In a world of first-person shooters so packed with incredible properties, one game still stands out as something genuinely special. Released in 1997, Rare's GoldenEye almost single-handedly brought the FPS genre to consoles via the N64, after overcoming some considerable reluctance from Nintendo. The game's magnificent single player campaign, based on the 1995 James Bond film of the same name, and its addictive multiplayer bred a new generation of fanatic console FPS gamers. Bringing the game back to life for a new audience seemed a daunting task, but that's just what Eurocom is doing with GoldenEye 007 on the Wii (a DS version is in development at n-Space). So DS dusted down its silenced Walther PPK to put the game through its paces.
Eurocom - the studio behind the Wii's excellent Dead Space Extraction - is quick to claim that GoldenEye 007 is a "re-imagination" of the original shooter rather than a straight-down-the-line remake. The developer has stuck true to the source material (including a welcome return of the famed four-player, split-screen multiplayer), but also brought the property up to modern standards. Liaising with Bond film producer EON Pictures and series legend Barbara Broccoli, the massive 125-strong development team has worked under the mantra, "If we are going to put GoldenEye on the box, it has to be the best."
The biggest change in the game is that the suave Pierce Brosnan has been replaced by the more rugged Daniel Craig. For GoldenEye veterans, it's somewhat jarring to see Craig's more 'thump and dump' style of Bond in the game, but it's easy to get used to. Sean Bean also no longer plays main bad guy Alec Trevelyan, largely because new actors were needed for the voice acting and extensive motion capture work (all Bond's action sequences were handled by Ben Cooke, Craig's stunt double). The score has been penned by British composer David Arnold, who has scored every Bond film since Tomorrow Never Dies, while original GoldenEye screenwriter Bruce Feirstein has updated the story. Mostly, though, the new game is about Daniel Craig's Bond - "visceral, gritty and physical", as well as "light on gadgets and heavy on action".
Thankfully, the new game sticks with GoldenEye's excellent system of scaling difficulty in its levels, which has yet to be improved by many games. Each level features four main difficulty settings; Operative, Agent, 007 and 007 Classic (plus a Time Trial option). Going up the difficulties not only sharpens the enemy AI, but also tasks the player with fulfilling up to three extra objectives, which genuinely freshens up the levels on additional playthroughs. Choosing the 007 Classic mode removes the regenerative health assistance and returns the player to a health bar and the need to pick up body armour around the levels. Aside from the difficulty settings, there are the usual FPS options of sneaking in with silenced weapons or going all guns blazing. There are also a variety of control set-ups, including the Wiimote and nunchuk, Wii Zapper, or classic controller as in normal console shooters.
A hands-on demo session featured the Dam level at the very start of the game. After a briefing from M (played again by Judi Dench), Bond is tasked with tracking down Arkady Orumov, a rather dastardly chap who is trying to sell weapons to groups targeting British embassies. The player starts off near a control tower in the rain as Bond hooks up with agent 006 - the slippery Trevelyan. After a cinematic and then a quick-time takedown of an unwitting guard, the player gets free control and can approach the nearby control tower however they want - blast the hell out of everyone, or sneak in with the silenced pistol. After clearing the area, a horde of guards arrive that can be taken out from a distance with an infrared sniper rifle or by equipping a juddering AK-47.
The shooting sequence brings into play the game's dynamic cover system, in which shots blow apart concrete blocks and other surfaces, causing the player to keep moving. After dispatching the soldiers, the Dam level switches to a new on-rail sequence as Bond gets in a truck driven by 006. From a fixed position in the cab, the player has to shoot the soldiers outside and blow up trucks by shooting their fuel tanks. There is a moment when a guard tries to enter the cab, leading to another quick-time sequence to stave him off. Eventually, the truck takes one hit too many and flips onto its back. After escaping, Bond and 006 climb down a lift shaft, leading to a bullet-time sequence. After 006 opens the lift door, time slows down and the player has to shoot all three guards before they can hit the alarm.
Getting deeper inside the dam brings additional objectives depending on the difficulty, such as photographing parts of a helicopter gunship using the new mobile phone tool. The phone system works well and it also flags up additional items of interaction in the levels. Playing through the Dam brings a pleasing sense of nostalgia for older players, while the additional features freshen up the 13-year-old GoldenEye for a new generation. Eurocom has dotted plenty of "nostalgic touch points" around the game to stay true to the original, but the enhancements, such as destructible environments, ensure that the game never feels dated.
Graphically, GoldenEye 007 holds true to the original GoldenEye but adds another layer of polish and realism. The work in motion capture has meant that the characters look great and it's pleasing to see an end to the awful 'club handed' models of the original title. The presentation doesn't hold up to the top Xbox 360 or PS3 shooters, but it certainly stands up to the very best examples on the Wii. The guns are well-recreated and the shooting is largely satisfying, but one area of concern is the hit detection, which sometimes feels a bit off, especially with the heavier machine guns. Shooting just doesn't feel as tight and responsive as the likes of Modern Warfare or Killzone 2, but hopefully that will be resolved when the game is released in November.
Alongside the single player campaign, the magnificent GoldenEye multiplayer is back and the good news is that it's as fun as ever. This game still completely nails four-player, split-screen deathmatch, and the addition of up to eight-player online matches will hopefully add another dimension, including options for earning XP and unlockable rewards. There are 52 different characters to choose from, including eight specials such as Oddjob, Jaws, Blofeld, and Knick Knack. All the special modes from the original game are also available, such as paintball and the one-shot-kill Golden Gun (which surely influenced Treyarch's 'One In The Chamber' mode in the upcoming Call Of Duty: Black Ops).
Matches go ahead on ten different maps, including classics such as Archives and Facility, as well as new ones. A building site map featured multiple levels, pipes and places to hide. The player chooses their gun load-out from over 25 options, before jumping into matches, which are the usual frantic contests, and as addictive and fun as ever. There are also some really nice touches to differentiate the characters, such as Odd Job throwing his metal-brimmed hat rather than grenades (leading to some immensely satisfying kills). There is a slight danger that chucking GoldenEye into today's online multiplayer dominated world could make it seem outdated, but the fact that it's on the shooter-light Wii should ensure plenty of fun moments ahead on the console.
The return of GoldenEye was always going to be an appealing prospect. On the one hand, if the game is even half as good as its predecessor then it will be an utter joy to behold. But on the other hand, remaking or reimagining such a cherished property has the serious potential to go horribly wrong. However, the single player and multiplayer seem to strike the right balance between nostalgic touches and new features that gamers now expect from next-generation shooters. Barring the slightly loose hit detection in the shooting system, the signs are looking very good for the return of GoldenEye later in the year.
GoldenEye 007 will be released on the Wii and DS on November 5.