When GoldenEye 007 was released for the Wii last year, it proved that it is possible to successfully reimagine a classic. By combining the spy elements that made the Nintendo 64 original so engaging with modern amenities, it created a great experience that didn't use nostalgia to be entertaining. One year later, GoldenEye 007: Reloaded comes to the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 with updated visuals, as well as a few other changes, and it remains an enticing change of pace from other shooters. Thoughtful missions force you to complete diverse objectives as you slink through enemy territory, and when you're spotted, Reloaded transforms into a hectic action game with razor-sharp mechanics and a variety of deadly weapons. GoldenEye 007: Reloaded doesn't rely on the memories of an aged shooter to be great; it earns that distinction on its own merits.
GoldenEye 007: Reloaded is entirely different from the Nintendo 64 version, but that doesn't mean it has turned its back on everything that made the original distinct. James Bond is a world-class spy, and both games dramatize this fascinating profession by putting you through the rigors of globe-trotting espionage. There is a strong emphasis on stealth in Reloaded that rewards patient players who would rather silently avoid a firefight than rush in guns blazing. Whether you favor a sure shot from your silenced pistol or a quick melee strike when you move in close, quietly killing off your enemies is a thrilling rush that serves as your main tactic for most of this campaign. Occasionally, the AI becomes aware of you even when you swear you're safely behind cover, but that inconsistency is rare. For the most part, using stealth is your wisest strategy, and you can discreetly kill off a small platoon without having anyone notice that something's wrong.
Of course, a spy is more than just a silent assassin. After all, James Bond doesn't travel around the world just to satiate his bloodlust; he's on a mission to discover some kind of horrible truth. And to acquire these facts, you have to do some sleuthing along the way. Every level has objectives you must complete in between bouts of killing, and they provide an interesting diversion from the core gameplay. Most of them involve utilizing your handy smartphone to do things like snap a photograph or hack a device, and it's just a matter of lining up your target and hitting a button. But these moments make just as much of an impact as the shoot-to-kill action, thanks to the problem solving that goes along with them. For example, in the first level, you need to access a room that is seemingly sealed shut. But if you poke your gun through a small opening in the window, you can shoot off the lock barring your entry. Though these puzzles are easy enough if you just take a quick peek around the environment, they do a good job of reinforcing the fact that you're a spy.
James Bond has no problem gathering vital information and certainly knows how to avoid a fight, but when the action heats up, he's not afraid to take advantage of his license to kill. The Xbox 360 version doesn't get the precise aiming option offered on the Wii and PlayStation 3 (via Wii Remote or Move pointer controls), but the standard pad works well no matter which console you use. You can easily target whatever vital organ or flailing appendage you prefer of an oncoming enemy, and the dull impact of a bullet that strikes pay dirt is exhilarating. Sharp controls aren't the only reason that the shooting is such a satisfying endeavor in Reloaded; your impressive loadout gives you plenty of firepower with which to play around. Pistols, rifles, shotguns, and more come with all sorts of different attributes, and it's easy to find one you like because they all feel so good. James Bond has plenty of options beyond firing his gun, but the smooth shooting mechanics ensure you're immersed no matter which path you take.
The single-player campaign lasts for more than 10 hours, and a good deal of variety banishes any chance of having repetition ruin your enjoyment. Some levels are designed with stealth in mind while others force combat to the forefront, but you ultimately have the choice in how you play. The tempo changes in a heartbeat if you accidentally alert the guards, and though you may kick yourself for being so clumsy, it's always a blast to loudly gun down your enemies when you were so quiet just a moment earlier. There are other gameplay twists that ensure the campaign doesn't tread predictable waters: Brief vehicle sections thrust raw destructive power into your hands, a frantic escort sequence pushes your reflexes to the edge, and even an intense boss fight is thrown in for good measure. The only misstep comes in the form of tedious quick-time events that are overflowing with cinematic flair but aren't any fun to play because there's a disconnect between your button presses and the on-screen action. Aside from those moments, Reloaded stays engaging all the way through.
