It started with Red Steel. Then there was Medal of Honor: Heroes 2. Then The Conduit. Then Red Steel 2. That’s not to mention the various watered-down ports of Call of Duty games. At least once a year, the Wii seems to get a shooter that promises to utilize the pointer controls to deliver the most intense action experience ever committed to a game disc. In the end, gamers have either been met with disappointment when it releases with low-to-average quality, or a game that's good fun but doesn't stack up to the competition available on other consoles. I was beginning to think that I may have had to pony up the cash for a Playstation Move to get a great motion-controlled shooter. Then, at this past E3, Activision tread on sacred ground when they announced their Wii-exclusive revival of what is considered the father of the console-based First-Person Shooter. Does this new game bring the magic up to modern standards, or is it stuck in the past? Allow me to regale you...
It happened in a secret base of operations for a deadly terrorist. Two armed Russian guards walked into the room, idly chatting about recent disturbances in the area that had been swept under the table—several of their comrades had been killed by unknown forces. The two parted ways halfway through the hallway, one entering the security room on the left while the other made his way to the vending machine by the back wall. Silent as the night, James Bond left his shadowy corner and followed the first man. Staring intently at his computer, the guard didn’t notice a thing—a quick strangling, and he was dead before he hit the floor. Turning his attention to the guard outside, Bond could tell by the constant banging and complaining that he wasn’t having much luck procuring his drink. Bond moved deliberately as he crept behind the apparently-parched man. A quick fist to the back of the head, and the poor sap was out cold.
On the other side of the world, I lowered my Nunchuk and smirked, “Sometimes you just have to punch it.”
Goldeneye 007 for the Wii absolutely makes you feel like you’re in the shoes of the world’s greatest secret agent. You probably know the story by now: Activision and developer Eurocom have taken the classic game, updated it with modern visuals, made some tweaks to the story, and retrofitted the saga with Daniel Craig’s interpretation of Bond. When the game was first announced at E3 this year, I was wary that they may rely too heavily on nostalgia to sell and end up with a subpar product. This clearly isn’t the case, as Goldeneye Wii may just be the best game that’s ever come out of the franchise.
Storywise, the game stays relatively faithful to the original plot. You’re still trying to stop your former co-agent from detonating a satellite that will wipe out records of all financial transactions across the globe. The game takes you through moments that you may find familiar, but with new twists, such as how Trevelyan now accompanies you throughout the opening mission in order to give his forthcoming betrayal that much more gravitas. Other tweaks include the fact that the tank you drive in your rampage through St. Petersburg can now shoot heat-seeking missiles, and without spoiling anything, Ourumov’s death here will be quite different from that which you remember.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: shooting up fools with your Wii Remote feels awesome, partially due to the impressive artificial intelligence on display. The gameplay is divided into stealthy sections and straight-up shootouts. Bond’s fists and silenced weapons are your armaments of choice when sneaking around, and silently dispatching enemies while their cohorts remain blissfully unaware is extremely satisfying. There is an interesting mechanic at work when you make a mistake and get noticed while playing this way, as you have three or four seconds to quietly dispatch the surprised guy who saw you before he comes to his senses and sounds the alarm—a mechanic which should be extended to every game with a stealth element from now on.
Sometimes, though, you just want to kick finesse to the curb and run in guns-blazing. Well, Goldeneye’s got you covered. In addition to his standard P99 pistol, Bond can hold two other guns at a time. Many of the original N64 game’s guns return (albeit with new names) but there are also some truly devastating new ones, providing a healthy mix of pistols, shotguns, sniper rifles, machine guns, explosives, and more. You’ll need them, too, if you’re going to handle the tough AI. When alerted, it will knock over objects for cover, work together to flank you, and shout your position to its comrades. Boy, was I surprised when I was walking through a parking lot I thought I’d stealthily cleared and heard a goon shout, “Behind the truck!” Coupled with the simple yet elegant cover system (press Z when crouched behind low cover to pop out and take aim), the sprint button, the ability to punch by thrusting the controller, and the ‘lean’ function activated by tilting the Nunchuk, you’ve got the ingredients for some great battles.
The only issue I have with the AI is, oddly, the final boss of the game. Not to spoil too much, but all you need to do is chase after him and shoot. Keep hitting him, and he’ll keep flinching and run between the same three cover spots the entire time—a good player could probably keep him from even firing one shot. Get his health down low enough, and you then engage in a quick-time event sequence that is well-choreographed, but the motions it tells you to perform have little to do with the action that is transpiring onscreen.
This is another issue I have with the game: the motion controls. Like I said, pointing and shooting with the Wii Remote feels great, and walloping a guy in the face by thrusting the Nunchuk is very satisfying, but the other implementations don’t make sense at all. In a few sequences, Bond has to pry a door open with his hands. If the onscreen prompts are to be believed, this translates to you shaking the Nunchuk up and down while waving the Wiimote left to right. Unnecessary waggle controls like these have been the downfall of many lesser games on the Wii, but fortunately Goldeneye’s strengths stand tall enough to minimize the impact of these segments.
Now, there’s one more classic element that everyone used to love about Goldeneye: the multiplayer. I’ll always remember the classic nights in my friend Dave’s basement, with four of us circle-strafing, screen-looking, and cursing all who dared to play as Oddjob. It’s truly a shame that the Wii, with its pointer controls and supposed title of ‘local multiplayer console of the generation’, has had so few shooters that offer splitscreen play. Luckily, Goldeneye Wii brings the good times back, with some nicely-varied maps, a compelling choice of classic playable characters, and customizability beaten only by Super Smash Bros. Brawl. Rather than simply porting over the old maps with updated graphics (the rights to which are still owned by Rare, developers of the original game), Eurocom has taken it upon itself to totally revamp classic hunting grounds like Archives and Facility. They are bigger in general than they were in the old game, and the layouts are new, ensuring that those familiar with the original won’t have an immediate advantage over newcomers. Paintball matches, Golden Gun mode, and You Only Live Twice return, along with some new modes like one where you automatically die if you stand still for a few seconds. Combined with the new gameplay mechanics, the updated modes and maps show that Goldeneye is once again the game to turn to when you and three friends are in need of multiplayer hijinx.
