It's hard to go broke these days trading on gamer nostalgia for legendary franchises. At least four times a year, we're presented with so-called "HD remakes" of titles for which the originals were enormously popular or critically acclaimed, and often both. Most of these bundles include two or three revamped games — some of which may never have been available on an Xbox-branded console — with improved visuals, remastered audio, achievements and often some sort of extra content in the form of new levels or enhanced online multiplayer.
GoldenEye: 007 Reloaded is unique in that it's an HD facelift of a current-gen Wii game, which itself was remade from a much-celebrated title dating all the way back to the Nintendo 64. Essentially, the notion of demand for an Xbox 360 version is predicated on the ongoing popularity of James Bond, and also on a single game with its notable success now more than a decade in the past. There aren't significant current-gen HD sequels available or in the works — like Halo or Metal Gear Solid — for which Reloaded might serve as prequels for gamers heavily invested in the current fiction who never had the chance to play the seminal games. This game has to stand on its own, and therein lies most of GoldenEye: 007 Reloaded's problems.
While the original Halo game is probably best known on technical merits for near-perfecting console shooters, GoldenEye on Nintendo 64 made them at least happily accessible. If you liked shooters, but didn't maintain a gaming PC, GoldenEye made a solid case for picking up the N64 over the generation's console competition. There was four-player competitive multiplayer, too, and it worked and was fun, though it was limited to a split-screen presentation.
It's not obvious what exactly Reloaded set out to be. Is it an updated version for gamers who've played one of the earlier games? Or is it an entirely new game experience for people who've sworn a blood oath to their Xbox 360s?
In an attempt to refresh or remake the core gameplay, campaign difficulty settings have been reworked. In the Wii version, difficulty settings had nothing to do with on the player's resistance to damage, nor did it have any bearing on opposition AI. The lowest difficulty setting was the same as the highest, save for the number of objectives you had to successfully complete to clear the mission.
In Reloaded, the additional objective stipulations are gone — in my opinion, a good design decision. In mostly straight-up shooters, it's frustrating to clear a level by hook or crook, rocket-launcher bombast or flat-out sprint, only to be told you've failed the mission because you didn't finish extra objective X, Y or Z. The "extras-required" element doesn't well integrate with much contemporary shooters design. A lot of gamers have taken on and finished the toughest parts of the hardest campaign modes in modern shooter franchises by rushing to the next linearly placed checkpoints. Whether or not this is purely a design shortcut for harder difficulties is open for discussion, but it's how a lot of shooters titles play these days. Sure, dragging yourself through a level while forgoing most of the extra objectives isn't completing the level cum laude, but it's at least finishing the level. It's at least a pass.
Uncoupling extra objectives from the campaign difficulty means the designers had to do away with the difficulty system in Reloaded, or weight its increments in a different way. They chose the latter. There are still four difficulty modes available, but now they relate to how much damage your agent can take before dying, how much damage enemies can deal with cleaner shots, improved flanking AI and the like. This should fit fine for most contemporary shooter players; gamers are used to thinner skins and tougher bad guys at higher difficulty levels. But what should be "normal" difficulty, labeled "Agent" in Reloaded, doesn't unlock progression achievements as you complete levels. Although other, more specialized achievements still work, to be rewarded with mission-completion achievements you have to play on "007" difficulty — by contemporary standards, "007" at one from the top should be "hard," not "normal." In a game with progression awards, "normal" difficulty should always net you those achievements, even if they're packaged with less Gamerscore than playing in higher difficulty modes.
This difficulty mode mistranslation is not by itself a deal-breaker, and for gamers unconcerned with achievements and Gamerscore, it won't matter at all; but it's a clear indicator of an erratic process in recreating GoldenEye from a shooter-sparse Wii title, where there are no formal achievements, to the console for shooters, where achievements made their debut.
Reloaded didn't make it out of the gate without clear improvements over the Wii version. There are the HD graphics as opposed to SD, certainly. Character models, textures, vehicles and weapons all look demonstrably better in a side-by-side comparison. But most of Reloaded's audience won't bother with side-by-side comparisons. Most of Reloaded's audience will be swapping discs out from another, more technically advanced Xbox 360 shooter, and what they'll jump into with Reloaded can't possibly measure up in visuals. Switching from even lower-end 360 shooter titles, Reloaded presents a world drained of color and bland architecture replete with lots of right angles. Today's shooter players are accustomed to occasionally eye-popping vistas, even in mediocre games with wildly inconsistent graphical fidelity.
Reloaded brings over split-screen and online multiplayer from the Wii. I'm hard-pressed to say that moving a game from Wii online to Xbox Live isn't going to result in some improvements to online gameplay. Still, much of GoldenEye: 007 Reloaded online feels like struggling with a previous-gen multiplayer game within the context of XBL's robust matchmaking, friends and messaging system. Bad matchmaking can kill really great multiplayer, but great matchmaking can't do much to improve an overall stark, depopulated experience.
There is no shortage of multiplayer game modes in Reloaded, some only split-screen, some only online, and some in both. For the most part, the modes are the usual rehashes of deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag and the like. Two modes in particular stand out from the others: Golden Gun, in both split-screen and online; and Heroes, online only. In Golden Gun, the object is to grab the aforementioned gun, which has one-shot-one-kill capability, no matter the range, and, for the player wielding it, scores kills at five times the points. As a concession to range, power and points boosts, the Golden Gun is a single-shot weapon, requiring a reload each time it's fired. Heroes mode has similar super-powered tendencies as Golden Gun, though it's more support-oriented. A randomly chosen match Hero has super-agent attributes, like quickness and damage resistance, but, more importantly in a team setting, he can provide struggling teammates with health boosts and better weapons. The concession to Hero abilities is that a dead Hero is worth a lot more to the opposing team than the more run-of-the-mill agents.
Also new to this version are the MI6 Ops single-player missions. They amount to Reloaded's versions of Horde mode, but played solo with some tacked-on objectives, which weakens the effort right off the bat. With arcade-style action and leaderboards, MI6 Ops missions are clearly designed to boost content and promote replay, though the whole concept would have been far more enjoyable had it served as a four-player co-op mode for split-screen and online.
Without a doubt, GoldenEye 007: Reloaded on the Xbox 360 stands head and shoulders above previous iterations of the game in control mechanics. You'd expect nothing less compared to the old N64 version starring the likeness of Pierce Brosnan — there is no comparison, and there shouldn't be. Likewise, there's no truly fair comparison in control between Reloaded and GoldenEye 007 for Wii. I suppose I should have expected that, too, but perhaps I hoped Wii control for the predecessor title wasn't as unwieldy as I recalled.
GoldenEye 007: Reloaded is a combination of nostalgia, updates and enhancements that seems to me desperately in search of an audience. Sold at the same $60 retail price as any contemporary Xbox 360 shooter, it's going to have a hard time finding its niche. It'll serve as an expensive reminder for the N64 nostalgia crowd that, after all, they probably didn't want to see how GoldenEye stands up today. For Wii players who put a lot of time in with Golden Eye 007, they have already suffered through, and, I assume, overcome the control issues in that version; and the MI6 Ops missions don't amount to more than a piece of low-priced DLC. At two-thirds, or even half, discount, GoldenEye 007: Reloaded might have been a worthy back-burner title for those gamers not yet indoctrinated into the GoldenEye legend — but not this game, not at this price.
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