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Can Activision and Eurocom really do justice to one of the most revered console shooters ever? TVG finds out...
I mean, you wouldn't repaint the Mona Lisa would you. Imagine tapping Da Vinci on the shoulder saying "Sorry Leo that smile's a bit off, let me have a crack at it. I've got some spray cans and a stencil of Rhianna in my bag, let's bring this shit bang up to date for 2010!!!1!lolwtf!"
Some games are more like family than great works of art though. As they age we look past their fading looks, strange behaviour, and intensifying stench, and see only the good old days: when they were still fit enough to entertain us - surprise and delight us - with their vitality and verve.
There's an air of inevitability about Activision's decision to cash in on Bond's most revered videogame outing; EA attempted the same thing with 'Goldeneye: Rogue Agent' when they had the license after all. But developers Eurocom are keen to stress that it's a 're-imagining' rather than a remake of Rare's seminal N64 FPS. "It's something that requires a lot of thought," according to producer Dawn Pinkney, "you're not just going to take this on if you can't do it justice, because it was the best shooter of all time."
Eurocom have built the new game from the ground up using an improved version of their 'Dead Space Extraction' engine, featuring all new levels and a recast set of characters. Daniel Craig stands in for Pierce Brosnan in an updated story written by Goldeneye (film) writer Bruce Feirstein, and scored by 'Casino Royale' composer David Arnold. Game mechanics have been brought in line with the current Halo/COD paradigm; expect regenerating health, two weapon slots, and online multiplayer with experience points. Brosnan's litany of gadgets have been pared back in the game too; Craig has a single smartphone which can scan faces, take pictures and even hack into networks. Eurocom has also added take-down animations in place of simple melee kills, in which Bond uses the environment (or just his hands) to dispatch enemies at close range.
Playing through the game's Severnaya level, set in the arctic ranges just outside a Russian military base, you're immediately struck by just how linear it is, especially compared to the memory of the equivalent stage in the original game. It's essentially a winding path through the mountains with an occasional large rock or small clearing providing the illusion of choice and space. The developers insist that this is a consequence of "pushing the graphics" on the Wii - a fair claim - but it's hard to ignore the fact that the engine was originally created for an on-rails shooter.
There are plenty of opportunities for stealth; sneaking up behind enemies and offing them with a single silenced headshot is what the original was all about after all, and I'm glad to report that that element has been preserved. You have to be careful though; if a soldier survives your first shot they enter an alerted state, marked by a dramatic 'plung' sound and Bond's thundering heartbeat. Finish them off quickly and the music returns to normal, but take too long, or let them alert a comrade, and the drums kick in marking a full on fire-fight. While you might be able to get by on the easy difficulty levels with a gung-ho approach, anyone hoping to complete the hardest setting (in which you have finite, rather than regenerating health), is going to have to sneak around. Melee take-downs are a satisfying compliment to stealthy play; skulk behind a low wall and pull a Russian Spetsnaz over into the snow as he walks past, or simply jump out and knock him flat with a couple of (pre-animated) punches to the face. A few different take-down animations are loaded into each level to prevent them getting stale, and they vary depending on environment and position.
Later in the level, while skirting around a group of Spetsnaz who were caught in a pitched battle on the edge of a ravine, I happened to reload my pistol just as a scripted explosion sent a truck hurtling down a cliff towards me. The depth of field effect on the reload animation made this a particularly jarring experience; the background blurs during reloads, so although I was trying desperately to look at the cinematic events unfolding above me, Bond was focussed steadfastly on his clip. It's frustrating because the effect is initially an impressive one, but this kind of presupposition of player reactions often has incongruous outcomes during play. At one point I crept up behind an oblivious soldier and unloaded a full pistol clip into his back at my leisure; the accompanying dramatic audio cue - indicating he had briefly entered alert mode before dying - was rendered farcical given the complete lack of tension in the situation, and it seemed bizarre that Bond's heartbeat should be so audibly elevated given that he was so obviously safe.
The game clearly has cinematic pretensions and tries its best to fulfil them on the limited hardware available. There's a 'Saving Private Ryan' moment in Severnaya as Bond staggers to his feet in shaky slow motion amongst the fires and screams of dying soldiers following a helicopter crash; and a 'Tarantino moment' in a busy shoot-out late in the game where gunshot sounds are stripped out, while a downtempo electronica arrangement accompanies the whizzing of bullets and whale-song of pitched down enemy vocals. The high production values are perhaps unsurprising given that Bond license holder Danjaq have opened up all their Hollywood talent to Eurocom, with voiceovers from Daniel Craig and Dame Judi Dench, and hours of mo-capped footage of body double Ben Cooke replicating Craig's pouty swagger. Arguably the slickest moment comes as you make your way through the lobby of the exclusive 'Nightclub' level, past gossiping socialites and genuflecting bouncers. As you open up the main doors, the muffled thudding of Deadmau5 and Kaskade's 'I remember' filters up in all it's glory, sweeping over you as you take in the surreal silhouetted throng on the dancefloor below. For a moment, as you stroll through the crowd making pithy asides to a cocktail waitress, you really do feel like James Bond.
Mulitplayer is COD style with 4 player offline splitscreen, and a variety of modes and modifiers to keep things interesting. While it's unlikely to have the same impact as its predecessor, there's nothing obviously broken or bad about it, and you won't find better on the Wii. Goldeneye fans will be pleased to know that Oddjob has returned and is just as skanky as ever thanks to a one-hit-kill hat throwing move that replaces his grenades. None of the classic maps return however, and I recommend that you never load up Eurocom's interpretation of 'Facility' if you're a fan of the original game. Online multiplayer supports up to 8 players with all the perks, buffs and levelling nonsense that comes as standard these days.
Clearly it's hard to be objective about this game if you're a fan of the original, and whether Eurocom's scripted, cinematic interpretation of Goldeneye can live up to the emergent tension and excitement that effortlessly dropped out of Rare's design remains to be seen. Wii owners, starved of decent FPS games in the gruelling winter months ahead, might just want to put their grandad on the fire and tuck in.
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