Two years ago a rumor was going around, that Rare and 4J studios were updating the N64 classic GoldenEye 007
for an HD graphics, online multiplayer release on Xbox Live Arcade. Naturally I was ecstatic—this was my favorite game of all time being brought up to modern standards. Sadly, it was not to be. The story goes that Microsoft, Nintendo and Activision just couldn’t agree on the financial side of things, and a few scant months from release GoldenEye XBLA was canned. At the time I was pretty pissed off, and wrote a lengthy editorial
detailing the whole unfortunate turn of events. I ended it by urging fans to tell Microsoft and Nintendo that they wanted the game released.
As they say hindsight is 20/20. Now we all know why the XBLA refit fell through: Nintendo sweetened the pot for Activision, proposing a brand new, re-imagined Wii exclusive GoldenEye instead of a mere graphically retouched port. And surprise! It turned out
to be fantastic. As a fan of the original way back in 1997, and more recently a journalist following the game’s slow, painful road to rebirth, this new game gives me a sense of closure. I know it’s hard to believe that I or any hardcore GoldenEye 64 fan would be happy with the situation, but hear me out and maybe I can explain.
A modern remake was realistically the only way to do it, at least the only way to get attention and give GoldenEye the renaissance it really deserves. Sure, a straight update of the original would be great; 4J did the same thing with Perfect Dark last year and the combined awesomeness and nostalgia nearly snapped my mind in two. But the Perfect Dark remake only really got to the older fans who remembered it, and in the following months the online community kind of dropped off. GoldenEye deserves better than that, and the only way to do better is to make a whole new game for old fans and the new generation too.
I’ll be honest, I went into the new GoldenEye expecting to be disappointed or constantly annoyed that the new game had changed something. I’m sure many fans who grew up on the N64 were expecting to feel the same way. It turns out that the only way to keep that bitterness at bay is to change almost everything—you can do a straight port or a brand new game, but if it falls somewhere in the middle then nobody is happy. If it’s only half-like the N64 game, old fans are mad at the changes “intruding” on their classic experience, and the young whippersnappers are annoyed by all the “old” aspects that keep it from being just like Halo, the game they
grew up with.
In my interview
about the new game, associate producer James Lodato said it best: you’re in a no-win situation with this kind of remake. The only option is to make the very best game you can by any standards, staying true to the spirit of the original film and game while pushing new, creative ideas. In this kind of damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation, I think Eurocom did better than anyone expected.
That doesn’t mean Eurocom completely disregarded what made the original good; quite the opposite in fact. Instead of just copy-pasting raw elements of the original, they took what worked and made it fresh. They needed to have a strong, story-driven campaign with a good, organic mix of over the top action and stealth. They have that, but instead of windows that guards can’t see through it’s in the form of melee takedowns and adaptable sneaking gameplay that can turn into explosive movie action at any time, punctuated by classic “Bond moments” that make you cheer. There are no strict “stealth sections” in GoldenEye, old or new—in both games you get to be James Bond and decide how to handle things as he would, plain and simple.
They needed a virulently addictive multiplayer. They have that too, and while it incorporates many recent shooter staples and differs drastically from the N64’s multiplayer, it still has split-screen, the action is still fast and unrelenting and that unmistakable 007 style and flash keeps it from being just another military FPS.
Along the way there are nostalgic touches to reassure fans that Eurocom appreciates the N64 game as much as they do. Some mission objectives are oddly familiar; textures you didn’t even notice in the N64 game, or cleverly placed slices of long-forgotten levels show up and spark moments of nostalgia. Even the menu system is a callback in a way. The N64 game featured very 90s manila file folders, and the new game uses the Microsoft Surface-esque interface from Quantum of Solace; Mi6 has upgraded over the years, and so has GoldenEye 007.
The new GoldenEye works because it respects the source material of the whole Bond mythos in addition to the original game. It’s kind of like a miniature version of Casino Royale; Eurocom took a long hard look at what made the original game and movie work and somehow transposed those intangible aspects onto a game that looks and plays very differently. It is at once subconsciously familiar and comforting but fresh and exciting.
Would I like to see Rare’s original show up on XBLA or Virtual Console someday? Absolutely, mostly because Rare and 4J did an amazing job bringing Perfect Dark up to HD standards for its 360 re-release, and it isn’t fair that they put so much work into a similar GoldenEye update only to have the project cancelled. I’m sure 4J’s GoldenEye is still sitting on a hard drive somewhere, and it deserves to see he light of day eventually. Regardless of that, Eurocom’s GoldenEye is an amazing game, and fans of the N64 game need to check it out.
If you’re feeling nostalgic, pull that N64 out of the closet, plug in your old cartridge and revisit the game that started it all. Eurocom has done Rare’s classic shooter justice, and I know I’ll be playing through it again for old times’ sake…just as soon as I pry myself away from the new GoldenEye’s multiplayer.