“How does it feel to be on the receiving end?” –Aaron Keener, The Division 2: Warlords of New York
After an assignment leaves an MI6 agent without his right eye, the agent is sent for an assessment simulation with James Bond and fails after he leaves Bond to “die”. Dismissed from MI6, the agent accepts an employment offer from Auric Goldfinger, who has scientist Francisco Scaramanga fit him with a cybernetic eye. The agent takes on the moniker GoldenEye, and helps Goldfinger secure the Organic Mass Energy Neutraliser (OMEN), a weapon capable of breaking down organic matter at a molecular level. After fending off Dr. No’s soldiers, GoldenEye is sent to Hong Kong and assassinate Dr. No – despite being betrayed, GoldenEye manages to take out the traitor and escapes with Pussy Galore. Despite having moved the OMEN to his casino in Las Vegas, Dr. No’s forces continue their pursuit of the device. GoldenEye fights through the casino and reaches a vault housing the OMEN, successfully defending it, but fails to stop Xena Onnatop, who was leading the operation, from escaping. Goldfinger has GoldenEye infiltrate the Hoover Dam and tasks him with eliminating Onnatop. He succeeds in killing her, and Goldfinger sends him to the Octopus to locate Dr. No’s base. Determining Dr. No is hiding out at Crab Key, Goldfinger sends GoldenEye on a one-man assault on the facility and kills Dr. No, but Goldfinger realises that GoldenEye is far too dangerous to be left alive. He detonates Crab Key’s reactor and leaves GoldenEye for dead, but GoldenEye escapes. Pussy Galore reveals Goldfinger has taken control of the Lair, and Scaramanga provides GoldenEye with a special computer virus to disable the Lair’s defenses. After clearing the Lair out, GoldenEye confronts Goldfinger – despite being trapped, the computer virus activates and overloads the OMEN. Goldfinger is disintegrated in the process, and GoldFinger manages to evacuate alongside Pussy Galore. Meanwhile, Ernest Stavro Bloefeld takes an interest in GoldenEye after sharing a conversation with Scaramanga, deciding to simply wait and see before making any decisions about how to best deal with GoldenEye. This is GoldenEye: Rogue Agent, a 2004 first person shooter that was a spinoff of the popular James Bond series of video games. Despite being unrelated to the James Bond franchise as a whole, and suffering poor reception as a result of the plot and gameplay mechanics amongst video game critics of the time, GoldenEye: Rogue Agent was commercially successful amongst players.
During my play-through of GoldenEye: Rogue Agent, I found the game to handle very similarly to Halo 2: dual-wielding is very much a part of GoldenEye: Rogue Agent, and the fact that players can only hold onto one active weapon at a time means that even more thought must be given towards what one takes with them. Equipping the rocket launcher for anti-vehicular combat leaves one ill-prepared to fight soldiers, and two-handed weapons actively prevent the player from using grenades. While I found the mission objectives to be unremarkable, the levels themselves were very well designed, and fighting enemy forces was always a thrill because of how many different ways I could approach the firefight. I could sneak behind cover and pair the MRI vision with the Mag-Rail to pick foes off from behind cover, methodically pick enemies off with the AR-4, or charge in with a pair of HS-90s blazing, using the shield to absorb all damage. GoldenEye: Rogue Agent thus was a thrilling game, and I had a great time going through the game right up until I finished Crab Key. After reaching Goldfinger’s Lair, GoldenEye: Rogue Agent takes a turn for the unfair after the OMEN XR is introduced – in the player’s hands, the OMEN XR is a semi-automatic weapon firing slow-moving plasma orbs that disintegrate enemies in one hit. The weapon’s great firepower is offset by the low projectile velocity and the small capacity, so the OMEN XR is not the end-all solution to all combat scenarios. However, in the hands of an enemy, the OMEN XR is a devastating weapon capable of vapourising the player even if they are at full health and armour. Because of how common enemies carrying the OMEN XR are, the final segments of GoldenEye: Rogue Agent were downright unfair. Any sort of carelessness will send players back a long way, and the final fight of the game has players squaring off against four named enemies, each of which equip their own shields and shoot with devastating accuracy. Consequently, on my run of GoldenEye: Rogue Agent, I actually had started the game back in April, but after reaching the Lair, I lost interest, and it was only late in October that I decided to give it another shot; as it turns out, I’d been a stone’s throw away from finishing the fight, and after defeating all four of Goldfinger’s remaining enforcers, I had finished a game that I’d been longing to play since I heard about it back during 2004. Despite the frustration with the final mission, GoldenEye: Rogue Agent overall is an entertaining game, and I found that the period reviews for the game to have misunderstood and misrepresented what the title had been trying to do.
