GoldenEye: Rogue Agent

“Why Save the World When You Can Rule It…”

“Auf wiedersehen, GoldenEye.”
(North American PS2 box art)

The James Bond film franchise might just be the very definition of the term “problematic fave.” On the one hand; it’s impossible to overlook the rampant sexism, racism, and glorification of aggressive masculinity all on display in what are considered the classic entries of the series. On the other hand… well, there’s just something about them, isn’t there? They manage to present action movie shlock as polished art, and pass off some of the most objectively goofy of plots and premises as espionage intrigue. And so, it’s with some hesitation that I have to admit to being a fan of the film series, and to having watched [and re-watched] every last one of its currently twenty-four entries.

But there’s more to the 007 brand than just the movies. For one, there’s the matter of the original novels that inspired the films in the first place, if written word is your cup of tea. Somehow though, I doubt you’ve come to this article for one of my book reviews. Yes, we’re obviously here to discuss the matter of James Bond video games, which have taken on something like a life of their own outside of the respective film series. Why, with software starring the world-famous spy starting to appear as early as 1982, you could argue that the history of the Bond games franchise is nearly as long and storied as that of the movie franchise! (For something like a look at pre-GoldenEye Bond games, might I recommend B.J. Brown’s article on James Bond 007 The Duel?) And of course – as is the case with any franchise as long-running as that – there are bound to be a few duds and misfires along the way.

Today we set our sights on 2004’s GoldenEye: Rogue Agent: A title which dared to invoke the sacred name of the game franchise’s most cherished entry. Naturally, we’ll have to at least briefly discuss that particular bit of inspiration and what made it so special to begin with, as well as the range of releases that came in-between. Once we get all that sorted, we’ll be get into the messy business of dissecting what might well be the most reviled release in the 30-plus year history of the 007 video game series, and where exactly it went wrong. Do you reckon that’s enough material for one article? Well, sod that: I say the world is not enough for the Bad Game Hall of Fame, so we’ll also cover Rogue Agent’s handheld conversion too, and a bizarre bit of game franchise-crossover that came with that. As an on-screen comedy duo once quipped; “They always said the pen was mightier than the sword.” “Thanks to me, they were right.”

Or twenty-five, if you wanna count Never Say Never Again. Hey, say what you will about it, but at least it’s not Live and Let Die.

“He’s Golden. And We Mean That in a Bad Way.”

The year is 1995. Pierce Brosnan is the new James Bond, GoldenEye is a theatrical smash hit, and a games development studio in the United Kingdom is soon to set themselves to work on one what will become one of the most iconic first-person shooters of our time. By the time they were finally finished with it (roughly two years later), the next installment in the film franchise would already be just a few months away from it’s own debut. So, why exactly did it take quite so long for Rare to develop 1997’s GoldenEye 007 for the Nintendo 64? Well, it might have something to do with the fact it was conceptualized and developed by a crew of rank amateurs within the studio, who began development before they even knew what the final specs for the console’s hardware might be. The behind the scenes details of GoldenEye 007 might make for one of the most fascinating development stories in the history of the industry, and I implore you to look further into it on your own.

If I had to cite just a few reasons why GoldenEye on the N64 resonates as much as it does with players, I reckon I’d have to go with the following: The unfocused, inexperienced nature of the developers (by any of the team’s own admission) actually leads to a huge deal of raw creativity, where genre conventions are frequently defied — with the team’s original ideas eventually becoming new first-person shooter standards, in several cases. Objectives are genuinely varied and change with your selected difficulty level, setting a then-unparalleled standard for replay value. It’s also a game which rewards you for discovering and taking advantage of its exploits, practically daring you to break it wide open and peek at its finer mechanics. All in all, the game is just plain fun; whether you’re perfecting speedruns in the single-player campaign or setting the goofiest rulesets available in the multiplayer. Yes, we will have to get back to the subject of that multiplayer in a short while.

Despite being a critical darling and smash hit commercial success – moving as many as 2.1 million copies by the end of 1998 – Rare would not hold the reins to the lucrative license for long. In November of ‘98, Electronic Arts would acquire MGM Interactive; the games development division of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer media conglomerate. Seeing as MGM were holders of the lucrative James Bond media rights, this effectively meant that outside deals enabling other publishers to take a crack at releasing 007 games were a thing of the past: EA would elect to exclusively publish subsequent James Bond video games under their banner, and make their own determinations as to which studios were “worthy” of developing Bond titles for them. What would follow was an awkward period of missteps for the games series, as EA seemed unable to grasp / refused to follow the precedents set by Rare’s masterwork.

GoldenEye 007 on N64 (Nintendo / Rare, 1997)

One of EA’s first mistakes was bestowing developer Black Ops Entertainment the honor of developing the first Bond title under their reign: 1999’s Tomorrow Never Dies, released exclusively for the Sony PlayStation. Ditching the first-person formula for a clumsy third-person perspective, the game’s reception was ravaged by critics and consumers clambering for something more similar to GoldenEye. As a response, EA would deliver unto the masses 2000’s 007 Racing, which you may have well figured out is an exclusively vehicle-driven game / the polar opposite of what folk wanted. Developer Eutechnyx were at this point best known for their racing titles (rather than for 2013’s Ride to Hell: Retribution), and seemed like capable hands for pulling off a James Bond driving game, but their effort ultimately ran afoul of the black flag. It didn’t help that it was a game that no one was asking for at the time, as folk were really quite insistent that EA put out something comparable to GoldenEye.

Well, folk would finally get their wish with another 2000 release, with a tie-in to that year’s Bond film The World is Not Enough. Yes, the video game adaptation of the film actually follows much of the same template as GoldenEye; with difficulty settings adding and removing additional objectives, a good variety of tasks and mission types, and a fully-featured multiplayer mode that actually gives Rare’s take a run for its money! All this packed into just 32MBs of cartridge space… Oh yeah, that’s the caveat by the way: The N64 version as developed by Eurocom kicks ass, but is absolutely not to be confused with the entirely distinct PS1 release. For the version developed for Sony’s console, EA again let Black Ops Entertainment try their hand at it, resulting in another thoroughly bland final product that eschews any of the homages to GoldenEye’s gameplay. Oh, and there was also a Game Boy Color game developed around this time by 2n Productions, which is decent enough I reckon?

At this point, EA made a bold decision when it came to the Bond games series: The next several releases would operate independently of the film franchise, with original titles featuring unique stories. This would prove to be an incredibly fortuitous move, as the next entry in the film franchise (Die Another Day) would turn out to totally suck. Granted, this series technically began with the aforementioned 007 Racing, but let’s pretend instead that it began with the altogether more successful 2001 release of 007: Agent Under Fire. Though the developers within EA’s Redwood Shores studio (later to rebrand as Visceral Games) would move away from some of the distinctly-GoldenEye gameplay features, they made up for this by focusing on the element of variety: Alternating between on-the-ground first-person shooting, rail shooter-esque track-driven shooting segments, and driving levels complete with a suite of gadgets and car combat. It also boasts another awesome multiplayer mode, which benefits from the inclusion of super fun jetpack and grappling hook gadgets.

Despite changing developers again by bringing back Eurocom to create 2002’s 007: Nightfire, the streak of respectably distinct titles would continue. While the campaign has a few rough patches by my personal estimation, it’s still another solid entry in the series that a lot of folk still seem to remember fondly. At the risk of sounding repetitious, it’s got another highly entertaining multiplayer mode going for it as well, feeling something like a successor to Eurocom’s previous effort in The World is Not Enough. It’s also notable for including a slew of selectable multiplayer characters from the history of the franchise; featuring the likes of Baron Samedi, Jaws, May Day and Nick Nack — just to name a few. Fans and critics responded warmly to this particular bit of nostalgia-pandering, as well they should: It’s a highly entertaining novelty, and a clever way to acknowledge the sizable 007 universe. EA would make a note of this. Oh, and by the way: All of the above is specifically in reference to the console versions of the game. The PC version of Nightfire, as developed by a then-fledgling Gearbox Software, is another completely different / vastly inferior game.

007: Agent Under Fire on GameCube (Electronic Arts, 2001)

2004’s 007: Everything or Nothing would prove to be a rather interesting note in the series history. With development duties returning to EA Redwood Shores, you’d be forgiven for expecting the game to be another in the vein of Agent Under Fire. As it turns out, it’s actually a return to the third-person perspective, though it does retain some of the “genre shifts” as established in the studio’s previous work. What’s particularly interesting to see though is the incorporation of more iconic villains from movies past; only this time, they actually sneak their way into the campaign as well. Jaws plays a central role in the plot, as well as a main antagonist (portrayed by Willem Dafoe) who is established in the story as a student of A View to a Kill’s baddie, Max Zorin. Beyond that, a number of changes are made to the multiplayer formula, with traditional deathmatch game mode strangely missing? In exchange, you get a unique two-player cooperative campaign, which seems to take some cues from Ubisoft’s then-booming Splinter Cell franchise.

Despite development duties changing hands nearly half a dozen times, wild shifts in genre and perspective, and each of these individual games under EA’s purview feeling largely distinct from one another, there was still one important constant: Pierce Brosnan was still James Bond. Granted, not all of the games utilized his actual voice talent to complement his physical likeness, and Agent Under Fire even went so far as to sculpt their Bond on an entirely different actor (Andrew Bicknell); but the fact remained that Brosnan was inextricably linked to Bond for the course of a nine-year era. And while video game franchises can typically get away with changing out voice actors and designs for established characters on as often as a game-to-game basis (I’m looking at you, Resident Evil), the passing of the torch from one Bond actor to another is literally a matter of world news. There are folk who live and let die by their picks for their favorite actor to portray the role, and every change of casting is seen as marking a distinct “era” in the franchise history.

And so, with the end of Brosnan’s run in 2004 came a major shake-up for the 007 brand. While MGM began the search for the next James Bond, EA were left in a unique state of uncertainty all their own. The impetus was still on them to release games in their series, but they were faced by a challenging quandary: How would they choose to portray James Bond in-game while his real-life actor remained undetermined? Sure, they could choose to go the Agent Under Fire route again and design another sort of generic stand-in, but they’d certainly stand to lose something in how this could lead to the personality for the character also feeling hollow. Perhaps they could recruit a previous actor from James Bond past to reprise their role once again, casting them in something like a period piece that reflects on their era of films? Or maybe – just maybe – they could try and get away with a 007 game not even starring James Bond in the first place.

