As far as years go, 1997 is up there for chatter-rings, 95c Cheeseburgers, and multiplayer first-person shooters. Many a grizzled FPS veteran can spin a yarn about the simpler times of split-screen carnage on their mates’ N64 in the days of their misspent youth.
Last year Eurocom gamely revived GoldenEye on Nintendo’s Wii, and the acclaim it drew was encouraging enough for the British developer to bring its title over to PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 as 007: Reloaded. The console FPS market is a heady world these days but this latest iteration of Bond, James Bond, represents an old friend’s long overdue return to the fold.
This time around the plot has a modern coat of paint but there are familiar elements that tie-in the old story. 007’s still after a bad guy named Ouromov, and there just might be a particular dam jump involved, but otherwise level design is mostly novel.
The story is befittingly Bond-esque, which is to say ridiculous, but the cinematic feel has been retained, with Judi Dench reprising her role as ‘M’ and the MGM lion howling away in the opening sequences. Embittered as ever, the Russkies and their terrorist chums are up to their old tricks again, and it’s down to 007 (the blonde one) to sneak, snoop and shoot his way to the bottom of it.
An army of henchmen and obstacles stands between Bond and the safety of the free world, but players will find the cause is aided by an array of modern weaponry, remarkably ergonomic venting systems and Bond’s trusty smartphone. Enemies can be taken down silently at the press of a button, and security cameras shot to death, but the silent approach only lasts so long before full-on fire-fights become necessary to dispatch those who would dare get in the way of MI6’s golden boy.
Backing up his silenced P99 is a regular cache of assault rifles, shotguns, RPGs and grenades for when the subtle touch won’t cut it. The telescopic-sighted sniper rifle that was pioneered by the original title also makes an appearance. Stealth is encouraged however, as a slip up in the wrong place will occasionally trigger repeating waves of angry thugs.
These guys are reasonably intelligent and more than capable of effectively moving between cover and surrounding Bond when the trope hits the fan. They’re exceedingly accurate but also prone to suicidal charges, making them easy enough to take down provided cover is used responsibly. Corpses also mysteriously vanish into thin air, making it easier to silently pick off enemy patrols from the shadows without anyone stumbling over the body of their fallen comrade.
A rechargeable health bar makes successful infiltration a relative walk in the park, but the frenetic anguish of yesteryear can be relived through the Classic Difficulty option that sees Bond living from health pack to health pack. Level design is ultimately linear but it varies in complexity. More objectives are added in higher difficulty modes and at new areas on the level, offering an element of replayability.
Disappointingly, it seems the franchise’s iconic gadgetry has been consolidated into the one-size-does-all smartphone 007 carries, should he be required to snap a few shots for intelligence purposes or hack a Wi-Fi access point to get around a locked door. A flashing icon on the right of the HUD means it’s time to get out the phone and scour the area for blueprints or a terminal that can be hacked, which sometimes requires a bit of searching. There’s some attempt to cater to the subtle approaches of spydom, but on the whole it’s nothing revolutionary.
Accessed through the main menu, MI6 Ops mode offers a little more variety and consists of a series of customizable challenges. Split into Elimination, Defence and Stealth categories, further missions are unlocked as others are completed. Creeping around a building site silently taking out goons against the clock is particularly fun, other times Bond will have to hold off waves of spawning enemies as he complete a secondary objective. The faster it’s done, the better the score. There are 40 of these challenges to beat but aside from new levels and the competitive leader boards, the MI6 feature lacks further depth.
Visually 007: Reloaded is a bit of a let-down, despite been given a modern high definition flourish, character and weapon models are adequate but come up short of being impressive. The game itself flows smoothly but is not immune to occasional wall glitches. That said, whether Bond is scaling frozen mountain passes or traipsing his way through a nightclub in Barcelona, the environments all look good and go some way to providing for an immersive experience as he chases his targets around the globe.
But it would all be for nothing if not for the multiplayer aspect. It’s sound homage to the original with the hallmarks of a modern shooter. In addition to split-screen gameplay, players can also go toe to toe online with up to 16 other players. 14 classic icons including Auric Goldfinger, Jaws and OddJob are back, along with a ranking system that rewards time spent killing friends with a series of unlockable guns and special abilities for that extra edge.
There are also a few different game modes to keep the competitive action fresh, as well as returning favourites such as Golden Gun and You Only Live Twice. In Escalation new weapons are picked up after each kill, while Bomb Defuse sees players trying to defuse the other team’s explosive charges as they seek to plant their own. Matches can also be heavily customised to players’ specifications from time limits to headshot damage or “Singularity” mode where players explode if they come into contact with each other.
While it’s by no means perfect, Bond fans and nostalgic gamers alike will be drawn in by this modern recreation of a competitive classic. The story campaign and MI6 Ops mode are entertaining enough but multiplayer is really where Reloaded shines. It may not be as revolutionary as its predecessor but with customisation and new game modes there’s enough variety amidst hectic gameplay to keep players shaken, if not a little stirred.
Though it is an unlikely contender against heavyweight contemporaries such as Battlefield and Call of Duty, 007: Reloaded is a sure bet for those looking to recreate the reckless abandon of their formative gaming years.