By Jake Arant
You’ll still run into people today who sing the praises of GoldenEye 007 for the Nintendo 64. Released in 1997, and developed by Rare during their unstoppable freight train run of critically acclaimed games, GoldenEye 007 was a first-person shooter based on the James Bond film starring Pierce Brosnan. Soon after it was released, GoldenEye 007 became very popular for its multiplayer action and dual-wielding combat, eventually selling eight million copies.
Though it’s still spoken of fondly, I don’t find GoldenEye to have aged very well at all. The name is still a huge draw in the gaming community, and both Electronic Arts and Activision have made attempts at reviving it during their tenure as developers. Though Activision’s recent Call of Duty-esque remake was generally well received, Electronic Arts’ effort in 2004’s GoldenEye: Rogue Agent was far more interesting.
A few days ago I ran over to my local game/record/movie/comic store and picked up a PS2 copy of GoldenEye: Rogue Agent. It cost me eight dollars and I had to take it back twice because it wouldn’t work, so I was hoping against hope that this game was going to be good, even though I’d read plenty of negative reviews, and it’s now eleven years old. Sometimes things look better in retrospect, after all.
For those who don’t know, GoldenEye: Rogue Agent is EA’s second to last stab at the James Bond franchise, serving as both a follow-up to the critically acclaimed James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing and a tribute (cash-in) to Rare’s GoldenEye 007 for N64.
Rogue Agent is set in an alternate take on the Bond Universe where classic villains like Auric Goldfinger and Dr. No exist in the Pierce Brosnan era film-verse, and follows a former 00 Agent who decides to go work for the bad guys.
It begins with GoldenEye (the player’s agent) and Bond attempting to stop Goldfinger from detonating a bomb inside Fort Knox. Within the first five minutes, Bond is crushed by a falling helicopter before the player’s eyes, leaving the protagonist to singlehandedly decimate Goldfinger’s army with various underhanded and merciless techniques. After a quick appearance from Oddjob’s signature murder hat, the bomb detonates and everyone dies.
But wait, it was just a simulation. James Bond is fine and Fort Knox didn’t explode. M (ACTUALLY VOICED BY DAME JUDI DENCH!) informs GoldenEye that his methods are too brutal, and that he was directly responsible for the “death” of 007, which anyone playing the game knows is a lie. Due to the outcome of this simulation, GoldenEye gets kicked out of MI6, and goes to work for Goldfinger, ostensibly because he’s a real whiny baby.
You may have noticed the word “gold” getting thrown around a metric shitload here, and the good news is that it doesn’t stop, and in fact only gets more confusing! Speaking of which, the name “GoldenEye” is about the only connection this game has to the film of the same name. Outside of a brief appearance from Xenia Onatopp (she tries to kill you with her thighs and then you blow her off the Hoover Dam!) no plot elements/characters from the film are involved. It feels like a pretty blatant nostalgia cash-in.
The protagonist is called “GoldenEye” because Dr. No shot his eye out prior to the events of the game, and Goldfinger has his technician Francisco Scaramanga (Christopher GODDAMN Lee, reprising his role from 1974s The Man with the Golden Gun) replace it with a GOLDEN EYE that has some gadgety superpowers. You can use it to see through walls and hack stuff, and eventually telekinetically grab guys and throw them at other guys. Just like in GoldenEye!
These powers are supposed to be used in conjunction with the dual-wielding gunplay (returning from Goldeneye 007), but I really didn’t find them all that useful. In fact, the gameplay is all around unremarkable. I wouldn’t have minded that a whole lot if the game’s story and atmosphere weren’t such a letdown compared to the admittedly unique premise.
There’s very little story to speak of, seeing as how GoldenEye is a silent protagonist at the beck and call of Goldfinger, whose main character trait is “I REALLY HATE DR. NO.” You largely wander from place to place, completing unclear objectives and killing mooks. The weapon selection is pretty limited, although the designs of a couple of the guns (namely the primary pistol and the shotgun) are pretty damn cool.
The levels are almost all unremarkable, save for a jaunt into SPECTRE’s undersea auction house, where all the bad guys go to shop. You rampage through, guns-a-blazin’, as the soothing-voiced PA reminds you of the bonkers credit line Goldfinger carries.
Beyond that, Oddjob and Pussy Galore make appearances, long enough to do basically jack and shit beyond screaming “REMEMBER THAT MOVIE!” Bringing these characters back is a really neat idea, but shoehorning Connery- and Moore-era characters into the 2000s robs them of a lot of their vibe, and also makes them look like absolute dorks. If I saw Goldfinger in public I’d throw a bottle of Mountain Dew at him and steal his lunch money.
007 himself is barely in the game, basically popping up long enough to let you know that, yes, this is a James Bond game. It would have at least been nice to have him show up now and again to inject a little more personality into the proceedings. As it stands, the game’s attempt to meld so many different eras of Bond into one comes off as a style mishmash lacking any real personality. Had it tried to pull itself in fewer directions, I feel like it could have been a much slicker piece of work and warranted the sequel that it set up.
It seems to me that Rogue Agent tried to straddle the single player and multiplayer gap much in the way that the N64 title had, offering a multiplayer deathmatch mode that had several levels based on classic Bond films. The levels themselves are actually sort of neat, one of the highlights being Scaramanga’s funhouse from The Man With The Golden Gun. Unfortunately, the clunky controls and limited selection don’t do much to bolster it, especially when you consider that Halo had been out for about three years by the time of Rogue Agent’s release.
Rogue Agent wanted to emulate the gameplay and feel of the original GoldenEye, a game that, at one point in time, had captivated millions of people. But, as many have likely come to realize, the original GoldenEye has not aged well in almost any respect. It’s clunky, bizarre, and more of a collection of setpieces from the film on which it’s based than any kind of adaptation. For 1997, that’s to be expected, and not a knock against what it achieved in any way. But Rogue Agent came to fruition a whole seven years later, and it brought very little new to the table beyond an intriguing premise. Though the gameplay was slicker and more modern than the game that inspired it, it was still lacking in cohesiveness and offered very little variety. In my mind, it’s not so much that Rogue Agent failed to capture the original GoldenEye 007, it’s more likely that it captured the wrong parts of it too faithfully, which is, in this case, just as disappointing.
You can find Jake Arant @AxlCalrissian on Twitter.