Several months ago, I went to visit Microsoft's UK headquarters and ended up seeing a man's heart breaking right in front of me. The man in question was an in-house XBLA producer who had just finished demoing the freshly-announced port of Perfect Dark to the European games press.
For half an hour, he'd talked about upscaled textures, new facial assets, an authentic multiplayer experience, the fact that Rare had come back just to redo the opening skybox, and the notion that the classic N64 shooter would only now be getting the frame-rate it deserved. Finally, face glowing with enthusiasm, he put down the controller and asked: any questions?
There was exactly one question. Now Perfect Dark was out of the way, did this mean we'd be getting GoldenEye next?
GoldenEye: such an unexpected classic, such an extended wait for anything like an official sequel. Fans have wanted this game for so long it can be hard to pin down exactly what they're after from it. Putting aside Rogue Agent, what would GoldenEye even look like in this decade, when there are the likes of Halo, Borderlands and Modern Warfare knocking around on consoles?
Well, it turns out that GoldenEye looks like a Wii game. That's because it is a Wii game, albeit one that Activision appears to be putting quite a bit of effort into. You can tell the publisher's working hard on this one because it has poorly-applied depth-of-field effects in it, and they're quickly becoming shorthand for, "We are taking this Wii game seriously."
Rather than being a spiritual successor, Activision's latest returns to the scenes of Rare's original in an attempt to rediscover some of that early Bond magic. It features a reimagining of the GoldenEye story, the developers having muddled around with the narrative and replaced the out-of-date Cold War business with something a bit more contemporary - rogue generals, illegal weapons sales, that sort of thing.
The design team is promising that the new plot will still flow through some of the old choke points. To prove that, the latest demo build kicks off with an infiltration mission set at that dam in Russia - made famous in the movie with an incredible, near-silent freefall stunt, and subsequently made more famous in the game when some internet character did a speed run of the entire level in about 40 seconds.
The tone has changed somewhat this time around - it's night, it's raining and there's a nice brooding atmosphere building up under the large skybox. The faces are new too. Brosnan's been replaced by Craig, and Sean Bean's been replaced by… Someone who looks a bit like Sam Raimi, as it happens, but almost certainly isn't.
As a developer moves through the early stages of the level, picking off targets stealthily with nice melee takedowns and edging towards the first perimeter, the question everyone in the demo room is probably asking themselves is: does it feel like GoldenEye? Actually, it feels more like Modern Warfare: the pace of the encounters is very reminiscent of some of Soap's adventures, a squeeze of a trigger pops up a very familiar iron-sights view, and grenades, when they start flying, leave those same little indicators rolling around on your HUD before your legs get blown off.
You've got the option to take the level slowly and stealth your way through with a silenced pistol and sniper rifle, or pick up speed a bit and charge in with an SMG. There's plenty of cover to hide behind as Bond makes his way deeper into the compound, and it's destructible, too, which is pretty standard for most shooters, but makes a nice change for the Wii.
Whichever way you play, the level design seems to do a pretty good job of mixing things up, with a fight through the exterior of the compound followed by Bond and Trevelyan half-inching a truck to get them past the interior guard posts.
Things go pleasantly awry at a checkpoint - presumably when one of the waiting soldiers says, "Didn't I see you in the first Tomb Raider movie doing an iffy American accent?" - leading to an on-rails section as Trevelyan drives and Bond rides shotgun, and then it's into a much more claustrophobic kind of shooting experience inside the dam facility.
It's hardly spectacular, but the single-player campaign looks pretty decent so far - and, if you're balking at the idea of another overly-twitchy, arm-achey Wii shooter, it's nice to hear that you'll be able to use the classic controller (or Gamecube pad, apparently) instead.
That's certainly the best way to play multiplayer, judging from a few frantic matches on the show floor at this year's E3. Given the GoldenEye lineage, this is a part of the game the developers have been taking fairly seriously, with online and splitscreen options, 10 maps, and plenty of familiar modes including paintball and big hands.
Familiar faces will also be returning, with eight Bond characters to choose from, and it's interesting to hear that the design team has decided to keep Oddjob as a rather cheap choice on the basis that it will lead to interesting "social interactions" on the sofa if someone keeps picking him before each game.
GoldenEye is shaping up to be a comprehensive package, then. With online support and a range of control options, the biggest hurdle Activision's latest faces isn't the platform, so much as the fact the appeal of the original is so tangled up with nostalgia. Activision's well aware of that, just as it's aware it's not something you can simply tweak in the engine - unless there's a slider for rose-tinted viewing.
While it's too early to tell whether that name is a blessing or a curse, one thing's for sure. Memories of Rare's game will certainly keep this new instalment on people's radars, but it's ultimately up to Activision to make certain that people keep it in the disc drive of their Wiis too.