Birthday celebrations were very easy to organise when I was sixteen. You'd go to the home of whomever it was swapping one number for the next in the sequence and who was still no wiser for it. You'd take beer, and sometimes a present; then came the getting of the drunk. There were no party games by this stage – why, we were nearly men. And it wasn't so much a case of no girls allowed as no girls in this dimension or any neighbouring dimensions who would be caught dead at one of these gatherings. There was really only one other thing that you absolutely had to have: GoldenEye for the Nintendo 64.
The revolutionary splitscreen mode made this game an absolute winner, so long as there were two or more of you. In groups of more than four (the maximum number able to play at once) you could just relay happily until the beers and smacktalk ran completely dry. Usually the latter would far outlast the former. Those of us who owned 64s would hover on the edge of the circle, watching the action unfold over the shoulders of those in the hot seat. Come our turn, we'd up-controller and strafe from room to room systematically obliterating the competition until the turn of a worthy foe. Hand on heart, I think I can honestly say nothing in multiplayer gaming has thrilled me quite as much as GoldenEye's Licence to Kill mode, in all the intervening years.
Now is where you might expect me to chuck in an “...until NOW!”
But Goldeneye 007 for the Wii, 2010's remake of the mid-nineties classic, hasn't captured exactly what made Nintendo 64's Goldeneye such an important game. This is not a criticism. What I mean to say is that the heart-stopping, jaw-dropping originality isn't there. And how could it be? Things have moved on. But, friends, that's about the only thing missing.
I have been continually delighted by GoldenEye since the hungry little Wii gobbled it up a few days ago. I have played a number of multiplayer battles, and crashed through the visceral and demanding singleplayer campaign. But, if you think about it, it shouldn't really be surprising. After all, I probably tick a number of the boxes on Activision's profile of the game's target market.
Those familiar with the original game will recognise the storyline; and anyone else may have seen the movie. It wasn't one of the Bond greats, but still pretty good. Apart from re-framing the levels, weapons, and the obvious leap forward in the technology, the only major change is that Daniel Craig's steel-bollocked Bond replaces Pierce Brosnan's infinitely more suave but on the whole rather metrosexual version.
And the campaign is a delight. The I in AI actually stands for something here, and even on the easiest mode, the game is quite a challenge. Enemies will seek cover, sprint like greyhounds stuffed with pieces of ginger root, and generally make your passage through the brilliantly laid out levels a real trial. There are four difficulty modes, including the locked-until-you-prove-your-mettle 007 Classic. In this mode, health won't regenerate when you crouch behind a box, and each mission is packed with side objectives.
Gadgetry, a focus for most Bond games, and certainly the movies, has been pretty much stripped out. This brings the real intent of the title to the fore: it's about shooting bad guys, and saving the day. Bond has a nondescript smartphone which (as well as presumably containing his formidable little black book) can hack alarm systems and locks, be used as a GPS and download data from MI6 (including updates from the incomparable Dame Judi Dench as Agent M).
You'll get to drive tanks, perform silent take-downs, use sniper rifles, gather intel and (of course) meet beautiful women. This is Bond to the core and, as a remake, does a stunning job of balancing rich nostalgia with a new approach to how the story is told, how the foes behave and how the game is controlled. Again, even on the easiest difficulty, the game is one good hard slap across the puss. Wii owners – wake up.
But it doesn't end here. While as satisfying as any outing on the Wii to date – and holding its own against shooters from all systems – GoldenEye's multiplayer is the real star. That's all you really wanted to know right?
Although there have been a few issues with connecting to the servers, I can't guarantee this isn’t a local network issue. It could be my rubbishy connection, but I don't think it is. Despite that wii niggle (ha!), everything else is plain sailing.
There are more modes than you can shake a stick at and, if you don't want to play online, a brilliant splitscreen mode has been included. I struggle with the idea that real fans of the original will complain about anything on offer here, but I suppose there could be purists who will slouch back to their 64s unimpressed. Not me. I will always have time for the console I consider to be the greatest ever made, but the 2010 version of GoldenEye takes everything I loved about the original multiplayer experience and builds on it.
Everyone's multiplayer outing will be a little different, of course, and the fact remains that some of the people out there in online gaming land ought to have their genitals nailed to their hands and be forced to attend a clapping competition. But broadly speaking, Eurocom have done a marvellous job creating the sandbox – I guess it's just down to you to invite the right people in.
Golden Gun and Licence to Kill modes return, but the best of the best is just plain old Conflict. Each time you play, you'll level up depending on your performance. This will allow you access to new modes, cooler kit and awesome new weapons.
The special edition of the game comes bundled with a gold Classic Controller, giving gamers every reason to believe that this is how it should be played. We didn't get one, so I have been using a GameCube controller, and there really is no comparison when moving to motion controls. They're a lot better than in some games, and if you were committed I would say that you could learn to wield that 'mote with deadly accuracy. After so long at my 360, though, I need a pad to be any good at shooters, and the remote and chuk were just way too unresponsive and annoying. Wii Zapper support is also included, if you're one of the twelve people worldwide who has one.
Graphically the game does exceedingly well. I did notice quite a few issues with the frame rate, however, and this wasn't always when there was simply a lot going on. Sometimes very quick movements caused the game to bind up, or even scripted events like a pipe blowing or chopper (ironic) buzzing overhead.
Characters are well rendered; probably the best the system has to offer, in fact. And weather effects, weaponry, explosions etc are all done to the very best standard. Of course, this still won't be enough for everyone. Occasional pixelation can't help but drop you right out of the action, and having an enemy fly into the air after one delicate cough from your PP9 is laughable.
Music and sound has been put to good use - in single and multiplayer. I do wish a few of the coolest tracks from the original had made the trip across, in exactly the same format, but if they have I completely missed them. Voice acting and the chatter from enemies is all authentic and easy to digest, which helps to deliver an experience that leaves you feeling like the developers have tried hard to make the game GoldenEye fans were hoping for.
This is the real deal and the whole package folks. A must have for all Wii owners. And if you're a 64 fan who lost their way during the whole GameCube / PlayStation 2 ? Xbox Royal Rumble, then it could be time for a Christmas 2010 homecoming.