Just what was it that made the original GoldenEye so great, anyway? Anyone under the age of about 25 will probably look at YouTube footage of the N64 original, with its soldiers made of boxes and equally simplistic enemy AI, and wonder why anyone would have spent so many hours playing it.
But like a spectacularly funny, off-the-cuff joke, you had to be around at the time to truly appreciate Rare’s GoldenEye 007 in its full pomp. The slickly designed levels, open enough to encourage individual approaches, but linear enough to ensure progression.
The range of weapons and devices, many of which had never been seen on a console before – the proximity mines, the sniper rifle, which evoked the same thrill when used to take down an enemy with a head shot as any game 13 years later.
Then there was the blackly British sense of humour. Characters yelped in pain if you shot them in the backside or hand. There were joyously strange secret modes, like Donkey Kong, which gave everybody giant heads, or the paintball mode that replaced bullet holes with splodges of pigment.
Most of all, it was the sense of balance that made GoldenEye such a delight. Every element worked so well, with scaling missions that increased the number of objectives to fulfil depending on which difficulty level you chose, and every stage offering something new that you hadn’t seen in the last. One minute you were taking down enemies in snowy wastes, the next you were trundling around city streets in a stolen tank.
So given that the original GoldenEye was such a product of its era, is it really possible to update the game for a new generation, while at the same time retaining enough of the first’s atmosphere to make it worthy of the name?
First-person shooters have evolved enormously in the past decade, and it’s therefore unsurprising that Eurocom’s updating of GoldenEye should appear to be as influenced by the Call Of Duty series as its own forebear.
The classic maps of old – given a 21st century makeover here – are now more crowded with enemies and scripted sequences. Playing through the first level, for example (the Dam), is like coming back to the comfort of your home after a lengthy holiday, and discovering that someone’s booby-trapped the place. There’s a cosseting sense of familiarity, but an added frisson of danger that is entirely new.
Enemies behave more intelligently and with greater aggression, and just as you’ve settled into a familiar pattern – taking down a few guards with your silenced handgun, nipping up into the watchtower, and relieving the sentry of his sniper rifle – the game throws in a crazy scripted sequence in a truck.
It’s here you become aware of just how much Eurocom has wrung out of the Wii’s humble architecture. It really does look good by the console’s last-gen standards, and is arguably the most technically impressive third-party release yet seen on Nintendo’s little white brick.
Daniel Craig replaces the boxy Pierce Brosnan of old, and he’s brought a greater sense of athleticism and a shiny smart phone along with him. The former means you can now run, vault over low cover as well as duck behind it, and perform silent, close-quarter kills, while the phone allows you to remotely hack into computers and sentry guns with its hi-tech apps.
As Wii shooters go, it’s as kinetic and exciting as you could reasonably expect, and inarguably offers some of the best FPS action you’ll find on the Wii. Weapons have the same weighty, varied feel as they did in the late-90s, and the sniper rifle is still as much of a joy to use as ever.
The level designs, too, tread similar ground to the original – there’s a level in the snow, one on a boat, one in a nightclub, and so on – but add enough new elements and layouts to make them seem fresh.
But having got so much right in terms of balance, Eurocom then mystifyingly let the game down with some bizarre control choices. Given that no sane gamer would play a first-person shooter with the Wii remote (its point-and-shoot mechanic merely leads to arm ache), using a classic or GameCube controller has problems of its own. Whose idea was it to have to press down two buttons simultaneously to open a door, operate a lift or melee an enemy?
Those unfortunate enough to be playing with the GameCube controller may also find switching between weapons tricky in the heat of battle, since the controls for this are mapped to the left and right buttons on the tiny D-Pad. Accidentally pulling the mobile phone out on an enemy soldier instead of a gun isn’t uncommon, and the use of the Wii Classic Controller is strongly recommended.
They’re niggles that you can learn to live with, but detract somewhat from what is otherwise an excellent, exciting shooter.
The split-screen multiplayer mode was one of the most fondly remembered elements of the N64 original, and it’s back in style on the Wii. It offers a similar range of games to choose from, including Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and Golden Gun, and a number of Bond characters to play as, including Scaramanga, Odd Job and Jaws.
Play is fast, slick and exciting, and there’s a greater wealth of maps to choose from than was on offer back in 1997.
The online multiplayer mode offers the same range of games as the offline split-screen and adds an XP/levelling system and achievements familiar from numerous other shooters.
The fact that only eight players can compete at any one time may seem a little behind the times, but the upside is that the Wii can at least cope with all the action taking place without too much noticeable lag.
13 years is a lifetime in videogame terms, and that the original GoldenEye is still talked about with hushed reverence is a sign of its enduring appeal. It’s to Eurocom’s credit that it hasn’t simply cobbled together a perfunctory FPS and traded on the old classic’s good name (which EA did with the risible GoldenEye: Rogue Agent), but has instead crafted a game that stands as a worthy successor.
Eurocom’s GoldenEye doesn’t get everything right – the humour from the original is sorely missing, and the controls can become irksome at times – but it at least understands what was great about the first game, and augments those positive aspects with some of the features we’d expect from a 21st century shooter.
It isn’t in the league of Modern Warfare 2 or Halo: Reach, inevitably, but Eurocom has nevertheless brought GoldenEye up to date with a thrilling bang.
GoldenEye 007 is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.
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