Thursday, April 18, 2013

Game Review: Goldeneye: Rogue Agent

Goldeneye: Rogue Agent
  • Publisher: EA Games 
  • Developer: EA Los Angeles 
  • Release: PlayStation 2 / GameCube / XBox, 22 November 2004 
  • Genre: Action (First-person shooter) 
  • Players: 1-4 
I get the feeling that the world regards Goldeneye 007 (Nintendo 64, 1997) as some sort of sacred cow, and for good reason I might add. But saying that would be a disservice to certain other games to bear the James Bond licence. For example, the EA-published The World Is Not Enough (N64, 2000) and Nightfire (PS2/GCN/XBox, 2002) both build off of Goldeneye's traditions but with welcome tweaks providing a more comfortable single-player experience, plus the same degree of customisation in the multiplayer department, but with AI bots providing a more comfortable single-player experience. So obviously someone was gonna mooch off its success and reputation by simply using the word in a title. Said entity turned out to be then-licence holder EA, who as a slave to the religion of yearly releases put out Goldeneye: Rogue Agent in 2004, and does it capture such magic? Well... if I have to ask, then you know it's gonna be "no". Let's find out just how "no" it takes things.

The first thing you should know about Rogue Agent is that it both is and isn't a James Bond game. 007 himself only shows up as an NPC in the first mission, a training simulation based on the Fort Knox scene from Goldfinger, and he "dies" early on. The player-character, code-named "Goldeneye", is fired from MI-6 for the mishap, only to ally with Auric Goldfinger's enterprises. Together with the likes of Oddjob, Pussy Galore, and Scaramanga, they wage war against Dr. No, all of whom are alive because screw canon. The core concept to take from all this is that you are a bad guy squaring off against other bad guys, and thus have the freedom to kill the non-protagonistic bad guys in all manner of ways which would be too good for Her Majesty's Secret Service.
Consoles like these operate machine traps.
First and foremost, at all times you have the ability to hold two guns at once, and fire each separately with the left and right trigger buttons. Your arsenal includes the standard array of pistols, machine guns, shotguns, and powerful but two-handed rifles and rocket launchers. More exotic fare include a sticky-bomb launcher and a gun which shoots immobilizing toxins. But not all of your killing implements are portable -- numerous machine traps exist in which you flip a switch and enact some sort of crushy, burny, or droppy demise upon your prey. These things are more prevalent in the earlier levels, and require you to corral targets into a specific location. But the game seems to exercise some sort of soft coercion to get you to sample the array of deaths at your disposal; using machine traps, special weapons, or other unique killing methods earns you Rogue Bonus points which potentially unlock content for the multiplayer mode which, sadly, has done away with the AI bots. Man, that sucks for us "forever alone" types...

More prevalent are the abilities bestowed upon you by your player-character's golden gadget eye, hence the title. Starting from the second level on, a new Goldeneye power is unlocked for each mission. First is MRI Vision, which reveals enemies from behind walls. Best used in conjunction with the Mag-Rail gun, which is slow to fire but shoots through walls (oh, that's another type of Rogue Bonus!). In level 3, you get the EM Hack, which disables enemy guns and can turn on machines from afar. In level 4, you get the self-explanatory Polarity Shield, and for level 5, you get the Induction Field, which grabs and throws enemies through pseudo-telekinesis. All four abilities are limited by a power level which recharges automatically. So does your health. Body armour doesn't regenerate, obviously, but it's so frequently dropped by enemies that it might as well. And maybe it's just my playing style, but grenades seem to be more effective in Rogue Agent than in other first-person shooters I have experienced.
MRI Vision reveals enemies behind walls.
Good thing you have all that in your corner, because even by the standards of other James Bond licenced-games, Goldeneye: Rogue Agent is hard. (What I perceived as) the difficulty stems mainly from the fact that enemies, even common mooks, take an unrealistically huge quantity of bullets to bring down, and they don't stagger from hits, either. Must be all that armour, which would explain why they "bleed" blue sparks instead of blood. And while I admit I don't care too much, within reason, about enemy AI in these kinds of games, Rogue Agent is for the most part above-average in this department. They call out comments on your current weapon and position, and run in zig-zag patterns to throw off slower weapons like the aforementioned rail gun, but it's nice of them to not run around your own cover and hit you from behind. Huh, I guess I pay more attention to AI than I thought. Still, as if all that wasn't bad enough, your maximum ammo is limited, and somehow it's hard to consistently pick up new ammo dropped by enemies. Like, we're talking as few as two spare magazines in addition to what's in your gun(s) at the moment.