Screenshots and Commentary
- One knows they’re dealing with an old game when the screenshots are 4:3. I only have one screenshot of the opening mission, and I remember starting this after things had slowed down during April: I’d just finished watching Koisuru Asteroid, and Battlefield V was reaching the end of its lifespan. At the time, I was still on the fence about Warlords of New York, and with the global health crisis both introducing a lockdown in my area, as well as knocking anime out left and right (Houkago Teibou Nisshi and Oregairu were both delayed), I had quite a bit of extra time around to make a dent in my old backlog. Right out of the gates, I was impressed with the way GoldenEye: Rogue Agent handled the dual-wielding system; players can freely swap out weapons in their left and right hands.
- My favourite weapon for most of GoldenEye: Rogue Agent was the AR-4 Commando, a facsimile of the HK 416. In GoldenEye: Rogue Agent, the AR-4 is equipped with an optic that provides magnification, and while it can be inaccurate when fired on full automatic, burst-firing the weapon allows it to reach further ranges with fair accuracy. With a 30-round magazine and capable of holding its own at close and long range, the AR-4 is the best weapon in the game, fulfilling the role that Halo 2‘s Battle Rifle did.
- GoldenEye will always start with the SPEC-9, a 9 mm pistol modelled on the USP Match. As I make my way through Goldfinger’s lab here, I find an interrogation room with a laser identical to the one that Goldfinger had used in Goldfinger: there, Goldfinger had captured Bond and was about to deal some damage when Bond mentioned Operation Grand-Slam. Subtle call-outs to Bond films appear throughout GoldenEye: Rogue Agent, and being a Bond fan myself, it was nice to recognise the different references. Here, I’m rocking the Mk. II Detonator, which acts as a miniature grenade launcher with impressive range and damage.
- The HS-90 (FN P-90) is the most common weapon in GoldenEye: Rogue Agent, and can always be relied upon in a pinch. With a high rate of fire, large magazine capacity and reasonable accuracy, the HS-90 can be paired with almost any weapon, rendering one capable of handling close and medium-range combat without any trouble. Here, I’m rocking the Jackal in my left hand: modelled after the Desert Eagle, the Jackal only has an eight round magazine but hits like a truck. Different weapon combinations work with different efficacies, and in general, one can’t go wrong with the HS-90. I’ve noticed that a lot of guides from 2004 call the HS-90 a “machine gun”, and indeed, some folks use the term “machine gun” and “automatic weapon” interchangeably.
- This is certainly not the case: an automatic weapon is any weapon that can fire multiple rounds without releasing the trigger because the weapon has a mechanism (either using the recoil or gas from an earlier round) to chamber the next round. A machine gun is a purpose-built weapon for firing full-power cartridges (such as the 7.62mm NATO round) in a sustained manner. Technically, the P-90 isn’t even a submachine gun (weapons that fire pistol calibre ammunition): it’s a personal defense weapon (PDW), a class of weapons that fire small-calibre ammunition shaped like an intermediate cartridge. I imagine that contacting the writers of these FAQs to offer revisions would be an exercise in futility, since all of them date back sixteen years, and their email accounts likely no longer exist.
- The mission in Hong Kong is set on the rooftop of a fictional restaurant/public bath of sorts: to be clear, no such building exists in Hong Kong in a site where the IFC and The Centre are simultaneously visible along with the Hong Kong Bank of China Tower. While the site has been heavily fictionalised, it was nice to see Hong Kong appear in a video game. In this mission, enemies speak Cantonese, and there are various signs in Traditional Chinese around the level. GoldenEye traverses the rooftops by way of zip-lines, and fortunately, while using said zip-lines, one can still fire their weapons.