EA’s solution, as it turned out, would be “all of the above.” As two separate Bond games went into production at or around the same time, each of them would attempt to execute on a different plan: One would go the route of bringing back a James Bond past, and the other would cast a generic Bond in a brief incidental role while players took control of a new character. The former would see the return of Sean Connery himself in an adaptation of 1963’s From Russia with Love, while the latter would put players in the shoes of a new character in the 007 universe; whose allegiance lies with the purported forces of evil. While the very conceit of 007: From Russia with Love also serves as its own marketing campaign, selling folk on the concept of “Bond minus Bond” was certainly gonna be a trickier pitch. For starters, what do you even name a 007 game where Bond himself barely features — where you can’t in good conscience put the iconic codename in the title? Well, when you’re as unscrupulous as Electronic Arts, the answer is simple: Invoke the name of the still-reigning fan-favorite entry in the series.

007: Everything or Nothing on GameCube (Electronic Arts, 2004)

On February 27th of 2004, EA formally announced the development of “GoldenEye 2,” as well as providing some of the details of it’s novel premise. They made it known from the get-go that you’d be playing the role of a villain in the game, working alongside the likes of Auric Goldfinger against the forces of Dr. No. As a matter of fact, the working title of the game for a period was simply “Goldfinger vs Dr. No.” With that in mind, you might wonder what justification they provided for the game’s new name. Was the game set in the same period of time as GoldenEye’s story? Would it bring back the idea of the titular GoldenEye satellite that threatened the world in said film and video game? Could there possibly be a level based on author Ian Fleming’s own estate which he nicknamed “GoldenEye?” Well, as representatives for EA and members of the development team (EA Los Angeles) would attempt to spin it, they supposedly chose this title to demonstrate that this game would serve as something like the true successor to Rare’s 1997 classic:

“The original GoldenEye broke new ground in a lot of areas. It wasn’t the first, but it was the first to really do it well. They’d built the game on these basic principles: Great multiplayer, hot environments, great AI. What we’ve done with our product is to acknowledge that several years have gone by since that game and that technology’s advanced. Peoples concepts of AI have advanced, but those fundamental pillars are the same for us, so we’re simply taking what made the original GoldenEye great and we’re making a game that focuses on the exact same thing. We’re trying to give people that exact same thing but in more of a contemporary context.” ~ Patrick Gilmore, Executive Producer

So, okay; let’s try and take that at face value for the time being, and pretend like this all isn’t just part of a shameless marketing ploy. What we’re apparently meant to be excited for here is the fact that the game is a sort of “spiritual sequel” to a 1997 title… despite its being developed by an entirely different team of developers, and featuring an entirely unrelated premise. For what it’s worth, the game was at least placed in competent hands: The studio then known as EA Los Angeles were formerly known as DreamWorks Interactive, and were responsible for none other than the Medal of Honor series. They were also responsible for 1998’s Trespasser, which you’d better believe is a future article candidate for this site. But to keep on topic here; the team at EA LA certainly knew their way around a first-person shooter by this point, and had “well north of 120” hands on deck for this undertaking. These would include some outside collaborators as well, including popular composer Paul Oakenfold, legendary production designer Sir Ken Adam, Silent Hill character designer Takayoshi Sato, and even the notorious American McGee; whose studio “The Mauretania Import Export Company” is credited for the game’s multiplayer design.

Despite this dream team of developers and designers, the game still struggled from a slower development process than originally projected. In the time since the game’s release, some details of cut content have surfaced: Unfinished maps and characters for the game’s multiplayer, more “environments and encounters,” and perhaps most notably; the lack of a frequently-touted “Scrimmage” mode that would have effectively served as a player vs. bots option for the game’s multiplayer levels. Of course, none of this was made transparent to players in the period before the game hit shelves, and I have to imagine that many of these cuts were made during the last two months of the game’s development. You can even chart a sort of timeline for where the development may have begun to be rushed, as multiple press outlets were invited to an EA “Community Day” event to promote the game in late July of ‘04. At that point in time, when an interviewer asked executive producer Patrick Gilmore if the game was still on track for its November release window, he responded with what seems to have been a genuinely confident “Absolutely.”

With features and functionalities cut in order to expedite the development process, the game would ultimately manage to meet it’s slated November 22nd launch date. Finally, the question on everybody’s mind would be answered: How in the hell would the game get around the issue of not starring James Bond? How could such a well-established franchise skirt around not being able to feature it’s iconic star character? Why can’t 007 just be a good boy and die?

Black Ops Entertainment is a developer who we will revisit several times in the future here on the Bad Game Hall of Fame. In addition to their lame duck James Bond titles, they’re also responsible for the reprehensible Fugitive Hunter: War on Terror, as well as the terrible Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines tie-in game.
If you ask me though, it doesn’t hold a candle to the previous portable entry in the series: 1998’s James Bond 007, developed by Saffire Corporation. That little game might well be one of my all-time favorite titles on the original Game Boy, and I absolutely contend that it deserves more recognition in modern day.
For reference, returning features here include selectable characters all having distinct stats, inherent allegiances that determine what team they’re on, and assigned “personalities” when they’re controlled by the AI. There’s also the return of the awesome “Skyrail” map from the prior iteration, which remains a ton of fun to play on with it’s moving ski lift taking laps around the map.

“It Could Have Easily Been More Than Your Eye.”

As a matter of fact, killing off James Bond is precisely how GoldenEye: Rogue Agent opens up! Putting you in the shoes of a one-eyed, unnamed agent for MI6 working alongside 007, the two of you lead a charge on Kentucky’s infamous Fort Knox; where the villainous Auric Goldfinger plans to detonate a nuclear device and destabilize the value of gold worldwide. Unfortunately, as you attempt to approach by helicopter, you’re shot down and crash through the roof of the facility; with only your agent managing to escape the aircraft seemingly unscathed. As the helicopter hangs precariously from the ceiling by a snagged propeller, 007 too hangs on for dear life. Naturally, as you approach him with intent to save him (ostensibly), the whole wreck plummets to the floor, killing the world’s most famous secret agent in a fiery explosion. Needless to say, this is an incredibly bold choice to open the game with, and it’s admirable how the game manages to stick to it’s guns here by not opting for some sort of cheap “fake out” where the whole mission is revealed to be some sort of bullshit virtual training simulation or something like that.

… So, after the whole mission is revealed to be some sort of bullshit virtual training simulation – with Bond alive and well standing in a pod next to you – you’re chewed out by Dame Judi Dench as she reprises her role as the head of MI6, “M.” You’re fired on the spot for your poor performance and overly-violent tactics, as well as very curiously being blamed as “directly responsible” for the death of 007 in the simulator. As M continues to chew you out and give you your verbal walking papers, the agent seems largely nonplussed about the whole situation as he leaves the facility. In a final shot before the game cuts to its title sequence, he pulls a note from his pocket penned by none other than Goldfinger himself, cryptically informing him that “the offer still stands.” Oh, and by the way; that’s the last you’ll be seeing or hearing of Judi Dench in this whole game. I have to imagine they gave her these extra couple of lines to read while she was already in a booth recording voiceover for Everything or Nothing, because I can’t imagine the alternative of bringing her in just to record literally one minute’s worth of dialogue for this game.

In any case, your dismissal segues into the aforementioned title sequence, which takes a different approach than previous EA Bond games’ attempts to ape the traditional film credits. Lacking a title track with vocals, it instead features voiceover from the likes of Goldfinger, Dr. No and Francisco Scaramanga — the last of whom is voiced by none other than Christopher Lee himself, reprising his on-screen role from The Man with the Golden Gun. In this bit of video, you’re effectively given the rest of the set up to the game’s plot: Dr. No is responsible for your missing eye, as a run-in with him during your time as an agent for MI6 resulted you being shot directly in the face. It’s also in this sequence where you finally discover how the GoldenEye name actually manifests in the game itself, with Scaramanga developing a literal “golden eye” to replace your damaged retina. This implant is actually so visually striking, folk immediately take to nicknaming you “GoldenEye,” in what serves as a frankly groan-worthy way of shoehorning in the title as a recurring element of the story.

With that, the story’s central conflict is established as a war between the forces of Dr. No and Goldfinger, over some entirely unspecified point of contention or possible attempt at a power grab? The complete lack of care or attention paid to the plot in this game is honestly kind of astounding, even in comparison to the token amounts of plot present in previous proper Bond games. At the end of the day, it’s all just an excuse to bring back a small selection of classic villain characters from the franchise; also among them including the likes of Oddjob, Xenia Onatopp, and a Pussy Galore not yet converted to the “straight and narrow” by Bond. Needless to say, the game banks heavily on this nostalgia act premise, even as it must defy the laws of life and death in order to bring these characters back from the dead. As Patrick Gilmore justified this departure from canon; “We’re talking about an alternate reality in the same way that is very common in comic books and often in movies.”

We’ll revisit elements of the plot again in this article, but there is the matter of gameplay to discuss first. It’s worth noting here that Danjaq LLC (the holding company / final authority on the Bond license) had reportedly been very particular as to how Bond could be portrayed in EA’s prior games; not wanting him to be depicted as cruel in his tactics, and not allowing him to be seen as “shooting with reckless abandon.” As such, this had apparently been a limiting factor in how much developers were allowed to expand on gun combat in earlier Bond-centric releases. But with 007 out of the picture now, these restrictions were evidently lifted, thereby allowing the gameplay to set about differentiating itself from EA Bond titles before it. As I take note of some of the more significant mechanical changes, we’ll soon discover that “different” does not necessarily mean “better.”

Probably the most distinctive gimmick in the game is the dual-wielding mechanic, allowing you to carry and fire different guns in each hand independently. By what is surely just coincidence, there was this other little game called Halo 2 that had been being showcased during Rogue Agent’s development, demonstrating a similar guns akimbo system. In fairness, you can also just as easily attribute this design to the original N64 GoldenEye; which did allow for you to carry two of the same gun at once, and to even mix-and-match by means of a tricky exploit. Of course, classic GoldenEye also let you carry more guns along with you than just the two in your hands, which Rogue Agent sadly does not. Regardless of the inspiration, this mechanic for independently holding and firing two weapons means that you can alternate between guns suitable for different ranges and purposes, or simply double the firepower of one of your preferred weapons. It also means that you can’t go into an ironsights / manual aiming mode when wielding any one-handed weapons, which might throw off GoldenEye traditionalists some.

