Review by Crestfallen Dreamer
Reviewed: 09/09/09 | Updated: 09/09/10
Reflections of a GoldenEye
"GoldenEye is dead."
For some years now I have heard variations of those words uttered by those who feel this game, GoldenEye 007, is so antiquated that it no longer deserves praise, nor holds relevance. Those actual words were written in a review for the newest James Bond game, Quantum of Solace, in the horrible Official Xbox Magazine that I had the regret of reading. Lo and behold, the reviewer in that Halo worshipping mag didn't find the newest game all that fun, and yet the game considered the best bearing the moniker of 007 is considered dead. Okay....
These matter-of-fact insults often degenerate into accusations of blind "nostalgia" and those wonderful "rose tinted glasses" everyone seems to be wearing in describing how one could still hold onto a shred of adoration for this First Person Shooter of yesteryear (because, of course, there is no such thing as enjoying classics in gaming). Well, as someone who was not into wearing pajamas with padded feet when this game came out, as one whose first First Person Shooter was not this game, and as one who still holds this game in high regard and still plays it, I can say that remembering my first time will always bring about fond memories for me, but engaging in a most recent act will bring about realization of how great it really is. And while it may not make your toes curl, GoldenEye 007 is still a classic worth experiencing today.
Released in the late August of 1997, GoldenEye 007 was an incredible feat to arrive on a home console. It was released during what I consider to be the "golden age" of First Person Shooters (starting with Doom and ending with Halo and think about all the FPSs released on PC and consoles during that time before you think me crazy). GoldenEye 007 still stands as a product of that time a time when developers of FPSs tried to not cannibalize themselves and fall into a complete malaise of creativity. Much like the golden age of film, I feel that time is long behind us. Oh, I am well aware of the "Doom/Quake clones" of the era of which this game is from, and just as there were bad films even within the golden age of film, the better films stood out and are considered classics. And that's why we were given one such classic, in a FPS, in GoldenEye 007.
It was not a Doom/Quake clone, nor even copied the style of the two previous FPSs on the Nintendo 64, Doom 64 and Turok (three if you count switching views to first person in Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire), when released. It was something quite else. When previews of the game were first shown, I read speculation of an on-rails shooter, much like Virtua Cop, peaking the interest of game writers. What was it going to be? I don't think anyone knew we would get an instant classic.
"It was the first First Person Shooter that showed it could be done and done right on a home gaming system and not solely for PC," many have interchangeably stated. And that is true: because of this game we have the gluttony of FPSs to now select from. While there were some FPSs that came before on consoles that tried to get it right, this was the first one that got it in both single player and multiplayer. It truly was a phenomenon that many gamers were enveloped in for the rest of the year and after. I'm sure you've heard of the endless tales of sleepovers and dorm rooms fixed with GoldenEye sessions? The only people who seemingly did not really care about this game were, as usual, those of a pretentious mind in the PC community: the elitists who shrugged if off as "so what?" So what? Oh, so much.
GoldenEye 007's template was one of well thought out design and mechanics that were about as close as you could come to perfection. How many first time gaming tries can show to have anywhere near the level of forethought and polish of this game? From the level design to the design in general, everything was greatly thought out and brought forth in a game that truly belongs up there with the greatest of all time.
The developers at Nintendo's Rare decided to follow the film of the same name to great respect. Goldeneye 007 follows the James Bond film released almost two years before this game's release (read that devs? TWO YEARS!). Pierce Brosnan filled the role at that time, and most of the likenesses of the cast are also in the game's portrayal of James Bond, Natalya Simonovavich (um...sp?), Defence Minister Mishkin, General Ourumov, Boris Greshenko, Valentin Zukovsky, Xenia Onatopp, and main villain, Janus.
The great thing about this adaptation is that Rare was not so point-by-point. The game adds to the more important areas in the film other areas that were not and expands on the overall areas already there. I actually played the game before I saw the film, and when I did see the film, early afterwards of completing the game, I was pleasantly surprised in recognizing elements from the game in the movie (I know it should have been the other way around, but I was in a James Bond hiatus for seven years before this game made me a fan of the series again).
From the Dam to the Cradle, the game sets you off to experience the wonderful film's retelling in 18 levels, in video game form, and it's an excellent run for the most part. The game lacks a flashy retelling though, as it's devoid of voice overs and cutscenes in between levels with pages of dossiers from M, Q, and Moneypenny telling you what's going on. The level themselves and the written story are what get you through. These levels are mostly done well for such a task and done to a great design and length and because so, are inviting to replay. If I could find any qualms here it would be with a slow start and a couple of bland levels.
