexplicably, our fully human protagonist has the ability to regain health. I’ve had my fair share of gaming moments where a Bond enemy seemed unable to die, so maybe this magical ability is to be expected. Still, it detracts from the tension of making it through a mission scar-free.

Likewise, while the protagonist’s golden eye provides some cool abilities (seeing through walls, disabling weapons, hacking computers, repelling bullets and using a sort of “Force push”), its power recharges a bit too quickly. It would have been nice to see Rogue Agent incorporate a bit more strategy when it comes to using these special abilities, but there are few consequences for exploiting GoldenEye’s advantage.

If the game lived up to its villainous E3 promises, it’d be easy to chalk up those advantages to simply being an exploitative evildoer. But Rogue Agent feels no different than any of EA’s previous Bond games. The shooter takes place in a villainous civil war, so players still find themselves battling villains, and aside from the ability to use human shields, Rogue Agent feels like any other Bond game, minus the famous face, classic soundtrack and respectable story.

If the repetitive levels at the end of Halo raised gamers’ ire, EA committing the same game-lengthening sin in Rogue Agent is sure to do it once more. Each level is incredibly repetitive, rendering the game boring in more than one location. If this were an occasional occurrence, or one that happened only at the end, it’d be easier to forgive. But by the end of just the third mission, you’ll wish you never see another zip line for the rest of your gaming life.

In its E3 game announcement, EA touted the incredible AI in Rogue Agent, going so far as to offer free T-shirts to anyone who could beat the first level on the highest difficulty. Indeed, the game was tough, but between May and November the enemies lost their intelligence and gained some toughness. Each enemy has bulletproof armor, some more than others, but under no circumstances can I understand how one enemy can take three hits from a shotgun at point-blank range. Nor can I understand how enemies can use cover and dodge so intelligently, yet turn around in their very next move to look at GoldenEye blankly while he reloads his gun. Rogue Agent can be hard, but it’s more due to enemies’ ability to absorb ammo like a sponge than it is to their intelligence.

Graphically, Rogue Agent gets the job done, but the levels are as repetitive in design as they are in gameplay, and there seem to be only a few core character models cloned as copiously as a George Lucas army. The sound is equally passable, and while the game is THX certified, its generic music and almost nonexistent environmental effects don’t benefit from the technology.

The PS2 and Xbox versions of Rogue Agent include online multiplayer for up to eight, with five gameplay modes in total. The “Showdown” and “Team Showdown” modes support upwards of 20 maps, an impressive number that would add to the game’s online replayability -- if more than half of those didn’t need to be unlocked in the campaign. There’s also a split-screen mode, which, ironically, is the only way to play multiplayer on Nintendo’s system. Talk about déjà vu.

GoldenEye: Rogue Agent was bound to meet some resistance, and trying to fill the shoes of a classic is never an enviable position. But nostalgia aside, Rogue Agent still faces an uphill battle. When it was first announced, the game was among my most anticipated titles of 2004. The AI, the early graphics, the gameplay potential ... it was all there. The problem is, that’s all it was: potential. Rogue Agent seems to have the right ingredients, but they never quite gel into the experience EA promised from this new take on Bond. Instead, the game feels rushed in everything but its pace, and in a holiday season bursting with good shooters, that’s a mistake the development team couldn’t afford to make.

Gameplay: 7.5
Nice GoldenEye powers and use of the environment, but the repetition kills it.
Graphics: 8
Repetitive but good character models and environments. Sensing a theme yet?
Sound: 7
The soundtrack could use some serious help, and the sound effects are so-so at best.
Replay: 8
Online multiplayer for Xbox and PS2, but the chances of playing this one over other games online are slim.
Overall: 7.5
A disappointingly repetitive and average ride at a time when above-average is a necessity.

-- Jonas Allen

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