A lot has happened in thirteen years. The Matrix franchise rose like a Phoenix and exploded in cinemagoers faces. America elected an idiot into the White House. Twice. All seven Harry Potter novels, and three spin off books, were published, and Robbie Williams went super nova before giving up and returning to your mum’s favourite boy band.
Yet of course some things live on. In much the way Hollywood continues to acknowledge The Godfather’s unbeatable status years since its first screening, Rare’s N64 classic Goldeneye has sustained a mythical legacy within the games industry that seems to have aged like a fine wine.
An immersive thinking man’s single player, unessential yet rewarding stealth gameplay, and endlessly replayable split screen multiplayer are all things that Goldeneye embodies, and are all expectations consequently lumped on Eurocom’s Wii re-imagining of the definitive James Bond title.
Of course a lot of things change in thirteen years and games are no different. For all its innovation and clever ideas Rare’s 1997 release is clearly showing its age with a dodgy framerate and in the way that it still asks players to control it using a pad more suited to decorating fancy dress tridents than controlling a first person shooter.
What’s more the landscape of the FPS has morphed over the years, aside from the Timesplitters series most experiences have become linear, spectacle driven blockbuster affairs while the split screen party game has been usurped by online progression systems and team driven scenarios.
So the important question is, after thirteen years of change, can Eurocom’s Goldeneye appeal to modern audiences without compromising its nostalgic foundations in the process?
The opening level, the classic Dam stage, perhaps embodies Eurocom’s new direction perfectly. As anyone who’s seen anything about this new Goldeneye will know, this is a complete rethink right down to the sophisticated face of Pierce Brosnan being replaced by the mug belonging to the current, more punch happy Bond, Daniel Craig.
The Dam starts. After meeting the new look Trevelean (no Boromir anymore either) you skirt down a ramp, silence some guards, sneak up the trademark tower to the trademark sniper spot and eliminate some new guards. What follows is a full blown action sequence that wouldn’t look out of place in Call of Duty but once this bout of cinematic action concludes you’re left to move around the rest of the Dam, using your phone camera to delete security footage and dealing with guards silently with well placed shots from your trademark silenced Walther P99.
Of course you could just grab an AK and mow down all those foolish enough to wander in front of your iron sights, and then deal with all the backup called in to deal with the crazy loud gunman.
This small element of choice is true for much of the game, for levels that don’t kick on the accelerator anyway, and working out how to sneak through the campaigns guard formations is a joy unto itself thanks to easily malleable AI.
When the action does heat up it’s nice honest blasting. Guards take cover and attempt to flank players, managing to put up a slightly more entertaining fight than the terrorist shooting galleries of Call of Duty.
While this Goldeneye is packing new ideas, and it is mostly new ideas, the game plays some nostalgic notes well and in time. Certain environment layouts, dialogue, objectives, and even simple visual elements play on classic memories and it’s telling that these raise wry smiles of reminiscence during a campaign generally high on entertainment.
It’s not a huge story mind and when playing on the easiest difficulty the run and gun approach you can apply to every level makes it a rather basic Call of Duty like experience and not much to write to old school friends about.
Notch the difficulty up, initiating extra objectives and even a classic health and armour system, and the game starts to feel more intelligent even if there is plenty of signposting and nothing to genuinely tax the grey matter. With death more likely you will start to utilise the fun stealth mechanics, and with more for Bond to do within the levels it starts to hit some unique spy like highs the genre hasn’t seen for years.
Unlockable time trials pile on more content for the solo gamer, and these are nerve racking tests of ability that will see all but the most hardy of players leaving in a huff after the fifth failed attempt to dash through any of the game’s levels.
Also worth noting is Eurocom’s impressive engine. As expected from the studio that cut its Wii teeth on the oft overlooked Dead Space: Extraction, Goldeneye continues their trend of great facial and body animation, alongside plentiful weather effects that do well to mask the game’s otherwise simplistic visual styling.
Another reason to celebrate Eurocom as a Wii developer are their controls as Goldeneye features an almost perfect remote pointer scheme that not only works, but makes a great case for the unorthodox set up as a real FPS alternative in the process. Fortunately for those less adaptive to change the game does support Classic and Gamecube controller set ups that work perfectly fine as well.
The single player campaign is far less experimental than its template but after recent Bond games have simplified their approach in forcing players to choreograph a Bond film rather than giving them the reigns, Goldeneye 007 is an admirable step back in the direction of the thinking man’s shooter, albeit a timid one. This is a Bond game that lets the player be Bond whilst managing to still conform to the driven anticipations of the modern gamer.
Multiplayer, one of the classic titles biggest selling points, is a curious case of two halves in Goldeneye 007.
The split screen mode for up to four players manages to capture the spirit of its inspiration well. Throwing in classic Bond characters and armaments alongside plenty of fun ways to play mean Goldeneye’s entertaining imbalances, tight levels, and optional absurd elements serve only to fuel the fires of friendly sofa competition. It presents a far more playable split screen package than most other modern shooters and can sit proudly next to Smash Bros and Mario Kart in the Friday evening multiplayer rotation.
Online, a muddy word when talking about many a Wii title, is a completely different affair however.
Clearly attempting to copy the addictive qualities of the Call of Duty franchise online Goldeneye throws in an experience system complete with unlocks, perks, and a bevy on objective gametypes, obviously trying to add more focus to its 8 player skirmishes.
The main problem is that while the modes on offer are entertaining, particularly the team modes and Golden Gun deathmatch variant, the ridged matchmaking system doesn’t embody that anarchy fueled charm that a paintball, headshots only License to Kill tournament does.
What’s more the game is bizarrely devoid of friends lobbies. You can team up with familiars and tackle the online modes together, but gathering mates online for a private match is impossible and a bizarre omission for an online experience in 2010, while the lack of voice chat doesn’t help the team modes either.
Goldeneye 007 is a fun title, one that plays on nostalgia whilst also delivering a shooter experience that is great fun by 2010’s standards and is entertaining to play and replay in equal measure. For those who remember sneaking through the Facility vents it hums a nostalgic tune that will remind them of when shooters weren’t all bombastic set pieces and relentless funfair shoot outs. While for newcomers it offers a glimpse of something slightly more intelligent than what has befallen the genre in recent times.
While a lot has certainly changed for single player games in the last thirteen years, the joy of beating three chums in split screen combat hasn’t lost any of its appeal and Goldeneye is worth playing if just for that. The party centric experience will ensure countless nights lost once more to cursing Oddjob’s height and accusing Scaramanga of camping behind a wall of proximity mines.
When taken online it clearly shows a weakness in Eurocom’s armour. In attempting to pander to the Call of Duty crowd Goldeneye’s online loses much of its unique appeal. It is fun, with its more corridor centric combat giving it a slightly different flavour, and it’s easily the best the Wii has to offer but some technical shortcomings mean it’s hard to ignore the fact that there are better-rounded offerings available on other platforms, so unless the sight of that Golden Gun and a little narration from Judi Dench are enough to sway you then it’s unlikely that Goldeneye will be eating into your Reach/Call of Duty/Team Fortress time.
Eurocom’s Goldeneye 007 doesn’t re-write the rulebook; it takes a few pages from its inspirations, runs into a corner, and sits happily humming its own tune thanks to a fun single player and brilliant split screen multiplayer. It’s not going to shake the genre to its foundations like its predecessor, but nor does it besmirch the classic namesake like a certain Rogue Agent did, and for this much it can be considered a minor success.