I found the game falters a bit toward the beginning then picks up gradually leading to a great end. A feeling in the opposite of what I felt when playing GoldenEye 007's spiritual successor: the equally classic Perfect Dark. The first level, Dam, is actually a very straight forward level that really is quite passable in emulating Bond's infiltration of a Soviet base at the beginning of the film. It adds more enemies and areas and is longer, though. However the second level, Facility, is excellent and truly starts to show the engrossing corridor crawler that is to come, with again more enemies and areas than in the film. The third level, Runway, is way too short and not nearly as exciting as the scene in the film featuring the escape sequence, but at least you can ride a tank, but no motorcycle as in the film. Two more passable levels later in the game include Streets, which tries to emulate the excellent tank chase in the film to a rather pedestrian result, and Depot which is in a level consisting of traveling through warehouses that was not in the film and is just not really that captivating.
The level quality, though, remains at a constant high for most of the game. Some might argue that the reusing of the levels "Surface" and "Bunker" twice was cheap, but if you play them, and while they do use mostly the same layout, they do have differing qualities. For instance, the first Bunker level is "half built" while the second time through it reveals a more complete level. And while the first time through the level Surface reveals a standard kind of snow level, the second Surface level takes place during a snowstorm beneath a red sky. Capping off the GoldenEye levels, Rare decided to add two great bonus levels hearkening back to Bond's previous missions in dealing with the aftermath of Hugo Drax, Francisco Scaramanga, and Baron Samedi (and also featuring weapons familiar to two of them).
Within these levels also comes to light some exquisite features. The music that Graeme Norgate and Grant Kirkhope composed is the best Bond music ever heard in a game and is inseparable from the levels the tracks play in. The remixes add to some of the sounds found in the film, and create not only a memorable Bond soundtrack, but one of the best soundtracks found on the Nintendo 64 and in games in general. The music fits the levels wonderfully in presenting the overall theme of them. From the slow sounding theme of the level Facility to the fast beat of escaping capture in the Archives, to even the fast piano infused Cradle theme and powerful Latin tinged music of the bonus Aztec level, the music fits perfectly and every track is memorable with only one level having the same sounding ambiance that shares its name in place of music: Jungle. Another example of a game with reason for its soundtrack to be released and praised alongside it if there ever was.
Another great form of audio comes in the weaponry. The weapons you have at your disposal to accomplish the blood letting, or ketchup wearing (you've seen it, or will when you play), are a great use, especially when wielding doubles. From around 19 different weapons (I tried not to count variations), thrown, automatic, pistol, heavy and explosive weapons are yours for destruction. You can even use Bond's wristwatch for some gadget letting with laser fire. Ranging from the standard to the fantastic the weapons are unique in sound and presentation. The memorable ones are the RC-P90 with an 80 bullet discharge, remote/sticky/proximity mines that can engulf in explosions whatever you surround with them, the Golden Gun that kills/destroys anything in one shot (that's all it has at a given time), and the Moonraker lasers that are as cool to hear fire as they are to use. My favorite weapon in the game is so because of sound and fire as well: the KLOBB. Yep, I said the KLOBB. Go ahead and smirk those of you who know the weapon and remember the joke about how it takes enemy life in lead poisoning rather than in number of bullets impacted. Yeah, well, I love the high powered pellet gun, and the visceral sound it makes and the longer it takes to down or destroy is simply more time for me to enjoy as much.
Body Hit Detection made the use of the guns in the game really stand out. Having pin point accuracy and using it on the living enemies ranging from disgusting Soviets to storyline henchmen is pure delight, and also allows enemies to stop shooting and give you some reprieve in a firefight. Head shots can equal instant death (or an off hat if you're off), as does shooting a grenade they might pop out. By shooting a body part the enemies will react to it, sometimes humorously, as with a shot to the sack or ass, and usually end in a great final death throw animation no spotty ragdoll here.
