Never Say Never Again
This is not a remake of Rare's Nintendo 64 game. It's also not an attempt to go back and make a game that's more faithful to the film than the old hardware could have managed. If anything it's much less faithful to the movie than the rudimentary N64 adaptation. So what is this game? Well, it's an FPS from 2010 that's loosely based on a movie from 1995 that's made as a tribute to a different game from 1997 that was based on the same movie. But aside from the first two minutes of the first level it has nothing in common with the game it's paying tribute to, because it's made for people who buy Call of Duty. Except it was made for the Wii. I hope that clears things up.
The easy thing to say is that they've taken Modern Warfare and slapped 007 on it and called it a day. That's selling things a bit short, albeit not by much. For instance, you don't get to throw grenades. Enemies do sometimes, but you don't get to. That has deeper implications than it sounds like. Sort of. I played using the classic controller and zero motion controls. I also haven't played a Call of Duty since 2008, so forgive me if I'm treading old ground here, but the left trigger gets a damn workout in this game. Shooting from the hip is more or less useless, and aiming down the sights has an extremely generous soft-lock-on component. I found that one of the best strategies to success in combat was to simply find a good vantage spot and mash the left trigger, letting the game do all the aiming for me while I sprayed bullets mindlessly.
Aside from the grenade thing, the main aspect of Goldeneye that sets it apart from Modern Warfare is its use of stealth. I know that Call of Duty has pretended to have stealth in the past, but here it's a more or less complete feature. Unfortunately, it's also an extremely underwhelming one. It's the kind of stealth that keeps its player on a tight leash. Your only tools for stealthy interaction are a silenced but unreliable pistol and your typical behind-the-back cinematic takedown. About half of the cinematic takedown animations will end with Bond standing up instead of returning to his stealthy crouchwalk stance, which is irritating. Some stealth setpieces are mindlessly simple, having you crouch-walk down a hallway in which every man you come across is very intensely looking at a wall. Others attempt to put you in an open room with lots of patrolling guards that, in a better stealth game, would make a fun puzzle-like sandbox. In Goldeneye, however, the invisible rails are so thin that it plays more like you're trying to guess what the designer intended for you to do rather than carving your own path using ingenuity or wit. The enemy detection mechanics are simplistic to the point of being binary. The instant a guard notices your presence, you have a brief grace period to kill him otherwise an alarm will sound. Once this occurs reinforcements will arrive and combat will begin. There is no filling meter or sound cue that hints to the player that they are being spotted. There are no investigative states in guard behavior, and once stealth is broken it is irreparable. There's no thrill in staying hidden by its own merits. Stalking around and knocking guards out from behind is a minor and temporary convenience at best.
I have to admit the game looks good, although I have to add "for a Wii game." Play on an emulator with a beefed up internal resolution and you could confuse this for an Xbox 360 game. Aside from bodies vanishing after death, nothing I encountered indicated any obvious compromises made to fit the experience onto relatively weak hardware. One strange quirk in the graphics is that dark areas somehow have digital artifacting, like a low bitrate YouTube video or something. It's bizarre but ultimately tolerable.
As far as living up to some sort of legacy, Activision's Goldeneye fails. While the N64 classic might not hold up to high scrutiny nowadays, this is still a charmless affair in comparison. While I liked Casino Royale as much as anyone else, trying to retrofit Daniel Craig's Bond into this story and push it forward into the present day doesn't really work. Goldeneye, the film, was in part about Russia and Bond himself struggling to maintain relevance in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War. It was also about 007 having a bit of an internal cry about his old best friend being a supervillain. Craig's dispassionate, thuggish take on the agent fails to gel. He comes off like a dumb caveman, or worse: a Modern Warfare protagonist. The women characters make it out the worst. Natalya fails to prove her worth as a character while onscreen; displaying none of the aptitude or charisma she had in the movie (or even her role as a meat puppet in the N64 game). Because of this, her attempts to be 'sassy' just come across as needlessly aggressive with no substance to back it up. What they've done with Xenia Onatopp is just criminal. Instead of a weird gestapo sex pervert she's just some lady that's angry all the time. I get the feeling that they thought they were trying to make her less sexist or something(?) but instead just stripped everything away until she was rendered completely uninteresting.
All in all, I don't know who this game is for. It's not a long game but it still feels like it's spread thin. They took the Goldeneye movie and made it more blunt and boring. They had the Goldeneye video game as a basis and then refused to do anything with it. I suppose I didn't hate the time I spent playing Goldeneye on the Wii. But I did resent it.
Fails to justify its own weird existence with adequate but vapid shooting and clumsy, unambitious stealth. Manages to dumb down the story of a Pierce Brosnan James Bond movie.