But this is the year 2010, right? Isn’t it now illegal to launch a First-Person Shooter without online play? Don’t worry, Goldeneye’s got you covered.
Let me get the negatives out of the way first. There is a big issue when playing with friends over the internet. No, I’m not just talking about the dreaded Friend Codes, which are here in force; this one’s an even bigger travesty. There is no way to play a private match with your friends. Fiddle with the settings all you want, but unless you can fill up all eight player slots, in the end you’re all going to have to join a game with random others online. Well, at least your party stays together between rounds, meaning you can coordinate what gametype you want to play... kind of.
See, there is no voice chat in Goldeneye 007, and no onscreen keyboard with which to message people. This is truly baffling, considering Activision has just released its own headset along with the Wii edition of Call of Duty: Black Ops. Maybe the developers didn’t have time to implement the code, maybe the headset SDK wasn’t ready, who knows? Regardless of the reason, everyone’s going to have to turn on their computers and jump on Skype if you want to co-ordinate with friends.
Thankfully, Goldeneye otherwise features a fairly robust online mode. In addition to standard Deathmatch and Capture the Flag-style modes, there are some other more interesting additions. Hero Mode is a team-based game similar to Star Wars: Battlefront 2. Everyone’s still trying to kill each other, but once in a while a player on each team is selected to play as that faction’s hero (such as Bond for the MI6 team). The hero can soak up and dish out much more damage than anyone else, but killing them gets the other team more points than an average frag, and to make this easier, the hero's location is clearly marked on the enemy’s radar. This and several other interesting gametypes make Goldeneye stand out from the crowded field of online shooters. The developer also seems to have implemented some solid netcode, as I have not encountered a hint of lag.
The online game gets more interesting the more time you put into it. This is thanks to the implementation of a Call of Duty-style levelling system, in which you get experience points for each kill, with more awarded for headshots, melee kills, and other elaborate takedowns. As you level up, you gain access to more powerful guns and gadgets to add to your custom loadouts. To my knowledge, this is the first game to offer entire gametypes as rewards for reaching a certain level. Unless you preordered from Gamestop, you’re going to have to reach level 35 before accessing Classic Conflict Mode, which pits all of Bond’s villains against each other (each with their own special ability). All in all, Eurocom has done Goldeneye’s multiplayer legacy proud.
Graphically, I’m just going to come out and say it: Goldeneye is the best-looking ‘realistic’ game on the Wii. That honour, in my opinion, previously went to Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, and while Silent Hill probably had more detailed environments and characters, Goldeneye has much more going on at once, often in large, open environments. Pick up a sniper rifle in the Dam stage, and you can see the level of detail maintained when you zoom in to a random spot across the map. The developer also took great care to capture the critical likeness of Daniel Craig, with the blonde Bond’s brooding personage captured in every subtle movement. The action does prove a little much for the engine to handle once in a while, with infrequent framerate drops in certain tighter situations, but I really only noticed this on the final level, which throws a space satellite full of armed goons and explosions at you all at once. On a technical and design level, consider the bar for realistic-style games on the Wii officially raised.
Aurally, I’ll let the facts speak for themselves. Craig provides the voice of Bond, as does Dame Judi Dench for M, lending yet more authenticity to the experience. Unfortunately, in rebooting the game, the developers decided against enlisting fan-favourite Sean Bean to reprise his role as Trevelyan, but the new guy does a good job of convincing you he’s the type of guy with the guts to betray James Bond. Guns all sound good, and the music sets the tone for the current situation, dynamically heating up when you’ve been spotted and go from sneaking around to shooting the place up. I did encounter an unfortunate glitch with the sound once: two guards were having a conversation when I took them out with my silenced P99. Somehow, Dead Guard 1 was still able to say to Dead Guard 2, “Any sign of intruders?”, and Dead Guard 2 responded, “None. They must be nearby.” Unless Eurocom deliberately programmed ghosts into the game, this is a sore spot on otherwise stunning sound direction. Really, if you need proof of the production values of the sound in this game, all you need to do is watch this.
Goldeneye goes out of its way to provide you with reasons to keep coming back. As I have mentioned, there’s the ridiculously-awesome multiplayer. Also, the single-player features difficulty levels ranging from the challenging Agent, which took me around nine hours to complete, to the ‘just kill me now’ 007 Classic. The latter replaces the game’s standard regenerating health with a traditional health bar, making you seriously consider every move you make. That’s in addition to the time trials unlocked after beating each level once, the completion of which grant extra cheats for the local multiplayer. To be honest, though, I’m going through the game again simply because I feel the compulsive need to get through certain levels without being seen.
Really, it all comes down to the fact that this was clearly a labour of love for Eurocom. All of the development team clearly played the heck out of the original back in the day and wanted their remake to not just do it justice, but quite possibly surpass it. Yes, it’s true: the Wii finally has an exclusive shooter that can go toe-to-toe with the Halos and Killzones of its console competition. With a superb campaign, great production values, and excellent multiplayer that will keep you coming back, Goldeneye is an absolute must-have title for any action game fan. Now, for the love of god, please... I’m begging you: go out and buy this game and give publishers a reason to keep ‘em coming.