MI6 reviews the newly re-imagined Nintendo Wii version of "GoldenEye 007" from Activision...

"GoldenEye 007" Wii Review

5th November 2010

When Activision chose to create an updated version of "GoldenEye", three major changes were dictated: 1) the infamous multiplayer mode had to be adapted for online play, 2) the lead actor had to switch to the current man in the tuxedo - Daniel Craig, and 3) the storyline had to be brought up to date for 2010. Activision have been successful on two of the three counts, and fortunately for gamers and James Bond fans alike, its the two that count most.

Much has been written about the pros and cons of 're-imagining' a classic videogame, but this review is going to focus on assessing the execution of the decisions made, rather than the rationale behind them. "From Russia With Love" was tweaked by EA to refresh a 40 year-old movie to a videogame, so it is not a new concept to the Bond series. Many of today's gamers may not be old enough to have played the original "GoldenEye 007" on the N64 back in 1997, and those who did may not play videogames as much now as they did then, but there is a sweet spot of 25-35 year-olds who will be best-placed to compare - if they can remove their rose tinted spectacles.

Mission Objective 1: Take Multiplayer Online
Everyone remembers the original "GoldenEye 007" for its split-screen multiplayer. With the exception of time-runs and unlocking the game modifiers, the single-player campaign was quickly forgotten by most and the title lived on for years via its split-screen mayhem. The 2010 version brings back everything you would expect from the original, and adds a few more interesting options and game modes. Although the new modes and features (such as a variation on capture the flag) are nothing new in the FPS genre, which has come a long way since "GoldenEye" set the bar thirteen years ago, they are a welcome addition to the all-too-familiar setups of 'Licence To Kill / Pistols Only'.

Split screen is what you would expect, and the Wii hardware does its best to keep up with a solid frame rate. With the Wii limited to standard definition video output, you can sometimes find yourself squinting at 4-player on a small screen, or enduring the soft edges and blur on a bigger display. Full-screen online play works by either automatically joining a game in a mode of your choice, creating a game, or hooking up with people you know via Friend Codes. The only misstep in design is the generic feel to the online mode characters (either MI6 agents or Russians), restricting the selection of familiar Bond Villains to offline multiplayer only. As with the original, there are no bots to hone your skills against.

Days ahead of the game's official release, the servers were already busy and searching for a game to join only took a few seconds. How the online population holds up over the coming months and years remains to be seen, but the use of Friend Codes will keep the action alive. No noticeable network lag was experienced with play in the USA and UK, and there are options to restrict games to players within your geographical region if network connections are not as fast. Success online is measured by experience points (XP), which are gained the traditional way as well as the creative bonuses in the same vain as popularised by the original. Objective complete.

 

Unfortunately, as with most Wii games, online league tables of players were already hacked on the day of release with some players boasting impossibly high XP levels.

Mission Objective 2: Recast 007
Due to contractual, political and marketing reasons, for the first time in the James Bond series, the lead actor had to be recast in a remake of a previous adventure. Whether you agree with the logic or not, Daniel Craig has been successfully brought in to the world of "GoldenEye" with a solid performance from the actor and clever tweaks to the styling. Craig delivers an excellent voice performance which easily surpasses anything in the 007 gaming canon to date (Brosnan 'phoned it in', Connery was too old), as dialog is delivered with conviction, feeling and synchronicity with his silver screen portrayal of Bond. Craig's digital depiction as Bond in the game is impressive given the Wii's capabilities, and the facial expressions (when you rarely see them) actually appear superior to those in "Blood Stone". Bond's behaviour in the game has also been tweaked to Craig's portrayal, and it leans more firmly towards "Casino Royale" than "Quantum of Solace". Objective complete.

Mission Objective 3: Update The Story
According to Activision, bringing the story of "GoldenEye" forward 15 years apparently needed a big refresh, so they drafted in the original screenwriter Bruce Feirstein to update almost everything. This was more of a superficial exercise, rather than a necessity due to recasting Bond with Daniel Craig, as the adventure, plot, locations, characters and set-pieces of the 1995 film would be just as relevant today.

Some of the arbitrary changes include making Zukovsky a wealthy nightclub owner in Barcelona (with the appearance of street gang leader), locations switches of Monaco for Dubai and Cuba to Nigeria, and the computer hacking plot with Boris totally eliminated. For the female leads, Natalya becomes a straight-forward Bond Girl and there is little initial confusion on Bond's part as to her involvement, and every aspect of Xenia that her made memorable has been stripped away so the character is simply a goon for Ourumov. Feirstein also should know better than to have a parachute inflate like an air-bag when deployed on land.

One of the few positive changes made was to expand the cooperation between 007 and 006 in the opening mission to deepen the impact of his later betrayal on the player - something which the original game relied on the player having seen the movie.

Although it could be argued that the largely superficial changes to the elements are forgivable, the execution of the story in the campaign mode is severely lacking. Action jumps from location to location with little explanation, the motivations of the characters are scant, and even why MI6 is that interested to send their best agent after a poxy arms dealer is never explained.

 

Unlike the parallel release title "Blood Stone", there are few 'cut scenes' or dialog exchanges beyond a few lines. The exposition, what there is of it, is left largely to Tanner narrating the loading screens. The cut scene script must have ran all of 5 pages. The supporting characters have been recast too, perhaps because the original actors were too expensive or too difficult to schedule. If EA can bring back the likeness of actors from a 1963 movie who have long departed this world, there is no reasonable excuse as to why the decision was taken to replace the cast wholesale. The unknown actors in their place perform excellent voice work, but their depictions in the game are instantly forgettable. Any player who is not intimately familiar with the original film, and is therefore able to fill in the blanks and understand the changes, or can forgive the leaps in context between missions, will feel let down by the refresh. Objective failed.

