Last year Eurocom surprised the hell out of me and many other gamers by creating a truly worthy follow-up to the legendary GoldenEye 007 for the N64. It was faithful to the spirit of the original game without completely copying it, and managed to recapture the best elements of both the single player story and highly addictive multiplayer in fresh new ways. In a year chock full of great Wii games—Mario Galaxy 2, Kirby’s Epic Yarn, DK Country Returns—the new GoldenEye stood among the best as a new classic for old and new fans alike.
Naturally, Activision wouldn’t let the new GoldenEye’s success stay isolated to the Wii. Like many other standout Wii games—House of the Dead Overkill, No More Heroes, Dead Space Extraction—GoldenEye has followed the unfortunate trend of being ported over to the HD consoles like warmed-over leftovers.
But you know what? It isn’t warmed over, and it isn’t just leftovers. It’s a testament to just how good Eurocom’s GoldenEye was that it still holds up remarkably well on the 360. GoldenEye 007 Reloaded is almost as good as when it launched on the Wii—with some concessions, of course.
In my review of the original Wii version I already talked at length about GoldenEye’s strengths and the changes made to the story and gameplay, so I’ll only summarize that here. As with reviews of most ports, I’m mostly going to focus on whether this new version is worth a second purchase if you already own the Wii version, or if you don’t have the original, if you should skip Reloaded and just buy it on the Wii.
GoldenEye Reloaded contains the same basic game I loved a year ago. The story mode is a modern adaptation of the original GoldenEye film’s plot, with several subtle nods to the N64 game, but all of it updated to fit the modern Bond portrayed by Daniel Craig. Aside from a few missteps the updating done by original GoldenEye scriptwriter Bruce Fierstein is surprisingly good, walking the fine line between Pierce Brosnan’s debonair, slightly cheeky 007 and the raw, inexperienced and occasionally cruel one portrayed by Craig.
Some of the supporting characters don’t get enough screen time and Alec Trevelyan’s new reason for villainy still isn’t as believable as “Britain’s betrayal caused my parents to kill themselves, so screw everything,” but on the whole it’s a remarkably well done modernization of a mid-90s spy thriller. Aside from story and time period updates, it also feels like the stakes, powers involved and general setting have been cranked to eleven—what was a high-stakes but low-key revenge plot in the original film feels like an all-out war waged barely behind the scenes in the new game.
Considering the original game was built exclusively for the Wii, and pretty damn well too, it’s impressive how well Eurocom adapted the controls and mechanics to the 360 in under a year. It still plays like a more refined, updated Call of Duty, with desperately needed amenities like pop-out-of-cover shooting and dramatic, brutal melee takedowns fitting for Craig’s “blunt instrument” Bond. The game’s brilliant mix of action and stealth remains unchanged, letting you sneak through levels or, failing that, blast everyone in sight, or use a healthy mix of both as Bond probably would. With patience and skillful use of the radar you can stealth almost the entire game, but if you’re detected quick reflexes and a precise trigger finger can handle the incoming attack squads. It’s one of the best combinations of stealth and action gameplay I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing and it still works brilliantly a year later.
All of 007’s gadgets—camera, tracker bug, hacking device—are condensed into his smart phone instead of his watch, following the minimalist approach of the newer movies. The game’s arsenal is decidedly more varied; there are over 20 weapons including several pistols, SMGs, assault rifles like the AK-47 and FN SCAR, an RPG launcher and of course various flavors of mines. Exclusive to Reloaded is the Moonraker laser, although it isn’t nearly as lethal as it was on the N64.
In an ingenious bit of game design, Bond can never drop his suppressor-enabled Walther P99; even with two other weapons he always has the P99 on him for stealth wetwork or if the ammo runs out on his bigger guns. This is such a good idea that I’m not sure why other games stick to the now-ancient two gun inventory; you’d think that Master Chief and the dozens of interchangeable COD soldiers would have the common sense to always pack a sidearm.
Reloaded has a new secondary solo mode called Mi6 Ops. It’s basically a horde mode where you must eliminate waves of enemies, gaining a higher score for quicker completion times. You can play in any of the game’s many multiplayer maps, but the mode is single player only which is strange considering the multiplayer enhancements for Xbox Live and PSN. With such solid gameplay and well balanced maps this could’ve been an excellent horde mode to play with a few friends; shooting through a bunch of enemies all by myself really made the mode feel like it was missing something. Mi6 Ops could’ve been a standout feature that made Reloaded a must-buy, but as it stands it’s more of a distraction or curiosity.
Luckily Reloaded features the same super-addictive multiplayer mode as the Wii game. All of the modes return—Golden Gun, Hero mode, GoldenEye strike—and are joined by Escalation, which is essentially Gun Game from COD Black Ops. GoldenEye might not be as deep as COD and the leveling is slower going, but I vastly preferred the multiplayer’s simplicity and elegance to the choked, testosterone-soaked brutality of Black Ops or Modern Warfare 2. GoldenEye just felt classier and more refined, and as the premier shooter on Wii the best players on that platform showed up to fight. Sure most COD games are also on Wii, but GoldenEye was engineered specifically for the Wii so it had a unique balance and poise compared to other shooters.