The staying power of Reloaded stretches far beyond completion of the last level. This is a game that's meant to be played more than once because the higher difficulty levels do more than ramp up the ruthlessness of your enemies. The harder the game is, the more objectives you have to complete to move forward, and replaying these levels gives you a new appreciation for how well they're constructed. Rooms and routes you never realized existed are suddenly integral parts of the experience, making another playthrough feel fresh even though you're traipsing through the same environments. What's really interesting is how your health is managed. In all but the hardest difficulty level, you have regenerating health. Because you return to full strength by staying out of fire for a few seconds, the campaign veers on the easy side, though it's still challenging enough to make it rewarding when you do come out on top. But when you play on the hardest difficulty, your health no longer regenerates and you collect armor to save you from death. This raises the tension another notch, making you use every stealth trick you've learned to stay alive. However, one omission from last year's game is unfortunate. Previously, you unlocked a Time Trial option for every mission, and it offered a frenetic contrast to the more measured standard play. It's inexplicable as to why it was cut in this latest release, and its absence does lessen the pull of multiple playthroughs.
It's a shame that the story doesn't add to the gripping single-player experience. Pierce Brosnan played James Bond in the original game and movie, but he has been unceremoniously axed in this latest outing. In his stead is current Bond actor Daniel Craig. But it doesn't really matter who assumes the lead role when the story is never pushed beyond spy-thriller cliches. Evil Russians and predictable plot twists are the driving forces of this newly written story, and though there are some well-done action sequences, the cutscenes ultimately fail to enhance the experience. Thankfully, you have the option to skip the cutscenes entirely if you prefer, and it's a welcome tweak from last year's game. Previously, sitting through these intrusive scenes hampered the enjoyment of replaying missions. With that barrier removed, you can happily try out the higher difficulty settings without having to sit through the tedious, noninteractive sections.
Aside from the dull story and a few lame quick-time events, the campaign is an incredible experience. But if you hunger for something beyond the expansive single-player suite, there's engaging competitive multiplayer to take part in as well. If you favor the online realm, you can square off against up to 15 other players in a variety of play types. Sharp controls and clever level design make it a blast to gun down strangers and friends alike; the rewards system also gives you something to strive for aside from the satisfying thrill of victory. As you unlock new weapons, gadgets, and modes by sinking more time into the game, there's always something to tinker with after a successful play session. This is the area where the most features have been added over last year's game. There are more maps and modes than before, and you can even play as iconic Bond characters. Some of these, such as Oddjob, even have patented weapons (hat throwing is just as deadly as a gun), which add good variety and should please anyone who fancies the Bond films.
Offline fare is just as robust, but in a different way. The experience points system has been scrapped, but in its place is a good array of modifiers that let you put your own spin on how things play out. You and up to three friends take part in split-screen action, and you can tweak options that make your grenades sticky or bouncy, force players to explode when they come into contact with others, or shrink everyone down to bite-sized proportions. The best of these instantly kills anyone who stands still for too long. It's a great way to eliminate snipers and campers because it makes players push the action rather than wait for things to come to them. However, there is one big problem: no bots. Still, messing with the many options is lots of fun, but you won't get everything out of this mode unless you have three friends willing to share one-quarter of the screen with you.
New in this year's version is Mi6 Ops mode, a series of single-player challenges that may not completely make up for the lack of Time Trials but at least engenders many of the same feelings. Here, you have a specific objective that must be completed, and you're graded on how efficiently you complete it. The missions resemble what you have to normally do in multiplayer, such as killing anyone who opposes you or defending consoles from attack, but because you have to play by your lonesome, they aren't quite as engaging. Still, with more than 40 of these challenges to take part in, it should take a few hours to complete them all. And if you get sucked in, you can always try to shave off a few precious seconds for an impressive leaderboard standing.
Goldeneye 007: Reloaded is a great game that does justice to its prestigious name. Instead of living in the past, Bond's latest adventure embraces the present. The explosive single-player campaign is a great ride all the way through, and it's well worth replaying a few times just to see what sort of cool secrets the harder difficulties hide. The online multiplayer has you gunning down enemies and racking up experience points with the Bond characters you know and love. Sharp controls, clever level design, and a wealth of gameplay options are the backbone of this exhilarating shooter, and it absolutely nails its core tenets. GoldenEye 007: Reloaded has no need to rely on nostalgia when it so expertly creates such thrilling new memories.