There are a small handful of weapons which require both hands to wield; including a scoped assault rifle, sniper rifle, minigun, rocket launcher, and a portable “Omen” device (more on this later). The problem is, there’s also an equally small selection when it comes to the one-handed weapons — with two pistols, an SMG, shotgun, railgun, and small assortment of gadget guns (a remote detonator, venomous stun-gun, and something like an EMP gun). And that’s honestly your whole lot as far as guns are concerned: A grand total of thirteen firearms to fool around with. And sure, while they may represent most of the different types of guns that do exist, there’s still the issue of none of them feeling particularly great to use. The automatic weapons all feel like they lack in punch, and the recoil makes even the scoped assault rifle feel completely ineffective past a range of four feet in front of you. The sniper rifle is more often a liability than it is an asset, as no sections in the game really feel like they’re built to let you take advantage of it. The gimmicky “Tesla EM” and “Venom 200ML” guns look like rejected props from a 50’s sci-fi movie, and are almost entirely useless in your character’s hands.

For reference, the game supposedly being “improved on” here had a selection of well over thirty weapons, including no less than six different SMGs that all managed to feel distinct and vary in effectiveness. Sure, not every gun in classic GoldenEye may have been balanced against one another, and the fact that some appear only in single missions [or through cheat codes] is certainly a bit odd, but hot damn if they weren’t all uniquely memorable in their own special ways. From the über-cool watch laser to the laughably useless Klobb, every last weapon in GoldenEye manages to make a lasting impression on players; thanks to a combination of their distinct looks, and their unique associations with different levels and the types of enemies who carry them. For comparison, almost every gun in Rogue Agent is seen and repeated from the beginning of the game to the very end simply serving the entirely utilitarian purpose of firing bullets, and offering nothing in the sense of dependability or “charm.”

In addition to the lack of firearm variety on display, I also mentioned that none of them being all that much fun to wield. There’s a few factors responsible for this, with one of the major ones being the cluttering of the HUD and your weapons. Though the game does support a widescreen mode – which does alleviate at least a handful of gripes – 2004 was hardly a year where 16:9 televisions were a widespread commodity. As such, when playing in the traditional 4:3 aspect ratio, it all ends up feeling very tightly cramped. So much of your screen is occupied by your armor and recharging health meters, ammo counts for both your weapons, your special ability selection, and perhaps most egregiously; the huge gun models. The cherry on top are intrusive notifications for mission objectives and weapon pick-ups, as well as object highlights that come with one of those special abilities of yours (more on this shortly). In effect, almost the entire bottom half of the screen is effectively one big blind spot, and your eyes are made to largely focus on the upper portion instead.

Realizing this, the developers do your the favor of also moving your crosshair higher up the screen — like, almost up to the 1/3rd line. Hell, even the view through a scoped weapon has to cut off a sizeable chunk of your upper vision. Needless to say, this looks and feels a bit wonky, and messes with the natural inclination of players to aim at center mass. Furthermore, this all goes against something like the more typical “alternative crosshair position” of moving the crosshair below than the center of the screen, so that your attention might be more easily drawn to what lies above the horizon line while moving. Rogue Agent’s crosshair placement flies in the face of this; and when you also consider the lack of fine-aiming options mixed with some ludicrous recoil, it leads to a shooting experience that ends up feeling very “off.” For a game that claims to put so much focus on the fundamentals of ground-based gunplay, it’s honestly sort of astounding how badly they missed the mark on this basic functionality.

At the very least, there are a few novel additions to the first-person shooting formula in Rogue Agent. For one, you can grab enemies to use as human shields, providing you something like mobile cover. This is accomplished by melee attacking an enemy until the point of staggering them, and then taking hold of them with your left arm — dropping whatever weapon it might be holding. But if you expect your enemies to take pause and hold their fire – lest they kill their colleagues – you’d be mistaken: Enemies have no qualms about immediately opening fire on you and your hapless hostage. Hell, you might even occasionally see enemies taking their own friends as shields, in a completely ineffective tactic that basically gives you a “two for the price of one” deal on kills! So, what you’re intended to do here is take hold of baddies and charge groups of enemies directly, firing off your gun all the while. You also have the option of tossing your victim into your enemies and temporarily knocking them over, but it’s honestly way more fun to just toss them at walls or over ledges so that you can watch their ragdolls flop about.

An additional feature are abilities granted by your eye implant, effectively taking the place of traditional Q Branch gadgets as utilized by 007. With Scaramanga assuming the role of your quartermaster, he installs a total of four powers for your use over the course of the campaign: “MRI Vision” allowing you to see through walls, “EM Hacking” which can be used to trigger devices or disable enemy weapons from afar, a “Polarity Shield” for temporary deflection of enemy fire, and a “Magnetic Induction Field.” What does that last one let you do? Why, it lets you fling enemies across the room with the push of a button — as if you’re using the Force to just pick dudes up and toss them around like footballs. Ignoring how ludicrous an idea this last unlockable power is, these abilities do all serve their different uses, and generally tend to complement the shooting decently well. There’s just one more problem here: They all draw from the same power supply, and that supply is severely limited.

You’re given a maximum charge capacity of 100, which you will very slowly recharge while none of your abilities are active. The X-ray vision and shield are both active effects that drain your energy while in use, with the latter shield ability incurring additional loss of power whenever it manages to protect you from damage. Naturally, in the interest of balancing, these abilities are far quicker to drain than you’re able to recharge, forcing you to utilize them sparingly. But here’s the real kicker: The hacking and enemy-launching abilities cost 47 and 75% power per usage, respectively. These are both massive tolls relative to how effective these abilities are in combat. And in addition to the already slow recharge time, there’s also a period of a second or two after using them before the recharge process even starts up. As such, you’ll likely find that the only ability you really end up using past a certain point in the game ends up being the shield; since it’s the most consistently practical, and it’s simply not worth the micromanagement of switching back and forth between it and any of the other powers.

This is a real shame, since there’s fun to be had with casually tossing enemies around and seeing through walls and such. I have to wonder how these values and charge times were settled on, and what the playtesting process behind them must have been like? I bet that in the early stages of quality assurance, the developers were perhaps a tad bit too generous with how often the abilities could be used, and testers took advantage in order to completely trivialize combat in their early playthroughs. As development continued and tweaks were made to the power values, the testers themselves would obviously continue to get better at playing the game. At a certain point, the data on what the ideal power consumption should be could’ve been potentially affected by a team of playtesters who no longer needed to rely on them as frequently, thus resulting in the strict allotment as seen in the final product. I obviously have nothing to confirm this theory, but I’ve certainly heard stories from other games’ QA processes similar to it.

Luckily, there’s always been more to James Bond games than just the running and gunning [and gadgeting]. Why, we still have the driving levels to talk about, and the sections where you get to steer a tank while — oh wait, I totally forgot! You see, for some reason, the developers behind Rogue Agent made a conscious decision not to incorporate any other styles of gameplay, so that they could focus their efforts exclusively on the first-person shooting:

“Well, in GoldenEye, we go deep in the first person shooter mechanic, and we really focus on the action on the ground, whereas a lot of James Bond films, a lot of James Bond games, though, what James Bond is all about is action on land, in the sea, in the air, so Bond is flying helicopters, flying jets. He’s in tanks on the ground. He’s, ya know, driving vehicles. […] And our game is really just about the ground war. It’s really just about that mechanic – the first person shooter mechanic, and putting our player in some of the best gunfights we can possibly create within the James Bond universe.” ~ Patrick Gilmore, Executive Producer

Needless to say, I’m of the opinion that this was an altogether bad direction to go in. A large part of the whole appeal of previous Bond games was the very fact that they weren’t all “just about the ground war,” and that players would occasionally get to drive these over-the-top vehicles that you typically wouldn’t find in other shooters. Even the original GoldenEye gave you the chance to drive a tank around in two of its levels, seeming to set the precedent that subsequent titles should follow suit. The possibilities for gameplay variety were arguably the most unique selling point the Bond game franchise had, and stripping Rogue Agent of that makes it feel far less distinct of a first-person shooter as a result. But it’s not just the lack of things to do outside of shooting that contributes to this: Rogue Agent strips away almost every other element of variety, tone and charm that you come to expect from an entry in the 007 series, leaving you with an incredibly dull and repetitious single-player campaign in the process.

Getting back to the game’s plot and premise again, you’ll find that it really doesn’t take all that much advantage of the Bond universe it’s set in. With 007 and M being completely written off after the first mission, you’re left only with the small cast of iconic villains as your motivating characters. With Goldfinger barking constant orders at you over comms, Scaramanga sharing brief snippets of technical advice between missions, and Pussy Galore to pilot you from place to place, these are almost exclusively the only characters you’ll have any meaningful interactions with throughout the course of the game. And of those characters, Goldfinger is the only one you’ll even see face to face during actual gameplay! Oddjob as the other henchman for Goldfinger ends up never speaking to you, never fighting alongside / against you over the course of any of the levels, and ultimately gets written off in one of the most disappointingly anti-climatic of ways. Xenia and Dr. No feature as the game’s two boss characters, in what I am sad to say are both shockingly underwhelming battles in themselves. And beyond a fleetingly brief cameo appearance by one Ernst Stavro Blofeld, that’s entirely it for recognizable characters.

To break this down; the main cast here consists of seven “classic Bond” characters, of which three of whom are from 1964’s Goldfinger. Three of the others serve as the exclusive pulls from Dr. No, The Man with the Golden Gun and GoldenEye, while Blofeld is the only villain character to have played a role in multiple different Bond films. This feels incredibly lacking in terms of range and representation, and I can name at least a dozen other characters who could’ve easily played a role in the plot as additional friends or foes. How is it that Jaws somehow didn’t make the cut here? Where’s Nick Nack to serve as Scaramanga’s faithful servant? From Russia With Love’s Red Grant could’ve made for either an enemy or ally; as well as A View to a Kill’s May Day, GoldenEye’s Boris Grishenko, or even The World is Not Enough’s Renard. And if they wanted to incorporate more criminal factions or potential members of SPECTRE into the game, why not Thunderball’s Emilio Largo, Live and Let Die’s Kananga, or Moonraker’s Hugo Drax? And I’m just barely scratching the surface here, while picking some of the most obvious choices! Even adding as few as one or two characters from this list to the game would’ve gone a long way in making the world feel that much more connected to the film franchise.

