When EA announced the first details of James Bond spin-off title GoldenEye: Rogue Agent last week, the reaction from most of us was one of disbelief. There was even some debate about whether the whole thing was an elaborate joke. The reason was EA's remarkably flaky justification for use of the GoldenEye name - made famous in gaming terms by Rare's unparalleled N64 film adaptation of the same name - which sees us controlling an aspiring henchman whose own eye was knocked out by Dr. No and replaced with a golden equivalent. Why gold? Because we're working for Auric Goldfinger, who is tussling with Dr. No for control of the criminal underworld.
In time though, we could get over that - even if it seems perfectly fair to characterise it as marketing stupidity. After all, most of the folks who played GoldenEye will realise what EA is doing and look for some verification of the 'sequel's quality before they go out and buy it, and anybody who didn't will still think it sounds daft. As a marketing ploy, it's extraordinarily bold and risky, but ultimately we were far more bothered by the rest of the package.
For a start, it doesn't fit the timeline of the films. The game apparently begins as our henchman still works for MI6, fighting alongside James Bond himself at the conclusion of Goldfinger - perhaps even the climactic sequence at Fort Knox. Following our endeavours in this mission, we're kicked out of MI6 for "reckless brutality", and wind up heading over to the dark side and working for Goldfinger, fighting against the minions of Caribbean-based wacko Dr. No.
If you look at the films in terms of a linear timeline, it doesn't make any sense. If you fight against Goldfinger at that film's conclusion, surely he's well on the way to grisly end, and Dr. No has long since disappeared into the frothing bowels of his rather volatile facility in Crabb Key. And what of the promised contemporary Bond villains like Xenia Onatopp, who appeared in the 90s vintage - surely she wouldn't even be alive if the film is set in the 60s? EA's answer to this, as seen in the American press last week, seems to be that since Bond himself doesn't really age on his way from the 60s to the 00s, the enemies should be allowed to share that timeless quality. Even though many of them die on the way. A cop out? Or a reasonable explanation?
Whatever the view, there is a feeling that a game where we play as a Bond villain could be rather enjoyable, assuming it's handled well. EA Los Angeles has been set to task on this one, and has been developing it for quite some time. According to the producer we've seen interviewed, the team realises that the game will have to be a first-person shooter of unparalleled quality to stand up. Which is certainly true.
In order to do this they have crafted a highly interactive set of environments, which let us do things like shooting holes in a fuel container and then igniting the gas to take out enemies, shoot grenades out of enemies' hands, take advantage of objects like a space shuttle in a Moonraker level to clobber groups of enemies (in a style reminiscent of Everything Or Nothing's 'Bond Moments'), and duck behind fires and frosted glass to screw up our adversaries' aiming.
More details should be made available at E3, where we expect to learn about the game's multiplayer modes (including its PS2 Online functionality), and further details of the single-player game. GoldenEye will have to work hard to live up to the legacy of Rare's N64 shooter, but ultimately if we can cast aside our disappointment at EA's decision to abuse the famous moniker, then the game itself still has plenty of potential.