Party like it's 1997. Kind of.
Thirteen years ago it was that Rare unleashed GoldenEye 007 upon an unsuspecting public, yet still today, publishers yearn for a repeat of such success for the Bond franchise. It was a masterpiece crafted by a developer at the peak of their creative and synergistic existence; a triumph comprised of equal parts timing, ingenuity, determination, and luck. Countless attempts to revive this 1997 phenomenon have come and gone (cash-ins or otherwise), but all have been long forgotten in the shadow of the almighty N64 classic.
So it’s hard to blame anyone who might have rolled their eyes at first witness of the GoldenEye 007 Wii trailer Activision released heralding their effort. True, the publisher has positioned themselves as a leading force in modern FPS territory, proudly flaunting their logo on regular shipments of the newest Call of Duty installments—but does modern FPS experience apply here?
In other words, what would it take for a GoldenEye remake to be considered a success? Is the market simply seeking an upscaled version of the original title (see: Perfect Dark XBLA), or does the full-retail price tag warrant a more critical second look at the original (aged) mechanics?
Regardless of how you feel about its impact, a major ingredient of the success of the original N64 game was its timing. GoldenEye 007 for the N64 was the first FPS to do what it did on the console, not to mention as well as it did it. Having said that, this is thirteen years later, and evolution has taken place (for better or for worse); thus, a large determinant of the success of a remake will be which mechanics are chosen for updating, and which are left intact.
The credibility of Activision and Eurocom’s effort becomes considerably more apparent after taking into account their preparatory measures going 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.
Wait, Daniel Craig? Yes, indeed; in case you haven’t heard, one of the elements of GoldenEye which the development team chose to update was the script, including the likeness of the characters. 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 jungle level features one of the more impressive environments
The first and most significant of these is the control scheme—and it’s probably the most divisive, too. Following The Conduit’s progressive (and widely acclaimed) pointer-based control method, GoldenEye 007 would seem a logical candidate to push the Wii remote and nunchuk to its benefit. Yet you’ll find bundled on your store shelves a special edition of the game with not a golden Wii remote, but instead a golden Classic Controller Pro. Suffice it to say this doesn’t seem to place much confidence in the game’s Wii remote control scheme—so you might be concerned that you won’t be getting the made-for-Wii FPS experience that many have dreamed of since the controller was first introduced.
Fortunately, while it’s true that the remote-based controls do seem finicky in particular situations (while playing single-player, I eventually opted for a Classic Controller Pro after finding trouble aiming up or down with the pointer, a strange problem which I later didn’t seem to encounter all so often), for the most part, they work as advertised. (Later on, during multiplayer, I actually switched back to the Wii remote after getting owned with the classic controller in a few consecutive rounds.)
If you’re worried about accuracy being an issue, don’t; the game features a very forgiving Aim Down Sights compensation system which—perhaps too generously—aids your aim by “snapping” to the nearest enemy within a small radius. This system applies with both the classic controller and the Wii remote, and it takes place both in single-player and in multiplayer. Although it might sound like a game-breaking addition, it’s still necessary to fine-tune your aiming once the snap has occurred—so while it’s convenient, it doesn’t guarantee accuracy or anything like that (though in single player, it does make things considerably easier—you can often just L, R, L, R, repeat and take out half of your aggressors).
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.
Meanwhile, the game is considerably more cinematic than the original, both in terms of cut scenes (a couple of which are actually disturbingly pixilated) 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.
Tanks for all the memories, St. Petersburg [/fires self]
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 C 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, the single-player campaign 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 and genre defining.
Because everyone lives after a plane crashes on their head
The more, the merrier
And then there’s the multiplayer. Once again, GoldenEye borrows heavily from its modern brethren here, offering such now-standard amenities as auto-loadouts (you always start with a gun) and online 8-player action. But it doesn’t neglect its roots, either, and its loyalty to simplicity helps make it a spiritual sequel of sorts to the original split-screen action we all knew and loved back in the day.
For that matter, you can still play split-screen. Heck, it’s plenty fun (if not a little cramped as always), but truly, the online multiplayer is the bigger draw here. Featuring an XP system—complete with weapon and gadget rewards as you gain levels—and a (mostly) painless matchmaking system, it’s easy to get addicted. You’ll even be treated to those long-forgotten accolades awarded to each player following the conclusion of a match.
With eight players running around, even the larger multiplayer arenas are pretty busy, but it’s all for the better. There are still situations where you’ll respawn directly in front of another player, but it’s hard to make excuses when you start with a capable weapon right away. Oh—and melee attacks still lead to one-hit kills, so I’m sure some of you will have fun with that.
In addition to the 10 multiplayer maps, here are the different game modes you can look forward to:
Golden Gun – When in possession of the Golden Gun, each kill is worth five points and only requires a single shot.
You Only Live Twice (split-screen only) – Same as Conflict but with a set number of lives.
Black Box (online only) – One team’s objective is to find and destroy the box, while the other’s is to download data from it. Whoever completes their task first wins.
GoldenEye (online only) – Teams compete to capture satellite control consoles. Whoever captures the most consoles for the longest time wins.
Heroes (online only) – Each team has a temporary, randomly chosen hero. The hero does more damage and restores health to adjacent teammates.
License to Kill (online only) – Same as conflict, but with no radar and sharply increased damage.
Team License to Kill (online only) – Also with friendly fire!
Classic Conflict (online only) – Play as a classic Bond villain.
There are also over a dozen modifiers for local split-screen multiplayer, including such classics as Paintball Mode and Melee Only (formerly known as “Slappers Only”).
There are only a couple of true issues with the multiplayer worth mentioning. The first is the fact that it’s still stupidly difficult to join games with your friends (a process which, as always, requires the primitive and completely illogical Wii Friend Codes)—but that can be forgiven. The second, which is truly annoying, is the fact that if the host of the game you happen to join quits, you’ll lose all of the XP gained throughout that round.
Nevertheless, GoldenEye features some of the very best online multiplayer on the Wii. It’s mostly well-balanced, conveniently designed, and hard to put down. All told, GoldenEye isn’t just one of the best Wii games this year; it’s also the console’s best overall first-person shooter to date.