If there’s one major credit to be given to Rogue Agent here as far as “paying tribute” to the history of Bond movies, it’s the involvement of Sir Ken Adam as production designer for the game. For those who don’t know, Ken Adam was the production designer for the most recognizable and uniquely-conceptualized sets in the classic Bond films; such as Goldfinger’s bases of operation (including the famous “laser table” room), You Only Live Twice’s volcano lair, and the sci-fi space stations of Moonraker. I mention these locations in particular as they actually all appear in the game in modified forms (with the Moonraker stages being multiplayer exclusives), in addition to new designs Sir Adam presumably schemed up for some of the game’s original locales. I’d also wager he had some sort of hand in deciding the colors hues and tones for given scenes, as they can genuinely be quite striking at times. But seeing as Ken most likely had no concept of the particulars of video game level design and flow, my guess is that his role amounted mostly to submitting a handful of sketches for possible in-game locations proposed to him. It fell on actual level designers to do the dirty work of designing, while perhaps using those sketches as a sort “inspiration” for how their stages should be set-dressed.

As a result, level design can become quite repetitious, with series of largely similar rooms and exteriors throughout given levels. Between every fifth or sixth cookie-cutter section in a mission though, you’ll maybe be lucky enough to spot a room that demonstrates some unique layout or interesting architecture, or which might even recreate a set from one of the movies. These areas are likely adapted directly from Ken Adam’s sketches, and I can even imagine these being the starting points for where levels would begin to be built. If there’s one level in particular that I would guess Ken had a more active role in helping shape and build, it’d have to be Goldfinger’s Midas Casino, as it demonstrates the most diverse series of interiors and sense of Bondian flair between individual rooms. As it so happens, it’s also these levels that make up some of the least straightforward to navigate in the game, sometimes proving a tad bit more difficult to parse what direction you’re headed or how the different segments connect to one another. Though to this point, I should clarify that it’s still not particularly difficult to figure out where you need to go.

This talk of level design does actually lead me to another unique selling point for the game: Environmental traps and hazards that can be used to more cruelly dispatch enemies; in the interest of wiping out squads more efficiently, as well as for bonus points by means of the game’s scoring system for “special” kills. This along with the aforementioned human shields are supposed to convey that your character is evil — despite the fact that Bond himself has been known to take hostages and use surrounding machinery to more brutally kill his enemies. In fact, even the bonuses for context kills had already been around in the games since Agent Under Fire, where you were challenged to discover all the opportunities for “Bond Moves” in given stages. In any case, these interactive elements in Rogue Agent’s levels typically manifest as buttons that can be pressed / hacked in order to activate devices that will slice, sizzle and crush groups of enemies. I’m talkin’ trapdoors, electrified floors, and experimental machinery galore.

Of course, while this is all conceptually sound, Rogue Agent manages to drop the ball yet again in implementing them. For starters, the game is incredibly inconsistent about distributing these hazards evenly between levels; to a point where one set of stages will be almost entirely bereft of them, followed by a level where the scene will practically be littered with trapping options. But even in levels where they are present, the enemy AI seems to be acutely aware of where the danger zones lie, and will actively avoid stepping into them. At the same time, they also will not hesitate to trigger traps on you, resulting in your own bit of instant death if you get caught up in them. In effect, the only way I was ever able to reliably utilize traps was by getting behind cover, using my ability to see through walls to track when enemies were advancing on me, and quickly switching to the hacking mode in order to activate the traps from afar. In this sense, a gameplay feature that is meant to provide you with additional offensive options is more of a liability than it’s worth, and actually causes you to play more defensively.

There’s one more point I need to make on the subject of level design: Every last one of the seven missions in the campaign proper (which is to exclude the Fort Knox pre-title level) runs excruciatingly over-long. With each of these missions centering around a given setting – Auric Enterprises, the Hoover Dam, Dr. No’s Crab Key, et cetera – the time you’ll spend getting from one end to the other of any of these given locations will drag on to the point of exhaustion. Even as the game attempts to mix up the scenery and introduce fresh interiors within these larger structures, your appreciation for this effort will likely be sullied by the sense that you’re not making any real forward progress. When your given objective for a mission is something like getting to the basement of the Midas Casino, and you hear Goldfinger somehow insist that “your fastest entrance will be through the Sky Lounge” at the very top floor of the building, you begin to quickly recognize that the game has no consideration for your time.

But if there’s one mission in particular that I’d have to point to as feeling like the most time-consuming – as being something like a microcosm of the game as a whole – it’d have to be the Hong Kong stages. As the second full mission of the game, and occurring early enough that you still lack your shield and ragdolling abilities, it treats you to a trek across what feels like a hundred rooftops in an insufficiently-scenic district of Hong Kong. The operation begins with a planned assassination of Dr. No by means of sniper rifle, meant to be placed within a construction site by one of Goldfinger’s agents. Why you can’t just bring your own sniper rifle is entirely unknown, since you’re already made to shoot your way through several mobs of baddies before arriving at the vantage point. And of course, upon reaching your destination, you discover that your contact is a turncoat working for none other than Dr. No himself, at which point the objective then becomes securing your extraction.

Now, here’s the thing: The process of reaching this designated evac zone takes upwards of thirty-plus minutes, and sees you passing through dozens of other seemingly suitable pick-up spots and rooftops. In addition to what feels like thousands of Dr. No’s goons being deployed and tossed at you, you’ll also be so unlucky as to accidentally pass through one of Dr. No’s armor manufacture facilities, and eventually run into a bath house operated by none other than the Triad — in an obvious attempt at adding some variation to the pool of enemies you’ve been fighting. At a point, it becomes obvious that the developers wanted to have a level that takes place in an urban setting, but weren’t capable of / allowed to set the action on the streets among civilians. As such, the design may have had to shift to a chase across the tops of buildings, with the excuse of passing through the occasional interior in order to scratch the developer’s itch for distinctly Chinese-inspired level architecture.

This level is telling of several more issues with the game. For one; despite all the marketing surrounding your character being a villain, you’re never once given the chance to harm or interact with innocent civilians. As such, the most villainous acts you can commit come down to killing other bad guys, sometimes in slightly meaner ways than the usual. Additionally, the variety of enemy types on display here is super lacking, with most enemies hailing from Dr. No’s organization and wearing the same small selection of armored uniforms. You’ll soon tire of shooting the same three recycled enemy models, and it’s only with the brief appearances of the Triad here [and Goldfinger’s army later in the game] that you see reprieve from this repetition. As if all that weren’t enough, you’ll also discover that the developers lacked many ideas for baddies other than gunmen, as it is in this level that you also begin to face off against enemy helicopters.

These encounters against enemy aircrafts become another recurring scenario within the game, where you’ll be stuck in a small space and given infinitely-respawning rocket launchers with which to take several helicopters down. Funnily enough, it’s not even as if these helicopters end up posing much of a threat to your character, even if you didn’t always have an endless supply of explosives at your disposal. The gunners aboard the helicopters are largely inaccurate, easily avoided, and will often take so long to begin firing that you’ll be able to take them down before they can. Over the course of just this first mission where they begin to appear, you’re quickly taught that they pose almost no threat to you as a player, and that taking them down is a matter as trivial as any other one of Dr. No’s soldiers. Between this game and 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand, a player might come away with the impression that combat helicopters are a complete and utter joke.

Speaking of frivolous military spending, the game will also toss a few tanks at you before it’s through. Surprisingly, these actually prove far more lethal than the aerial assault vehicles, though it may just be a matter of the numbers they throw at you. In one particularly baffling segment of the game – making your way across the top of the Hoover Dam, where Dr. No has stationed his army – you’re expected to take on a half-dozen of tanks all at once, in addition to other enemies pouring in. Quite frankly, I don’t even know what the developers intended for players to do here, since you’re not really even given the means and weapons here to effectively take them all out? I had to try my luck at just trying to run past them over ten times, before I finally got lucky and made it to the other side relatively intact. After surviving a stunt like that, you have to figure that our agent GoldenEye could probably whoop 007’s ass with one hand, while striking down all of MI6 with the other.

Beyond these encounters, the only other unique type of enemy you’ll face are the occasional named goons, who boast improved armor and shields as well as carrying some of the more powerful weapons. With such intimidating nicknames as “Barth,” “Netherby” and “Pittman,” you can only assume that body counts must be in the hundreds to earn such terrifying monikers for themselves. Actually, at first I had presumed that these were possibly names of folk on the dev team, but would you believe that cross-referencing several of them yielded no results? So, until we’re informed otherwise, I can only assume that these names were all picked out of a hat or text generator of some sort. Now, this is a design aspect where a team with a more genuine passion for the licensed material at hand might try to sneak in some subtle nods to the franchise; naming these baddies after minor antagonists from the films or what have you. Instead, these oddball names only lead to the game feeling even further unrelated to the Bond universe.

But of all the threats you’ll face down over the course of the campaign, perhaps none are quite as tall a hurdle as the psychopaths who bring Venom 200ML guns into battle. Truly, these men are villains who rival the likes of Blofeld himself in terms of pure, unadulterated moral bankruptcy. For you see, one hit from the Venom 200ML will cause the screen to tint green and make your movement sluggish for a few seconds — a fate worse than death. Seriously though; these attacks get really annoying real fast, and there will inevitably come points where you’re hit by them once again just as soon as you recover from an earlier shot, prolonging the nightmare that much longer. Oh, and in case you’re wondering what effect enemies suffer from being shot by a 200ML dart, it effectively just puts them in a position to be taken as a human shield. It’s actually a weapon wholly incapable of killing enemies on its own, and is probably one of the most useless firearms in the history of first-person shooters. At least it’s cousin – the Mk II Detonator – is a fun little device for launching remotely-detonated sticky bombs at folk.

