Activision, the current owner of the James Bond video game franchise, approached one of the most coveted Bond games in the same way movie studios are tackling the growing trend of remakes and reboots. GoldenEye 007 on Wii is sort of a gaming hybrid of what's happened with, say, Star Trek, Nightmare on Elm Street and Batman Begins, where a popular brand has been given a second go with a new cast, crew, and direction.
There's no doubt that Activision has brought GoldenEye back for Wii first and foremost because of its familiar namesake, ensuring that more gamers would plunk down money because of the original N64 version's popularity than a fresh game name would. But here's the kicker: Activision and developer Eurocom really cared about the GoldenEye Wii project, and it shows.
What could have ended up a game that cruised on autopilot and simply relied on a name to sell it has turned out to be one of the best first-person shooters on Wii. GoldenEye has a fantastic single-player campaign that feels both fresh and familiar, and the multiplayer attention – something most GoldenEye Nintendo 64 fans hold near and dear to their hearts – is incredible and something rarely seen on the Nintendo console.
Like it or lump it, for GoldenEye 007 Activision has ousted Pierce Brosnan in favor of the current Bond, Daniel Craig, for the role of 007. Whether the switch is due to lacking the likeness rights or simply Eurocom and Activision wanting to take a huge risk with such a massive design change may never be known. The Craig rendition of Bond is one of the biggest alterations to the character, giving the Ian Fleming spy a much more brutal, thug-like personality than his Connery/Moore/Dalton/Brosnan precursors, and with this single change comes a ripple effect: all the existing roles have been recast, some characters have been removed, and key moments – while true to the GoldenEye film – have been altered to work within the Daniel Craig style of Bond.
The thought of these changes might make GoldenEye purists cringe (both the N64 fans and the film buffs). And if you're one of those people, get over this hang-up because the alterations make sense in context and help make GoldenEye one of the best Bond video games to date.
Eurocom has already proven its storytelling skills in its last Wii production. Dead Space Extraction was an incredibly underappreciated action game that featured some fantastic body and facial motion capturing for each of the characters, and this attention to detail translates to GoldenEye 007 in an incredibly engaging way. Though you rarely see Bond from a third-person perspective, his costars are always visible and animate with flair and emotion, and the dialogue is professionally acted and match the characters' actions.
As skillful as the story is told, it's really the gameplay that's king in GoldenEye 007. Once again, the GoldenEye experience has been changed, this time with the upgrade in action – other than being a first-person shooter, this game bears little resemblance to the Nintendo 64 design. It's pretty clear that Eurocom looked at the current generation for inspiration, namely the Call of Duty and Halo franchises, so GoldenEye has been updated to appeal to today's gamer than those latched onto dated decade-and-a-half gameplay.
Activision has been pushing heavily for gamers to recognize GoldenEye's support for the Classic Controller Pro. This is to attract those that have been FPS gaming on an Xbox or DualShock controller, so if you find yourself able to aim and shoot using dual analog controllers, you can get that experience and excel in GoldenEye. The Classic Controller Pro does lack the analog triggers on the shoulder, but for the most part if you're schooled in the HD console's FPS games, you'll feel right at home in GoldenEye.
That said, honestly, the game has some of the best Wii Remote controller support seen in a first-person shooter, and with practice it's clear that the quick and direct aiming of the Wii pointer is the true way to play this game. The Remote support is second only to The Conduit's crazy OCD level of customization, but in GoldenEye you have full input on pointer sensitivity, rotation speed, invert look, and other options, and everything you adjust is saved and applied to individual profiles that you can utilize in multiplayer.
What makes the action so great that it is incredibly satisfying. Whether you're shooting or attacking with melee moves, everything is handled great in GoldenEye. There's a fantastic balance between stealth play and firefights, and in most cases, as long as you don't alert the enemy to your presence, you can play through much of the game crouched down and sneaking around with stealth melee takedowns and silenced headshots. But once a guard knows you're there, it's an all-out gunfight. Gunshots connect with a gratifying "thok!" with enemy characters reacting with visual cues of motion captured animation. Take an enemy down and it's clear as to whether he'll stay down or if he's just wounded. Enemies will evade and take cover, even running and sliding behind low-lying barriers for shielding. While there are still some issues between some bad guy behaviors, the AI routines are pretty impressive.
The developers even put in a few "Bond Moments" to mimic some cool-but-outlandish scenarios. There will be missile launch pads strewn about the opposition's camp, and if Bond pushes the big fat red button, he'll blast a missile and connect with an attacking enemy helicopter. You'll find explosive barrels strategically positioned that explode when shot and topple a series of girders in an almost Rube Goldberg-esque fashion. You shouldn't throw questions out like, "Why would an enemy missile automatically lock onto its own helicopters?" or "Why was an exploding barrel dangling high above a construction yard?" because this is movie logic. It just looks cool when it works.
Replay is a big part of GoldenEye because many levels have been designed with multiple paths to explore. On harder difficulties, you'll need to track down additional objectives hidden within the level that require more exploration than just heading to the next waypoint. On a straight run-through, the single-player campaign isn't enormously long, but playing through on one difficulty opens up harder challenges, including a time trial as well as the insanely tough "007 Classic" that brings back the classic health bars. Since the Wii version lifts from contemporary first-person shooters, you can restore lost health by taking cover, but this "007 Classic" acknowledges the way shooters used to be, in the same way it was done on the Nintendo 64 version. This is a great throwback, and it is immensely challenging.
The only real issue and my only real criticism is the game's framerate. With the attention to detail, like the character animation, elaborate level structures, lighting and weather effects and destructible objects, there's no denying this is one of the better looking games on Wii. But it's clear that Eurocom might've bit off just a little more than it could chew, as the harder missions tend to get a little on the framey side when the screen fills with enemies, gunfire, smoke, explosions…the works. It's a fully playable game, but there will be times when you'll find yourself fighting through a bit more chop than you might be willing to accept. Don't expect HD Call of Duty smooth – it's never that slick.
The multiplayer focus – the portion that's more than just a wink and a nod to the classic N64 experience – is just as fun and satisfying as the single-player campaign. Maybe even more so. Don't expect the same maps from the N64 game, but do expect some brilliant maps designed specifically for the Wii edition. Right out of the box, you can fight in a variety of four-player, split-screen deathmatch and team-focused modes on a single system…as long as you've got the controllers to support your friends. Split screen might not give players the biggest view of the action (and it might make cheating more of an issue because everyone can see each other's screen), but it's one of those old-school elements that makes a welcome return.
Once your system's hooked up to an online access point, you'll be able to take your GoldenEye skills online in a variety of different modes for up to eight players. In several of the play sessions prior to this review, the online support worked flawlessly. Players can play match-ups with random players without a friend code, but because there's a large list of different game modes, the random matches will be a little more difficult to find because you might be looking for one type of game while others are looking for a different mode. It's best to exchange friend codes so you can take advantage of the lobby system.
No matter which mode you pick, however, there's no voice chat to speak of. GoldenEye does not support Nintendo's WiiSpeak nor does it support the upcoming Call of Duty: Black Ops-supported Headbanger Chat Headset. On the upside you don't have to worry about all the annoying smack talk, but ultimately it's a shame that you can't – at least in-game – use chat to align strategies between teammates in some of the fun capture the flag-like Black Box and Hero Modes.
Multiplayer is still fantastic and hugely recommended even without the voice chat, though, and it's here where a lot of that Call of Duty influence comes into play. Every kill, headshot, and kill streak you pull off here is recorded and rewarded via experience points that unlock additional modes and modifications. Again, it's nothing new to first-person shooters but it works awesomely in the GoldenEye design.