A few months back the industry's most outspoken analyst, Michael Pachter, threw on his soothsayer hat to predict 007 GoldenEye's future - and it looked a bit grim. The common or garden FPS has evolved in the 13 year period between Rare's original and Eurocom's reboot, but this is still a genre built for gamers, with the real hardcore testing their aim online. A Wii exclusive shooter is an odd proposition, Pachter, argues, when FPSs are so inextricably linked to the Xbox 360/PS3/PC crowd.
It's a fair complaint. A FPS-based Wii exclusive might seem like commercial suicide, but speaking with producer Dawn Pinkney up in Derby she explains that the idea hinged on the history of the title.
"It was a Nintendo, N64 game. That's what everyone remembers when they remember GoldenEye, so it was very important for it to be a Wii exclusive because that is the Nintendo platform of today. But it's also touching back on the original title. It made shooters a success for console so it is exciting for us to do something accessible on the Wii platform. We've been targeting accessibility, you can play it with a gamepad for people who aren't comfortable with a motion controller in a first person shooter."
Rather than a direct interpretation of Rare's game, you're essentially getting a Bond remix: a modernised, flashier take on an older title, that still hits most of the same notes of the N64 shooter, albeit edited for 2010. The update is penned by GoldenEye's screenwriter Bruce Feirstein, is scored by Casino Royale composer David Arnold, switches out Brosnan for the skulking, man-throttling Daniel Craig. As in GoldenEye's current rival, Bloodstone, the developer has adopted Craig-Bond's gadget-lite tendencies, opting for a basic gun/punch/smart phone combination, and both projects have used Craig's stunt double Ben Cooke for motion capture.
Despite the nods to Rare's work, this is a game that's been built for a modern demographic; the sprawling, multi-dimensional all-ages group of hardcore FPS fans, nostalgic gamers and people who bought a Wii back in 2006. So it offers a regenerative health system common to any modern shooter, but not to the original GoldenEye. It offers a 007 difficulty level that brings back limited health for the whinging, nostalgic masses unhappy with regeneration. And beyond that it's graphically impressive, with melee kills showing detailed takedown animations based on mo-cap footage shot (quite literally) in Eurocom's backyard. It adopts the far superior Extraction Engine to help showcase its production values and be more palatable for a modern market.
And there's a similar dichotomy happening in gameplay. Progress through the surrounding area of the guard-riddled Siberian facility is a stealthy affair, tense largely because the focus is on timing rather than action. Miscalculate a head shot and the guards will instantly be alarmed, painting your mini-map red with enemy dots. But the game can also be incredibly linear in level design, funnelling you between snow banks to your objective, for better or for worse.
But with Bloodstone and GoldenEye suckling from what is essentially the same Danjaq licensing teet, it's GoldenEye's interpretation of nostalgia that makes it at the very least an interesting offering.
In the film Robbie Coltrane's Zukovsky was an ex-KGB agent, an owner of a sleazy rat-nest of a club, a Ruskie-faced stereotype with a short fuse. Now his club has been infiltrated with music peeled out of DJ Hero II's songbook - a brilliant little electro-pop piece by Deadmau5. The place has been rebuilt as a posh Barcelona nightclub, having moved from its St. Petersburg roots. Zukovsky is looking pretty flash now. He's young, well-built, a bit of a womanising twit. The Russian connection has gone from necessary to incidental now that we're looking at a post-Cold War Bond. Even audio takes its cues from the original. Each siren and gunshot from the '97 release has gone through a process of renewal and gotten just a bit crisper, and just a bit sleeker.
Oddly, where Bloodstone functions as a film that never was, GoldenEye still does an impressive job at creating cinematic scenes. Tarantino gets namedropped by the developers while I watch a scene inside the club where Bond moves from a backroom to the dancefloor, cueing Billy Holiday's The Man I Love - a sassy, slow centrepiece of '30s music that forms the soundtrack for the ensuing firefight. Even just the framing of scenes is carefully thought out, particularly the moment where asshole Zukovsky speaks to you while standing directly in front of a Warholian painting of himself.
Multiplayer is treated as respectfully as it can be, aping the old split-screen shooting of yesteryear. After a couple of four player matches the homages to Bond's past begin to rain in, some more obvious than others. You'll have access to innumerable characters to play as, from Jaws to Oddjob to Dr. No to Bond himself, but beyond its multiplayer skins you're given reworked Facility and Archives maps that have come straight from the N64 title, whetting the pallet of any eternally nostalgic fanboy. Even GoldenEye's original Big Head multiplayer mode has been reinterpreted. It's Big Hands this time - we're told the change is because actors legally require you to respect their image these days. Others, like Move Your Feet (keep moving or you'll die), Singularity (touch anyone else and you'll explode), and You Only Live Twice (limiting you to a pair of lives) are all incredibly good fun, adding a lot of simple variation to the basic game. There's online multiplayer for eight, too, although I'm yet to try this out.
But there is still the issue of GoldenEye 007 being driven toward a niche console and a wide audience. This isn't just a reinterpretation, it's an attempt to balance completely opposing elements: respect for the original property with modern ideas and design, a fan service mentality with accessible gameplay for newcomers. It'd be a difficult task for any game developer, but Eurocom might just have done it. We'll find out for sure soon enough.
GoldenEye 007 is due for release exclusively on Wii on November 5.