GoldenEye: Rogue Agent (2004) - MI6 Review

Ever since EA took on the licence to create James Bond games five years ago, every one of their titles has inevitably been compared to the Nintendo classic "GoldenEye 64" released back in 1997. The shadow cast by that game, still judged by many as one of the best of all time, still appears to darken the creativity of EA. Past attempts at a first person shooter (FPS) game, "Agent Under Fire" and "NightFire", although competent, fell short of the "GoldenEye" benchmark. So maybe "GoldenEye: Rogue Agent" a case of `if you can't beat them, join them`.

It's All In A Name
In development at EA's Los Angeles studios since early 2003, this game was originally titled "Dr. No vs Goldfinger" and was based on the principal of villains battling it out for control of the criminal underworld. Sound familiar? It should because that is still the premise for "Rogue Agent".

Depending on which side of the "chicken and egg" debate you sit on, either the name was given first and the reasons for its use had to be conceived, or the central gadget to the game was created and sparked the concept of using the name. Either way, the branding came under attack in the gaming press, many citing it as a cynical marketing ploy. To further confuse the situation, the game was even dubbed "GoldenEye 2" in its initial press release, so perhaps a comparison to the original N64 game is more than fair.

In an attempt to justify the use of the legacy, the main character is dubbed Goldeneye (courtesy of Pussy Galore), after he receives a "golden eye" augmentation.

You need to suspend your knowledge of the Bond series and have an open mind to the idea of resurrecting past villains to be able to swallow the time-shifted plot.

These are the two areas where "Rogue Agent" will come in for most criticism: the use of the "GoldenEye" brand to help raise the profile of another FPS shooter based loosely in the Bond universe, and the concept of merging past villains from the series into a futuristic setting.


Shortly after the time of the game's announcement, EA explained that this title was an attempt to use the Bond licence in a creative way. Unfortunately for EA, someone else had the same idea. "Evil Genius" by Vivendi really stole the march on "Rogue Agent" this year with a spoof Bond game in which you play a Evil Genius who is trying to take over the world. Released to rave reviews, "Evil Genius" is a good example of how the 007 licence could have been used creatively, especially by a company who owns "The Sims".

Above: Concept artwork for the Auric Enterprises and Midas Casino locations

Different Expectations
If you are interested in "Rogue Agent" you will belong (predominantly) to one of three categories: GoldenEye N64 fans, James Bond game fans, or FPS genre fans. Will these groups be satisfied? Perhaps...


The N64 Legend
There is bad news for any fan of the original GoldenEye N64 game that is expecting a sequel. "Rogue Agent" is not a follow up to the 1997 game. In fact, besides the name of the game and the run-and-gun style FPS action, there is very little to link the two. "Rogue Agent" is an original storyline with no connections to the N64 game or the movie of the same name, and aside from Xenia Onatopp character and the Uplink multiplayer map, it bears little resemblance. Perhaps this is a good thing though, as "GoldenEye 64" is so steeped with nostalgia, recollections of its quality have almost become urban legend. The "GoldenEye" prefix on this latest game is really a misnomer.

Bond's World
Similarly, fans of James Bond games will be left feeling a little empty, because as the title may suggest, James Bond is nowhere to be seen after his brief cameo in the opening mission.

Despite having the rights to 42 years of cinematic Bond-lore, and basing the game in 007's universe, you may come away wondering why it feels so foreign to everything you have previously experienced. Aside from some familiar voices and half a dozen characters, there is little to tie this game into the Bond universe, however the wit, charm and style of 007's world everyone expects can be found in small portions.

The highlights from the use of the Bond licence include the locations, which are the main stars of this game. Fort Knox and Crab Key are the headliners, with Atlantis, Scaramanga's Funhouse and Uplink as some of the best.

Fans of the FPS genre will also be left wanting more from this title. "Rogue Agent", although containing some unique ideas to the format with the goldeneye gadget and deathtraps, still plays like an average FPS game. What will dent this game's impact on the FPS audience is the competition, with "Halo 2", "Half Life 2" and "Killzone" all released around the same time. On the positive side, the run-and-gun action and arcade feel to the gameplay may make a refreshing change to the serious and realistic competition, but the lack of stealth and strategy in "Rogue Agent" doesn't give the gamer much room for manoeuvre in playing style.