If you’re looking for what is actually the most effective killing machine in the game though, I reckon the honor has to go to the Omen-XR. You see, there’s this whole subplot that runs through the game about one of Goldfinger’s new superweapons called the “Omen,” which Dr. No seems to desperately want to get his hands on. As the story unfolds, two of the game’s missions revolve around you protecting the device from Dr. No’s forces, with a couple of additional scenes where you get to see the weapon in action. In effect, it’s an stationary BFG9000, which vaporizes anyone unfortunate enough to have a line of sight on it. Come the final mission of the game, you gain access to a rifleized version of the weapon (the aforementioned Omen-XR) that you can carry as a two-handed weapon, and which can one-hit kill any enemy it’s able to directly hit. Unfortunately, the baddies also have hands on these guns as well, and can just as easily wipe you out with a single unseen shot. A great deal of the challenge present in the final stages really does just amount to being incredibly wary of enemies holding these weapons, and never taking your eyes off them once you spot them.

Of course, the Omen-XR does have its drawbacks. For one, it’s got a three-round capacity with a reload time that’ll leave you a sitting duck. But what’s far more ill-conceived is the fact that the projectiles it fires are highly visible with slow travel times — like the orbs fired from Doom’s plasma gun, but in much more deliberate semi-automatic fashion. For reasons known only to the developers and their most trusted confidants, they still had the gall to mount a scope on the top of the dumb thing; as if you’ll ever have a chance of hitting a target over distance. I’ve already got strong enough opinions about Half-Life’s crossbows and how the scopes on those don’t mesh with the travel time imposed by its ammunition, but Rogue Agent really takes the unnecessary accessorizing to a whole new level here. And so, while the Omen-XR has the potential to dole out death more efficiently than any other gun in the arsenal, the real award goes to none other than Scaramanga’s Golden Gun… which appears exclusively in multiplayer, outside of an incredibly obscure easter egg.

I believe there was the potential here for another cool weapon that didn’t seem to make the cut. It’s even one that has the precedent of appearing previously in Nightfire’s multiplayer, and which would’ve been even more uniquely-suited for this game! I’m of course talking about Oddjob’s razor-trim bowler hat; which serves as a bonus starting weapon for the character in that previous game’s multiplayer mode, and would’ve made for a logical addition in Rogue Agent. Even if it only appeared in the multiplayer again, or as a one-time use weapon during the campaign. Instead, when we do get to see Oddjob in action in the story, we only really see him… well, actually, you never really do get to see him in action at all. As a matter of fact, the total sum of his involvement in the plot is appearing in a few cutscenes, being mentioned as running operations parallel to you while on your missions, and getting himself unceremoniously killed after he inexplicably attacks you at the Hoover Dam.

Seriously: You’re seen in an FMV completing your objective by dropping a bomb into a hole, and your perspective spins around just in time to see Oddjob charging at you. With a simple counter, GoldenEye uses Oddjob’s momentum to toss him right over the railing and down the same hole as used previously, from which he never re-emerges or appears again in the story. Hell, Goldfinger doesn’t so much as mention him in any subsequent dialogue! My best guess here goes towards there being some sort of plan for a more substantial showdown between both of Goldfinger’s right-hand men, and there probably even being unused dialogue where Goldfinger would sic Oddjob on you in the final level of the game — or something else to that effect. There’s even a pre-release promotional screenshot which I would point to, which showcases some in-game interaction or confrontation with Oddjob that is missing from the final game.

Other major villain deaths in the game are underwhelming in other different ways. The battle with Xenia atop the Hoover Dam, wherein you simply shoot at each other a whole bunch, ends with her falling off the side of the dam as it bursts. Not necessarily a villain death warranting of one of Bond’s classic killer puns. A particularly tedious confrontation against Dr. No sees you having to hack a number of panels on the tower he’s standing next to (which takes forever thanks to slow recharge times) before he’s made vulnerable, at which point he’s simply electrocuted to death. At least here, there’s a subtle nod to his original on-screen death, as his prosthetic hand reaches for the air as he’s in his final throes. As for your traitorous employer Goldfinger – who, yes, ends up trying to get rid of you after you take care of Dr. No for him – he doesn’t even confront you in a final battle. You simply hack the Omen device while he’s standing next to it in an adjacent room, and he’s vaporized off-screen shortly thereafter.

If it sounds like I’m being extra nitpicky and morbid here for wanting more brutal deaths to feature in the game, I must remind you that some of the most iconic elements of the Bond films are the ways in which the antagonists are dispatched: Seeing Alec Trevelyan survive falling a hundred stories before being crushed to death by the flaming wreckage of a satellite array is a visual designed to stick with you. The duel between Bond and Scaramanga in his visually-striking “playhouse” is as tense as it is memorable. Dalton’s Bond tossing a suitcase packed with two million dollars into the stomach of a treacherous Ed Killifer so that he falls into a pool of sharks is maybe one of the most satisfying bits of revenge in the whole franchise. And you know what the real kicker here is? Bond is the “good guy” in all these scenarios. Seeing a game meant to portray your character as a despicable villain having to shy away from this sort of violence stands in such stark contrast to what the whole Bond franchise had been established to be about for the better part of fifty years.

This ultimately reflects one of the larger issues with the game as a whole, in that it just doesn’t evoke the feel of the franchise it’s taking so many of it’s cues and characters from. For a game built around the concept of bringing back classic Bond villains, it feels absolutely generic in practically every aspect of its execution. It is a game almost entirely devoid of charm, lacking in any unique action set pieces, and with a cast of characters who go completely underutilized. Oh, and it doesn’t help matters that this game came out during the period where the rights to Thunderball and the “SPECTRE” trademark were still in contention, and so the big bad evil overarching organization is now called “OCTOPUS” instead. Not quite as sinister-sounding now, is it? At the same time, the name for the character of “Blofeld” was also tied up in this same dispute, causing the character to go entirely unnamed in the game. But these are very minor gripes admittedly, and even the original film series itself suffered for them (as seen in For Your Eyes Only).

Also absent in the game is the classic Bond theme, or any variation on it thereof. Which, fair enough, if the intent was to have a unique theme and musical motif for this new character. And again in fairness, there is something like a commonality between all of Paul Oakenfold’s compositions for the game: They all stink on ice. For those who don’t recognize his name, he’s known as a DJ and remix artist who is perhaps most famous for his electronic take on 007’s theme music; “James Bond Theme (Bond Vs. Oakenfold).” Now, I’ve always detested this particular realization of the Bond theme as it stands, so I’m already wary when approaching an entire game soundtrack composed by the man. As it turns out, the whole soundtrack is an unending torrent of electronic phasers and chunky guitar distortion, which I could see maybe working for some other video game with a similar setting? But it all gets to feeling so samey as the game progresses, to the point where my brain eventually just tuned it all out entirely. The complete lack of the usual orchestral elements here leaves it feeling like no effort was made to evoke any note of the original film soundtracks.

I’d also like to take this time to point out how terrible the game’s credits music is. You see, there’s this pop artist named Natasha Bedingfield who hails from the UK, and she struck a deal with EA to lend her likeness and voice to a new character in the then-upcoming From Russia with Love video game. While said role is incredibly minimal, it also gave her an opportunity to have one of her own songs feature in a Bond game. Rogue Agent is that game, and “If You’re Gonna…” is the track. And while the original song already incorporates some electronica elements, the decision was still made to have Oakenfold further remix it to fit more in line with the rest of the game. The end result is this beepy, harsh, overwhelming song with some of the absolute goofiest lyrics to ever feature in Bond media. With the introductory verse “I’ve got a short attention span, can’t sit around couch potato land,” and a chorus that includes the line “I’m looking for a guard dog, not buying a chihuahua,” the song really has no business being in any way associated with this game’s tale of villains and mass destruction.

At the end of the day, the scant few references to Bond canon all feel like contractual lip service: Tacked-on additions that exist to remind the player that this is all, in fact, supposed to be Bond game. And hell, even in this regard they can’t help but muck things up again, with goof-ups like having one of the iconic rooms from Dr. No’s headquarters appearing completely out of place inside the You Only Live Twice Volcano Lair. Even the ending where our anti-hero beds Pussy Galore in the traditional Bond film trope feels completely unearned and out of place, since you share almost no meaningful interactions with one another up to that point. It all feels like the studio were given a list of references to make and a minimum number of boxes to check off, and they set about crossing off some of the easiest ones to implement. At the same time though, it’s not as if they were developing a particularly compelling game by its own merits. And if you try to compare it to it’s supposed predecessor in GoldenEye 007, you’ll find it’s a matter of apples and oranges.

Whatever takeaways the development team took away from Rare’s Goldeneye certainly don’t reflect in the gameplay in any shape or form. And while I could write probably twenty pages more just about the changes for the worse in Rogue Agent, I’ll go ahead and break it down into three basic principles — “fundamental pillars,” as Patrick Gilmore would say. The first of those is brevity. Which is to say, how the team at Rare understood no one level should overstay its welcome, and constantly look to mix things up when it comes to changing locations. It constantly keeps things moving, and as such is a game that works just as well for playing in small bursts as it does in longer play sessions. By comparison, Rogue Agent manages to make it’s roughly five-hour campaign feel like it takes a whole fifty to complete; banking too much on the thought that their shooter gameplay is good enough to carry the game through even its most mundane stages.

The second pillar here would be variety, as GoldenEye had it in spades. Beyond the constant changing up of locations, selection of weapons, and multiple different approaches to level structure; I’d argue the smartest thing it does is introducing the idea of multiple different objectives that can potentially appear within a level. And I’m not talking just different stops you’ll have to make as you progress from point A to B, as Rogue Agent seems to interpret this as: I’m talking dropping players into fairly open locations, tasking them with exploring the space, and learning on their own where objectives lie and how they might personally want to approach them. Sure, if you break it down mechanically, completing most of these objectives do come down to either killing a specific enemy, finding a hidden key item, or using a gadget on some specified object in the game world. But because they at least make the effort to dress up these rote tasks, they’re still able to effectively fool you into believing that you’re pulling off sneaky spy stuff. For comparison, Rogue Agent doesn’t even bother to pretend it’s anything more than a pure shooter, and still manages to make that feel stale within the first hour.

