GoldenEye 007 for the N64 holds a very special place in my gaming psyche. It’s not the best game by a long shot and it hasn’t aged well, but I’m not ashamed to say that it’s probably my favorite game ever, for a lot of reasons that aren’t related to its technical merits or tangible, measurable qualities. Simply put, GoldenEye is the game that really made me into a gamer. If you’ll permit a small anecdote, I’ll explain.
For most people, Mario or Zelda make them a Nintendo fan. Having glossed over all that, a quirky movie licensed game called GoldenEye 007 turned me into a Nintendo diehard overnight and I’m still recovering today. I was a PC gamer and only sporadically until about the 6th grade—Doom, Dark Forces and Duke Nukem was most of my experience with video games and aside from some NES and Genesis binges at friends’ houses I didn’t know much about consoles. Then I met a friend who happened to own an N64, and GoldenEye re-wrote what my feeble mind considered possible in a video game. The level of realism and interactivity in the single player, not to mention the frantic multiplayer combat, and all of it powered by dynamic fully animated 3D, was unlike anything I had witnessed in a first person shooter. It wasn’t long before I’d wheedled my parents into an N64 for Christmas, and not much longer before I began catching up on my long re-education into the rich library of Sega and Nintendo classics.
So why all the waxing nostalgic and personal anecdotes? Well, hopefully it will help this review make more sense and give it some weight and context. It’s a rare opportunity to critique a re-imagination of something that you hold as a defining aspect of your youth, something that shifted your perceptions so radically.
And that’s why right now I’m going to make one thing clear: this is not the GoldenEye you remember. It is not the N64 game with a new coat of paint and a few modern tweaks. This GoldenEye is a completely new and different game, with a few nostalgic streaks to be sure, but it isn’t a remake of either the 1997 N64 classic or the 1995 film that kicked off Pierce Brosnans’s tenure as 007. It’s really more of a reboot, a total overhaul of the GoldenEye idea, taking bits of the N64 game and the general story from the film and doing something completely fresh with all of it.
Naturally I was skeptical, but the people doing it—Eurocom—have plenty of experience with Bond games. After a somewhat rocky start in 2000 with the ambitious yet flawed The World is not Enough, they developed 2002’s 007 Nightfire. Nightfire proved Eurocom’s 007 chops; elements that only half-worked two years prior in N64’s TWINE came together like a finely mixed vodka martini in Nightfire. It played like an homage to Bond lore in general and GoldenEye in particular, with a cinematic story that referenced everything from OHMSS to The Spy Who Loved Me and a surprisingly deep multiplayer that brought back a whole roster of iconic 007 locations and playable villains and allies. Eurocom knows their stuff and they’ve earned the privilege to rewrite GoldenEye, literally.
Eurocom began their update by hiring Bruce Feirstein, screenplay writer on the original film, to update the entire story to the modern 007 continuity. Daniel Craig is Bond in the new GoldenEye, and the game’s entire world and premise have been molded to fit Craig’s take on the franchise. Cold War plots have morphed into economic crisis espionage. Instead of a gadget-laden watch, 007 uses a sleeker, more realistic smartphone. There are a few nostalgic touches along the way; the very beginning of the game, as Bond and Trevelyan infiltrate the dam,which looks just like the first area in the N64 game. Once they board the truck, though, it’s an almost entirely new experience. You’ll see a clever reference here, a re-worked texture there, maybe some dialog callbacks, an architectural homage or a familiar objective, but by and large the game has rebuilt the level structure and progression from the ground up.To fit with modern FPS conventions, GoldenEye does away with the now-primitive mechanics of the N64 game and replaces them with the current standards in FPS. That means aim-down-sights shooting, smart use of cover, and sadly recharging health. Admittedly the game borrows a lot from the recent Call of Duty shooter design, but if you’re as sick of CoD as I am, don’t let that deter you. GoldenEye is, for lack of a better word, a much “smarter” FPS than either of the Modern Warfare’s. It takes the loosely cover-based action from CoD and adds some desperately needed cover mechanics, like the ability to pop and lean out of cover for quick shots, and the fact that protective structures are quickly destroyed under sustained fire. Simply put, GoldenEye takes a design that has become rote and stale and adds the features that it’s really needed for a couple years now, creating a more organic and complete experience. Sledgehammer Games and Treyarch would do well to follow Eurocom’s lead in the future CoD titles.
