The name was a mistake.
Look, let's be clear here: we know that EA has been lambasted time and time again for this particular point, but it's worth mentioning it again anyway. The name was a mistake; the first in a catalogue of mistakes which makes your average telephone directory look like a pizza delivery leaflet. When you pick a name like "GoldenEye," you invite an automatic assumption that your game is a cash-in, not to mention difficult comparisons with hits of yesteryear viewed through treacherous rose-tinted spectacles, and a dose of cynicism that it's going to take a truly excellent game to dispel.
Of course, if you have a truly excellent game, that's not really a problem. The Chronicles of Riddick took a movie licence and made it into arguably the best first-person shooter on the Xbox. Ninja Gaiden and Prince of Persia resurrected much-loved classics and turned them into stunning modern hits. You can overcome the cynicism and turn the name to your advantage, given enough inspiration, talent, and flair.
And that's where the problem lies, really.
Eye spy a shameless cash-in
GoldenEye: Rogue Agent isn't a truly excellent game. It's not a mediocre game. In fact, it's not even a passable game; it's a disastrous car-wreck of a game, the kind of embarrassment that will quietly get dropped from the CVs of those who worked on it (or included with perverse pride, like a medal worn by the survivors of a particularly grisly battle) and for which management at EA are undoubtedly already looking for scapegoats. Without the GoldenEye name, we'd dismiss it as yet another horrendous FPS game to join the pile festering in the corner, where we suspect that one day they will merge, become self-aware and promptly implode when faced with a world which isn't entirely made from muddy stock textures and boring pre-fabricated level geometry. However, with the name of Rare's sublime N64 title attached, and a position just outside the top ten of the UK charts this week, GoldenEye goes from being just another rubbish game to being an absolute disgrace.
From the outset, this game feels rushed and unfinished. The horribly rendered video sequences are edited together with all the skill and grace you might expect from a chimpanzee set loose on a copy of Final Cut after drinking a jug of espresso, with even the "iconic" Bond title sequence feeling more like a bad student parody of the series' famous intros than like a genuine attempt to immerse the player in the universe. The mission scripted events are nothing short of bizarre in places; enemies spawn behind you or pour endlessly from doorways (because we all know that endlessly respawning enemies spell F U N in anyone's language!), and levels are stuck together from pre-fabricated rooms that make Halo's library level look varied and interesting.
To make matters worse, the whole affair is ugly. We don't just mean it's got anti-aliasing problems (it has), or that it's got glitches like Halo 2 (it might have, if it was actually doing anything remotely clever like bump maps or textures with more than four blurry pixels in them). We're more concerned with the fact that you can count the polygons in some scenes without running out of fingers and toes, and that the designers' idea of making the pathetically bland world they constructed interesting was to sling coloured lighting around. The ultimate effect is not dissimilar to the nauseating over-use of coloured lighting seen in the Quake 2 mods of yesteryear, only somehow uglier; EA hasn't even bothered trying to polish this turd, they just wrapped it in multi-coloured Christmas tree lights and hoped nobody would notice the stink.
And then there's the gameplay.
Or rather, there isn't. When the word "gameplay" is uttered, we'd like to think that some element of fun or enjoyment is implied. By that standard, GoldenEye doesn't have any gameplay; it tries desperately hard to replicate Halo's 30 seconds of fun, but ends up with 30 seconds of mind-numbing tedium which is trapped between control systems which offer either auto-aim so forgiving as to be outright hilarious, and manual aiming which is downright painful to control thanks to bizarre acceleration on the controls. Not that you'll be working very hard to get your aiming down; you didn't honestly think that challenging AI was on the menu, did you? Instead, you'll be challenged by an endless flood of identikit enemies who either stand perfectly still and wait to be shot, or run from side to side along an entirely predictable path.
You can, of course, dual wield many of the weapons. Halo stole that idea from this game, don't you know? Dual wielding is implemented competently, and allows you to shoot one weapon while reloading another, but the fact that you've got two guns on screen rather than one doesn't do much to alleviate the fact that you don't give a damn about the enemies you're shooting, the mission objectives you're completing, or anything much other than ending the pain you're being subjected to by having to play this game for more than its natural lifespan of twenty-odd seconds in order to write a decently comprehensive review.
Of course, fans of the 007 universe are already up in arms about the fact that GoldenEye completely destroys the continuity of the films, introducing several villains and henchmen who are from different eras of the movies and pitting them against each other. We can't say this bothers us much; it's not like the 007 universe is coherent to begin with, after all. However, there's a niggling annoyance at seeing how much creative licence EA have been given with this much-loved franchise, only to produce such a shoddy and badly-conceived game; it's like watching a tramp drink a bottle of Middleton Very Rare whiskey or Bollinger champagne and then piss all over himself under a railway bridge.
The basic problem, when it comes down to it, is that nobody loved this game. The EA executives who conceived of it didn't love the game, or the franchise, or the concept - they just set up an Excel spreadsheet which proved that GoldenEye + Overworked Development Team + Buckets of Marketing Money + Uninformed Legions of the Great Unwashed = MONEY. The designers didn't love this game, they just threw together poorly understood ideas from other games like Halo and Half-Life so that the management types responsible for the project could be satisfied that it was ripping off popular products. The artists and programmers didn't love the game. Even the voice talent (and talented they are, we'll grant that much) sound like they're phoning in their lines. The whole thing has the feeling of everyone along the line saying "Will this do?" and the answer, frankly, is "no, it won't."
EA can make good games. The talent is there. The capacity to produce startlingly good fun titles undoubtedly exists within this behemoth of the industry, but the recent deluge of pathetically poor licensed tat like Prisoner of Azkaban, Catwoman and now this execrable excuse for a first-person shooter show that this talent is being absolutely smothered under a layer of incompetence somewhere, which is a terrible shame. And quite a lot of people will probably buy GoldenEye: Rogue Agent, which is also a terrible shame - because any game which even its creators clearly didn't love certainly doesn't deserve 35 quid of anyone's money.