GoldenEye 007: Reloaded

GoldenEye 007: Reloaded

Last year, Activision and Eurocom treated us to the finest James Bond game since the venerable GoldenEye 007 for Nintendo 64: the aptly titled remake, GoldenEye 007. It was a fine game notwithstanding a few glaring shortfalls, the bulk of which could be solely attributed to the technical hurdles and inadequacies posed by its Wii exclusivity.

Fast-forward precisely twelve months, and those hurdles have been removed. We’re now presented the option of experiencing the game on current-gen hardware, unconstrained by Wii-grade visuals and online multiplayer—and with added content. Simultaneously, however, by stepping into the big league of online FPS action, GoldenEye 007 Reloaded forfeits the inherent advantages of competing in a severely supply-constrained market. And with the likes of Modern Warfare 3, Resistance 3, and Battlefield 3 sweeping across the masses, Reloaded’s biggest challenge of all will be escaping the colossal shadow of the industry juggernauts towering over it.

Someone at the start of the event asked who OddJob was. My reply:
Someone at the start of the event asked who OddJob was.  My reply: “You’ll know soon.”

The single-player story

If you experienced the Wii version of the game last year, you can safely skip over this entire section of the review—as Reloaded’s single-player campaign is nearly identical to that of the Wii game.

This isn’t the first time that a company has attempted to conjure the success of Rare’s amazing 1997 FPS. Apart from countless Bond titles before it (many of which were written off as cash-ins), even Rare has tried—and mostly failed—to recreate the fever that surrounded the original (Perfect Dark, as great as it was, never enjoyed the same success, and Perfect Dark Zero was merely great). So it’d be hard to blame you if you approached Reloaded with tempered excpectations.

However, Activision and Eurocom have gone much further with their efforts in GoldenEye than the modern Bond license typically enjoys. The credibility of their effort becomes considerably more apparent after taking into account their preparatory measures coming into the project. Bruce Feirstein, writer of the GoldenEye film, also wrote the script for the game. David Arnold, Bond film composer for the last thirteen years, contributes the soundtrack. Nicole Scherzinger, lead singer of the Pussycat Dolls, replaces Tina Turner as singer of the GoldenEye theme. The respected Judi Dench plays M, and Rory Kinnear once again fills the role of Tanner. Finally, Daniel Craig himself plays Bond.

Bruce Feirstein’s revised story is a renovated version of the original, modified primarily with attention to a decade’s worth of technological and socioeconomic changes. The foundational premise remains intact, but the details have changed. This means that in place of Pierce Brosnan and his multifunction watch, we’re met with Daniel Craig and his snapshot-taking, Wi-Fi-hacking smartphone. The supporting cast has also changed, with only M retaining her original likeness.

But those alterations, while initially jarring, make sense—and they’re wisely executed. Perhaps more dramatic are the changes to the gameplay and level design, both of which have seen serious revisions over that of their precursor. For starters, the level maps are all completely new, as lifting the originals from Rare’s creation would have landed Activision in a nasty legal battle (though many of the environments are familiar). Meanwhile, as you might expect, most of the ancient properties of the original gameplay have also been replaced by evolved mechanics, many of which hail from the seasoned template of Activision’s headlining franchise, Call of Duty.

The next big change comes in the way of health management. As expected, GoldenEye adopts the modern FPS approach of regenerating health bars, something which, quite frankly, just seems to work better than the old method. If you’re really upset about this, you might be pleased to know that Eurocom has included a so-called 007 Classic difficulty level in which the old-school rules apply (health pickups and body armor and all that jazz). But the levels truly aren’t designed around it, and that’s abundantly clear once you play through a few of them and experience the wildly unbalanced level of challenge which results.

Word on the street is that the facility map might be getting expanded.
Word on the street is that the facility map might be getting expanded.

Meanwhile, the game is notably more cinematic than the original, both in terms of cut scenes and gameplay. Craig, for starters, plays a much grittier Bond than did Brosnan, and from the very beginning when he leverages his parachute as a weapon (pulling the rip cord to fend off his aggressors) you’ll immediately recognize the difference. Everything from the CG mission briefings to the swirling colors and sexy female silhouettes that decorate the opening sequence are thickly reminiscent of modern Bond. Likewise, the slow-motion bullet-time-like breaching sequences and action-packed tank driving mission (complete with collapsing buildings and pursuing helicopters) in St. Petersburg represent yet another nod to the likes of Modern Warfare.

But as with nearly everything else, while the tone has changed, the fundamentals have not. Once again, you’re given the option in nearly every situation to either sneak your way through the environments or burst through the doors, guns a-blazing. Naturally, it’s the former which presents the most enticing scenario for most GoldenEye fans, and while stealth normally works as intended, there are situations where Bond is detected seemingly unfairly. The result is predefined waves of assailants pouring in through locked doors and other dead-ends (prompting the player to either defeat them to quiet things down again, or, alternatively, to simply restart from the most recent checkpoint, of which there are a few throughout each mission).

