Version tested: Wii
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.
That's not to say it isn't successful. This is, without doubt, the most impressive Infinity Ward-style shooter on Nintendo's platform. Played with the Wii Classic Controller Pro, you are afforded tight, satisfying control and the huge range of weaponry (all of which is new to the GoldenEye universe) provides a pleasing number of ways to reach into the world with bullets. Levels rely on backtracking a little too often, and are tightly corridored, losing the original's capacity for different approachs, but all benefit from the imagination of the original film's scriptwriters, from the snow-capped clifftops leading to Severnaya bunker, to the Soviet-chic jail in St Petersberg.
The game slips comfortably between stealth shooter and balls-out skirmishing. Most of the levels can be played with a silenced P99, taking guards down with quiet headshots or physical takedowns triggered when in range. Fail to achieve a one-shot kill on an enemy and you'll have a few seconds' grace in which to finish them before they raise the alarm. If you're detected, three special-ops enemies will arrive on the scene. Dispatch of these and Bond will slip back into stealth mode. In general, the system works well, although there are times when an enemy will become alerted to your presence even when you were crouching behind cover and there was no line of sight.
Variety is introduced via a three-inch smart phone that can be used to photograph evidence, hack into sentry guns to turn them on enemies and disrupt security. This single, catch-all device replaces the variety of gadgets from the original game, and its uninspired application adds nothing. A single vehicle-based level late in the game offers a brief change of pace, but otherwise the sneaking and shooting bears the main weight of the experience.
One idea that has been lifted from the original is the use of scaling objectives as you increase the difficulty level. On default, you take the straightest path through a stage, with one or two simple objectives. Move up to the next difficulty and you'll need to visit areas slightly off the beaten track to fulfill additional requirements while, at '007' level, your aims cover the entire map, taking you to areas you would not have otherwise investigated. One of Rare's best ideas (which has inexplicably failed to catch on), it imbues the game with more replay value than its rivals. It's a smart, design-heavy solution that provides value to the player, and while the additional objectives lack some of the imagination of those in its forebear, they still elevate the package.
Mostly, however, mechanics are imported wholesale from Modern Warfare. For example, there's an automatic slow-motion effect when breaching and entering a room that contains hostages held at gunpoint, while prompts have you tapping the shoulder buttons in order to pry open lift doors, or move pieces of masonry. Likewise the way in which the game slips seamlessly in and out of cut-scenes apes Infinity Ward's work to strong effect, while the game's set-pieces are comfortably the most impressive in the style on the Wii.
The multiplayer too, borrows its metagame from Call of Duty, offering experience points for each basic kill, with bonuses for headshots, uninterrupted killstreaks and other predefined milestones. As you level your character so you unlock access to new weapons and configurations, while end-of-match accolades act as badges of honour. While we encountered significant lag this week (probably due to the fact we could only play with Americans ahead of European release) the multiplayer structure is wholly robust and engaging. While none of the original's maps are included, the new ones are well-thought out and the reappearance of classic game types such as Golden Gun will appease fans of the original.
Throughout, Eurocom's ambition rarely outstrips its ability, although, with a dropped frame-rate in the game's busier moments, the same can't be said of the Wii hardware itself, which at times struggles to keep up with the developer's vision. Nevertheless, this is a robust FPS, comfortably the strongest on its platform and, while derivative of its strongest rivals, it's still able to compete in key areas. As to whether it's a worthy reimagining of the original? Certainly the game successfully repaints Rare's game in the current trends. But as its forebear was known for transcending fashion to redefine its genre, it would seem that all that glitters is not gold.
7 / 10