Mission: Impossible
EA have been brave at attempting to satisfy each of these potential audiences with "Rogue Agent", but have narrowly missed the mark. What you are left with is an average FPS game with loose connections to the Bond universe, a weak story and a monotonous single player mode. However, on the upside, the excellent multiplayer features and potential longevity may cast the negatives into insignificance.
  " are in for some good old fashioned run-and-gun, no holds barred high octane multiplayer couch fests this holiday season..."

The reasons for these high and low points become clear when you take into account that "Rogue Agent" was designed as a multiplayer game with a game engine tuned to the multiplayer experience. The single player campaign and `Bond universe` storyline were additions, so they can be forgiven. "Rogue Agent" is the first Bond-licence game by EA to focus heavily on the multiplayer aspects with equal, if not higher, priority than the single player experience. After years of their multiplayer modes coming under fire, EA should be applauded for this shift in focus, and for what is achieved in the multiplayer game.

Above: Single player action from Operation Grandslam

Novel Creations
It is worth looking at four of the novel additions EA have brought to the tired FPS genre with "Rogue Agent" in detail, as they can set the gameplay apart from the vast array of other shooters on offer.

Golden Eye - The Golden Eye is the most original idea in the game. Given to you by Scaramanga after you lose an eye to Dr. No, this gold tinted vision device gives you special powers and is upgraded throughout the game. MRI Vision gives you the ability to see through objects and identify where opponents are lurking, the Magnetic Polarity Shield protects you from taking damage, the EM Hack allows you control devices remotely, and the Magnetic Induction Field gives you the ability to pick up and throw enemies around. The status of these four powers are displayed in a visually pleasing heads-up-display circling the outer edge of the screen, keeping the vital stats in your peripheral vision and not getting in the way of the action. Thankfully the powers are not constantly available, and the recharge period has been set perfectly so their use does not become repetitive. The Magnetic Induction Field is limited to use on human opponents, but the ability to push and pull objects with the would have provided additional opportunity for strategy.

Death Traps - Another great idea, and very much in the style of Bond villains, are the many death traps scattered thought the game's locations. These devious devices deliver death by falling trap doors, releasing poisonous gas, igniting rocket engines, venting steam from a nuclear reactor, and many more. Aside from the trap doors, many of the death traps are unique to certain locations and are key to how the maps play out.

E.V.I.L. - Lots of hype was made of the new "E.V.I.L." AI used in the game during pre-release. Since the AI is now "organic", the game does not rely on scripted events to trigger opponents in to action. This means that next time you round the same corner, the opponent you saw last time might not be there - he might be teaming up with another foe, creeping up on you from behind, or having a quiet cup of tea in the lair staff room. Well perhaps not the last one, but the variety is impressive to begin with. However, over multiple plays, it is possible to pre-empt what the AI is going to do to some extent. One of the new "organic" features is that opponents may become intimidated by your especially evil behaviour, and take one of their own side as a human shield. Whilst this behaviour may at first seem a neat idea, it does pose one logical problem - you can now take out two opponents for the price of one. It's a nice idea on paper, but it doesn't really work in the game.

Dual Wielding - The original GoldenEye game had a feature of double weapons (without a cheat you were restricted to two weapons of the same type), but "Rogue Agent" has ushered in the possibility of weapons mix and match. You can use any combination of single handed weapons, giving you hundreds of possible setups. This is the area in which strategy, hard to come by with the run-and-gun nature of the game, comes in to play. Deciding which weapons compliment each other well for your present situation will have you coming back for more.

"You expect me to do what, Mr Goldfinger?"
The single player campaign is where most players without internet connections, or friends, will spend a fair amount of time.

EA estimate that the 8 long missions for the single player campaign will take an average gamer around 20 hours to complete, and this is hard to argue with. The difficulty level does graduate on a fairly smooth curve, but this is often achieved by increasing the enemy shields and strengths rather than providing difficult situations for the player.

Many of the later missions use over a dozen different maps and will take a couple hours to complete, which makes a refreshing change to the countless small missions used in EA's last Bond title "Everything or Nothing", but some of the missions do feel too long and a few of the maps are over expansive and repetitive. Most of the missions end with some sort of "boss" battle, but as with other elements of the game, these too can seem lacking in variety.

Each mission consists of multiple objectives, and this is another aspect of the single player campaign that feels under-developed, as the vast majority of the objectives are the same - "get from A to B".

Possibly due to the nature of the objectives, and the often confusing layouts to the maps, you are provided with a small on-screen arrow indicating the general direction in which you should by heading. Game play can also become repetitive due to the lack of stealth or strategy required to achieve the objectives.