In terms of enemy AI, while Bond’s opponents are certainly smarter than they were in 1997, they aren’t going to be winning any tactical awards by today’s standards. Nevertheless, you’ll witness enemies sliding and ducking behind cover, yelling between each other, running away and hiding, and sneaking up behind you. Guards still follow predefined paths through the corridors, so rote memorization provides great benefit at the higher difficulty levels.

Returning to the topic of cover, now you can leverage it as well, though not in the traditional sense. Pressing Circle (A) will allow you to crouch, and if you do happen to be behind an obstacle, you can pop out and shoot automatically—a nice touch. There’s still no jump button (much to the delight of GoldenEye purists), but you can vault over nearly every object and low ledge in the game. It’s a very rational extension of the original formula that expands it without betraying it.

Another classic GoldenEye innovation has returned as well, and it’s perhaps one of the most welcome: levels and objectives which scale according to difficulty level. In other words, much like in the N64 classic, each of the game’s fourteen levels features three selectable difficulties, and the higher difficulties provide more required objectives (and thus more extensive level traversal) in turn. So if you play through the game on Operative (the lowest difficulty), you’ll only witness a percentage of the full level, and you’ll miss out on a few additional objectives posed by the higher difficulty levels. This is a fantastic idea providing great replay value which, strangely, seems to have been mostly forgotten since Rare pioneered it.

Plus, additional, optional secondary objectives are distributed sparsely throughout the levels, indicated by an (i) icon when you are in close proximity to them (these are not required to progress). Similarly, when your smartphone can be of use to you, a phone icon is displayed. It’s frequently used to snap photos of evidence or hack Wi-Fi points to set off alarms or reprogram drone guns—a cool idea.

Overall, while the single-player campaign isn’t genre-defining, it is worth the experience. The scalability provided by the selectable difficulties coupled with the return of unlockable cheats makes for a truly rich adventure, even if it isn’t exactly progressive.

Dam that looks good.
Dam that looks good.

What’s New

Hello, High Definition. Sure, Reloaded isn’t the prettiest game on PS3/360—it’s often obvious that it began its life on the Wii—but now it at least looks modern on my 55” LED TV. Most textures have been improved notably, character models are much more complex, and the field of view feels less constrained. Other improvements have been made as well, such as a stabilized frame rate and the lack of a blur while reloading. In short, visuals are no longer a bottleneck.

Beyond that, however, plenty of additional features have made their way into the game. For starters, in terms of single-player content, we’re now treated to a mode called MI6 Ops, which is similar to the Spec Ops you know from COD, but somewhat different. It’s a series of eleven different missions set in sections of the multiplayer maps featuring different themed challenges (either Elimination, Defense, Stealth, or Assault), and upon completion, your performance is ranked from one to four stars. There’s also a whole host of modifiers available (such as health, enemy accuracy and aggressiveness, infinite ammo, and so forth) which affect the total score you’ll receive upon completion of the mission.

The vast majority of these MI6 Ops missions are very challenging. I’d have to say they’re all quite a lot of fun, but my personal favorites overall were the handful of Stealth missions, where you can’t even be detected without forfeiting the challenge and being forced to restart. Considering the fact that you’re graded based on completion time, you can imagine how hectic this can get. Every headshot counts!

Meanwhile, the Defense missions were quite difficult, and Assault is a white-knuckle challenge. I have no shame in admitting that I never quite made it to the final challenge (which is Solar – Assault), so I can’t comment on that one. There’s quite a bit of temptation to jack up the parameters to try and score better, but it gets insurmountably tough very quickly. That’s a good thing, though; some of these challenges were the most addictive single-player items I encountered.

Then there’s the multiplayer additions. You might have read my preview of the title from the event I attended in San Francisco a few weeks back, but in case you didn’t, here’s a recap:

  • Four new multiplayer levels:

    • Solar

    • Plant

    • Carrier

    • Peak

  • Expanded multiplayer maps (to better accommodate 16 players)

  • New multiplayer modes:

    • Bomb Defuse – Two teams compete to collect and plant a bomb in one of two designated locations. The team who successfully plants and defends it wins. I had fun playing this mode and always enjoy these sorts of team games in FPS titles.

    • Escalation – A preset series of weapons is traversed, one after the next, with a successful kill using each one as the determining factor for progression. Should you happen to die twice, you’ll regress back to the previous weapon. The first to make it through the entire sequence of weapons and commit the final kill (using the rocket launcher) wins the match. I had fun with this, but it wasn’t my favorite mode.

    • Detonator Agent – A single player is equipped with a bomb with a 60 second fuse. To pass the bomb to the next player, the carrier must kill the player to whom he wishes to pass it. Essentially, it’s Hot Potato with guns and explosives.

    • Data Miner – Players compete to download a data file the quickest. Standings are determined by the player who has downloaded the highest percentage of the file at the end of the match. The rate of download is determined and increased by the elimination of competitors.

