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)

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