GoldenEye 007 Reader Review
Eurocom perhaps wisely get the nostalgia factor out of the way early in their GoldenEye remake: straight references to Rare's game are almost entirely used up in the first two levels, more precisely once you've shot an unsuspecting guard from the vent above his toilet cubicle. Early trailers show that the developers had originally intended to portray this part of the game more in line with the film, with Bond dropping down and ambushing the poor chap in mid-bowel movement. Replacing it with a direct reproduction of one of the most fondly remembered moments from Rare's game was probably a wise decision: even though the rest of the game is almost entirely its own creature, apart from a handful of similar objectives (you'll still be diffusing bombs and rescuing hostages on the equivalent of the Frigate level, for example), it's the right kind of affectionate nostalgia that should help fans of the original feel in safe hands and make an easier transition into Eurocom's heavily revised style of gameplay and level design. By the time Ourumov murders Trevelyan in front of the surrendering Bond, Eurocom are at the same time putting to rest any notion that their game will be little more than a technical remastering of the N64 game.
Yet as Bond discovers that his old friend has in apparent death turned into an enemy, so too does the ghost of the original continue to haunt Eurocom's game despite their best efforts to exorcise it. As the producers stated time and time again in their marketing interviews, the gameplay has been 'modernised' to a form more acceptable to today's Call of Duty-playing audience: in arrive down-sights aiming, regenerating health, linear level design and at times a warfare sensibility. Where strategy in the original was strongly influenced by the existence of a certain number of guards patrolling specific places around the map, with reinforcements only arriving should the player be clumsy or cunning enough to set off an alarm, Eurocom place miniature battlefields within almost every level where the player must fight their way through an onslaught of enemies no matter what their prior approach.
Yet having that name on the box means they cannot entirely abandon the original's gameplay. Those Modern Warfare affectations are offset by stealth sections inspired, but again not directly lifted, from Rare's game. The player must perform silent takedown of a set number of guards patrolling an area in order to move through it without setting off an alarm and bringing an all-out firefight. The player also receives multiple objectives per level, one primary and at least two secondary, with the number increasing depending on the chosen difficulty level.
The game balances these sections effectively throughout, giving neither precedence over the other, but their naturally disparate nature means that the developers are not able to replicate the depths that made each so compelling in their original sources. Eurocom cannot commit to the full extent of Rare's stealth system because the main tactical advantages it offered were in allowing players to manipulate it in search of opening new paths through non-linear environments. Doing so in this game would prevent them from using Call of Duty set-pieces so dependent on linear mission design (secondary objectives encourage exploration, but players always progress in a developer-set direction) while the inclusion of NPCs like civilians and scientists, so much fun to illegally slaughter in the original, would only lead to frustrating mission failures in the midst of this game's large scale firefights. The stealth here is never tactically developed to the extent of using it to challenge players in different ways, such as how the original game's Bunker II forced players to work their way through the most stealth-centric level with only loud guns available until near the end. The Call of Duty battles are compromised by the removal of player grenades (although enemies have plenty), squad mates and being able to throw truly vast number of soldiers at the player for fear of compromising the integrity of the stealth sections, where grenades would be too powerful and training players to mow down endless foes would make sneaking around individuals seem pointless.
Eurocom are forced to aim for the best possible fit for two slightly unco-operative pieces rather than allowing the game to create an identity of its own in the same way its inspirations did. This is never more apparent than on the '007 Classic' difficulty, which replaces the regenerating health with an old-school static bar: the inability to recover alters the experience heavily in favour of the player making slower, more careful progression, but it never quite sits in the big action set-pieces, with almost flawlessly accurate and aggressive enemies, that were designed to allow players to absorb hits. Similarly, the regenerating health removes some of the suspense from the stealth sequences. But by taking care in replicating the basics of each system, it is to Eurocom's credit that there is nothing to particularly criticise in the implementation of either other than a lack of depth and individual inspiration.
