Ah, GoldenEye 007.
A remarkable game on the ol’ Nintendo 64, no doubt about it. Countless hours of planting proximity mines in Basement and Facility for your friends to run into, scream and punch you on the arm is enough to earn a hall of fame spot in any player’s heart.
So when Activision and Eurocom — who first became familiar with the franchise back in the 64-bit era with The World is Not Enough, a fine title itself strongly tied to and considered a sequel to GoldenEye — announced plans to release a new GoldenEye game, scepticism and hesitation abound, with many quick to dismiss the project as a cheap cash-in on 13-year-old nostalgia. To be fair, these fears were not entirely unjustified; the end result, however, puts them to rest. Eurocom’s GoldenEye 007 may not bottle the same lightning as its classic predecessor, but it’s a well-made package with a solid campaign and a strong multiplayer component worthy of carrying its illustrious name.
This isn’t so much a remake of the 1997 game as it is a reimagining of the 1995 movie itself; the story has been yanked from its Cold War ruins and fiddled with to suit 2010, complete with new tech, new locations and Craig, Daniel Craig’s rougher interpretation of James Bond. It’s a game much more in line with Call of Duty in both feel and pace but still holds its ground as irrefutably Bond. Environments feel much more like real places than Rare’s elaborate mazes ever did, and the leaps and bounds of technology have enabled a far more cinematic approach to storytelling, including full voice work by Craig and with Dame Judi Dench reprising her role as M.
The revamped story was penned by one of the film’s co-writers, Bruce Feirstein, and takes a few new unexpected turns to keep things interesting while giving plenty of winks and nods to the more memorable moments of old. Call of Duty-style high tech mission briefs replace text documents between levels to further the story and give context to what you’re up to, and in-stage cutscenes do the rest, but these don’t go far enough in explaining character motivations or giving emotional weight to what unfolds. Someone who knows the plot will have no problems following the familiar beats, but newcomers might be puzzled as to why certain twists are significant. It’s surprising given the larger emphasis on narrative how many holes are left in the plot, like any indication of a timeline between missions and events.
Newer conventions like regenerating health and weapon carrying limits have wormed their way in, and older ones like added objectives depending on difficulty are still here, if a bit on the bland side. For a more old-school approach, the 007 Classic difficulty does away with health regeneration and stashes armour around the stage, complete with familiar health bars; it’s a welcome throwback for those who appreciate the way these games used to be made and a nice way to add an extra bit of challenge for someone whose first console FPS was Halo.
There’s a surprising amount of influence from Eurocom’s Dead Space: Extraction in the single-player campaign, which turns out to be both a blessing and a curse. The scripted moments are neat and when they work they're invisible, but too often the seams show. It’s as if Eurocom occasionally forgot that GoldenEye is not a rail shooter and that players are fully capable of doing things on their own. At least once per stage, you’ll have control needlessly taken away from you as the game fills in any eventual actions with QuickTime events, forcing you to just watch as Bond does something that you very well could have done on your own. At other times you’ll stay in control, but the tight scripting becomes excruciatingly obvious, like a rescued hostage looking and talking to where the game thinks you should be instead of where you actually are, or during climactic gunfights that are easily gamed. Enemy AI is sadly lacking, with most content to either duck behind cover, stand out in the open or just run at you, but the strong level design, potent weapons and excellent controls make each encounter a lot of fun.
When the campaign doesn’t have a preconceived notion of where you should be standing, though, it’s fantastic. Each stage, while linear in design, offers multiple approaches to situations and encourages you to go off the obvious path to wreak havoc from the shadows. Stealth is huge; be it silently taking down a guard from behind, sniping security cameras, or secretly reprogramming a drone gun to turn against your enemies, staying hidden is both rewarding and thrilling. If you’re discovered, though, a flood of enemies will pour in for an all-out firefight.
It’s clear that Eurocom knows their way around Wii architecture, as GoldenEye is quite the looker. The world appears very much alive and as realistic as can be expected for the console. The framerate does take an occasional hit during hectic moments, but it's never slideshow-bad. Similarly, the audio work is top-notch; weapons sound powerful and the music fits right in with the Bond films. But really, the best parts involve the small stuff; in the crucial moment between a guard seeing you and putting them down with a well-placed shot, a quick inhale of instruments creates just the right amount of tension, followed by a relieving exhale signifying that you just got away with something.
Much ado has been made about GoldenEye supporting the Classic Controller, but we’ve found that the Wii Remote and Nunchuk combo is where the game shines. Even if you crank up the sensitivity settings, there’s a real nice sense of weight to your movements that just wasn’t there for the comparatively ropey Conduit. Sure, you can pop in a Classic or even a GameCube pad and go to dual-analogue town if that’s your thing, but we strongly encourage using the stock controllers; it’s startling how much more loose and liberating the pointer feels in comparison.
And you’ll need all the agility you can get to stay on top in the four-player split-screen or eight-player online modes, which is where you’ll likely spend the majority of your time with the game after its five to six-hour campaign. Local matches are plenty customisable, with several cool modifiers to apply, like paintball bullets, bouncy grenades or, our favourite, huge explosions when players touch. Call of Duty is again the blueprint for the online portion, which is by no means a bad thing. Gathering experience in matches opens up new perks and gear for your custom load-outs, and accomplishing certain combat- or weapon-specific tasks will in turn dole out nice little EXP bonuses to accelerate the unlocks. The ten maps inspired by the campaign are surprisingly well made, with lots of routes, arena spaces and hiding spots to do battle in, perfectly sized for frantic eight-player matches. Lag is kept to a minimum, but the most irksome part of playing online is the lack of host migration. If the game host quits mid-battle then it's curtains for your match and gathered EXP, and if you're in a lobby, everyone is disbanded. Another somewhat bothersome issue is the inability to customise your load-outs or look over your progress while in a lobby, which should be standard for a game like this. Wii Speak support is sadly omitted, so you'll have to find alternate ways of communicating with your friends.
This new GoldenEye 007 certainly isn’t perfect, but Eurocom hits enough high points to make a really enjoyable, modern Bond game while honouring the legacy of the N64 original. The campaign is a bit short but fun while it lasts, and the local and online multiplayer modes are strong enough to carry the game for a good while. GoldenEye likely won't capture the same intense adoration as its predecessor managed to, but it's still a great experience and a prime example of a film game (and reimagining) done right.