Shooting is just the half of it, though. GoldenEye is a surprisingly competent stealth game too; in fact, about 70% of it can be played with stealth tactics if that’s how you want to do it. While there are certain sequences and some levels that can’t be stealthed (the archives is almost exclusively action) the rest is up to you. Combining shrewd area surveying and a close eye on your radar, you can predict enemy paths and empty out entire rooms using silenced shots or melee takedowns. Daniel Craig’s more brusque hand-to-hand style comes into play here, with some truly brutal melee finishers and surprise attacks. There’s nothing like sneaking up on a guy and taking him down with a quick neck chop, Judo throw or fist to the back of the skull.
What I really liked, though, is that failing a stealth section doesn’t screw you for the rest of the level. If you are detected all local guards converge on you and some reinforcements arrive, but once you’ve mopped them up you can go right back to stealth for the rest of the level. This also lets you play the whole game as a straight action shooter, or a mixture of both action and stealth, as Craig’s Bond probably would. Waking up every guard in the game certainly makes the harder difficulties even harder, but it’s really up to you. GoldenEye takes the best stealth elements from more frustrating games like Metal Gear Solid and somehow seamlessly mixes them with the typically mindless action of CoD, tweaked and refining it all into a dynamic experience that is truly the thinking man’s FPS.
The ever-present stealth element happens to introduce another feature I really, really like. Throughout the entire game you are armed with your trusty Walther P99, Bond’s trademark sidearm since the mid-Brosnan days. The P99 comes equipped with an attachable suppressor, so you have a silenced weapon whenever you need it. The best part is that you ALWAYS have it—you can’t drop it, in fact, but the game lets you pick up two additional weapons that you can swap out with new ones at will. It’s a much more flexible and natural system than the irritating “two guns, no exceptions!” policy that Halo ground into FPS design a decade ago. Apparently 007 is smart enough to keep his compact sidearm with him at all times, while the Master Chief and his innumerable imitators can’t carry more than two guns on their bulky power armor at a time, regardless of the weapons’ sizes or dimensions.
The remaining arsenal is pretty robust and borrows Modern Warfare 2’s concept of attachments. You’ll run into all sorts of rifles, pistols and automatics with varying accessories, including laser pointers, reflex sights, scopes and even under-slung grenade launchers. It’s a healthy selection that’s decently balanced between solo and multiplayer, although a couple, like the Walther WA2000 sniper rifle and the auto shotgun are incredibly overpowered in multi. Strangely, grenades feature prominently in multi but I never picked any up during the story campaign.
The game’s more realistic arsenal also leads to some unfortunate omissions. You won’t find any Moonraker lasers or silver PP7s, for example. I also can’t find the Skorpion vz 61, AKA the infamous Klobb. This is a mystery to me because in pre-release demos Eurocom had ingeniously renamed it the Klebb, after Spectre agent Rosa Klebb of From Russia with Love. You can even play as Rosa Klebb in multiplayer—she’s one of the classic villain characters—but the notorious “suck” gun is conspicuously absent. As of this writing I haven’t unlocked all the extras, though, so hopefully the Klebb is hiding somewhere in there.GoldenEye is no pushover on hard mode but lets you ramp up the difficulty incrementally and each challenge level is well balanced. In addition to three standard difficulties, GoldenEye includes a fourth called 007 Classic. This one is a real challenge because it takes the hardest difficulty mode and removes recharging health; you get the good old fashioned curved health bar from the N64 game, and just like the old days there are no health packs, forcing you to conserve health and hunt for precious body armor.