- While GoldenEye can pick up body armour to provide an additional layer of defense from enemy fire, unlike traditional 007 games, GoldenEye has regenerating health. Health begins recharging as soon as one is out of combat for a while, similarly with the energy shields in Halo 2, and what’s more, like the Halo 2 energy shields, GoldenEye’s health will make an audible indicator when it is recharging. Despite the sophisticated mechanics in GoldenEye: Rogue Agent, the HUD remains relatively simple: ammunition is displayed on the lower side of the screen, and the left hand’s status is also displayed, whether it be zooming in, throwing grenades or firing the left-hand weapon if one is equipped. Health is indicated on the right, armour on the left, and the active Eye Power sits on the centre of the screen.
- Early in GoldenEye: Rogue Agent, the Eye Powers are not particularly useful, and I got through entire missions without using them. In Hong Kong, I alternated between the AR-4 and the Harpoon RL, a fictional pump-action rocket launcher that is devastating against infantry and vehicles alike. During the fight with Dr. No’s VTOL, there was, fortunately, an endless supply of the Harpoon RL on the rooftops to take advantage of. While powerful, ammunition for the Harpoon RL is relatively rare, and so, after dealing with vehicles, my first inclination is to switch back to the AR-4 or HS-90.
- Of the abilities in GoldenEye: Rogue Agent, the polarity shield is probably the most versatile and useful. It absorbs incoming damage, and when engaged, allows players to down any enemy, even named enemies, with a single melee attack. GoldenEye does have access to melee strikes in GoldenEye: Rogue Agent, just like in Halo – the melee offers a means of dispatching nearby enemies without expending ammunition, and GoldenEye is able to even use enemy soldiers as a shield. This ability is useful for helping one to absorb incoming fire: it is brutal and absolutely speaks to GoldenEye’s ruthless methods. Most first person shooters do not have this as a feature, and it wasn’t until this year’s Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War, where a game utilises this mechanic.
- During the fight in Goldfinger’s Las Vegas Casino, I picked up an M134 Mini-gun (the Predator MG). Like the Harpoon RL, it slows down player movement, but capable of holding 200 rounds (with an extra 200 in reserve), the Predator MG is a beast at close quarters: the rounds are individually powerful, and the weapon has a high rate of fire. At longer ranges, spread becomes problematic, but in the narrow confines of the casino, with its card tables and slot machines, the Predator shredded enemies, allowing me to quickly reach the vaults.
- Goldfinger’s vaults have a very clean feel to them: Bond villains always seem to have a distinct sense of aesthetics when it comes to interior design, and here, I fight through the corridors en route to the OMEN. Having now been given the polarity shield, it was here where I found that GoldenEye: Rogue Agent‘s Eye Powers add a new versatility to the game. In Halo, the idea of a deployable armour ability only arrived with Halo: Reach. Altogether, there were many features in GoldenEye: Rogue Agent that were well ahead of their time, and one must wonder what gaming journalists were thinking back in the day.
- The Hoover Dam mission has a very late-spring, early-summer feel to it, being set during the evening. The mission reminds me of those days late in the term when the school year was ending, and the days were lengthening. When GoldenEye: Rogue Agent first came out, I was a middle school student, and I’d just beaten 007: Nightfire. Back in those days, the internet was nowhere nearly as advanced as it was now, and I found out about the game only because I had been looking up walk-throughs of Nightfire on GameFAQs and came across the new title. After reading the various weapon guides, I became intrigued with the game. One of my friends did have the game and found it enjoyable, although he remarked that Nightfire was better all around as a Bond game. Having now beaten both, I’d agree here: even now, Nightfire set the standard for what Bond games should be.
- I’ve heard rumours that there is a new Bond game in the making – Bond titles like 007 Legends, from Activision, have been horrible, and the bar isn’t particularly high to surpass those games, but compared to classics like Nightfire, Agent Under Fire and GoldenEye 64, any new Bond game will have quite a bit to live up to. Back in GoldenEye: Rogue Agent, I blow up a helicopter with a well-placed round from the Harpoon RL. The road on the top of Hoover Dam was the first section of the game I had any trouble with – since I started out with a half-empty AR-4 magazine, I was short of ammunition. It took a few tries to beat this segment: once I worked out where more ammunition could be found, dealing with enemies became much simpler.