My third and final pillar is one that’s hard to articulate. It’s something like a measure of the passion that went into making the game at hand, but even that in itself is difficult to objectively measure. If I had to pick a term for this, I reckon I’d just go and call it charm. For as admittedly disorganized and rough around the edges GoldenEye 007 might be in retrospect, it manages to get away with it thanks to how much love and creativity clearly ended up going into the game. It feels like a game made by a small, inexperienced team (because it was), but it also plays like the purest expression of their love for the FPS genre and their enthusiasm behind developing it. In perhaps the most damning comparison of all, Rogue Agent feels every bit like the corporate-approved big-budget title that it is; with plenty of polish and production, but unfortunately lacking in passion. It’s a game designed by a team of dozens carrying out the will of just one or two creative leads, with little room for improvisation or interpretation.

But wait; I’m obviously just drawing my own interpretations in coming up with my own three pillars. We should really be evaluating this game by the officially-sanctioned ones! Let’s see what we’ve got here: “Hot environments?” You know, them phrasing it that way just makes it sound like a marketing bullet point. Not that it really matters anyway, seeing as the level design is all super dull. The only thing impressive about the games maps are how much of a disservice they did to Ken Adam’s classic designs. “Great AI?” Well, they did market much of the game around this supposed “E.V.I.L. AI” system, with an acronym supposedly standing for emotional, visceral, intelligent, and learning. But again, these are all just buzzwords! And when you get down to it, there’s nothing particular stand-out about how enemies behave versus the baddies in other contemporary shooters of the era. So, I’d consider this particular pillar flimsy at best. Which leaves us with our last supposed principle: “Great multiplayer.” Hmm. I reckon this one’s gonna take some delving into.

For those who haven’t heard the story, GoldenEye 007’s multiplayer mode was literally hacked together by one programmer (Steve Ellis) over the course of a month, and snuck into the game close to the last minute — after the game had already been certified by Rare and Nintendo. Being the total afterthought that it is, it’s all very slapdash in its assembly, and playing it with more than two players will tank the games already lousy framerate down into the single digits. Despite all this, it was also one of the most customizable multiplayer modes in a console FPS up to that point; with a variety of unique game modes, sets of weapons, and characters to pick from, all in addition to the usual match length and point limit settings. All that being said, it’s probably most fondly remembered by folk who almost exclusively chose the “Explosives” weapon set and took turns blowing each other up on the Facility stage. To each their own.

Rogue Agent attempts to incorporate some of the same elements of customization and variety for its multiplayer, but from a more structured and organized approach. You’re given three primary game modes to choose from (Showdown, Domination, and Tug-O-War), with the “Showdown” mode offering some of the classic GoldenEye 007 rulesets as variations on its standard deathmatch: “License to Kill” (instakill), “Golden Gun” (seeing players vying for control of the titular Golden Gun), and “You Only Live Twice” (wherein players only have two lives). Missing is the classic flag tag mode as affectionately titled “The Living Daylights,” though having a Domination game mode in its place is a fine substitute. The oddball out here is Tug-O-War mode, where two teams attempt to push a bomb trolley into the opposing team’s zone while simultaneously contending with killing each other. Unfortunately, only one map is designed to incorporate this game mode, and it’s not a particularly great one. Which is a bit of a surprise, considering the rest of the maps are actually quite good.

No, really: The maps designed for the multiplayer mode here are actually the game’s strongest feature! You get some highly recognizable locations among the likes of The Spy Who Loved Me’s Atlantis underwater base, A View to a Kill’s vision of the Golden Gate Bridge, Tomorrow Never Dies’ printing press facility, and even a take on GoldenEye’s satellite cradle titled “Uplink” — just to name a few of the iconic ones. But the highlight for me is absolutely “Funhouse,” as modeled after Scaramanga’s designated dueling arena from The Man with the Golden Gun. While it’s hardly a 1:1 recreation of the original film set, it approximates enough of the gimmick rooms and confounding architecture to earn my respect. It’s also a setting that seems tailor-made for the game’s traps and hazards; complete with animatronic 1920’s gangsters who can mow down a hapless opponent when activated at the right moment. Other maps in this mode adapted from existing single-player maps are certainly far less memorable, and occasionally uneven in consistency, but most serve their purpose well enough.

Granted, eight of these maps do have to be unlocked by sludging through and earning enough points in the single-player campaign, but the rewards here are actually worth the effort… or, y’know, just entering a cheat code to unlock them all upfront, along with the additional character skins. On that note, the selectable characters on offer in multiplayer are kind of underwhelming. As far as recognizable faces go; you get GoldenEye, Dr. No, Oddjob and Xenia. The rest are just generic goon models from the single player, and are largely boring. Where the hell are the likes of Goldfinger, Scaramanga and Pussy Galore? There’s certainly precedent for them all appearing in Nightfire’s multiplayer, where they weren’t even characters in that game’s single player! Seriously; this would’ve been the perfect place for the developers to cram in as many of the iconic villains from the franchise as they could, without having to worry about giving them story context or any other reasons for appearing in the game. Instead, they went and blew it again in this department.

Putting the lack of selectable characters aside, you at least get access to options for which of the game’s weapons have the chance to spawn on the map, as well as enabling / disabling options such as mutators and environmental hazards. If you ever end up playing this game for some reason, I absolutely recommend turning on the faster eye recharging, so you can feel what it’s like to actually be able to take advantage of your abilities. Back when the game still had support for online multiplayer, I’m guessing all this stuff was usually just left on its default settings, which at least enables most of the weapons and map modifiers you’d want to have toggled on. On the other hand, I’m not really sure there was ever all that much of a community dedicated to the online play to begin with, considering the availability of far more popular shooters at the time (such as SOCOM I & II on PS2, and Halo 2 on Xbox). I reckon most of the multiplayer played within Rogue Agent took place offline, in a classic splitscreen capacity.

So, with all that finally being said, the question remains: Is Rogue Agent’s multiplayer actually any good? The answer is a resounding “eh.” I mean, there’s only so much you can do given the game’s underwhelming core shooting mechanics. The rebalancing of the eye abilities – including swapping out the telekinetic power for a more basic stun effect – does at least serve to make the pace of the action a tad bit more frenetic. But when all is said and done, the ol’ magic just isn’t there, replaced instead by the waste and residue of failed efforts to conjure it. It suffers for its attempts to keep up with market contemporaries, somehow forgetting the fact that folk would be buying this game on the promise of throwback action. Playing it with pals isn’t even an abjectly terrible time or anything: The nostalgia-trip maps being as good as they are go a long way in improving the experience, and some of the traps and hazards can be good fun to set on each other. But for all the lip service paid to the N64 original, Rogue Agent again fails to match any of those lofty expectations.

Now, let me be clear here: I don’t blame the developers themselves for the whole “invoking the GoldenEye name” deal. It’s obviously a gimmick their publisher in Electronic Arts saddled them with, and obligated the team to all to play along publicly for marketings sake. Hell, I’m almost inclined to believe that this whole project began as something entirely unrelated to Bond; with the license being assigned by EA while the studio were in the early stages of developing some other dual-weapon-shooter concept. I like to believe that having been handed the 007 license, the team at EA Los Angeles resolved to make their mark on the Bond franchise, bringing with them a whole bunch of fresh ideas and novel concepts — as ill-conceived as they may have ultimately been. Unfortunately, that GoldenEye name is a burden that weighs too heavy on the title for it to bear. It doesn’t just collapse under comparisons to the original: It’s outright crushed by them.

Even if the game was somehow freed of its burdensome name association though, the fundamental problems with its gameplay would still exist. And on that charge, I cannot help but find the developers wholly guilty. As someone who actively seeks out shooters that offer guns akimbo – so that I might play out my John Woo fantasies – I honestly have a hard time forgiving Rogue Agent for screwing up the novelty so severely. The game really did need something like a fine-aiming system while dual-wielding (plus major overhauls to weapon accuracy in general), so that the akimbo option might actually be more viable for ranged encounters and mid-range crowd control scenarios. As it stands, Rogue Agent’s weapons almost all feel built exclusively for close-quarters combat, despite enemies so often being in position to target you from a range. Unsurprisingly, that makes for an often frustrating combination, and leaves you wishing you could just grip every gun with both your hands and get the job done that much more efficiently.

I’d also contend that the game doesn’t do enough with the eye powers. I feel like the obvious missing ability here is something like a “bullet time” mode, which the developers could justify in the story as your retina device somehow being able to perceive time at quarter-speed or some other nonsense. Hey, it’s no more far-fetched than being able to fling 200-pound men across a room by just looking at them. I would also argue in favor of something like a “satellite strike” ability that let you beam down death on a targeted position — serving as something like a reference to the functionality of the GoldenEye satellite itself in the original story. This could have well solved several long-range combat woes, as well as helping with the supposed goal of making your character feel like a proper Bond villain with a big, evil doomsday gadget at their disposal. At the very least, even as we’re just given the powers as they’re available in the final game, it would’ve been nice to have been able to use them more frequently. Considering the interminable recharge times as they stand, the game practically encourages you to sit behind cover and play as passively as possible between using your powers.

As for the issue of level design, I see two ways they could’ve gone about fixing it. The first would obviously be to make missions way shorter; adding more frequent breaks and checkpoints so that play sessions don’t seem to feel so long and arduous. But if this really somehow wasn’t an option for the developers, there was still an alternative: Fill the levels with more fanservice and recognizable locations. The fact that more than an hour of the campaign’s roughly five hour play time takes place across the Hong Kong rooftops and Hoover Dam – two locations which have never featured prominently in a Bond film – is a downright dumb design decision. A simple fix to better compel players to soldier through these missions would be to replace them with more facsimiles of locations from the films, so that they at least feel like they’re enjoying a bit of tourism along with their shooting. Swap out Hong Kong for the streets of Kingston, Jamaica, in order to further tie it in with one of the major settings of Dr. No. Instead of the Hoover Dam, why not a modern take on the “Dam” level / scene from GoldenEye, with maybe even some elements of the Arkhangelsk chemical weapons facility for interiors? God; that last stage suggestion is so obvious, I have literally no clue how they didn’t land on it.