At times it gets just as hard as “00 Agent” mode on N64, but feels slightly imbalanced because it’s much easier to get hit in the new game. Like in CoD, copious enemy fire will literally be raining in from all directions so getting hit happens a lot, as opposed to only when you weren’t fast enough or made a mistake in the N64 game. I just wish the health and armor bars were an option I could turn on any time, so I could play classic style on any difficulty mode. It would also be nice if you could switch them on in multiplayer, at least for split-screen play.
As to the story, Feiristein’s rewrite has some interesting results. This time there are no silo or water caverns levels, and the frigate and train are worked into other levels instead of given their own standalone ones. These changes are closer to the film—the train and frigate sequences only lasted a couple minutes in the movie, and the silo was a notoriously out of place chunk from a full mission that Rare never finished in time for the N64 game’s release. Still the omitted levels are sorely missed, mostly because I wanted to see Eurocom’s new take on these locations. Feirstein also broke significantly from the N64 game and film by putting the St. Petersburg sequences completely out of order, with statue park happening after
the archives and tank chase, but somehow it still works perfectly well.
Feirstein also dropped a cool story feature from the N64 game. That game followed the film’s plot loosely but kept the 10-year time gap between the mission at the dam and Bond’s current crisis with Janus. Instead of glossing over that period like the film, however, it constructed almost the entire first half of the game in that gap, as if Bond had been investigating the GoldenEye incident for years. The new game does away with those 10 years entirely, setting all the events in a short period of time. While the new GoldenEye is a significantly longer game than the N64 one, the story’s breakneck pace robs the plot of its era-spanning scope and omits some background details.
The faster paced plot does hit on all the right events though, and you get to see some amazingly redone moments and locations. Everything has been scaled up and the events in the film seem like a small skirmish in comparison. Just don’t go in expecting to get the same levels and events even remotely similar to how they looked before. Expect bigger and more epic and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
The reworked characters are also a mixed bag, and the faster pace means you don’t see them as much. It’s certainly nice not having to baby-sit Natalya in the jungle, but you don’t see enough of Valentin and minor characters like Boris and Jack Wade are missing entirely. In the end the new GoldenEye slims up the plot and skews closer to the film’s brisk pacing, but as the credits rolled I was feeling a bit of whiplash. The N64 game’s “filling in the empty spaces” approach left me with a broader sense of the long-standing friendship between Bond and Trevelyan and just how much 006’s betrayal affected Bond. That said Eurocom and Feirstein have produced a long, meaty campaign with plenty of story, superbly built levels and better, more balanced gameplay than any of the recent CoD games.The drastic gameplay changes also mean a drastically modernized multiplayer, but once you start playing you’ll find it just as compelling and addictive as the N64 game that hooked you 13 years ago, if not more so. Eurocom has provided a fully-featured split-screen mode so you can play classic style in a new way. There are several pre-set loadout types, over fifty characters including eight legendary 007 villains, ten maps and a handful of classic and new game types that can keep a multiplayer party going for hours. My brothers and I burned away an evening in split-screen and played until 1 in the morning. The new GoldenEye somehow recaptures that impossible-to-put-down quality of the N64 original, even with significantly different and modernized gameplay. I have no idea how Eurocom managed to bottle that same feverish addiction with a game that plays so differently, but it must have taken a hell of a lot of play testing.
As addictive as split-screen is, GoldenEye’s online multiplayer is the main attraction. Last week I played several rounds with the developers, and increasing the player cap from four to eight really opens up the experience. Several more team game types are available, including a GoldenEye strike control point battle, Hero mode where each team gets a randomly selected VIP leader, and Black Box, a clever capture the flag variant where one team tries to carry a briefcase and download data while the other attempts to destroy the case. Split-screen modes like Golden Gun are also more fun; Eurocom has tweaked this nostalgic mode by giving the holder of the legendary weapon infinite ammo reloads and 5 points per kill instead of 1, but the inability to switch to any other gun.