- I ended up picking up a Longbow SR (AMP TS DSR-1), a bull-pup bolt-action sniper rifle that excels at long-range shooting. It’s the only weapon in the game suited for extreme long range combat, and its unmatched stopping power is reigned back by a low rate of fire, small magazine capacity and the fact that ammunition for it is extremely rare. With its high magnification scope, it surpasses the AR-4 for long range combat, but my lack of skill on a console means that I prefer automatic weapons, which are more forgiving to use where controllers cannot offer the same precision as a keyboard and mouse.
- After making my way through the interior of the Hoover Dam, I come across the generator hall. I’d actually visited Hoover Dam when I was in Las Vegas some sixteen years earlier: I remember that vacation best for the luxurious buffets that the hotels on the Strip offer, as well as the excursion to the Hoover Dam. The interior is actually rendered faithfully, and towards the end of this mission, I would fight Xena Onnatop. Were it to be a melee-fight, GoldenEye: Rogue Agent would have doubtlessly proved boring – to keep the gameplay fresh, and at the expense of narrative, Onnatop only toys with GoldenEye before grabbing a nearby VTOL, and so, one can to shoot her down in a fight, as opposed to resorting to quick-time events (incidentally, quick-time events did become popular for a while in the early 2010s).
- The Octopus is an underwater auction house of sorts for GoldenEye: Rogue Agent‘s enemy factions. Only accessible by submarine, the location holds a computer that happens to have the coordinates of Dr. No’s personal base. Shortly after arriving, I immediately picked up the AR-4. The observant reader will notice that I’ve not made too much use of the Mamba 12G: this double-barrelled shotgun is a fictional weapon that is devastating up close, but is stymied by a low firing rate and long reload time. It is most effectively paired with the HS-90: when burst fired, one can annihilate nearby enemies with the Mamba 12G while fending off more distant foes with the HS-90.
- During the course of GoldenEye: Rogue Agent, there are two weapons players will encounter, usually in the most inopportune times when ammunition is low. These weapons are the Venom 200ML and the Tesla EM. The weapons are equivalent to Halo‘s plasma pistol in terms of efficacy: the Venom 200ML only slows down opponents, and is utterly useless, while the Tesla EM can punch through polarity shields and deal some damage against named enemies, who are usually shielded. Unlike the plasma pistol, they do not have a dedicated utility, and when one runs out of ammunition, it is preferable to stick to the SPEC-9 and hand grenades rather than pick any of these toy guns up.
- Conversely, the Mag-Rail is probably one of the most effective and entertaining weapons to use in GoldenEye: Rogue Agent; ammunition for it is comparatively rare, and the weapon requires a moment to charge up before it can fire, but the projectile can pass through walls and take out opponents on the other side. Paired with MRI vision, one can stay behind cover and pick off foes so as long as they have energy for their Eye Powers and ammunition for the Mag-Rail. The Mag-Rail is best paired with the HS-90, allowing one to deal with enemies at close to intermediate range.
- The penultimate mission is set on Crab Key, Dr. No’s iconic base from Dr. No. While it’s not totally faithful to the Crab Key in the movie, the general aesthetic is captured, and much like how Hoover Dam reminded me of those days late in May, Crab Key reminds me of the summer. This is hardly surprising, since Crab Key is located in Jamaica. Since the Octopus mission, I’ve been conferred the so-called “Magnetic Induction Field”, which uses magnetics to pick up and throw enemies around. While the most entertaining of the Eye Powers, it is very power intensive and usually leaves one vulnerable in a firefight. I’m guessing that it acts on the metals the enemy’s armour is composed of, since there is no way for the eye to generate enough power to have a tangible effect on the body, even in a fictional setting.
- Before I pushed my way towards the heart of Crab Key and its reactor, I took one last look at the scenery. The visuals in GoldenEye: Rogue Agent were passable for its time: Halo 2 and 007 Nightfire both had better graphics, and I wonder if a part of the development budget went towards the voice acting and character models: GoldenEye: Rogue Agent features the likeness of Gert Fröbe, Honor Blackman, Harold Sakata, Joseph Wiseman, Christopher Lee and Famke Janssen. As it stands, while the visuals were nothing eye-popping, the game’s main appeal lay in having faithful renderings of classic characters, the level design and gameplay mechanics.