GoldenEye: Rogue Agent as we know it today is a product which seems to fail at pleasing anyone. Whether you’re a fan of the Bond films, Bond video games, or even just video games in general; there’s really nothing worth checking out here. The most interesting thing about Rogue Agent ends up being how downright uninteresting it actually is — how it manages to waste all the potential in the world on such a mediocre end product. It’s as if the development team were given all the ingredients for a five-star meal, and still somehow only managed to heat up a cup ramen. The Bond license should be considered as an opportunity for near-limitless creative potential; providing developers lucky enough to work with it their very own Q Branch catalogue of existing elements and ideas to pull from, in addition to granting them a license to set their games anywhere they like and go as hog wild with implausible technology as they so please. But when handed the keys to the Bond kingdom, it seems as if EA LA barely so much as peeked at what lay inside. And that, above all else, might be the most damning thing I can say about Rogue Agent.

The game actually does give an [easily-missable] indication as to Bond’s predicament being partially your fault: In the brief cutscene that plays as the helicopter crashes – if you squint your eyes real hard – you can just barely make out your character bailing out of the helicopter and leaving Bond to fall behind. Certainly an all-too subtle visual, but it’s there.
I intend for a bit of a double-meaning here, as there’s a particularly problematic element presented by Bond and Pussy’s relationship in the book and movie. You see, it’s revealed in the original novel [and more subtly hinted at in the film] that Pussy Galore identifies as a lesbian while she is still under the employ of Goldfinger. That is, until James Bond comes along and forces himself on her; at which point, she simultaneously falls for him and renounces her evil ways. The obvious subtext here being that all Mrs. Galore needed to set her “straight” – both romantically and morally – was a rugged man like 007 to come along. Needless to say, this whole scenario is handled abhorrently, and has been a rightful source of much controversy in modern Bond retrospective.
This being said, my long-suffering roommate certainly didn’t get much out of our brief gameplay session. Getting used to the controls without having already played the single-player first definitely poses a barrier to entry, so I wouldn’t necessarily call it a “pick-up-and-play party game” or anything.

“I Must Confess That This Victory Is Entirely Mine.”

“Don’t die yet. I have not kept my promise.”
(North American NDS box art)

Of course, we can’t have a sixth-generation console game without a handheld companion title! In the case of GoldenEye: Rogue Agent, players were treated to a Nintendo DS conversion released in June of 2005, as developed by n-Space Inc. (with support from EA Tiburon). Following the same story and attempting to approximate many of the assets of the source material, Rogue Agent DS serves as an admirable effort at recreating the original game… for whatever that’s worth. And while I could probably just leave things at that, I do have a bit more I’d like to say about this portable take on our poor offering of a Bond title.

Unsurprisingly, the DS version of the game lacks the FMV cutscenes of the original, opting instead for either still images or simplified in-engine recreations thereof. This is honestly fine though, since it’s not as if the original cutscenes were anything worth writing home about to begin with. Surprisingly though, the DS game take on the original title sequence – as reenacted by some simple character model and sprite animations – does actually serve as decently effective little effort at ringing in the rest of the game. It does, however, demonstrate one of the major issues with this version of the game: The soundtrack is somehow even worse than its console counterpart. Boasting incredibly repetitive loops and instrumentation I can only describe as “farty,” it’s the type of soundtrack that’ll make you wanna mute the game entirely and play in the sweet comfort of silence. Especially when you also consider that stages run almost as long as their console counterparts, only without the benefit of dynamically-changing music tracks this time around. In other words, you’ll be hearing many of the same two-minute loops for upwards of half-hours in several cases.

But hey now, there’s another interesting note worth addressing: The DS game really does put a great deal of effort into recreating the original level layouts as closely as possible, and does a quite admirable job of it! Though it does omit the Hoover Dam and Octopus missions from the console game (as well as axing Xenia’s boss fight), the effort put into replicating the missions that do make the cut is worthy of a commendation here. It’s just a shame, of course, that said levels are still so miserable to endure in many cases. Still though; it’s fascinating to replay these missions and to have a look at the game through the lenses of what looks like a fifth-generation console filter. There are folk who toss around the sentence “this looks like a PS1 game” way too often in the context of mocking the visuals of modern releases, but this game really does fit that phrase perfectly. And to be clear here, I mean it in the most flattering way possible. It’s seriously like taking the game’s design documents through a portal back in time, and seeing what it would look like in beautiful old Jaggy-vision.™

That’s just about where my compliments begin and end, though. As interesting as it is to see a developer giving the “demake” treatment to a critically reviled game, the part where I actually had to sit down and play it wasn’t really all that great a time for me. For reference, I really did own this game on cartridge, for reasons that I can’t even remember? And so, when I tell you that controlling the game is a prolonged exercise in frustration, I’m not just talking about the experience of trying to emulate a DS game on a PC. I would like to argue that touchscreens are a worse method of controlling first-person shooting than even dual-analog controllers are: The lack of screen real estate with which to tap on and swipe across results in a constant struggle to actually aim and turn as needed. And when you add the fact that you still need to keep one of your hands grasped firmly on the handheld at all times so that you can still be pressing buttons, it makes for an altogether awkward first-person shooting experience.

GoldenEye: Rogue Agent on Nintendo DS (Electronic Arts / n-Space, 2004)

Even if you enable an alternate control scheme that allows you to use the ABXY buttons for rotating the camera [as opposed to touchscreen gestures], you’ve still gotta use touch controls for reloading / picking up weapons, as well as activating your powers and interfacing with a new hacking minigame. So, you’ve still gotta take your thumbs off the tactile buttons any time you want to access any of these inputs; effectively rendering multitasking impossible, and making some of the most basic mechanics into a clumsy mess. Oh, and don’t forget that we’ve still got the dual weapons gimmick here making L and R independent firing functions, so don’t you dare take those pointer fingers off the shoulders or set your DS on a table! Now, for all my complaining, do I actually have any constructive ideas as to how they could’ve possibly made the game control better? Nah, not really: I think the only winning move here is not to play action FPS games on the DS in the first place. Of course, that wouldn’t stop n-Space from developing about a half-dozen more of them — but let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.

Just about the last feature worth noting here comes in the form of the game’s new “Virtual Training” mode, wherein you get to battle against bots across the game’s multiplayer maps. Say, wait a minute; that almost sounds like the Scrimmage mode that got dropped from the major console version of the game! In another move that aims to out-do the console release, you even get multiplayer skins for Goldfinger and Pussy Galore this time around, because why the heck wouldn’t they include that? It’s literally just a matter of pasting the character assets on the same animation-rigging skeleton that every other model in the game uses. So, if I had to give the team one more bit of credit of here, I’d congratulate them on how efficiently they’re able to do “a lot with a little.” When faced with crippling cartridge constraints and hardware hardly suited for the tasks at hand, they did their damndest in doing what they could with it.

As a matter of fact, n-Space did so damn good doing their dog-gonest with the dang GoldenEye game, that their services would be employed again in bringing more major console first-person shooters to the Nintendo DS! The next several years would see them release companion games to new entries in the Call of Duty series; covering the Modern Warfare trilogy as well as takes on Treyarch’s World at War and Black Ops. Come 2010, they were again given the chance to bring Bond back to the handheld, as Activision would approach them for help in converting their own take on GoldenEye 007 to portable format. By most accounts, these handheld titles are totally fine for what they are. Apparently, having stronger source material and what seems like a bigger budget to work with can result in better games. Who’d’ve thunk it? That being said, they do all share something like a similar trait with one another: They’re all built on the same engine framework as their original take on Rogue Agent.

Now, don’t get me wrong: It’s perfectly acceptable for developers to re-use game engines or iterate on old design frameworks. To be brutally honest, I’m actually of the impression that most critics actually have no clue what they’re saying when they think they know about game engines / how they work, and so I’m hesitant to even invoke the subject of them here. However, it must be said that when you play one n-Space FPS on the DS and quickly switch to another, there are little quirks and similarities that you’ll likely pick up on. Stuff like the momentum of your on-screen gun model as you spin and turn, or a few recycled character animations here and there; all very much “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” kind of stuff, which they should be wholly spared for keeping in place. Still, the similarities are noticeable if you’re out there looking for them. Which leads us to the subject of yet another console-to-DS conversion with n-Space’s fingerprints all over it. One that was never seen through to completion, yet still managed to make waves when the world first learned of its existence.

GoldenEye: Rogue Agent on Nintendo DS (Electronic Arts / n-Space, 2004)

On October 2nd, 2007, IGN staffer Matt Casamassina posted a video to the site titled “On-Camera Halo DS Demo.” In the introductory portion of the video, Matt claims that “once upon a time, there was this game that was in development,” and credits the intentionally-unnamed developer as being “a major studio, a major publisher, AAA publisher.” With the preamble out of the way, a brief demonstration of multiplayer gameplay is shown as Matt battles in-game against another IGN staffer, on what looks to be a recreation of the Zanzibar map from Halo 2; complete with characters in Spartan power armor and scaled-down renditions of weapons from the Xbox game. In addition to this video, two others featuring direct capture footage were to be uploaded to IGN as well, fittingly titled “Dual Wielding” and “SMG Battle” for their featured gameplay content.

Before video footage of the software in action had even been released, rumor of its existence had grown pervasive enough for Bungie to publicly get in front of it. In an interview with Siliconera in July of that same year, Halo community manager Brian Jarrard (mistakenly spelled as “Gerard” by the author) provided the insight that “It’s very likely that somebody at some point in time created a prototype and tried to pitch it,” and that “there has never been an officially funded or sanctioned development of any sort of DS Halo game.” As far as reactions to the released footage itself, some took to calling it some elaborate hoax on the part of IGN. Other sources would try and claim that “EA was behind the creation of Halo DS in some way”; misattributing the company at large as a development studio rather than a publisher. Ultimately, there was one conclusion that was eventually settled upon by most folk: The gameplay bore an uncanny resemblance to Rogue Agent DS while in action.

It’s fairly obvious in hindsight what we’re looking at here: n-Space went and tossed together a short little demo as part of a pitch to Microsoft or Bungie or whoever else to try and entice them into green-lighting a full-fledged Halo 2 conversion / companion game for the Nintendo DS. They used their existing framework from development of Rogue Agent on the DS, since doing so would save them a lot of time and resources for what might very well end up being a quickly-rejected pitch. Hey, the system for guns akimbo was already there too, which made the template that much better of a fit! Of course, while the opportunity didn’t end up panning out for them, they were still able to later build their Call of Duty projects on the back of this same DS-FPS engine they had developed. Proof-of-concept prototypes like the “Halo DS” cartridge number in the thousands, with developers using existing properties (even those not of their own creation) to establish simple points of comparison. My mind goes back to that Resident Evil 2 on Game Boy Advance” demonstration Raylight Studios put together some odd years ago, as another example.