But the point which clinches it for me is how long the levels are. There are only eight levels in all, but barring the first two, they can take upwards of an hour to complete. Compare that with, say the 1997 Goldeneye, which had 20 levels which generally lasted no longer than ten minutes apiece. Call it my bias, but a format like that invites me to go back to the game again and again and replay the missions just for fun. With Rogue Agent, on the other hand, each level is a endurance test, something I dread going back to. And it's that one little point which relegates Goldeneye: Rogue Agent to the status of merely "good" as opposed to "great"; which keeps it from being worthy of standing next to its Nintendo 64 namesake. Or Nightfire.

+ Fairly well-executed dual-wespon combat.
+ The weapon combinations and Goldeneye powers give you lots of ways to play.
+ The enemy AI and dialogue adapt to the current situation.
+ Awesome soundtrack by Paul Oakenfold.

- The levels are too few and too long.
- Difficult in a number of unfair ways.

Control: 4 deathtraps out of 5
Design: 3 deathtraps out of 5
Graphics: 3 deathtraps out of 5
Audio: 5 deathtraps out of 5
Value: 2 deathtraps out of 5
The Call: 65% (C)

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Game Review: The Raiden Project

The Raiden Project

  • Publisher: Sony
  • Developer: Seibu Keihatsu
  • Release: PlayStation, 9 September 1995
  • Genre: 2D Action (Shoot-em-up)
  • Players: 1-2
  • Save: Memory Card, 1 Block
  • Rarity/Cost: Moderate / US$15-25

Say, have you guys heard about that new video game Metal Gear Rising: Revengance? I've heard a number of conflicting opinions on this title, but nearly everyone's been praising its innovations in the area of sword combat. This review... is not about that. But its protagonist shares his name with Raiden, the lightning-powered monk from the Mortal Kombat franchise. This review... is not about Mortal Kombat either. But I am leading up to a series of shoot-em-ups called Raiden and boy was that a convoluted intro.

So anyway, the Raiden I'm talking about began with an eponymous arcade game, launched in 1990 by the little-known development team Seibu Keihatsu. It was followed up in 1993 by Raiden II, and it was those two games that were featured on a compilation called The Raiden Project, itself one of the first titles released for the Sony PlayStation in 1995. Neither game has much in the way of plot; both star two fighter jets facing off against a random army of... wait for it...
A new use for this meme! ^_^
Ah, aliens. The perfect antagonist for an excuse plot. Of course, the games themselves don't dwell on such elements; in practice, you'll face an assortment helicopters, tanks, planes, turrets, and more creative fare on your drive to save the world. The "plot" is more or less the same between Raiden and Raiden II. In fact, the settings and bosses of both games are suspiciously alike. I would even go so far to accuse Raiden II of being a thinly-disguised remake of the original. For example, Stage 1 has a pair of bosses with the same attack patterns, Stage 2 ends with a huge plane that spawns more tiny planes, Stage 3 takes place over a shipyard, and the last three stages take place in outer space. I'd have broken out the Portal 2 "spaaace" meme, but it's really hard to hide pictures under my spoiler tags.
Certain enemy types yield power-ups. (Raiden shown.)
In both games, certain types of enemies award weapon upgrades when they get blown up. Both games have two weapon types: a machine gun (corresponds to red items) and a laser (blue). The machine gun spreads out to the sides in upgraded forms, while the laser has a much narrower spread. It supposedly does more damage, but I haven't had as much use for it. Maybe it's just my playing style, whatever. Getting an item of the same type upgrades your weapon, while getting a different type changes your weapon without leveling it up. Raiden wasn't the first shoot-em-up to utilise this power-up format -- Blazing Lazers for the TurboGrafx-16 predates it by a year -- but I've never been a big fan of it. If you keep switching weapons, you'll never get the chance to upgrade any of 'em. Not to mention, you lose all of your upgrades when you die, and since dying only requires one hit, you're gonna die. A lot. Which means you'll revert back to the level-1 machine gun. A lot.