That said, Reloaded is taking GoldenEye from a small pond into a big one. With everyone knee-deep in Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3 there aren’t many people playing Reloaded, and it can take a while to find a good, well-populated match. The game’s newly doubled 16 player cap might actually work against it, especially since all of the maps were perfectly tuned for 8 players.
As widely advertised by Activision, Reloaded is running on a brand new engine and while you can definitely tell, it’s not as drastic a shift as you’d imagine. Again it’s impressive that Eurocom got this game running on two new platforms in less than a year’s time but while the game was breathtaking on Wii the HD transition makes it a little rough around the edges. The level geometry has seen a small but noticeable bump, but it’s still apparent that they were working from the Wii version’s meshes. The most obvious difference is the slick layer of pixel shading covering everything. While this can make the visuals more appealing, it does seem a bit hastily done here; some surfaces look a lot crisper and more detailed, but some enemies have an odd glossy sheen all over them, as if they’ve been dunked in a tank of astroglide.
However, it shows just how good a job they did on the original Wii version that an HD upconvert and a healthy dose of shaders is all it needed to pass muster for a 360 title. Aside from the shaders the character models look practically unchanged, and the facial animations are still eerily realistic. Team Bondi may have meticulously recorded every actor’s facial nuance for L.A. Noire but Eurocom managed to do it the old-fashioned way.
While Reloaded plays about as well as it did on Wii, there’s still something missing for die-hard fans like me. It’s a little hard to point to any one thing but there are enough differences to put me off a bit. Some gun reload animations are changed for no apparent reason; weapon placements in levels are different; guards are intermittently more or less intelligent than they were before, occasionally throwing the stealth balance off or making combat too easy.
That last one really threw me; in the Wii version I’d use stealth as much as possible, especially on the harder difficulties, because detection meant a heavily-armed attack squad would show up and hand 007 his perfectly formed ass. Conversely, all I needed to do in the 360 version is hunker down and pick off enemies as they marched right into my bullets. It also seemed easier to just sprint back and forth during a shootout, going on a melee-palooza that would’ve gotten me ventilated in the Wii version.
I think it all comes down to controls. While the Wii version had a multitude of control options, including the Classic Controller and GameCube pad, it was really designed around the Wii remote. That still holds true in the 360 port, and I think that’s what is missing. With GoldenEye, Eurocom showed what happened when a studio made a Wii game and actually gave a damn, when they had full publisher support, funding and most importantly an enthusiasm to exploit the hardware and that wacky controller to its fullest.
As a result, GoldenEye was glorious to control with the Wii remote. It remains one of the most intuitive, tight and comfortable shooters I’ve ever played, easily on par with the original Doom, Quake 2 and Half Life. It might have taken a while to get acclimated but the Wii controls offered an unmatched precision and speed once you got them down cold. It felt immediate, the controller just melted into your hands; in comparison, the 360 version feels distant, detached. The Wii controls also let you lean out of cover by tilting the Nunchuk, a feature that was unavailable in the other control schemes and is therefore lost completely in the 360 build. I can’t tell you how many times that lean feature saved my bacon—it was a full half of the much-needed cover shooting enhancements over the bog-standard COD setup—and it gave a genuine competitive edge in multiplayer over players using traditional controls.
Once again we come to the difficult question—is this port worth a purchase? As always it depends on your circumstances and what you want. If you don’t own a Wii, obviously get this game—the base experience on the 360 is almost identical and is a modern classic no shooter fan should miss. If you do own a Wii but don’t own GoldenEye yet, it’s a bit trickier; I really can’t overstate the importance of the Wii controls and what they add to the experience, especially considering the game was made for them. The 360 port’s expanded online multiplayer is a consideration, but there’s already an established and active player base on the Wii and the maps are better balanced for a smaller number of players. The enhanced graphics are also something to think about, and if you really prefer your games in HD that might be the tipping point. As for the Mi6 Ops mode, it’s a fun distraction but I don’t consider it a huge advantage over the Wii build.
If you already own the Wii version, though…well, again, how important is HD to you? Aside from a couple extra modes the 360 version is more or less the same game, and in my opinion the Wii version has a lot more going for it in the controls. If you prefer more traditional controls, you already have that on the Wii with the Classic Controller, and hey, you even get a shiny gold one with the collector’s bundle. By now the Classic Controller bundle is probably the same price as the new 360 version anyway, or maybe even cheaper. Personally, after sinking countless hours into the multiplayer on Wii, I just don’t feel like starting over again at level 1.
Regardless of whether you get the Wii original or the new HD port, GoldenEye is a game you really should own. The story is considerably longer and more engaging than any of the recent Call of Duty slogs, and the multiplayer has both an addictive, classic simplicity and the modern conventions of current shooters. GoldenEye is a modern shooter that knows its retro roots, and it manages to pull off both styles with flying colors.