I found the indoor levels, the "corridor crawler" ones, were the best in featuring the close proximity of these firefights and were generally better designed than those that took place outdoors (the exception being the final level: Cradle.) The level I believe to be the best in the game also happens to be one of my favorite levels of all time and is an example of exemplary design. In the level entitled Control, you have just gone through a part of jungle in the previous level and are now at the doorway to the enemy organization Janus' headquarters. You start out at a cave-like entrance, make your way through some connecting tunnel-like areas, then have to travel into the large room housing a large viewscreen with computer monitors all while dispatching enemies. I know I didn't do a good job there and it sounds a bit bland, but much like the Bond films, the devil is in the details. Working your way into "the lion's den" from a environmental area to one featuring technology was just so much fun, especially with some tasks at hand.
The Objectives given play a great role in all of the levels and while they may spoil some moments to come (a minor qualm and one I also have with Perfect Dark), they are involving to the overall fun. As Bond, you'll be asked to retrieve, protect, and destroy in many different ways. From protecting and rescuing hostages, and Natalya, to escaping capture, and collecting reconnaissance and secret dossiers the game feels very "espionage" throughout. What I also like is that the game is not archaic in design: if you fail an objective, you can still play out a level to completion. It won't count, but you can scope out the level to get its layout and start over to finish it legitimately, or just have fun doing whatever you want within it with not having to worry about being booted out because you failed one objective.
What's also great is that depending on the difficulty chosen to go through the level, in Agent, Secret Agent, and 00 Agent, the objectives differ mixing up your way through them. The difficulty is noteworthy as being hard but fair. The enemies aren't the smartest with their canned moves and careless grenade throwing, although they do try for alarms and having to take them down in the hardest difficulty can provide challenge. They can take your health from you in moments with precision hits, but so can you. You can collect body armor, to help out, but best of all the enemies take few hits on the highest difficulty as they do on the lowest. There is a caveat with some enemies, however, in what is presented in boss battles.
Two of three given GoldenEye story "boss battles" simply require you keep tiredly pumping whatever weapon's ammo you are using into the main villains to finish them off and do not follow the film's ending for them entirely (there is another boss battle with an old villain in an extra mission and you must do the same for him). What's neat about one of them though, is that you don't need to do that for him. I will spoil the confrontation with General Ourumov to explain. You see, unlike with Onatopp and Janus the confrontation with Ourumov is what I could call more of an encounter than a boss battle and its one one that I would like to see repeated more often. As you make your way to the end of the Train level, you witness Ourumov holding Natalya hostage while Janus and Onatopp are standing behind him. You quickly have to gun him down to rescue Natalya, and you can even hit Janus and Onatopp. Now the reason I like this is that it's not a contrived boss battle, but instead a tense encounter. Eliminating one of the main villains in the game, not with countless shooting, nor having it happen within a cutscene, is very satisfying and rewarding. I really would like to see more of this type of encounter in lieu of a health bar popping up and mindless shooting, or quick time events. Imagine, for example, if this type of encounter was in, say, Perfect Dark. Instead of Cassandra DeVries meeting her contrived fate, we could have taken control of it in a tense moment in her office or in another scene where a few simple rounds of ammo could have eliminated a mere human being and not another video game villain. Or how about gunning down Trent Easton when next to the President? A small encounter sometimes, I find, would be better for some antagonists as it is in other forms of entertainment. (Recall the final "showdowns" with Tom Hanks and Paul Newman in Road to Perdition and between Keifer Sutherland and Dennis Hopper in season one of 24 for what I'm sometimes asking for).
Ah, but the elimination I must say I relished most was with the minor villain, "Mr. Invincible" himself, Boris Greshenko, which I will also spoil. While you can gun him down in the game, it usually ends the mission in failure, but the time it counts is in the final meeting with him in the Control level. In a minor scene, he threatens, but fumbles, and then runs away and escapes (unlike the film). If you gun him down while the little scene with him plays out, you will fail the Control mission as for some reason Natalya will see what you have done and find it offensive. However, if you meet up with Natalya first and get her to where she needs to go and then go back to Boris and gun him down, he dies, and it counts, and it's another rewarding non firefight elimination of a story character just like Ouromov.
Aside from unconventional encounters, the gameplay can take that turn in the way various Cheats that can be unlocked in the three difficulty choices. If you complete 00 Agent mode, an enemy editor is unlocked allowing for the tweaking of their health, damage to you, accuracy and reaction time toward you. By completing certain levels in a "target time" you can have access to the cheat menu housing the rewards of your effort. Attaining some of these can be a real challenge: hard, but not impossible (even when a certain character you have to meet for completion of one level can end up being in three different places). The cheats range to the always required All Guns/Infinite Ammo/Invincibility, to fun ones like a Paintball Mode which freckles whatever you shoot with multicolored splats in place of bullet holes, a DK Mode that has characters look as they were came from the Donkey Kong Country games, Tiny Bond which has bond at the feet of his enemies, and Invisible Bond that does just that. I will admit with being disappointed in some of the cheats unlocked, as they give you weapons you will already get in the "all weapons" cheat, but the ones of use and fun really, really add to the replay of the game and is one of the reasons I still play.
