Review by BigCj34
One of the most important FPS games on console, but age does not work in Bond's favour here.
Until the releases of GoldenEye 007 and Turok: Dinosaur Hunter on the Nintendo 64, the best first-person shooter games that consoles could hope for was a decent port of iD Software’s Doom. Most FPS’s of its era were labelled as Doom clones and rarely strayed from the aging 1993 formula, with sprite based enemies and aiming restricted to a horizontal axis. iD Software superseded their creation with Quake in 1996, bringing fully polygonal maps and monsters and online play to home computers. However, a studio from the English midlands village of Twycross, Rare, sought to demonstrate that a full-3D FPS was not just for high-end PC owners. Armed with the license for the 1995 James Bond film, GoldenEye piloted rudimentary tactical stealth elements over mindless blasting, and although the N64 did not support online play, Rare implemented the genres first split-screen multiplayer experience on a console.
GoldenEye was originally intended to be a fixed rail light-gun shooter like Sega’s Virtua Cop, but later became an FPS in the development stage. Where Doom’s Martian base was designed to accommodate the limitations of the game’s engine, GoldenEye diverse environments are modelled on realistic locations from the film; largely unprecedented in the genre. MI6 agent Bond must battle through Russian dams, the streets of Saint Petersburg, Siberian plateaus and the Cuban jungle to defeat his former MI6 ally Alec Trevelyan. When captured upon investigating a missile base, the 00 agent eventually meets the betrayed Russian programmer Natalya Simenova in the cells and together plot to take down Trevelyan. Formerly known as 006 and of Cossack descent, he is plotting to inflict severe damage on Britain to avenge for alleged British betrayal of the Cossacks following the Second World War.
The FPS genre rarely strayed from getting to the finish and collecting coloured key cards to unlock the next passage, but GoldenEye jettisoned maze navigation with a more sophisticated mission type structure. There are eighteen story missions, with each one assigning tasks that must be completed before exiting the level. There are three difficulty levels, with the harder ones require more objectives to be completed as well as tougher enemies. The objectives are somewhat trivial, such as retrieving an item, liaising another character, minimising scientist casualties or hacking / destroying a computer, though doing so against an onslaught of enemies is slightly trickier. Completing missions also unlocks bonus single-player and extra multiplayer maps, as well as more characters for the multiplayer mode (including Oddjob, controversial due to the unfair advantage poised from his small stature).
The missions come in small chunks but the game is not easy, though sometimes for the wrong reasons. As a 00 agent Bond only comes equipped with a pistol and sometimes a device equipped to his watch; enemies usually sport at least a semi-automatic weapon but weapons to pick up are scarce. While body armour is occasionally found in levels, health packs are frustratingly non-existent, presumably intended to encourage some use of strategy. The enemy AI is undeniably brainless, thus strategies are limited to not getting caught or setting off security alarms, as soldiers rely on piling into numbers to attack Bond. In certain circumstances, such as an alarm trigger, enemies never-endingly regenerate, making it impossible to know when a section of a level is clear.
Visually there is no shortage of ambition, but the realistic style has not aged well. Few levels are considerably expansive, but the inspiration from the film sets provides enough depth to allow for multiple passages through the level, allowing organically developed environments but not to the detriment of competent level design principles. The character models look awful, being blocky and crudely textured, and the chugging framerate heightens the difficult considerably. Although the Doom and Duke Nukem 3D’s Build engines are technically inferior, their light resource use allowed for multiple enemies on screen which this full polygonal engine cannot on the hardware available. Even though the duties of a 00 agent should be about stealth, neutralising large numbers of enemies on screen is more about spraying bullets and hoping for the best over planned strategy.
By modern standards GoldenEye is flawed but it is still addictive. The cartridge format’s instant loading times, the constant action and the bite-sized levels make mission restarts highly tempting. This remains a fundamentally a competent title, and the numerous control schemes available allow anyone coming from modern FPS control scheme to play. The game that brought FPS multiplayer to the home console remains entertaining, with objective modes such as deathmatch, capture the flag, team play and a golden gun mode where only kills made with the gun contribute to the score, with a mixture of dedicated multiplayer maps and certain mission maps. The multiplayer is not easy on the eyes nowadays, with four players sharing an already low-resolution display, it is a feature that many games sadly now overlook in this era of internet gaming.
Allowing the release of GoldenEye two years after the film’s allowed for one of the most successful film tie-ins in videogame history. This is a convincing Bond experience for its time, and while the cartridge constraints mean no voice-acting, the soundtrack is excellent featuring the 007 theme reprised in various guises. In a similar fashion to the spiritual sequel, Perfect Dark, an enhanced remaster would certainly address the issues raised from GoldenEye’s chugging framerate and blurriness. Sadly, legal complications with the now Microsoft-owned Rare, the James Bond license and Nintendo mean such chances are virtually nil. In its current form though, there is little to be found here that has not been better executed since. GoldenEye is competent enough, but remains more of a curiosity for nostalgia and retro enthusiasts than for its present merits.
Product Release: GoldenEye 007 (EU, 08/25/97)
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