I distinctly remember the first time I saw GoldenEye 007 being played on an N64. It was in my sophomore year in college and while I had owned consoles when I was younger, I had not purchased the N64 for a number of reasons. It was expensive; I was in college, would I have the time; I was perhaps a little old for such a thing; and my TV was a mere 13″ model. Seeing GoldenEye played on a big screen (someone had hooked their N64 up to a TV in a common room) made the N64 a must-have. It singlehandedly reinvigorated my love of gaming to the point where on Columbus Day weekend I went to Blockbuster, rented GoldenEye and an N64 and stayed in my room for much of the weekend getting 007 through the game.
If that seems extreme to you, let me suggest that I was not alone in the reaction I had to the game. In his book Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter, Tom Bissell writes GoldenEye is “the greatest licensed game of all time and one of the greatest games of all time.”
Yes, the original GoldenEye 007 is just that good. The game is a shooter which, unlike Doom and the shooters that came before it, prides itself on requiring more of you than just blasting your way through enemies. You need to place your shots; you need to consider your tactics; you need, in short, to be James Bond. Plus, let us not forget that the film the game is based on was Pierce Brosnan’s first in the role, a smashing success, a movie that helped spur the franchise to even greater heights, and is a damn good movie (if anyone tells you that the franchise was “in need of a reboot” when Craig came on board simply point them to the box office numbers from Brosnan’s era).
When I heard that Activision was going to be updating the title I felt both joy and no small amount of trepidation. Updates that are essentially a new game can work beautifully (see New Super Mario Bros.), rereleases with tweaked graphics and other enhancements can also work (see Prince of Persia), but you can’t quite say that they will unquestionably work, there are still a whole lot of potential pitfalls. For GoldenEye to get a rerelease was, for me, touching on sacred ground. The Bond franchise holds a special place in my heart, the film GoldenEye holds a special place in my heart, the videogame holds a special place in my heart. Whether or not the new game worked as a whole, it was entirely possible that I simply wouldn’t enjoy it because of what the original meant to me.
Reading more and more about the new title, saw videos and screenshots, I became increasingly concerned. The game doesn’t feature a Pierce Brosnan Bond, it features a Daniel Craig one. I don’t just mean the voice acting, I mean that James in the new title looks like Craig (he also does do the voice). Surely if they rereleased the film they wouldn’t digitally remove Brosnan and insert Craig, so why do it in the game? The story is also somewhat different from the original game and not just in terms of expanded levels (which one would expect), the actual tale is somewhat different. The “Han shot first” within me instantly balked upon hearing that – you have a great game that works based on a great movie, why change the story?
Well, the anticipation and trepidation are now over. I have played the new GoldenEye 007 extensively and I can’t lie about it – there are definitely moments in the new game that disturb me greatly, changes that seem to have been made solely for the sake of making changes, not for improving anything, but it is still an excellent game.
Let’s take a quick run through some of those potentially unnecessary changes. Why should Valentin Zukovsky have a scar on his cheek instead of a limp as his identifying feature? Why should the EMP hardened helicopter (Tiger Eurocopter if you prefer) appear at Arkhangelsk at the opening of the game instead of needing to be stolen later? I understand changing the look of the computer database files to those that appeared in Quantum of Solace and all subsequent Bond games, but some of the other changes just feel as they were created to be different, not to improve anything. The story for the new game has been written by Bruce Feirstein (who also co-wrote the screenplay for the film), and should he and I ever met I have loads of questions. If one of the iconic moments in that movie (which is repeated in the original game) is the bungee jump off the dam – it was touted in previews, it was the source of much ballyhoo, it was the opening of the film, it was a lesson in my high school physics class – did that really have to be pulled for the new game?
As for the game designers, they seem to have very much stuck with an “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” mentality. Outside of level design and health that replenishes automatically, much of the actual mechanics play out as they did in the original. Plus, if you like the need for armor as opposed to auto-replenishing health you can play on the über-hard 007 Classic difficulty level which not only puts the game at the highest difficulty setting, but reinstitutes the armor/health HUD of the original title.
The graphics for the new game have certainly been updated, but they manage to retain the feel of the original GoldenEye. It is actually very similar to the changes in the story – they are different, but it is unmistakably based on the original.
One of the other things that made the first game so hugely brilliant is the fact that it not only puts out a great single-player story, but incorporates tons of split-screen multiplayer modes as well. Running through levels taking on other players and seeing some classic Bond baddies is something that I think everyone loves about the original. That is back here – not only is there local split-screen multiplayer available, but you can go online and play against people (up to eight) around the world as well.
Happily, the game also eschews most “shake the Wii-mote like this and like that” silliness. You can play with the Wii remote and nunchuk and there is a little bit of shaking required, but you can all play the game with a GameCube controller, Wii Zapper, Classic Controller, Classic Controller Pro, and if you buy ‘suped up version of the new GoldenEye it includes a special golden controller.
I can’t help but question some of the choices made in the new GoldenEye 007, and it doesn’t fully satiate my desire to play the original version once more, but it is still an excellent FPS. Perhaps I should be happy that the game is different, that it has chosen to be a great game by itself instead of simply trading on the name of and nostalgia for the original. However, it just seems to me that if the first one worked so well, perhaps a true sequel to that title would have been more appropriate than a re-envisioning of it. Enough of the tale is different already, enough of the levels have been changed, that it may not have been that much more difficult to make an entirely new game.
Unquestionably, if you have to choose one of the two newly released Bond games, GoldenEye 007 is the way to go. It proves that an older idea can still hang with the big boys and that there is more than just a little life left in the franchise. No, I don’t agree with everything that was done to update the title, but the mechanics, intrigue, and action are still there and the game is still a great experience.
GoldenEye 007 is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Blood, Mild Language, Mild Suggestive Themes, Violence. This game can also be found on: Nintendo DS.