Friday, January 14, 2011

REVIEW: GoldenEye 007 for Wii

In 1997, GoldenEye for the Nintendo 64 brought the first-person shooter experience to console systems. Up until then, the FPS had largely been the province of PC games. GoldenEye changed that, creating a gripping console action game with superb design and multiplayer deathmatch that would set the pattern for years to come. It was a best-seller and remains one of the most highly regarded videogames of all time.

Reinventing a classic such as this for a new system could have led to all sorts of unfortunate results: it could have been a mere rehash, a pale imitation of the original, or a relic of a time when FPS design was quite different. GoldenEye 007 for the Wii is none of those things. In fact, it’s rather startling reboot not only of the original game, but the original film as well, creating a contemporary shooter that honors the original while offering something all its own.

The original GoldenEye had the odds stacked against it, since movie tie-in games were of notoriously low quality and it shipped a couple years after the movie’s release. The film, however, had introduced Pierce Brosnan as a strong new James Bond for the 1990s, rejuvenating a series that had slipped during the final years of Roger Moore and the misbegotten tenure of Timothy Dalton. In retrospect, it’s one of the strongest films in the series, and the game set a standard for subsequent 007 games that, by and large, has been maintained for the past 13 years.

First-person shooters have evolved a great deal since 1997. Health and armor packs have been replaced with the ability to recover health by staying out of the line of fire for a few seconds. The use of covering terrain has become commonplace, along with the ability to pop-up and fire off a few shots before returning to cover. Multiplayer has become far more sophisticated, with multiple play modes and online matchmaking over high-speed internet connections. Level design is more elaborate, and the ability of consoles to show larger spaces and longer distances has led to more lavish visuals. 

All of these changes are reflected in GoldenEye, making it a true game of 2011 and not a retro blast back to 1997. Activision hasn’t abandoned the fans entirely, however. There’s a special difficulty level that returns the health packs and the pacing of the original, and it’s actually quite hard to play. The game also offers three control schemes: original N64, GameCube, and the Wii-mote/Nunchuk combo.

I tried to make it work with the Wii-mote, really I did. I stuck with it for several levels, and then just gave up and went with the GameCube controller. Although some people have adjusted to the point-and-shoot nature of the Wii controller, I’m not one of them. It simply lacks the speed and responsiveness I need for a game like this.

The first transformation for the new GoldenEye is the rather unceremonious replacement of former Bond Pierce Brosnan with the voice and likeness new Bond Daniel Craig. This affects the entire tone of the game, making it more gritty and intense, in keeping with Craig’s two outings as Bond. Dame Judi Dench returns as M (a role she took over starting with GoldenEye), but the rest of the original film’s cast has also been replaced, and their characters updated or eliminated altogether.

It’s actually rather intriguing to see how GoldenEye is reimagined for Craig’s more brutal, less debonair Bond and a more high-tech age, complete with cell phones and digital photography. The plot remains largely the same, hitting most of the major action set-pieces of the film as Bond deals with the betrayal of a former MI6 agent and the threat from a new EMP weapon. But the whole thing feels very different due to the changes and updates.

The gameplay itself is a nice mixture of stealth and gunplay, and you control which to emphasize. If you play it quiet and slow and stay out of the line of cameras and guards, you can get through many levels with minimal shooting. Or, you can charge in guns a’blazin’ and just shoot the heck out of everything. There are plenty of secondary tasks and puzzle-like challenges that require the use of Bond’s multipurpose cell phone, as well as a couple of driving sequences. Altogether, it offers a satisfying mix of gameplay styles and a solid 10-12 hours of solo play.

The multiplayer remains outstanding, and it’s a real treat to be able to take GoldenEye online at last. Multiplayer includes a huge roster of Bond characters and villains to choose from, and some have special powers, such as Oddjob’s killer bowler. If you’re a fan of the series, it’s going to be a real treat facing off against Rosa Klebb or Jaws, or entering Nick-Nack mode, in which everyone is Herve Villechaize-sized. There are several new types of play, including Golden Gun mode, in which people vie for control of the one-shot/one-kill golden gun.

It’s good to have GoldenEye back for a new generation, and with so many new features and novel elements. Is it as good as the original? Well, since it preserves what made the original good and expands upon it, then yes: in fact, it’s better. The original is fondly remember because it was new and different. The remake isn’t new or different, but by any measure of quality it’s a better game.


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