Hands-On Preview: A comprehensive tour of the first level and multiplayer
I relived my fondest 64-bit memories thanks to an Activision E3 appointment at which I got the chance to play the enhanced GoldenEye 007 on Wii. Just 00-seven hours before, at the Nintendo Press Conference, this N64 remake was announced to a cheering audience, many part of the eight million who bought the 1997 classic. The return of James Bond's blockbuster digital escapade isn't being made by Rare (or Rareware, as it was called back then) and it isn't technically a game-to-game remake. It's based on the same movie, so anything original that Rare threw in isn't going to be here. Regardless, the look, feel and intensity of those GoldenEye all-nighters that everyone had as a teenager return to the point of giving you the chills.
What it Does Have That's Shocking
How closely does this game resemble the N64 classic? That question was on the minds of the six journalists sitting in on the E3 demo as the first level, Byelomorye Dam, booted up. To test the game's accuracy, I decided to ask if the obscure, unreachable island across the dam was present in this game thirteen years later. This mystery island was only accessible via GameShark codes, so most players saw it from a distance and I was confident no one would know what I was talking about.
"Actually, I do know the island you're talking about," responded Activision producer Dawn Pinkney. "We're supposed to be putting something in so you'll be able to see it through a sniper rifle."
"It's interesting trivia," I remarked and confidently said, "You know your game, then." From here on out, I felt comfortable knowing that if developer Eurocom was going out of its way to recreate the small island base across the dam, that everything else was going to stay true to the N64 version when possible.
Key words: When possible...
What It Doesn't Have But Should
The Complex was the most popular multiplayer level in the original GoldenEye 007, but while readers have been commenting on recent previews with, "As long as it has The Complex," I haven't seen any other E3 journalist mention the information I'm about to declassify: The Complex won't be a part of Activision's updated GoldenEye. I made sure to ask the important question during our short demo session.
"Do you have The Complex?" I asked, certain that I'd get an "Are you kidding me?! Absolutely!"
"No," Pinkney revealed, to my surprise. When I asked why the original game's top multiplayer level was being left out, she said, "Because it's not part of the film."
"Oh. Okay... So, it's not
part of multiplayer?" I asked again, just to make sure I got the quote right. "No... we have Statue Park!" she said hesitantly, followed by a motivating attempt at reassurance. "No other multiplayer game has a Statue Park level."
Laughter turned to unease. Sure, building a multiplayer level around the campaign mode's Statue Park environment sounds like an appealing addition. But every N64-obsessed GoldenEye fan wants to skip by single-player mode, breeze past the standard fare of multiplayer levels and launch into a four-player splitscreen deathmatch to claim territory within The Complex's great hideouts and natural "bases." That's not going to happen because it's a Rare-developed multiplayer level that wasn't in the movie. The closest thing we'll ever have to an update of The Complex is Perfect Dark on XBLA, which, as Rare's spiritual successor to GoldenEye, includes three maps and ten weapons from the original game.
Though not as devastating of a loss as The Complex, the traditional James Bond death music has also been axed for splitscreen multiplayer. When the blood flows down the screen like the Bond gun barrel sequence, there's an off-putting silence rather than, "Dum di-di dum dum."
"We had it in, but we took it out because it was a little bit annoying for splitscreen." Pinkney told us. "It's in the single-player, it'll be in the online. But you can imagine four people dying. It was a bit annoying, so we took it out."
Four-person deaths are a rarity, usually occurring only when rocket launchers, grenade launchers or various mines are involved. That two-second music clip usually plays incessantly when someone is on a killing streak, and it's music to that person's ears, especially
when it's death music being played on top of death music being played on top of death music. It always gave the game identity as a James Bond shooter - no other FPS can have that chime - and it was only annoying to hear it if you were on the other side of the gun barrel. Now, the blood still travels down the screen, but it's just eerie silence. The traditional music deserves to be an option that players can toggle, at the very least.
It's Been 13 Years: Here's What's Updated
It's been 13 years and 15 years since the original game and movie, respectively, so even though this title isn't coming to Xbox Live Arcade anymore, the Wii version sports close-to-high-definition graphics that rival any FPS on the Nintendo console. Character models are well-rounded and no longer move like awkward marionettes, while detailed environments are destructible and filled with weather hazards like rain. Likewise, the mission menus have been updated to feel more like you're being debriefed at MI6; flashy text along with sliding objective locations and key character photos replace the plain vanilla folders N64 gamers had to navigate through.
The characters themselves have changed, or at least the actors portraying them. Most notably, Daniel Craig replaces Pierce Brosnan as James Bond, which seems a little strange at first because Brosnan starred in the 1995 film. Activision's explanation is that this updated GoldenEye 007 features Craig much like the 2006 adaptation of Casino Royal starred the new Bond actor. If you're able to bend your mind around that, his licensed character likeness looks fantastic during the brief seconds you're not in the first-person perspective.
"We've also had Ben Cooke, Daniel Craig's stunt double," said Pinkney. "We've motion-captured all the stunts and all the takedowns from Ben Cooke."
Judi Dench returns to her 1995 debut role of M with her voice and likeness, while Rory Kinnear once again replaces Michael Kitchen as M's chief of staff Bill Tanner. He already replaced Kitchen once, in person, in the latest Bond flick, 2008's Quantum of Solace.