- At this point in the mission, I’ve emptied out my weapons and so, had to fall back on the SPEC-9. I’ve skipped quite a bit of the mission here: players must make their way through several fortified areas and defeat Dr. No’s tanks, go down into an excavation and push deep into Dr. No’s base in order to confront him. GoldenEye: Rogue Agent‘s graphics were on-par for what was available at the time, but these areas of the game were a little less inspired than the other parts of the mission, and so, I’ve opted to skip past them.
- The fight with Dr. No was simple enough: after using the remote hacking ability to disable the safeties on the reactor, the reactor will overload and electrocute Dr. No. The challenge here was getting in range to carry out the hack, during which I did not have access to the polarity shield. It took a few attempts, but in the end, I got it done. With Dr. No down for the count, GoldenEye’s quest for vengeance is complete, although Goldfinger suddenly betrays GoldenEye, claiming he is too dangerous to be left alive. It would appear that Goldfinger had only allowed the employment of a former MI6 00-agent to eliminate his rival, and with the rival dealt with, this leaves Goldfinger to take centre stage.
- The final mission is set at the Lair, a massive base located in a hollowed-out volcano in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The interior is faithful to the original Volcano base as seen in You Only Live Twice, but is smaller in scale and lacks the launch pad. Players won’t spend too much time here, since the goal is to sabotage Goldfinger’s rogue operation. While GoldenEye is only armed with the SPEC-9 to start things off, enemy soldiers will soon drop what is one of the most infamous weapons ever to be featured in a James Bond game.
- For the past fifteen or so years, I’ve only ever read about the OMEN XR at GameFAQs: gamers of 2004 described it as a dangerous weapon for its ability to vapourise enemies in one round, making it obscenely powerful; the OMEN XR is only limited by a low muzzle velocity and small capacity, and FAQs don’t mention what these limitations entail. Technically, this is a miniaturised version of the OMEN Goldfinger plans on using for his quest to dominate the world, being able to fit into a firearm’s form factor. While the OMEN XR appears great on paper, its low rate of fire and muzzle velocity means that in practise, the weapon is utterly useless at longer ranges.
- When it does connect, the disintegrations that the OMEN XR causes are amusing, however, and at close quarters, against small number of enemies, the OMEN XR works just fine. However, in a serious situation, the OMEN XR is more of a liability than an asset, and the weapon’s overwhelming power against individual opponents does not leave it better suited for dealing with groups of enemies. Having taken a look around, it would appear that the internet actually does not have any screenshots of the OMEN XR in GoldenEye: Rogue Agent proper. This post rectifies that in full – I do believe that I now have the internet’s only screenshots of what the OMEN XR looks like from the first person perspective.
- While amusing, the OMEN XR is ultimately impractical, and my preferred setup during this final mission was to pair the HS-90 with either the Mag-rail, or the Mk. II Detonator, which respectively allows me to engage enemies from behind cover and effectively deal with groups with a well-placed shot. I believe the Mk. II Detonator fires the same detonators seen in Tomorrow Never Dies: despite its small form factor, it is capable of causing serious damage, making it one of the best weapons in the game. The AR-4 is all but absent in this final mission, so having a HS-90 around is essential for survival – enemies equip the OMEN XR, and in their hands, the weapon fires in bursts of three that make even an ordinary soldier exceedingly lethal.
- The interrogation room from Crab Key, as seen in Dr. No, is inexplicably transported over to the Lair. Players will simply need to pass through this room, retrieve the virus, and then continue on towards the next part of the mission. The first half of the final mission was moderately challenging, but the second half is diabolical. Every other soldier is equipped with the OMEN XR, and being hit will instantly kill the player. The polarity shield can absorb one of these rounds, but since soldiers fire in bursts of three, one cannot simply rush out and expect to tank all that damage. Making things more difficult, ammunition for the better guns is scarce, so one must really pick their shots well.