On the humorous side of cheats, aside from those that already are, you can, technically, eliminate all of the villains in the game without firefights, bringing about another small feature I love about the game. Whether intentional or not, if you have a powerful weapon equipped, such as the Golden Gun, via cheat, you can kill main story villains throughout the game when your not supposed to. Ourumov I killed twice before the train encounter, and I killed Janus a bunch of times and he still showed up at the end. Sadly, Perfect Dark mostly eliminated this with the inclusion of shields or quickly giving a mission failure if any of its villains were harmed within the game (although Trent can be taken out, but only once, and Cassandra can be taken out by your hands, but you have to rush to do it). Using the combination of cheats available can definitely lead to a lot of unscripted moments, such as also spying on enemies and see what they do when alone.
Having the All Weapons/Infinite Ammo cheats on is by far my favorite way through the game, especially with two bonus weapons Rare threw in that are a blast and shock to use. Much like how the NewGame+ feature needs to be in every Role Playing Game, these cheats need to be in every FPS. How cool is it to take a weapon from later in the game into earlier parts and not have to worry about ammo? Especially if the weapons are of a kick-ass variety? Not only that, but I love the option of turning off auto aim, crosshairs, and ammo count leaving only the weapon of choice in hand on screen.
All the weapons presented do give the impression of an action game, a criticism that I've heard more than once. Some have called this the most "un-Bond" game because of most of the action. However, I would argue: look at the film it's based on. How many stealth elements were there in the film? Yes, the devs could have imagined such a scenario, but I feel, in the feel of Bond, that the devs still did a great job at emulating the film. The game does have some espionage moments, as I said, and stealth does come in the form of the silenced weapons which when used do not call attention the way regular ones do. True, they aren't in every level, but you do have your fists to chop away at enemies if you feel the need for absolute stealth. The Bond feel is actually part of why I keep coming back, as most every Bond game I played after this game felt rather off.
Another criticism leveled at the game is one I actually agree with, but to a lesser frothing: its appearance. This is one of the main problems that slant the argument to "antique." For those who declare that this game, NOW, looks too outdated to be fun: congratulations on finally getting your peepers checked, because this is the way it looked in 1997. The game has its fair share of problems, suffering from what many titles did on the Nintendo 64 and even on the PlayStation, as evident in the game I remember purchasing a day before this one: Final Fantasy VII.
You see, all characters can be horribly polygonal, having geometric hands and heads leading to pointy characters. One enemy bald character looks particularly freakish with his head extending in many directions (all of the enemies in the game feature the heads of the developers imposed on the bodies, and I mean no disrespect to this particular individual, but here, he was N64'd). There is some forethought that can alleviate this a bit though: you can choose widescreen presentation in 16:9 for a more slender and sleek look.
Aside from characters looking like the spawn of incestuous couplings, the game has bland textures and what I call "wallpapering" which was in many games I also played on the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation, and even beyond. I don't know the official name for it, but the wallpapering occurs when something in 3-D is taken and plastered on something 2-D. Trees are a great example, as instead of looking like, well, trees with extending branches, they are instead plastered flat on a surface, here used as borders for some levels.
And finally to the criticism of control. Yes, there is no true FPS dual stick set up as nowadays, but you can still manage by using two Nintendo 64 controllers if you want. I tend to prefer the Bond girl named layout of "Kissy," as it allows the stick and C-buttons to feel like a modern console FPS layout (with the C-buttons in place of that second stick, naturally).
The game can be unpleasant to look at and a bit in getting used to in control, but it does have a reasonable frame-rate and control layouts are adaptable. This was the time in which it was made and unfortunate for those enticed by graphics and duals sticks, this is what you have to work with on the N64 today. I'll gladly manage, considering everything else is so marvelous, and that's with yet talking about the second part of the game: the multiplayer.