Raiden II adds a new weapon type, a lightning whip (violet) which homes in on targets and can even connect to multiple targets at once. It rocks against regular enemies, so much so that it feels like a game-breaker, but it's not that strong, so it'll take longer to bring down bosses with it. On the other hand, the other two weapon types fire faster as you move closer to your target (it's one of those shooters, where there's a limit on the number of bullets it can show on screen), so more shots equals more damage. In addition, you can find missiles (yellow) and homing missiles (green), which automatically fire with your main weapon, and bombs which are triggered separately. Unlike bullets, bombs can also block enemy shots, so use them strategically. Raiden II also adds cluster bombs to your arsenal, but in practice they work the same as the regular kind.

The lightning weapon in action. (Raiden II shown.)
Apart from the weapon selections, there are few other differences between Raiden and Raiden II, but what changes there are define the two. Both eschew fancy 3D effects (apart from the main menu background) in favour of just really good 2D graphics. No matter how many enemies the game throws at you, there's no slowdown, hardier enemies catch fire as they take damage, and downed aircraft leave smoldering craters in the ground. And of course, the soundtracks are motherfalcon awesome, although the sound quality is sadly a bit muddy in The Raiden Project. Both games do give the option of remixed soundtracks, but the new instrumentation loses the rock edge of the original and just doesn't do it for me. Apart from the new weapons, in Raiden II you can restart right from where you left off after using a continue, whereas in the first game your respawning is tied to a checkpoint system. I found this to be a lifesaver -- or at least a temper-saver -- because without it, you'll potentially keep on repeating passages or bosses, starting out with the level-1 machine gun every time. On the other hand, Raiden offers extra lives as point bonuses, so pick your poison, I guess.

Both Raiden games are good enough on their own, but together as part of The Raiden Project, they become something more. The controls can be freely mapped among the face buttons, L1, and R1 buttons, including an auto-fire function, which I for one will go out to say is a life-saver -- or at least a finger-saver -- and given that, the only complaint I have about the controls is that since this game pre-dates the DualShock controller, you can't use the analog sticks, and must thus rely on light taps of the directonal buttons for precise maneuvering. But far be it from me to dock a game based on technology that wasn't around at the time! You can also set the difficulty and credit limit, which tops out at nine continues. Between that limitation and the overall difficulty, I still have yet to actually finish either game even on the easiest settings. But fortunately... there is an infinite continues cheat! You want it? It's yours, my friend: Go to the Credit Limit setting in options, and press X, Circle, Square, and Triangle together Keep trying until the setting reads "Free Play". Okay, that just bumped up the rating a notch. ^_^

In all seriousness, having two well-polished shoot-em-ups for one purchase price is a fantastic deal, and one no flight-shooter fanatic should be without. Would I recommend it for everyone else? ...Maybe not; because of the difficulty associated with this particular genre, it's more of an acquired taste for the 99% of gamers who don't find the fun in navigating intricate bullet patterns. But what better way to acquire that taste than to give The Raiden Project a spin?

+ Two fine games in one package.
+ Polished 2D graphics with a few neat effects.
+ Extras such as alternate music and auto-fire buttons.

- Losing all your power-ups whe you get hit.
- Not all the changes from one game are applied to the other.

Control: 5 aliens out of 5
Design: 4 aliens out of 5
Graphics: 4 aliens out of 5
Audio: 4 aliens out of 5
The Call: 90% (A-)