- The simulation rooms were tricky, but fortunately, Goldfinger’s betrayal means that some of the soldiers will fight on GoldenEye’s side. They are moderately effective, and can help act as decoys, drawing fire off GoldenEye and allowing players to move into position for a better shot. Named enemies will show up in each of the three simulation rooms, and once all are cleared, players will continue fighting into the base to reach Goldfinger. Checkpoints are rare, and deaths are extremely punishing here: besides the OMEN XR soldiers, enemies make use of the Venom 200ML and Mk. II Detonator, which slows players down and can cause massive damage.
- On my first play-through, I’d cleared the conference rooms and meeting areas out, and reached the final part of the base, but had to call it quits that evening back in May. When I learnt that I had been a gruelling boss fight away from finishing the game, I lost the will to continue, and GoldenEye: Rogue Agent sat unfinished for five months. I subsequently spent May and June in Battlefield V, caught up with Warlords of New York in July and spun up my own World of Warcraft server in August: it wasn’t until late last month that I decided that I might as well return and finish the fight. What awaited was diabolical: it took me some forty minutes to kill the named enemies here, but after I finished, I was left with an overwhelming sense of accomplishment.
- I grabbed an OMEN XR off the floor, cleared the remaining soldiers out and watched the closing cutscene to GoldenEye: Rogue Agent, where Goldfinger attempts to kill GoldenEye but fails. With GoldenEye: Rogue Agent in the books, I’ve now completed a game that I’d been wondering about for the past decade-and-a-half, and while the final mission was brutally difficult, overall, I found GoldenEye: Rogue Agent to be a surprisingly enjoyable game. The gaming journalists of the time got this wrong, and looking back now, what was considered to be a “mediocre, unimaginative” game from EA still is leaps and bounds ahead of modern games like Fortnite. Back then, games didn’t have loot boxes: enjoyment boiled down entirely to skill, rather than emote dances. I note that today marks the sixteenth anniversary to the release of GoldenEye: Rogue Agent, and it seemed appropriate to mark this date with a revisit of the game, hence this post.
In retrospect, GoldenEye: Rogue Agent was actually ahead of its time in the areas that period critics found lacking. The story of an MI6 agent going rogue allowed the game to explore a side of the Bond universe that was never dealt with in the films and suggests that the villains of the James Bond universe are not more effectual than they are because all of them have their own aspirations and plans for the world; these plans do not entail cooperation, and the reason why the villains have not already overcome the world’s governments is precisely because they are too busy quarrelling with one another. Bond films have always presented the villains as threatening the world, one at a time, and GoldenEye: Rogue Agent offers a suggestion as to why this is the case. As it stands, GoldenEye: Rogue Agent‘s story, while doubtlessly written to simply maximise the amount of exotic locations players can shoot through, is still reasonably entertaining, on top of the insight that being a bad guy in the Bond universe is a tough occupation. Besides providing the justification needed to blow stuff up in cool places, GoldenEye: Rogue Agent‘s gameplay was actually ahead of its time. The dual-wielding system was as sophisticated as that of Halo 2‘s, which would have released a mere thirteen days earlier, and unlike Halo 2, GoldenEye: Rogue Agent also incorporated the Eye Powers. GoldenEye can use MRI vision to spot enemies from behind cover and walls, hack into remote devices and disable enemy weapons, project a shield that temporarily renders him impervious to damage, or even pick enemies up and throw them. The weapons systems, together with the Eye Powers, give players tactical options during combat and encourage creativity in dealing with the enemies that GoldenEye: Rogue Agent throws at the players. The enemy AI was also fairly responsive for its time: they react in real time to the player’s actions, whether one picks up different weapons or engages different Eye Powers. Altogether, between the strong art and animation for its time, plus having a robust dual-wielding system and the Eye Powers, GoldenEye: Rogue Agent actually proved to be exceptionally innovative for its time, especially with the idea that players were not playing the good guys. The game has a very distinct personality from more conventional James Bond games, and every aspect of the game, from the visuals, to the soundtrack, conveys a sense of deadly professionalism and determination, quite unlike the suave, classy air that James Bond had been associated with during that time period, prior to Daniel Craig’s casting as Bond in 2007’s Casino Royale, which redefined what being James Bond meant.