The fat-chewing topic for hardcore gamers today who were the adolescents of the 1990s has been GoldenEye, the seminal Nintendo 64 shooter. Why can't they bring it to a modern console? Finally, "they" have. But it's neither reboot nor remake.
GoldenEye 007 is instead the "reimagining" of the 1997 classic, reconfiguring the story of the 1995 James Bond film to suit both modern times and the Bond persona of Daniel Craig, starring in place of Pierce Brosnan. At its heart, it's strong on the fundamentals of previous-generation shooters. That's not necessarily a bad thing.
The Wii's underserved shooter population gets a breath of fresh air here, and James Bond diehards will want to see the new story play out. But anyone who came of age as first-person shooters came of age is in GoldenEye's wheelhouse.
Few games of GoldenEye's vintage maintain its level of relevance today. This is a chance for newer gamers to connect with that and for older gamers to revisit it in a new way. The original's strong multiplayer appeal now goes online, where there's no screen-looking.
How does it play next to the original? Loaded question, you're talking about two generations of game design, both behind the present state of the art. The levels are distinct but still larded with callbacks to the original game - but don't get any ideas about dual wielding. You may also expect QuickTime events that are a challenge only if you've checked out for the cutscene. GoldenEye 007 is a strong meat-and-potatoes shooter, but within the previous-gen confines of the Wii, that sometimes means it's a new game that, paradoxically, shows its age.
How so? Mostly in enemy AI and linear mission design. CPU opponents have straightforwardly aggressive flanking tactics. They also have a preternatural awareness of your position and ability to shoot through cover to pin you down. To help out, there's a half-measure cover mechanic - with auto lock-on enabled you can pop up and fire on-target when crouched behind a low wall or obstruction. These are markers of older shooters, but the good news is anyone with a survival instinct honed in them will do well here.
So it's boring? No, I didn't say that. It just means GoldenEye 007 is accessible to speedrunners and completionists alike. As a Bond game, you still have the option of patience, stealth, and silent sniping or takedowns through the majority of the game. While you can prevail in nearly all head-to-head firefights against superior numbers, the fun and challenge is in figuring out how to avoid or efficiently eliminate them. And if there was an indispensable holdover from the original GoldenEye, it was in the variable objectives that established your difficulty level (save hostages, find supply drops, gather evidence, etc.) rather than simply ramping up the firepower of the opposition. They're here as well to take you progressively deeper into the maps on successive replays. And for those who don't like the regenerating health of the new game and want to kick it old school, there's an exceptionally difficult "classic" mode that gives you a health-and-armor hud, but you won't recover from damage and you must find the body armor pickups, like the original.
Speaking of a challenge, what about the motion controls? There's a reason the game comes bundled with a Wii Classic Controller. First-person shooters on a console should be played with twin analog controls, the way God intended. GoldenEye is not a rails shooter (nor should it be) like Dead Space: Extraction, Eurocom's last project. The Remote/Nunchuk and Zapper configurations are tune-able but just not recommended, and I gave up on them rather quickly. They're not at all ergonomic for fast-twitch tasks like reloading, melee or grenades. On later levels, and in multiplayer, they're certainly not advantageous and I can't fathom how they're even useful.
Well whatever the control, this better have done multiplayer right. Right? This wouldn't be GoldenEye without split-screen multiplayer, and it has it, but this is 2010, so you're more likely to take this online. Even for the Wii's tragically underserved online multiplayer there were plenty of matches to be found in the first week of release, likely owing to GoldenEye's strong multiplayer cred. The maps are not exact matches from their 1997 counterparts, but that's probably because everyone figured out how to exploit them in the interceding 12 years. Especially if someone can't look at your half of the screen. Talents and gadgets become unlockable with the experience you require, as do weapons in custom loadouts. But each match begins with four standard loadout options, (packages include close quarters, sniper and assault) replacing the old pick-up system and providing some structure. Lacking Wii Speak support, you can't make them up as you go along like the old dorm room days, but team modes like Team Conflict, Black Box and GoldenEye are more of a challenge without voice.
So it sounds like a sturdy FPS, but why go to all this trouble if the original, downloadable on a current console will do? The tripartite entanglements of Nintendo, the original developer, Rare, now a subsidiary of Microsoft, make that a pipe dream. But even against the ideal, there's a strong enough case for GoldenEye 007 on the Wii. Clearly it's a much more cinematic game, not just in the visuals. The story is more discernable if you saw the original movie, but it's deftly reorganized and has some genuinely admirable flourishes. Bond's one-liner for Xenia Onatopp's revised demise was pitch-perfect, and Trevelyan's heist motive is updated to the uncertainty of the modern economic times. Judi Dench is in your earpiece as M, and Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger supplies a cover of the 15-year-old title theme in an opening montage worthy of any theatrical release. Craig's utilitarian, antiheroic Bond remains controversial to some, but this is a story attenuated to his reign over the continuity, well written and well acted.
Context counts. If this didn't have the Bond name - if it didn't have the GoldenEye name - one might find it bland among modern shooters, though it's best-in-class on the Wii (admittedly a small population). But the structure of current-gen shooters, especially those with a narrative, is very judgmental: Do this right, and do it right the first time. For all of its modern polish, GoldenEye 007 still harkens back to the wild west days of FPSes, before they demanded or even established fundamental skills, instead inviting you to do it over and over again and discover what's right through repetition. GoldenEye 007 invokes a strong sense of nostalgia just as much in the game as it does in the name.
GoldenEye 007 was developed by Eurocom and published by Activision for the Wii, released on Nov. 2. Retails for $49.99 ($69.99 with the bundled Classic Controller). A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Completed singleplayer campaign mode and played several multiplayer matches, all online.