So, as far as n-Space not nabbing the Halo contract, there’s no need to feel bad for them. They did just fine over the course of the next decade or so; developing all those other DS first-person shooters, getting paid Disney money to develop some TRON games on the Wii, and even bringing a couple Skylanders games to the 3DS. They kept themselves busy with steady work on notable licenses, until their eventual closure in 2016. From the looks of things, they put a lot of time and money developing an original IP in 2015’s Sword Coast Legends, and the critical / financial success didn’t follow afterward. That’s just how it goes sometimes in this industry. But hey, at least they made their mark on the Nintendo DS before they were through, and even got to contribute a couple entries to the Bond games franchise. There’s certainly pride to be taken in that.

“Halo” Prototype on Nintendo DS (n-Space [?], unreleased)

“There Is No Place at MI6 for an Agent like You.”

The console releases for GoldenEye: Rogue Agent were met with underwhelming reviews and sales numbers for the franchise. While sales across the Gamecube, PlayStation 2 and Xbox totalled in at somewhere around 1.5 million sold (as per VGChartz), this still represented a significant drop from EA’s previous entry in Everything or Nothing — with that title having ultimately sold something in the neighborhood of 3 million copies. Despite having dug up the “GoldenEye” branding for what can only be described as the most cynical of marketing ploys, EA seemed to have failed to bait consumers. Oh, and releasing two weeks after Halo 2 (as well as just one week after Half-Life 2) probably didn’t help matters much at all, either.

The hammer of critical consensus certainly came down hard and swift on Rogue Agent. Having previously described the game as “one of the most anticipated first-person shooters of the year” in a first look posted earlier in the year, GameSpot’s eventual review of the title pulled no punches. With Jeff Gerstmann citing poor level pacing, lack of variety, and writing off the plot as “second-rate fan fiction,” he would ultimately land on a final score of 6.3 out of 10. A sentiment he echoed in describing the game as “a low-rent version of Halo 2” would be a recurring one among reviewers, as comparisons to that smash hit were practically inescapable for any first-person shooters released over the course of the next year. Of course, Rogue Agent was in something like a uniquely unfortunate position as to be more directly compared against Halo, given its own emphasis on the dual-wielding mechanic.

IGN’s Douglass C. Perry penned a particularly thorough teardown of the title, knocking nearly every element of it as ill-conceived or otherwise bland. In a damning closing statement, he writes “GoldenEye is an empty vessel of a game missing personality, charm, story or any kind of distinguishing character. If videogames were living creatures and had souls, Rogue Agent would be the wandering game in search of one.” 1UP’s David Smith was similarly disillusioned by EA’s attempt to cash in on branding: “When EA first announced a successor to the GoldenEye name, our first response was to assume the worst, that the publisher was simply looking to trade on another company’s much-beloved success. […] It looks like we should have trusted our guts.” Altogether, Metacritic seems to numerically average the critical consensus for the game at around a 60/100: Fitting enough for a game of such high production and comparatively underwhelming content. I reckon I might personally settle on scoring it something like a 2 out of 5.

Some might be inclined to blame the game’s lacklustre sales on it being critically savaged, launching during a highly competitive window, or even the Bondless premise not being of interest to more casual consumers — and hey, you’d certainly be correct in claiming those as at least partial factors. But when all is said and done, there’s an argument for the quality of the final product having almost nothing to do with the number of copies sold. The simple fact of the matter is, the Bond property was cold in the wake of Brosnan’s departure, and there’s almost nothing that EA could’ve done during this time to heat it back up. Even From Russia with Love releasing a year later with the benefits of better gameplay and Sean Connery weren’t enough to pique the interest of consumers, ultimately moving another half a million copies less than Rogue Agent before it. Thus would end EA’s run with the Bond license, with the publishing juggernaut electing to bow out of their MGM contract early. And yes, by all accounts, it genuinely does look as if EA were the ones to do the dumping in this relationship:

“EA has decided to conclude our agreement for the James Bond license. The current contract was set to expire in 2009. This was a good relationship with MGM and it produced a lot of great games. While movie games will always be in our portfolio, EA is moving away from licensed properties and committing our resources to wholly-owned IP, created in our own studios. Wholly owned properties allow better financial margins and more creative control to develop the type of games that consumers want.” ~ EA representative

The Bond game license would ultimately land in the hands of rival publisher Activision, whose contract would last through to 2014. Activision’s time with the license would coincide with the introduction of Daniel Craig as the new James Bond; whose presence brought with him an altogether more gritty and rugged era of 007 films. This would pay off quite well for Activision, whose titles would be allowed to depict a rather aggressive and relentless version of the Bond character. They also benefited from Daniel Craig’s willingness to lend his voice and likeness to their titles, giving them an immediately more authentic feel. It’s funny to think that if EA had held out just a short while longer, they probably would’ve been able to similarly take advantage of these boons, and been able to have made bank off Bond again. Oh well: From one multi-billion dollar corporation to another, I suppose.

There’s a lot to say about Activision’s time with the Bond license. There’s the fact that they too tried to “bring back GoldenEye” with something like a proper reboot of the original film and game premise, simply titled GoldenEye 007 on the Wii (or GoldenEye 007: Reloaded on PS3 and 360). There’s also the matter of 007 Legends to discuss, which again banks on the nostalgia act premise by reconceptualizing the plots of five other Bond movie entries (Goldfinger, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Moonraker, License to Kill, and Die Another Day), in service of something like modern-day retellings starring Daniel Craig’s Bond. Definitely a whole ton to unpack there, I tell you what… but let’s maybe save it for a future article, why don’t we?

007: Legends on PC (Activision / Eurocam, 2012)

As for Electronic Arts’ futures in the wake of dropping Bond; they were obviously able to quickly rebound from it, and continue to hold the crown as the most profitable third-party publisher in the industry. But what of their subsidiary studio, EA Los Angeles? Well, they’re still kicking around to this day as well, though their reputation has certainly been further sullied some in the time since. Changing their label again to “Danger Close Games,” they were responsible for rebooting their classic Medal of Honor franchise in a pair of poorly-received modern-day military shooters. Shortly after the flopping of their 2012 entry, Medal of Honor: Warfighter, they were again rebranded as “DICE Los Angeles,” where they served as a support studio on Battlefield entries 4 and 1. They also provided resources to 2017’s Star Wars Battlefront II, which I hear is a game beloved by all while boasting absolutely no controversies for me to speak about! Glad it all worked out for the former DreamWorks Interactive in the end.

Look, there’s obviously something to be said here for EA’s handling of precious licenses and treatment of their studios, but this hardly seems the venue for it. Yes, their meddling may have well directly lead to Rogue Agent’s sub-par quality, and there’s plenty more I could say about their shameless invoking of the GoldenEye name, but what good what it all do? Criticisms such as these just roll off of them like water off a duck’s back. In this case, I prefer to celebrate the petty victory of seeing them drop the Bond license just before it became red hot again, and losing out on potential millions of dollars for their incompetence and impatience. Drops in a bucket for them to be sure, but there’s still a smug satisfaction to enjoy as a bystander to it. Really, the folk I can’t help but feel bad for in this scenario are the developers at EA LA, who continue struggling to recapture their former glory from days and studio names gone by.

My favorite Bond movie is 2012’s Skyfall, which centers around a somewhat contentious relationship between Daniel Craig’s Bond and Judi Dench’s M. It examines the decisions that M has to make as head of a secret intelligence organization, and the agents she has to be willing to sacrifice in the interest of keeping others alive. At a certain point, she has to detach herself completely and ultimately treat her agents as expendable — even her most effective agents in 007 and Javier Bardem’s “Raoul Silva.” The former comes to accept his role as a disposable asset; recognizing that the needs of the many outweigh the few, and that M’s position is entirely unenviable. Silva, on the other hand, obsesses over his treatment by his former employer, and plots a cruel and elaborate revenge over the course of years following his intended death. Major spoiler warning here, but M is fatally wounded come the film’s conclusion, with Silva dying shortly before her. In her final moments with Bond, M seems to reflect internally on the mistakes she made during her tenure, before remarking to 007 she at least “did one thing right.”

If I were more clever, I could spin some elaborate analogy here about M representing EA, and her two opposing agents representing something like different developers or game releases during their run with the Bond franchise. Instead, I’ll simply close by stating my honest feelings on the whole matter of Rogue Agent: It was disappointing back in the day to see a potentially cool premise so completely squandered, and I guess I’m still a bit dispirited by the whole fiasco. James Bond might be something like a problematic favorite, but there should at least be no shame among those who continue to fondly remember Rare’s classic take on GoldenEye for the Nintendo 64. The shame should be reserved for those who blatantly and callously attempt to appeal to fan nostalgia, while not affording their products the time and resources they deserve in order to properly make players happy. Must Electronic Arts destroy every franchise they get their hands on?

“Standard operating procedure. Boys with toys.”


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b “GoldenEye Rogue Agent – Patrick Gilmore Interview.” MI6-HQ.com. July 27, 2004. Web. (2)
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Cassidy is the curator of a bad video game hall of fame. Whether you interpret that as "a hall of fame dedicated to bad video games" or as "a sub-par hall of fame for video games" is entirely up to you. Prefers "They / Them" pronouns. Genuine cowpoke.

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1 Comment

  1. SomeDudeWhoLikesFPSes says:

    Personally I find Rogue Agent to be decent. I grew up playing it on GCN and revisited it recently on PCSX2 and while I agree with your thoughts here, I find the game to be underrated and in general decent. To me EA is a notorious developer wanting to always rush games but I think if this had equal time in the oven like Everything or Nothing did, I’d love it. This is coming from someone who grew up playing Bond era GCN games and while my favorites are personally NightFire and Russia with Love, I loved EoN (Beat it for the first time this year) and AUF I consider as decent as Rogue Agent, but I consider it average compared to Rogue Agent. RA I give a 7/10 but there are better things to do than play the game, I’ll admit.

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