The same can be said of the two multiplayer components. The offline deathmatch captures the original GoldenEye's fast-paced action and marries it to Call of Duty's regenerating health and restrictions on weapon numbers. Given how a deathmatch is basically a deathmatch in any form, these slot together more naturally than the two single-player inspirations and come together in an experience that is at once reminiscent of both and sufficiently new to be enjoyable in its own right. But again Eurocom have focused so strongly on getting the tone right that there is a noticeable lack of depth: the seventeen modifiers allow players to mix up their games, but the number of core modes to apply them to is limited to a handful of similar options. Many of the modifiers, such as bouncy grenades, paintball mode and tiny players, do not make sufficiently substantial changes to the way players experience each mode to compensate. Forcing players to keep running or avoid touching each other, for example, only encourage players to do things they would naturally do anyway – keep moving and not get too close to the enemy.
Online multiplayer has more options in that regard, but is content to replicate in all but name the experience offered by Call of Duty. It does it well – framerates are a little inconsistent when playing opponents with weaker connections and some of the more brightly coloured maps can look a little fuzzy in motion, but Modern Warfare Reflex's lag shooting problem is happily eliminated - there is little effort to make the experience appropriate to the Bond licence. Offline has selectable classic characters, but only Oddjob has a special move. If Oddjob can throw his hat, why can't Jaws have additional health, Baron Samedi come set with the equivalent of COD's Last Stand perk, Scaramanga have enhanced accuracy or start with Golden Gun instead of a pistol...? Hell, why couldn't Max Zorin be brought in and given an air-strike from his blimp, with a mad German scientist flinging dynamite onto the battlefield? The licence has so many possibilities for a really distinctive multiplayer experience, yet Eurocom are content to offer up a near-clone of the Call of Duty experience: well implemented, but a clone nevertheless.
In more general terms, the game is visually clean albeit at a cost to the framerate during the more action-heavy sequences – an unintentional tribute to the original GoldenEye. The game is also strangely dark and required brightness levels to be pushed up to maximum in the options menu for me to see everything I needed to. The chunky art style seemed somewhat reminiscent of the N64's other Bond game, The World Is Not Enough, which Eurocom also developed. The soundtrack by the film series' composer David Arnold sounds too similar to his previous work to have the iconic impact of Grant Kirkhope's score for Rare's original game and is better defined by its cinematic cues than level themes. A gasping sound effect that accompanies stealth eliminations is however an unintrusive and intelligently used way of communicating success to the player. In terms of control, the Wii remote defaults feel stiff but can be easily customised to the player's satisfaction, even if button allocations sadly cannot. As someone who does not enjoy playing with twin analogues since the advent of pointer precision aiming, the success of the Classic Controller and Gamecube pad options are more difficult for me to gauge, but I did not have any more difficulty using them in my short time than I've had with any other FPS. The lack of buttons on the GCN pad does however mean that certain functions require two buttons to be pressed at once, often using the difficultly placed Z shoulder button.
The modern GoldenEye does little wrong in achieving its aims. It is a modernised remake of a classic game and exactly that. Its problem is that by aiming to unite two different iterations of the FPS genre, it seems destined to be remembered more as a successful tribute act than a game special in its own right. Its sole flaws are those carried over from the eras of its inspirations: the secondary objectives, which attempt to encourage exploration in the vein of Rare's GoldenEye, share that game's vagueness – fine in 1997, less so in an era of greatly improved signposting. Its emphasis on creating excitement through linear spectacle is very much typical of the modern shooter ethos, which will disappoint those hoping for the original game's focus on tactical forward thinking, player-controlled experiences and high replayability – the first run should take between six and nine hours, but doesn't do much to encourage return trips. Branching paths are limited and rarely offer much more than a choice of doors into the same room. Many will find plenty of enjoyment in this GoldenEye, but whether it will be remembered in a decade's time is a whole other question. As the film's trailer said: you know the name. You know the number. All that's missing is the soul.