For 13 years it's been the critic's go-to reference point for Bond games and movie tie-ins. Endless review introductions have pondered: 'Will this be the game to match GoldenEye 007's triumphs?' before meandering to their inevitable conclusion that, while a valiant effort has been made, the answer is still no. Double-oh-seven out of ten.
It's understandable. Rare's seminal Nintendo 64 first-person shooter popularised a console genre that has grown to become gaming's most prevalent and profitable. At a time when movie tie-ins were inevitably uninspired cash-ins, rushed through development in order to match their cinematic counterpart's release date, Rare's game arrived in its own time, long after the movie was out, treating the IP with unprecedented care. Those features that weren't raw innovations were at the very least game-changing improvements on what had gone before. Developed by a company at the height of its expertise and creativity, the shockwaves of the original GoldenEye 007's influence forever altered the FPS landscape.
Small wonder no Bond game has managed all that since. So after years of trying different approaches, Activision has asked the question: perhaps the secret of its success lay in the name? And in choosing to revisit one of gaming's best-loved titles, leaves us to tortuously ponder: will GoldenEye 007 be the game to match GoldenEye 007's triumphs?
It opens in Russia, with love. Arkhangelsk is one of those videogame locations whose layout is imprinted in the mind of every player who ever visited it. Best known for the tall dam from which Piers Brosnan swan-dives at the end of GoldenEye 007's opening sequence, it has been reconstructed here in meticulous detail. Those players who tailed the delivery truck into the compound in the N64 game will instinctively know when to crouch, how to approach the sniper guard tower and how to take down its sentry with muscle memory that will only be lost at the grave.
It's an opening sequence lovingly inserted for fans of the original to ease them in, to let them know that, despite the recasting of Brosnan's Bond as Daniel Craig; despite the recasting of Sean Bean's 006 as who-knows-who, the wholesale removal of Robbie Coltrane, the new names of the guns and the achingly stylish menu screens that have preceded, losing all of the dated charm of the original, developer Eurocom isn't going to stray too far from Rare's hymn sheet.
It's a feeling that lasts for exactly three minutes. As veteran GoldenEye 007 players duck behind the truck, ready to creep behind it into the compound, Bond's companion barks an order to climb into the passenger seat. For the next five minutes a Modern Warfare-esque interactive cut-scene plays out, as you roar through the Arkhangelsk base, blowing up petrol tankers before crashing into a barrier and crawling from the wreckage of any illusion this was to be a step-for-step remake.
And who can blame Eurocom? The original GoldenEye's triumphs innovated in significant ways, but we're several steps further on in the evolution of the genre all these years later. You only need elect to play a level on Classic 007 difficulty, where Halo's regenerating health bars are swapped out for the original's when-it's-gone-it's-gone approach, to see exactly how a straight remake would have felt harsh and anachronistic to newcomers and veterans alike. All this beside whatever tortuous narrative and presentational restrictions the developer was subject to in order to avoid stepping on litigious toes.
Through the game's six acts, which break down into 14 stages, there are nods to Rare's classic, but they are as muted as the game's environments. When you first hear Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger replacing Tina Turner for the game's title song, Activision's intent to contemporise GoldenEye 007 is made clear. This is a reimagining. It may use the original film's nouns to decorate its stories and sets, but the verbs are unmistakably borrowed from Call of Duty, while the subdued adjectives are drawn from The Bourne Identity. The result is a contemporary FPS that's both fashionable and derivative.