So. Do you know why it's called GoldenEye? Let's get that out of the way just in case. Short version: you are a naughty former MI6 agent working for Goldfinger, you lose an eye in a battle with Dr. No, and Goldfinger's technicians fashion a golden replacement (which happens to improve your abilities like Geordie from Star Trek).
Get over the name though. Seriously. We all need to get over the name. Nobody - not even EA - is denying that it represents an unprecedented level of cynicism, but the only people who stand to lose out by pre-judging Rogue Agent based on EA's limp justification for name-jacking are the likes of us - because aside from the small issue of the name, we actually quite like the idea of playing as a henchman.
However we can't really tell you what that's like, because during the opening level of the game, demonstrated behind closed doors at E3 this week, the player's character is still very much a part of Her Majesty's Secret Service. He even joins James Bond on a mission to thwart a re-imagined version of Goldfinger's Operation Grand Slam - a plan that involved detonating a nuclear weapon within Fort Knox to irradiate the world's supply of gold, if our weary recollections aren't too far wide of the mark. This involves working your way through the great vault, down stairs, through identikit rooms, past lots of shatter-able scenery and into the heart of the facility.
In fact, were we to have ignored our adversaries, instead of gunning them down, knocking them off balconies and clobbering them with contrived set-pieces, they would presumably have gone on to become our colleagues. Because following his dismissal from MI6 for reckless brutality during the Fort Knox mission (and we were quite unpleasant), our uncontrollable anti-hero goes on to help the bullion-obsessed master crim wage war on Dr. No for control of SPECTRE. It's... Hrm, no - at this point we probably ought to come in again.
Get over the story. Seriously. We all need to get over the story. Nobody - not even EA - is denying that it makes no sense either temporally or even within the framework of the Goldfinger or Dr. No films. EA producers have already claimed that Bond simply shares his timeless quality with the ranks of senior henchmen and women hauled out of retirement (or rather death) for Rogue Agent, but in reality they should have just called it what it is - a spin-off game that drags elements of other Bonds kicking and screaming into some bastardised vision of what might have happened if the Doctor just kept a low profile, and Bond arrived at Fort Knox in a chopper and with Pierce Brosnan's face.
Taken entirely apart from its cynical name and awkwardly impossible plot, it's a fairly straightforward shoot-'em-up starring recognisable characters. However, at least in single-player terms, the things that help it to stand out from the crowd are quite numerous. First of all there's the "Evil AI", which has enemies ducking behind cover and scooting out whenever we reload or get too close, and realistically losing their precise aim when faced with shooting at us through pillars of smoke or frosted glass.
Then there are the Death Traps. Effectively they're set-pieces - buttons to press and items to shoot that kill off a gaggle of henchmen in one fell swoop (or one fell gaseous discharge, one fell test-firing of a space shuttle, etc). AI controlled enemies rather helpfully loiter in the right areas at the right time, and that's fair enough - some gamers will welcome to chance to pump gas into a room instead of having to actually go inside and fire weapons. In fact, ask yourself if you enjoyed the 'Bond moments' in Everything or Nothing they are pretty comparable.
Other "unique selling points" ('tis the season) include being able to carry two weapons at once and fire them independently (left trigger for left gun, right for right), an experience system that levels up the player's targeting skill and imaging capabilities amongst other things (via augmentations of his, ulp, 'golden eye'), and Havok physics, which means ragdoll enemies who tumble floppily all over the place, although sadly nothing akin to Max Payne 2's nudge-it-and-watch-it-fall gimmick. Gadget-obsessed Bond may be, but this is no mere tech toy.
Also on private display at E3 is an eight-player Xbox deathmatch setup, the level for which is loosely based on the launch facility from Moonraker. It's not a bad layout, easily picked up, and like the single-player game it benefits from Death Traps, except here it's a lot more amusing because you're doing it to other people. Rather like the Quake 2 map with the tunnel that fills with lava when someone hits a switch, being able to lock people under the fiery backend of a space shuttle and then burn them to a cinder is great fun. As is watching them run into an impenetrable control room to grab the rocket launcher, only to wind up locked in as the room fills with gas.
The most entertaining aspect of deathmatch though, for us, was the napalm grenade. Thrown using the left trigger when no second weapon is equipped, it hits the ground and splashes fire in a neat circle, wiping out just about anybody in its path. Throw one and shoot it in midair with the opposing trigger and it's an even better effect. Despite the pyrotechnics, we were told that the developer is shooting (ha) for 30 frames per second minimum in all three versions, too - and that's at widescreen and in four-player split to boot.
We were also pleased with EA's decision to tweak the deathmatch formula. We've yet to see the full extent of it, but the idea of a bounty score (based on factors like kills and the number of kills without death), which goes towards experience and can be stolen by a well-placed bullet to the final health point is an intriguing one. In a normal deathmatch game, this could lead to some interesting games of hunting the leader to try and secure his vast points total, and EA is toying with indicators that help to do so, but the bounty system is arguably more interesting within the framework of a team game.
In team deathmatch, EA is hoping the bounty system will lead to ruthless double-crossing - players fighting together to build up an unassailable lead, and then slaughtering their comrades when they least expect it to gather all the kudos. We've spent so much time complaining about team-killing in recent years [and committing the heinous act yourself, Bramwell! - Rob] that it seems odd to see it employed deliberately, but it's an idea that could work - particularly during online PS2 or Xbox games with voice comms. Imagine it. "Okay, you take point." [Blam.] "Don't mind if I do!"
Rogue Agent also features a revenge system, which allows the player to regain his bounty (and then some) by tracking down his last killer within 30 seconds of respawning. It's nothing incredible, but it's another nice touch. On the whole we're looking forward to playing the final version and seeing how the multiplayer modes come together.
However we're also hoping that the game receives a bit of technical reconsideration beforehand. Graphically it's a good-looking game on PS2 and Xbox, with some basic, EON-level environments, some nice softened views through frosted glass and tainted reflections in marble, and lots of fire and brimstone flying around. But the character models are quite disappointing at the moment, and could do with some work - and that goes for the single-player game too.
Likewise the analogue control - at the very least it needs a sensitivity adjustment bar, but at most it needs a rethink. Having borrowed the GoldenEye name, it won't do to fall short of its several-year-old control system. At the moment though, it's the not so classic blend of slow acceleration and slow top speed, which led to us trying to strafe the crosshair onto a target more often than not - usually the sign of a less than adequate double-analogue system. We'd far rather prefer the TimeSplitters 2 system. Have a word with Free Radical, EA - you already have the number.
With so much left to change and the game in an incomplete state, we're keen not to go overboard in our criticism, but obviously there are some problems. The technical issues (like glitching deaths and weapon inaccuracy) we imagine will be sharpened up somewhat before release, but the analogue system and the repetition of simple room design in Fort Knox gave cause to frown.
Regardless of the team's efforts between now and autumn when the game is due out, Rogue Agent is unlikely to eclipse its illustrious predecessor - or rather, the illustrious game from whence it stole its name. Judging by the E3 demonstration though, it does stand a chance of turning into an enjoyable console FPS. Still, GoldenEye? Cynical bastards.