GoldenEye 007 Wii preview: 'Striking a balance between nostalgia and the modern'

Activision is taking a risk with its GoldenEye 007 remake for Wii. Legal precautions aside (Microsoft and Rare still have rights to the original game), GoldenEye for N64, or simply "Bond," is a beloved, iconic console FPS. So, to re-imagine this game on the Wii, Activision risks both tarnishing us old-timers' fond memories and further alienating a newer generation that wonders, "What's the big deal?"

At a recent preview event, I checked out two levels of the new GoldenEye and spoke with Activision brand manager Eric Spielman. "We thought, if we're going to bring it back, we need to have a commitment to authenticity; and the original game was on Nintendo -- we wanted to be on Nintendo again," Spielman told me, when asked why Activision had focused its remake solely on the Wii (a DS version will also be released). "If you look at the Wii, it's very much about people together, in the same room, having fun, playing games together. It all added up to us getting the exclusive, and Nintendo has been a big help every step of the way."
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Spielman described the classic split-screen multiplayer as the game's main appeal. "What it's all about is the nostalgia and bonding that comes from playing shooters together on the couch. Split-screen multiplayer is a feature that has disappeared from modern shooters. Nowadays, multiplayer is me, sitting in the dark, with a headset on, talking trash to someone 600 miles away," Spielman painted. "People sitting together, playing together, talking trash to each other is gone from first-person shooters, and that's what GoldenEye stands for -- and that's what we want to bring back." From a multiplayer standpoint, the company seems to have been successful: I enjoyed my time playing a half-dozen or so games of multiplayer (even if it was networked and not on the couch split-screen-style). Of course, I was also at the event to sample the single-player campaign.

First, I was shown a snippet of the game's iconic opening mission: the weapons facility dam. James is a young 007, just dipping his toes into the international espionage waters, and he's accompanied by the more seasoned 006. Certain nods to the first game were present: Bond took out a few guards and made his way up to a tower, grabbed a sniper rifle and blasted a few more goons down a tunnel. From there it got decidedly more exciting, as the two agents tried to sneak into the base as common truck drivers -- only to be discovered and forced to floor it! As an enemy soldier tried to make his way in through the passenger door, James kicked the door outward and the soldier was crushed against a wall. This in-enigne cutscene highlighted the more violent "Daniel Craig Bond" we've become accustomed to in the last few films.

It's certainly not the game I remember, but it is a legitimate, hardcore FPS.

Spielman said that while the overarching GoldenEye story hasn't been changed too much, some of it just isn't relevant today. "The first thing we did was look at the story as a whole. The original story is set in the Cold War, featuring Pierce Brosnan as Bond. it doesn't really fit today. There's no Cold War and Brosnan isn't Bond -- it's Daniel Craig," he explained. "So we got the writer of the film, Bruce Feirstein, to come on board and update the story to fit today's time, today's political climate. Today's military climate is very different, and Daniel Craig's Bond is very different. He's not as gadgety, he's more phyiscal -- his world is a little more gritty, a little darker, a little more unclear than Brosnan's world. From a story perspective, it's about tackling it from today's perspective and not the '90s. Having said that, it's still the GoldenEye story; you still have those characters -- Oromov, Sukovski, Natalya, Zenyadata -- so those characters are there. The basic story arc is there, just the new setting makes more sense today."

"The game is inspired by the GoldenEye story, so those iconic moments are still there. It opens in the dam; you have the scene in the facility; you've got the scene by the airport, where the airplane goes off the cliff and Bond jumps after it. You've got the jungle sequence -- the essential GoldenEye elements are there, but for us it was striking a balance between nostalgia and the modern. GoldenEye -- obviously, we're bringing it back -- there's an element of nostalgia there, but gaming's come along quite a bit in 13 years. So it was about having the appropriate respect for nostalgia, but making sure it's a modern first-person shooter."

With the dam demo abruptly cut off (I didn't get to see the bungee jump!), I was able to play through a mission myself. It was a tank mission, incorporating elements from both "Runway" and "Streets" in the N64 game. This take on those missions is way more destructive -- I could blow up parts of the environment and had heat-seeking missiles to take down enemy trucks, tanks and helicopters. (Honestly, where do the bad guys get the funds for all of these helicopters? I must have blown up $500 million in helicopters alone.)

The mission was very linear and fairly straightforward. The objective was simply to continue down the road and pretty much blow up everything in my path. The tank self-repaired, so even though I managed to get stuck in a few rough spots, I never felt like I was in too much danger. Though I was playing using the Classic Controller Pro option that Activision was featuring at the event, I kinda wished I had the Wiimote and Nunchuk. I had a hunch that I would have been able to target enemies faster with the Wiimote's IR sensor; though the Classic Controller Pro certainly didn't impede my ability to blow stuff up.

"The best Wii shooter ever made." - Eric Spielman, Activision

"It's all about what you're familiar with and what you're comfortable with," Spielman said regarding alternative control schemes. "You can play with the Wii Zapper; you can play with the Wii Remote and Nunchuk; you can play with the GameCube controller; the Classic Controller and the Classic Controller Pro -- it's just about you and what you're used to. i prefer Classic Controller Pro, but there are other people in the office, other producers, who swear by the Nunchuk -- we have very competitive multiplayer that fits several control schemes."

The two levels I played, as well as my time with networked multiplayer (there will be a Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection mode, too), showed just how much time and energy has been invested in this GoldenEye 007 remake. In fact, it's not much of a "remake" at all. It's certainly not the game I remember, but it is a legitimate, hardcore FPS.

"Three game modes, 50 playable characters -- eight classic Bond characters -- and 25 weapons, 10 maps, 17 modifiers. There are over 200 different game combinations you can create in split-screen ... and then there's online," Spielman boasted. "It's a completely different set-up. Split-screen is for people who just want to have fun together, and all of the options are immediately available to you. But online it's more of a Call of Duty style where it's about progression, ranking up, building XP and unlocking new modes, skins, weapons, etc."

As if that wasn't enough, Spielman placed the final cherry on top of his pitch: GoldenEye 007 will be "the best Wii shooter ever made." We'll take him up on that claim when the game is released on November 2.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.