Activision even further went out of its way to bring in non-acting talent. Bruce Fierstein, who wrote the original screenplay for the GoldenEye film, makes sure this doesn't turn into another disaster akin to EA's GoldenEye 2: Rogue Agent
game. Composer David Arnold finally adds "GoldenEye" to his resume, as he's scored the last give Bond movies - every once since, but not including, GoldenEye. Finally, while you and I may not know the names of costume designer Lindsay Pugh and concept artist Robert Cowper, both contribute their talents to this game's direction.
Activision's determination to not just "cash in" on the GoldenEye legacy is evident by bringing in such a wide variety of cast and crew, from the lead actor's stunt double to the costume designer. But, the company also demonstrates its efforts by using its Call of Duty resources to adapt to modern gameplay standards. As Daniel Craig's Bond begins the first level perched on top of a previously inaccessible tunnel entrance (just feet behind the ground where the original GoldenEye started), you see and talk to Alec Trevelyan, aka Agent 006. He's no longer at the helm of the truck as an imagined part of the level. He actually shoots alongside you as you take down the first tower across the parallel bridges.
Like Call of Duty, stealth plays a key role in this game. Guards still babble about inane topics - like checking the fillings in another guard's mouth - same as they did 13 years ago. Now, however, you can subdue and silence them gun-free. Approaching idling enemies from behind and pressing the context-sensitive A button breaks the necks of unsuspecting guards without alerting everyone in the vicinity.
"Within covert," Pinkney explained, "There's lots of different options, like headshots, active takedowns, different mousetraps in the environments, different routes you can take."
Once you take out all of the targets in the first tower, you radio to 006, who hints at "extra firepower" being nearby. Of course, as any Bond veteran knows, that means picking up the handy sniper rifle in the top of the guard tower. You join 006 by hopping into the truck's passenger seat and attempt to pose as guards to open the first security gate. It's no longer a matter of traveling alongside the truck and opening up the gate yourself with a press of a button like the N64 days.
"Because this is Daniel Craig's Bond," Pinkney said, "We have what Daniel Craig's Bond means within the gameplay. That's all the agility: he can roll over, jump down from heights, all of that strength. We've also got his physicality, which we're using the Wii motion control for. You can punch through glass, you can fall through glass, you interact with objects with a melee gesture."
Of course, the enemy AI has improved, too. They see past your disguises and trigger a CoD-like scripted event that involves your throat and their Cold War-era hands. Prying them off of you requires tapping the A button. Once that is done, you hit the Y button to reload your weapon and proceed to the dam's interior.
"What the hell is happening up there? Have you heard anything new?" shouts one of the guards to another as you slyly make your way down into the belly of the dam. What the hell is happening up there? As the demo descended down the ladder, all I could think was "What the hell happened down here
?" The bunkers clearly involved the work of an interior decorator from their N64-to-Wii conversion, as the once bare walls are spruced up with alarms, technology and nefarious government d?cor. It went from being a Saddam-era, third-world hidey-hole to a top-of-the-line, former "this is what we spend all of our money on" superpower's bunker.
In the "classy" James Bond way of doing things, disabling alarms is achieved with a simple press of the PDA, replacing very "d?class?" N64's shoot-the-alarm mechanic. Additional objectives like destroying or clearly security data during firefights ramps up the challenge and replay value considerably, just like the original's tough-as-nails Secret Agent and 00-Agent difficulty levels.
"The biggest thing for us is player choice," said Pinkney. "Any at point, you can pick a firefight if you want to or approach it covertly."
"Like the one at the edge of this tunnel, we've got a main door. You go through the main door, you will likely take on a firefight on the other side because you've alerted on AI. Whereas, there's a more covert route around through a manhole tunnel and that allows you to enter the next area covertly. Adding that replay ability to the game and just providing lots of choice, you can go back and try different things."
The demo ended with James Bond performing a swan dive from the dam while wearing a parachute on his back. Unlike the N64 version, which had him attached to a thin and hard-to-see bungee cord, you won't be sent into shock as he seemingly leaps to his death at the end of the first level. Before the game's campaign mode was able to cut to the Facility's vent, we were whisked onto a quick game of multiplayer.
In addition to the aforementioned four-player splitscreen, GoldenEye's multiplayer mode includes up to eight players online.
"They both provide different gameplay experiences," said Pinkney. "The splitscreen is more nostalgic. It's fun, you jump in, you play with your friends on the couch."
"Online is different. We've got an XP, perks and unlocks system. There's more of a deeper experience that you play over time. That has nine different modes."
Splitscreen contains three modes with 16 different modifiers, like paintball mode, "throw the grenades," headshots only and melee only (akin to GoldenEye's amusing Slapper's Only! game type). This allows for up to 200 different combinations.
Conveniently, the main selection menu contains two options up front: "inversion" and "skin." There's no digging through the options menu if you're accustomed to inverted analog controls like me. Toggling between non-inversion and inversion from the main menu is thankfully a snap. The other option, skins, is really your way of selecting a character. Only four skins were available in the demo: Bond, Jaws, Oddjob and Scaramanga. However, there are supposed to be a total of forty in the final game.
Like the N64 days, two things remain true about GoldenEye 007's multiplayer: 1) You still can't pick two of the same character, so I got stuck with Scaramanga, and 2) Oddjob wins. Oddjob always wins!