Single-Player
Although the conceptual changes made to the campaign are disappointing, the single-player mode is far more rewarding than the original game with deeper missions, a wider variety of gameplay, and increased longevity with meaningful secondary objectives. Familiarity with the original vanishes after 5 minutes of the opening mission, as level design stops trying to replicate the structure of its predecessor, although the look and feel of some locations are lovingly recreated. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as maps are a great deal larger, varied and more intricate, although they are sometimes little less free-roaming. A play through on Agent mode for the average gamer will last around 8-10 hours over 6 locations (totaling 14 stages). Beyond the additional mission objectives with increasing difficulty modes, there are the many game modifiers or 'cheat modes' to acquire as well as differing play styles - you can complete a mission stealthily or run-and-gun. Cranking up the difficulty to Classic 007 also removes the auto-heal and brings back the health HUD and the search for armour vests. Single-player will live on a lot longer for Wii than the N64.

Graphics
Developers Eurocom have done stellar work in stretching the Wii's capability with a lot of the visual effects that are mostly seen on higher-spec platforms such as the Xbox 360 and PS3. This is a slick and polished Wii title. Rather than avoid ideas that many would spell trouble for the Wii's capabilities, Eurocom have found innovative ways to succeed. One example is the crowded nightclub venue, where animated silhouettes fill out the crowd in between true 3D characters. Weather and lighting play an important role in almost every mission, and the snow effects in Severnaya are particularly noteworthy. Character models are realistic and the motion-captured animations are lifelike.

Sound
As mentioned before, all the voice-work artists deliver great performances and the spot-effects like grunts and groans feel natural, and the enemies sometimes sound genuinely threatening. Perhaps a side-effect of the Wii's restrictions, some of the soldiers are heard to repeat non-scripted phrases a little too often. Bangs and booms are all delivered with aplomb. Although composer David Arnold has been widely credited for score, it is actually Kevin Kiner who provides the bulk of the in-game music. As with "Blood Stone", one of the highlights of the game is the music. You will probably find yourself humming the nightclub track days after you've played it. Bringing pussy cat doll Nicole Scherzinger in to perform the refreshed theme is also a success.

Play
Taking back from the genre it helped set the standards for, this updated "GoldenEye" borrows from popular franchises such as "Modern Warfare" and "Call of Duty". But for the most part it just selects the best bits. There is 'bullet time' on occasion, the backdrop blurs a little when you reload, and quick-time events are injected here and there to break up the shooting. Bond can now jump, duck, vault, climb and sprint, maximizing the use of cover and stealth if need be. Echoing the Craig films, Bond's multiple gadgets are gone and have been superceded by an all-encompassing smart phone. AI is quite impressive, with enemies regrouping after being alerted, tossing grenades your way if bullets don't work, and moving to surround you or sneak up from behind.

Harking back to its predecessor, shooting enemies in different body parts generates different reactions. The balance between stealth and action is left largely to the player to decide, unlike other Bond games that try to shoe-horn players in to one style over another on a particular mission. Weapons are varied and well balanced. Easier difficulty levels use a snap aiming system which can take some of the skill out of fire-fights, but enemies come thick and fast enough to keep it challenging. Control setups are wide and varied and its unlikely that any single player will use them all. There is a good reason the game is available bundled with a Classic Controller Pro, as it is by far the best device to play the game with and one which most Wii owners don't own.

Verdict
"GoldenEye 007" is certain to go down as the Wii's best first-person shooter to date, but in a crowded multi-platform videogame market it may not wear the crown its predecessor enjoyed for so long. The single-player campaign is much improved, although aside from recasting Craig, the majority of the story updates are superficial and unnecessary. The multi-player modes will not disappoint anyone familiar with the original, although the auto-aim reticule and instant respawn points may frustrate experienced gamers. Two of the three major factors (updating multiplayer, recasting Bond) are executed brilliantly, although the third leg on the 're-imagining' stool is broken. Fortunately, this let down has the least impact on the overall success of the game. Leaving the blame for story and supporting character updates at the feet of Activision and the creative team, the developers at Eurocom should be applauded for taking on the poisoned chalice of bringing the best-selling and most loved James Bond videogame of all time to the Wii, and succeeding on almost every point.

Pierce Brosnan may be the only person who won't enjoy playing this game.

Pros   Cons
Daniel Craig IS James Bond in "GoldenEye"   All other updates are unnecessary
Gameplay quality of the original is retained   Story glue between missions is lacking
Single-player is fun, lengthy and varied   Other than Bond, recast actors are forgettable
Online multiplayer is well executed   Generic characters in online modes
Impressive graphics given the Wii's capabilities   No bots for full-screen offline multiplayer
Greatest hits package of FPS features   The classic multiplayer maps are missing
Slick presentation echoing current movie style   Non-scripted dialog can be repetitive at times
Brilliant voice work by the cast   Smart phone lacks originality of gadgets
Well balanced weapons and difficulty steps   Frequent check-points don't punish failure
Fantastic musical score   Frame rate can drop in complex action
Almost unlimited control choices   A Classic Controller Pro purchase is inevitable

One Last Thing
Watch out for a cameo by the game's executive producer David Wilson (son of movie producer Michael G Wilson) who appears as Sky Briggs in Dubai.

Gameplay
Visuals
Audio
Single Player Campaign
Multiplayer
Longevity
Overall MI6 Rating

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