Nostalgia: one of the more peculiar human afflictions, capable of rendering beauty where once there was none, and engendering undue affection. All that is needed for nostalgia to flourish is the mere passage of time, and so now, fourteen years after the release of Rare's seminal N64 first-person shooter Goldeneye 007, here we are, faced with the prospect of Activision and Eurocom's Goldeneye 007: Reloaded, a high-definition Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 remake of last year's Nintendo Wii adaptation of an N64 adaptation of a 1995 film starring Pierce Brosnan... James Bond returns, then, with nostalgia on his side. The question remains, however, whether the suave secret agent and a host of memories of four-player split-screen gaming can overcome the harsh reality of modern expectations and deliver an experience worthy of past triumphs.
For the uninitiated, Reloaded is a straight port of last year's Wii title sporting high-definition visuals. The Wii game, which we rather liked, was itself a loose remake of the N64 classic, recasting Pierce Brosnan with a scowling Daniel Craig and rejigging the narrative details of the film's plot into a contemporary context. The game made clever use of the Wii's pointer controls and arguably remains the premier example of first-person shooting on Nintendo's console. On the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, however, where the competition is fierce and dominated by a few, key, genre heavyweights, Reloaded faces something of an uphill struggle.
The game does its best to distinguish itself by offering a different take on the shooting action offered up by its contemporaries; where most games in the genre are now content to proffer highly-scripted amusement park shooting-galleries, Reloaded boasts a slower, more deliberate pace with an emphasis on stealth and objectives. There are no flashing waypoints to follow, nor any squad-mates blocking your path through narrow hallways, and in this regard Reloaded is a breath of fresh air and a fairly welcome return to shooters of old, where level design and tactics took precedence over one's twitch reflex. Unfortunately, the game's stealth mechanics are slightly suspect, and enemies have the tendency to spot you from one-hundred metres away if you so much as step into their apparently superhuman 'line of sight', at which point every goon in the vicinity will swarm Bond and transform the game into something more akin to Call of Duty. The comparison is particularly apt when one considers that the game's basic controls feel identical to Activision's juggernaut; aiming down the iron-sights feels crisp and accurate, while basic movement is responsive and intuitive. In fact, we think the game feels much better on a control pad than it ever did with a Wii remote (and possibly the Playstation Move, which peripheral is supported but unable to be tested at the time of writing). The basic shooting feels fine, save for some of the weapons lacking a little in impact, but it is clear that Eurocom did little to adjust the enemy artificial intelligence to compensate for the precision of a Dual Shock 3, which results in the game being significantly less challenging when played that way. Moment to moment play is fairly engaging, primarily due to the focus on multiple objectives, nifty use of Bond's smart phone gadgetry, and solidly designed levels which utilise the themes and settings of Rare's game in a way which feels simultaneously new and pleasantly familiar.
The interplay of past and present, the new and the familiar, is similarly borne out in the game's presentation, which is artistically identical to that of its Wii forefather. A bump in resolution results in a much cleaner, sharper game, but the incorporation of new weather, lighting and particle effects really elevates Reloaded, together with a silken frame rate which almost never dips below sixty frames-per-second. The geometry is largely unchanged, however, and it almost goes without saying that the game's modest technical roots prevent it from ascending the heights of its peers. While Eurocom's work on the Wii was particularly impressive (particularly its character models, which looked, and still look, better than those found in most marquee shooters), its work on the high-definition platforms is solid, rather than spectacular. To the ears, Reloaded will be instantly familiar to those who played the game on Wii, with the same John Barry-inspired score and half-hearted voice acting of Daniel Craig.
For most players, a run-through of the single player story mode of Reloaded will require ten or so hours on the default difficulty, which is certainly generous for a modern shooter. Pleasantly, playing on higher-difficulty levels is particularly rewarding on account of the imposition of new objectives which require further exploration of the game's environments. Also new to this version of the game is a new single player mode by the moniker of MI6 Ops, which offers a series of objective-based challenges, such as killing a set number of enemies as quickly as possible or making your way through a level without being seen. These missions, despite the option to customise their parameters, are rather too protracted and dull to merit more than a cursory glance. Crucially, however, the game's longevity is best enhanced by the game's suite of multiplayer options, which include competitive modes for up to sixteen players online or four players via split-screen. Again, the basic gameplay hems closely to the Wii version, offering up 'vanilla' deathmatch and team deathmatch modes alongside more quirky experiences such as the classic 'Golden Gun' mode, where the objective remains the seizure of the eponymous firearm to deliver one-hit kills. The maps are generally well-designed and all modes are particularly customisable, with players able to toy with the parameters of any given match to an impressive degree. A leveling system imported wholesale from the Call of Duty series provides the necessary impetus to keep playing, but has the unfortunate side effect of creating disparity between veterans and rookies, which is a shame given that one of the best aspects of the N64 classic was its accessibility and equality (save for the ne'er-do-wells who picked Oddjob). Unfortunately, matchmaking was rather spotty at the time of writing, and lobbies fairly empty, which is unsurprising given the harsh reality that everyone with opposable thumbs is currently occupied online with juggernauts Battlefield 3 and Modern Warfare 3.
Goldeneye 007: Reloaded is a good shooter, and certainly an enjoyable shooter, but it is clear that nostalgia and goodwill for the original N64 title are its primary draws. Taken on its own merits, Reloaded is good but fails to justify its existence in a crowded gaming landscape. The game lacks the beautiful visuals of Killzone 3, the spectacle of Modern Warfare 3, the espionage and stealth chops of Deus Ex: Human Revolution or the perfect pacing and inventive weaponry of Resistance 3. Most players will enjoy their hours with Goldeneye 007: Reloaded but will be unable to shake the feeling that their time could have been spent elsewhere.