  • New Classic Character weapons (in addition to the existing Golden Gun and Oddjob’s Hats)

    • Hugo Drax’s Moonraker Laser Pistol

    • Rosa Klebb’s Pearl-Handed Beretta

    • Rosa Klebb’s Throwing Knives

    • Goldfinger’s Gold-Plated Revolver

    • Red Grant’s C96 Mauser

    • Dr. Kananga’s Shark Gun

  • New signature weapons (8 total) and 20 unique abilities in Classic Combat mode. The abilities are distributed uniquely to each of the Classic Characters, making each of them slightly different and specialized in certain areas. Here’s a list of some examples:

    • Jaws – Accurate with firearms and immune to falling damage, amonf other abilities Jaws receives less damage from headshots.

    • Oddjob – Oddjob’s abilities include rapid wound recovery, resistance to explosions and can throw his hat for one-shot kills.

    • Blofeld – Blofeld’s weapon skills grant him faster reloads, increased range and round capacity as well as enhanced frag grenades.

    • Scaramanga – Abilities include enhanced weapon damage and accuracy; Scaramanga can kill with a single shot from his Golden Gun.

    • Dr. No – Dr. No’s bullet-proof cybernetic arms grant him benefits including enhanced weapons accuracy and reload speed.

    • Baron Samedi – Samedi’s Voodoo arts grant him abilities such as enhanced health, resistance to bullet damage and rapid healing.

    • Rosa Klebb – Klebb uses the Pearl Grip 418 pistol and poison tipped Stiletto Blades, while KGB training enhances her weapon accuracy.

    • Red Grant – Grant’s abilities include longer sprint duration and increased health; he also carries the Red 96 fully automatic pistol.

    • Dr. Kananga – Kananga has resistance to melee hits and enhanced weapon skills; he also carries the full-auto Compressed Air Pistol.

    • Goldfinger – Goldfinger has enhanced weapon damage, range and round capacity; he also uses a custom Gold Plated Revolver.

    • Tee Hee – Tee Hee’s bullet-proof mechanical arm gives him enhanced weapon control and resistance to explosive damage.

    • Max Zorin – Zorin’s abilities include rapid healing, increased health reserve, enhanced weapon accuracy and round capacity.

There are also plenty of other selectable characters as well (over 40 available right from the start), but none of these have special abilities.

Little did he know how much hell he'd later catch from the SOL crew.
Little did he know how much hell he’d later catch from the SOL crew.

In other words, a lot has been added. Beyond the obvious refinements (which directly address the biggest problems with the original game I referenced in my Wii review), this expansion of depth helps to better position the game amongst its industry-leading peers on the 360/PS3, while simultaneously working to differentiate it from those other games.

More than anything else, the feel of multiplayer on Reloaded is that of more confined and restrictive maps and less serious overall than that of its brethren. That isn’t to say that it doesn’t have its wide-open, Modern Warfare-esque multiplayer arena moments—just that there is a much heavier focus on intimate, tight-corridor, reflex-oriented gameplay than in those other games. It’s a first-person shooter that, first and foremost, seeks to embrace the feel of shooting up some online targets just for the fun of it, whether as part of serious competition or just some off-the-wall entertainment.

In my short time with the Xbox Live version of the multiplayer—playing pretty much only other developers and editors who had received their review copies—we didn’t witness any real problems with the performance and stability. The clipping issues that had me concerned during the multiplayer reveal event were all but absent as far as I could tell. It’s obviously difficult to proactively judge overall performance of the game online under such ideal conditions, but if it works like it did during my play time, there shouldn’t be too many complaints. About the only thing that occurred is a drop out of a single game that I experienced. I’m not sure what caused it, and I really don’t think there were any repercussions apart from simply joining in the next match.

Of course, matchmaking is night and day. It’s twice as versatile as it was on the Wii, with quick response, tons of options, and of course, seamless linkage to the Live mainstays such as Messages and Parties, which makes getting things going that much less of a hassle. It’s a proper online experience, unlike the halfway-there environment available on the Wii version of the game.

Kickin' it pre-internet style.
Kickin’ it pre-internet style.

But that doesn’t answer the bigger question that you’re probably asking: all other things equal, is this game actually worth paying attention to on the PS3/360? The answer is it depends. Certainly, Reloaded corrects the most nagging issues that kept its predecessor from reaching true excellence, but in doing so, it trades its way up to a much more scrutinizing league of FPS software on the HD consoles. In other words, while this movement is obviously a win for the quality of the product, the benchmarking parameters have changed, and the comparisons leave it in a much more perilous corner of the industry—one where it is the underdog in the shadow of the FPS juggernauts—than it was within the Wii’s starving FPS market.

So whether or not this appeals to you is entirely dependent upon two factors: 1) Have you already experienced the Wii title, and 2) Are you already preoccupied by too many other FPS games? GoldenEye is certainly a unique sort of FPS experience—even online—but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still very similar to the current-gen COD/MW games and other such titles. But if you’re up for a differently-paced sort of FPS, this might be right up your alley. Although it’s completely different, it’s still certainly the closest sort of attitude to the old GoldenEye you remember from your youth available today.