The unlocks system, which has worked well on previous Bond games, is in place again, although there are no "cheat" modes to activate. Unlocks like "DK Mode" and "Paintball Mode" gave the original "GoldenEye" fantastic longevity, and although the extra multiplayer skins and maps earned by skillful play might appease some, the lack of unlockable gaming functions seems an obvious mistake. Unlocks are earned by a complex scoring system which makes use of "Rogue Bonuses" which are earned in a variety of different evil ways. Replay value of the single player missions is likely to come through the Rogue Bonus system, as there are many ways to achieve different awards.

Without spoiling the plot (almost all Bond fans will be unimpressed by the cut scenes), your "golden eye" powers increase as the game progresses and you take on Dr. No's forces on behalf of Goldfinger and his sidekick Oddjob. Blofeld is also back in all but name. Due to the legal conflicts in the past, he is now known simply as "Number 1". SPECTRE is also referenced with a familiar looking logo, but has been rebranded to avoid any calls from Kevin McClory. Pussy Galore makes a welcome return as an ally to Goldeneye, and she is the only character lucky enough to be kitted out with new clothes - the rest of the cast appear in their traditional cinematic costumes. On Dr. No's side is the alluring Xenia Onatopp, but she is quickly dispatched mid-way through the game. Francisco Scaramanga has a cameo role as the villain's equivalent to Q, providing the Golden Eye and other devices to the evil doers. The choice of characters used in this title is quite well restrained, although the experience could have been improved by seeing these familiar faces more often.

The plot twist comes after the penultimate mission and should have set up a great climatic ending as you ascend the ranks, but instead provides disappointment as the final confrontations take place in cut scenes rather than one-on-one battles. You can't help but feel you've been cheated after all that effort.

Above: Multiplayer action from the Bathhouse and Golden Gate Bridge maps

Evil In Numbers
Multiplayer is what "Rogue Agent" is all about. The game was designed to be a great multiplayer experience, and this is the best feature of the title. There are five modes of multiplayer, offering good variety and some innovation on the regular ideas.
  " could almost justify this game as a multiplayer only title - the deathmatches really are that good..."

"Showdown" and "Team Showdown" are the standard one-on-one and team-on-team deathmatches respectively. "Domination" gives both sides a points total and the aim is to reduce the other team's score to zero by placing yourself at risk on special pads on the map. "Countdown" is similar idea, where teams have to protect one of their players who has to stand on a deathtrap and get their clock to zero before their opponents. "Tug-O-War" is the real innovation where two teams have to battle over switches to advance the movement of a bomb into their goal zone. There are only two maps for "Tug-O-War" mode, but the gameplay is so good you won't mind playing the same map over and over again.

Multiplayer maps are where "Rogue Agent" really wins. With 25 maps in total, you won't be stuck for finding some favourites, and all of them offer a unique aspect that will have you try them out in different modes. Death traps are the main feature of many of the maps and provide some stellar moments in battle.

The combination of maps, gameplay modes and death traps is sure to deliver longevity to "Rogue Agent", much in the way the original "GoldenEye" survives today - 7 years on from its original release. Aside from Goldeneye, Xenia, Oddjob and Dr. No, the other dozen skins available in multiplayer modes are of no-name goons from the single player campaign. It seems ridiculous to have a fabulous Funhouse multiplayer map but no Scaramanga skin to play it with. The premise of creating classic battles between villains seems flawed when there are only three from the film series to choose from. Also missing from the game is the "co-op" mode which had been quoted earlier in the year.

Multiplayer is where "Rogue Agent" shines. If the lack of skins wasn't an issue, you could almost justify this game as a multiplayer only title - the deathmatches really are that good. Whether die-hard N64 couch clans will be converted remains to be seen, but the inclusion of online play for the PS2 and Xbox platforms opens up a new audience to joys of deathmatch.

Above: Multiplayer action from the Moonraker Fuel and Uplink maps

Hands On
Controlling "Rogue Agent" will take a little getting used to, especially the advanced mode, but learning to move and look around the environment like second nature is essential to success in the multiplayer modes and later campaign missions. Alternative default control layouts are provided for those players who like something a little different. Like the original "GoldenEye", there is no jump feature, which even today is not an uncommon omission to an FPS game.

The only real bone of contention is a lack of strafe buttons. Instead of simply hitting the equivalent of L and R to move sideways, you must use a combination of move and look sticks to achieve the effect. Players who master this technique are bound to reign supreme in multiplayer battles.