Online mode also expands the features considerably, with customizable loadouts, unlockable perks and a full level-up system organizing it all. Special game modifiers inject some of the N64 game’s quirky charm, with old favorites like paintball, melee only and invisibility joining bouncy grenades, singularity and move your feet, which kills players who stand still too long. The online mode’s only Persian flaw is that it lacks voice chat. This is unfortunate, considering both Call of Duty Black Ops and next year’s Conduit 2 will support PDP’s Wii Headbanger headset. That complaint aside, GoldenEye’s multiplayer will keep you occupied for months and for now at least, it’s the premier online FPS on Wii.
No matter what mode you’re playing you won’t have any issues with the controls. Eurocom wanted to make their game as accessible as possible to old and new fans alike, and thus implemented a huge variety of control schemes. Wii remote/Nunchuk, Classic Controllers and even the Gamecube controller are all supported. Naturally there are an insane number of control schemes for each, and if you really
want to tweak the controls there are adjustable options on par with the ones in The Conduit.
In fact GoldenEye’s default expert controls actually trump Conduit’s for precision and accessibility, no mean feat as that game has been the gold standard in Wii FPS controls for over a year. On the higher preset sensitivity I found the basic Wiimote/Nuchuk scheme to be perfectly fine, which is a testament to how good the default controls are—in most games that allow classic controls (Mario Kart, Smash Bros) I invariably play with a Gamecube pad. I have yet to try the Classic Controller Pro as I don’t own one, but the limited edition bundle that comes with a golden CC Pro makes me want to change that very soon.
In terms of production values and extras, GoldenEye is off the charts. It’s one of the Wii’s highest profile 3rd party releases in years and it shows. You don’t see any of Conduit’s flashy shader effects but in every other respect Eurocom has maxed out the Wii’s graphical abilities. The levels are gorgeously constructed, even the drab, dingy ones, and most contain impressive weather effects. Character and gun models are expertly animated, and the facial expressions are particularly uncanny—if you thought Eurocom’s work on Dead Space Extraction last year was good, wait until you see GoldenEye in motion.On the audio side, you can expect an authentic James Bond experience. Activision hired David Arnold, composer on every Bond film since Tomorrow Never Dies, to assist in composing the game’s music. The result is suitably brassy and exactly what you’d expect to hear in a Bond movie, but dynamically grafted to the game’s ebb and flow of action. I really enjoyed the game’s music but couldn’t help feel nostalgic for the N64 game’s soundtrack. For that game, Graeme Norgate constructed distinct tracks for each level, mixing in sound cues from Eric Serra’s admittedly avante-garde score from the GoldenEye film. The N64 game’s eclectic tracks gave each level that much more of a distinct personality, and while I miss those old synth melodies David Arnold’s score for the new game gives it more of a traditional Bond sound than either the N64 game or even the original movie.
The voice acting is equally excellent. While Daniel Graig and Judi Dench reprise their roles with typical aplomb, EON Productions has done an admirable job recasting all of the other characters. While I still prefer Sean Bean’s icy portrayal of Alec Trevelyan in the film, the new actors put a unique spin on the roles. I just wish I could’ve seen more of them, particularly Trevelyan, Natalya, Xenia and Valentin. In any case, with both Dead Space Extraction and GoldenEye, Eurocom has proven that they are almost peerless in translating actor performances to digital models with eerie realism. Their motion capture artists must be some of the best in the industry.
At a point when the Wii’s life is winding down, Eurocom has delivered one of the console’s defining experiences. When I heard they were remaking my favorite game of all time and changing so much in the process, I was skeptical and a little bitter. It turns out that crafting a whole new GoldenEye from the ground up was the only option—the only way to do the original justice and the only way to create a compelling modern game. The new GoldenEye is one of those gaming events that you just can’t afford to pass up. No matter what console allegiance you swear by or what you think of the Wii, like Red Steel 2 and Mario Galaxy GoldenEye is a game you just have to play. So dust off those Wii remotes and prepare to start the addiction all over again. GoldenEye is back. Get your friends.