The multiplayer has been called well balanced and fun, and I definitely agree. The added feature to the single player game is a great addition to the game itself. From set up screen you choose number of players and your other options: Scenario, Level, Game length, Weapons, Characters, Health, Control Style, and Aim. You can toggle whether you want sight on and auto aim as in the single player, and there is also a cheat to disallow radar if you want. This rather small selection by today's standards may not seem all that much, but again the devil is in the details: you can have a one to four player standard deathmatch, or a few other types with a one hit kill match or race for the Golden Gun, in 11 levels, and in using 33 official skins (including some old Bond villains) without the absolutely stupid "no good guys vs good guys" ridiculousness that has plagued followup Bond games. If there is one thing of regret, it's that you cannot individually select weapons but instead their types: automatics, pistols, lasers etc. Still it's great fun to just kick back and enjoy a good deathmatch with Bond characters. (I mean, who doesn't like running around the Bunker yelling: "NATALYA SIMONONOVICH!"? Oh, that's right...my friends.)
So, with all the features the game does have, all these elements, GoldenEye 007 is one of the best gaming investments ever had. While some may prefer this game to Perfect Dark, which I completely understand and cannot argue against as they are both favorites of mine (when I hear someone mention Skedar, I know), I find Perfect Dark to be the better game, as it added to GoldenEye's features and the two games truly show the perfect evolution of what an incredible game and its followup should be in terms of gameplay and features. The elements found within both games, sadly, have become encased, much like in time capsules, in the games that let them shine best. While FPS today are not all bad, I tend to find myself looking for the truly unique than those that wish to copy the formula of the most popular FPS of now a search that's not as easy as time goes by.
Still, I long for the day when this type of game will shine once more its gameplay, features and choices in one unique package. I do think that day is far away, or realistically, perhaps even gone for good, as not even members of the development team that created this game and Perfect Dark seem to remember what made both games so great. The TimeSplitters, Haze, and Perfect Dark Zero? I'll give to TimeSplitters being a great series with great nods to GoldenEye 007 and Perfect Dark, but equal to them they are not. And with many gamers nowadays considering an achievement along with number or a trophy given for finishing a required task as being an "unlockable" or equal to one (just check the codes sections for recent games on this site. really, guys?), with them relishing and justifying weapon rationing for every single friggin' FPS and not realizing how limiting it is (how about a system that lets you keep what you want and toss what you don't?), with them demanding features for only online multiplayer, and with some willing to pay for bonus items, "cheats," or stuff that should already be in a game and already on the disc, they join the developers in making it even more unlikely for the great things remembered to return. I always thought I would see progression from one game to the next. What the hell happened?
Please don't mistake my displeasure with the current state of things with wanting every FPS to play like GoldenEye 007 or Perfect Dark, as that would be as it is now with Halo clones. However, why can't there be FPSs and games such as these? Why is there not room in the sea of FPSs for more GoldenEye 007/Perfect Dark types? Imagine a game with the visual marvel, sounds, and online connections of today mixed with what GoldenEye 007/Perfect Dark offer. Crappy game right out of the box, right?
I don't wear those rose tinted specs, and I still see a damn fine, well built game that is still playable in GoldenEye 007. I wonder what some would see if I asked them to remove their Spartan helmet. Nostalgia is why I still play? I still play! If there is any, it's for the features and gameplay that aren't around today that make this type of game and FPS so lasting, and so much fun. And come to think of it, you know, I will tolerate the attempted slam of "antique" when speaking of a game such as this in the realization that the farther we move in time away from it, the more precious it becomes.
There may be other games with "GoldenEye" in the title, and there may be games to come that also have it in theirs, but no matter the challengers to the throne, this game will always be king. In order to compete with a game such as this, not only would the entirety of this game have to be matched, but surpassed as well and that also means matching and surpassing Perfect Dark. While there are gamers who think that has already happened with current FPS fare, I would argue they are the ones living on nostalgia if they think that. They are the ones selectively remembering what they think the games had that made them fun for "their time," while myself and others are still playing the games for what they have that make them fun for all time.
This game has been on my playlist since early September of 1997 and always will be. Perhaps I don't come back to it as often as Perfect Dark, but I gladly know I can always come back to it when I do long for those things equally found in that FPS, but with less Sci-Fi alien story and more of a James Bond feel. If for whatever reason GoldenEye 007 was not on your playlist, put it on.
And with that, I will gladly say to all detractors, to all those who dismiss this game's name and legacy:
"Long live GoldenEye."
Product Release: GoldenEye 007 (US, 08/25/97)
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