Weapons on the whole are well rounded and the combinations of dual wielding, whilst tricky at first, does become an automatic process as you gain experience. There are however a few eccentricities with the guns. For example, the Predator MG seems better suited at shooting down helicopters with a few rounds than emptying a clip into flesh and blood.


Good To See You, Mr...
The visuals of "Rogue Agent" are average. Level design, textures, and effects are slightly weaker than you would usually expect from EA. The overall feeling of the environment is rather flat, and this is perhaps in some way due to the time restraints which caused EA to draft in texture artists from TKO Software. The collaboration, although essential to having the game meet its release date, seems to have impacted the quality you would usually associate with an EA title. This is not to say the game is lacking though, as due to the sheer size of the locations, there are plenty of nice touches to be found throughout.

Legendary production designer Sir Ken Adam was brought in assist "Rogue Agent" development, but his involvement was only at a conceptual level. Maps in the game were still designed by level designers, as you would expect, so there are fewer jaw-dropping moments throughout the eight locations than first thought.

As mentioned earlier, the locations of the game do stand out and, at times, give a great feeling that you are deep within the Bond universe. But often that feeling is whisked away by overlong maps. The expansive maps do give a lot of ground to cover, but size isn't everything.

The only let down of real note are the character models. The lack of time on development clearly shows in the low detail, repetitive and uninspired ranks of goons you will face.

On the plus side, the addition of heat and smoke effects adds an extra sheen to the overall presentation. Smooth frame rate seems to have been the top priority when deciding where the line between looks and playability should lie.

Blue. Sparks. Two words which are bound to be muttered by a few gamers when they start unleashing rounds on opponents. The Bond franchise has a history of "no blood" hits, and "Rogue Agent" is no exception. Despite the Teen rating, there is no blood in the game. Instead, blood has been replaced by blue sparks that fly off opponents whenever they are hit. The story explains this with the concept that the goons use high-tech shielding developed by Dr. No. This concept falls apart when you make a head shot where, clearly, no armour exists. EA should have perhaps opted for dust or particle hits instead.

"Like listening to the Beatles without ear-muffs"
An interesting decision was made in the style of music to accompany "Rogue Agent". DJ Paul Oakenfold was brought in to develop the game score, which in a change to the usual cinematic approach, was instead based around the dynamic nature of gameplay. The score mixes well when the action and pace of the game changes, as opposed to the old school approach which "Everything or Nothing" used. The downside to the score is that, despite pumping out some adrenaline boosting beats, doesn't sound like a score that belongs in Bond's universe.

Spot effects and weapon sounds are unremarkable, even the futuristic weapons which give scope for some creativity. The voice over work is an improvement from the lacklustre performances in "Everything or Nothing", although sometimes the delivery may edge a little towards the other end of the scale and can come across as over excited.

Christopher Lee reprises his role as Francisco Scaramanga, and Dame Judi Dench returns as M, but that is where the famous names end. The rest of the characters have been voiced by sound-a-likes rather than the (potentially controversial) option of recasting characters with modern day Hollywood talent which EA have become forerunners in.

Followers of the development of "GoldenEye: Rogue Agent" will undoubtedly be left feeling slightly disappointed, as it does not deliver on its promises for a smattering of small reasons.


Although it was a great achievement to release "Rogue Agent" on time considering the set backs in development, it might have been advantageous to delay the game by a few months, as with "Everything or Nothing", to deliver some extra polish, address some of the missing features and avoid obvious comparisons to the flood of strong FPS titles all hitting the market at the same time.

Trading in on the GoldenEye name instantly set the bar too high for "Rogue Agent", whether or not the gadget or title came first, is of little issue. The story had potential, but has failed to live up to the hype, and with little to do with James Bond, this game feels weak and uninspiring - ultimately missing the mark.

But if you can suspend your disbelief at the storyline, and are not expecting either:
a) a GoldenEye 64 follow up
b) a title respectful to the James Bond lineage
c) a serious FPS game
...then you are in for some good old fashioned run-and-gun, no holds barred high octane multiplayer couch fests this holiday season.

Pros   Cons
Fast high-octane run and gun action   Lack of stealth or strategy in campaign
Great multiplayer maps and modes   Gun battles can become repetitive
The Golden Eye   Poor multiplayer skins
Online play   Some nondescript single player maps
Dual wielding weapons   No cheat modes to unlock
Rogue Bonuses reward bad behaviour   "Rushed" feel to entire package
MRI Vision and rail gun combo   Blue sparks

Single Player Campaign
Overall MI6 Rating

"GoldenEye: Rogue Agent" pack shot, images, screenshots and concept art copyright EA Games.