Last Friday’s Activision 007 presentation may have been dominated by James Bond: Blood Stone, not least due to the appearance of singer Joss Stone, who received the lion’s share of Q&A questions, but the forthcoming Wiimake GoldenEye 007 still managed to impress.
In fact, the general consensus among some of those at the presentation was that, all things considered, GoldenEye 007 represents a far more significant technical achievement than Blood Stone. The wonderful Super Mario Galaxy games aside, there have been few games that have successfully pushed the boundaries of Nintendo’s humble white box, and the number of genuinely playable first-person shooters available for the console is smaller still.
It’s was a refreshing sight, then, to see the ten minute demonstration of GoldenEye that made its debut on Friday. Taking the first level map from the classic N64 original, developer Eurocom has managed to update and expand the environment while still maintaining the 1997 version’s distinctive visual cues: the grey concrete, driving rain and clueless armed guards.
And when, in the opening few seconds, Bond (now played by Daniel Craig rather than Pierce Brosnan) and his AI partner Jack Trevelyan (no longer played by Sean Bean, sadly) reach over a wall and each perform a brutal takedown on a pair of soldiers, the game displays a level of detail we’ve not yet seen in a Wii game. Each soldier displays a genuine look of surprise and fear, and considering the limitations of the humble Wii, the quality and detail of the character models is impressive.
The demo continues to impress as the pair progress through the level. Fans of the first GoldenEye will recognise the path Bond takes, as he sneaks up the steps of a watchtower and kills two soldiers with his silenced Walther PPK. And when a proper fire fight breaks out, GoldenEye 2010 continues to impress, with chunks of scenery obliterated by incoming bullets.
Later, we’re treated to what is presumably an on rails segment, where Bond and Trevelyan commandeer a truck and become embroiled in a high speed shootout through a tunnel, culminating in an explosive moment which sends the truck crashing down on its roof.
GoldenEye would suffer when compared to the Modern Warfare series, of course, and to be fair to Activision, it hasn’t made any promises it can’t keep. Before release, High Voltage Software assured Wii owners its sci-fi FPS The Conduit would display graphics on a par with the 360 or PS3. The resulting game, while not quite as bad as some critics maintained, was no Killzone 2.
For Wii owners starved of a decent first-person shooter to call their own, however, GoldenEye could be the game they’ve been longing for.
“GoldenEye‘s now all about player choice,” Julian Widdows said in a brief interview after the presentation. “There are multiple routes through the levels now. As you saw, you can take a stealthy route through the opening part of the first level, or you can go in all guns blazing, and use the tunnel under the bridge to get past the guards.”
And as Pierce Brosnan moves aside for Daniel Craig, GoldenEye has become more visceral and tough to reflect the new actor’s take on Bond. “Bond is now more physical, jumping over barriers and using takedowns,” Widdows continued. “We’ve walked a fine line between nostalgia and bringing a fresh experience.”
To this end, Bond’s skills have been augmented from the simple strafe-jump-shoot of the original, with the agent now able to lean around corners and take cover behind objects as well as the bone crunching takedowns and barrier jumps Widdows alluded to.
Of course, the acid test for GoldenEye will be how well its gameplay integrates with the control scheme.
“Certain actions are completed by performing gestures,” Widdows said, “but we’ve kept those to a minimum. You’ll have to make a gesture to perform a takedown, for example, but we’ve been careful not to make it too intrusive. It’s one of the things we’ve been looking at very carefully during focus testing.”
GoldenEye Wii will, therefore, be playable using the classic controller as well as the nunchuck and Wiimote, an option, Widdows believes, that will make the game more palatable to the core market.
One of the original GoldenEye‘s most fondly remembered elements, of course, was its split-screen four-player mode, which returns on the Wii version, along with an additional eight-player online mode. Again, like the original, there’ll be a variety of game types, including Melee Only, Paintball and Licence To Kill. Then there’s the selection of classic Bond characters to choose from, including Jaws, Scaramanga and Odd Job.
When asked whether Odd Job would be as impossible to hit and “tantamount to cheating” as he was in the original, Widdows laughingly replied that he’d “be more balanced,” while remaining recognisably the same character.
For a generation of gamers, GoldenEye 007 on the N64 represented one of the finest console experiences of the 90s, and certainly, the reverence with which both Activision and press spoke of the game is evidence of its cherished status. In discussion, Widdows spoke of the “weight of expectation” his team felt while developing the game, and when asked if he’d played the travesty that was GoldenEye: Rogue Agent, he responded with a nod and a rueful smile. “As anyone in the industry will tell you, making games is difficult,” Widdows said.
Making games may, indeed, be difficult, but from what we’ve seen of GoldenEye on the Wii, Eurocom has done a fine job of dragging a fondly remembered classic into the 21st century.
GoldenEye 007 will be available for the Nintendo Wii in November.