At first it seemed like Activision had stumbled upon a sure-fire winner in the decision to resurrect GoldenEye 007 for the Wii. Surely the revival one of the most important and cherished console games of all time was a no-brainer? But as time wore on, it became increasingly clear that GoldenEye wasn't going to be a straightforward winner. The single-player was going to be an adaptation drawing from two source materials, while the multiplayer would have to overcome the Wii's limitations to provide a convincing online mode and split-screen play that was visually acceptable.
It's with pleasure, then, that I can say that for the most part Eurocom succeeded in its ambitions with GoldenEye. While each facet has its problems, the single-player, offline and online multiplayer all have enough in them to keep you coming back for more.
Let's start with the multiplayer. Minus a few extra kinks here and there like the very welcome ability to shoot from cover and the multitude of controller setups, GoldenEye essentially provides a more realized version of the classic's four-way split-screen entertainment. There are all the modifiers from the N64 game and a few other fun ones thrown in like Move Your Feet (keep moving to avoid dying) and Rubber Grenades (self-explanatory). It feels close to the original, but plays like a game that's benefitted from the progress of a decade or so, a balance struck that should not be underestimated.
What's arguably more impressive is the game's online implementation, given the Wii's track record in this area. GoldenEye can quickly throw you into an online game of up to 8 players from a number of modes. My personal favourite is essentially an oldie, the Golden Gun Mode, in which killing with the Golden Gun adds a meaty bonus to your score. But there are a number of solo and team modes to choose from, from bog-standard conflicts to the more tactical capture-the-flag like Black Box. Add in the (now standard) perk system, selectable load-outs, and region-specific matches and you have an online mode that defies the inaccessibility of what's come before it.
But you can't completely defeat the Wii's limitations, and the online would've undoubtedly been so much stronger with the networking and accessibility of the other consoles' online services. What's more disappointing, though, is just how compressed the visuals do become in four-way split-screen multiplayer. Precision when shooting from range in four-way split-screen is a real struggle, while textures start to suffer some rather severe ugliness. It's not unacceptable by any means, and the charm and silliness of the modifiers do distract. Nonetheless, it's something that might keep players from spending as many hours hunched round the sofa with friends as they did with the original.
And for those of us without friends to constantly drag onto a sofa, we can certainly feel aggrieved that Eurocom chose to overlook implementing bots; it should be a standard for offline multiplayer.
Moving on then, what's really curious about GoldenEye is that the single player intrigues more than the multiplayer does. The latter may be what kept us salivating over the game until release, but all the focus allowed the developer the space to take creative risks elsewhere. And it's creativity, particularly in blending the old of GoldenEye with the new, that colours the single player campaign.
Eurocom's self-imposed challenge was to create a totally new single player experience while staying true both to the plot of the film and the feel of the game, and somehow keep all of it in balance.
The new, a dollop of artistic license mixed with a modernized plot, is overall realized admirably. The undoubted highlight is the Barcelona mission. The change-up of Zukovsky's sleazy Russian bar into a trendy, vibrant Spanish nightclub is nothing short of inspired. Zukovsky now sports a reverse golf cap, tattoos, a voluptuous floozy on his lap, and a art deco self-portrait on his wall. It's genius.
The artistry of the mission is what strikes the hottest. Rather than immediately dump you into an all-action gunfight, you walk through the club using your smart phone to face-track your liaison. You navigate the neon purple of the dance floor, passing by a throng of flowing silhouettes all clubbing to the DJ Hero 2 remix of Kaskade's "I Remember".
Not only is it imaginative, it's also a natural way to pace the action and narrate through play rather than a cut scene, all of which helps to give GoldenEye a filmic feel that's truly cohesive. You see GoldenEye through Bond's eyes - even if it is a slightly distorted version - and despite the compression problems of split screen multiplayer there's no compromise in the single player's fidelity. The Extraction engine and its high quality motion capture shine once more.
Pacing and fidelity help keep give GoldenEye a filmic quality, but it's the throwaway references to the source material that lets the game glorify rather than obtrude upon any nostalgia. A smile will creep over your face when timeless lines like "for England, James" are spoken, even in their novel distortion. Eurocom do play with the plot a fair bit, but the developer ensures the film's iconic moments like Onatopp's corded demise and Bond's impossible airborne escape are realized in one form or another. In fact, it's the slight changes that keep the plot from feeling like a stale rehash.
The essence of the N64 game also comes through for those of the classic's eccentricities. The camera zooms through a level before positioning you within Daniel Craig's Bond. A KO produces that ominous wish and double beat. And, of course, the glorious cubicle moment is still there.
Outside of the narrative, the shooting is more hit and miss. In the Barcelona mission the artistry extends into the combat when you try to escape the club to the bizarre backdrop of remixed Gershwin jazz. Another couple of strong missions use the night goggle feature superbly, while the St Petersburg tank mission is quite an enjoyable romp of mayhem and destruction.
Unfortunately, for all the imaginative missions are as many that highlight how by-the-book the shooting of GoldenEye really is. And when that shooting descends from stealth into all-guns-blazing action, the game loses its vigour. Whatever control scheme you use, when chaos ensues and all enemies are after your blood the shooting becomes too imprecise. The AI is frenzied and far too prone to illogical flees in search of distant cover. Add in a flimsy turning circle and a prickly, imprecise aim and you have a game that's hard to keep up with in the larger gunfights.
GoldenEye doesn't tarnish the original and doesn't try to be a carbon copy either, but it is hindered by problems which were always going to be hard to surmount. If you're panging for a bit of Bond and something to play with friends round, you could do a lot worse than what is a fine revival of a classic.