Review by Derek Zoolander
Reviewed: 04/16/01 | Updated: 07/05/01
When Perfect Dark came out in May 2000, everyone thought that the era of Goldeneye as the best N64 first-person shooter had ended. After all, Perfect Dark boasts better graphics, smarter enemies, more multiplayer options (including computer-controlled simulants) and a quest that takes the player from U.S. government agencies to deep-sea craft to unknown planets. Also, being made by the same illustrious company, Rare, Perfect Dark has the distinction of being a sequel of sorts to Goldeneye. So which one is better?
Having played many N64 shooters, including Quake II, Turok 2, Perfect Dark, and of course, Goldeneye, I can say with confidence that Goldeneye is still the best of the N64. It has faced many games that have challenged its FPS supremacy, most noticeably Turok 2, Turok: Rage Wars, and of course, Perfect Dark. Yet, Goldeneye still reigns supreme. Why? Because Goldeneye’s gameplay simply shines above all the rest, including Perfect Dark’s. The great atmosphere and sound, combined with crisp, realistic visuals, give a real sense of being Bond, James Bond. Add in a classy single-player adventure and what’s arguably the best multiplayer for the N64 (and perhaps for any gaming system), plus huge replay value and several difficulty levels, and you get a classic, classic game.
Gameplay makes the difference between a very good game and a classic game, and that’s certainly the case here. Goldeneye’s gameplay is superb – fun, exciting, and tense. You feel like a special agent and the missions, which are a mix between infiltration and covert assault, make you feel like you actually are James Bond. Often this is not the case in Perfect Dark, as killing monsters with a gun that spits 14 bullets/second is nowhere near as fun or realistic as tackling an enemy’s base with only a trusty, silenced PPK.
There are three difficulty levels: Agent, Secret Agent, and 00 Agent. Agent is quite easy and is a good way to familiarize yourself with the control scheme, level layout, and enemies’ tactics. Secret Agent is an extension of Agent, with much the same objectives. The main difference is that your health and ammo is reduced significantly. 00 Agent, the hardest difficulty, is sure to test any gamer’s mettle and offers stronger, smarter enemies and much less health, body armor, and ammunition. So, on Agent mode, you can basically have fun with enemies and bust up the place with your KF7-Soviet (aka AK-47), while by the time you reach 00 you’ll have to utilize all your powers of dodging, leaning ‘round corners, crafty reloading, etc.
The enemies in Goldeneye are quite smart. They sound alarms, roll about, dodge behind objects, evade your fire, and toss grenades. They can also “hear”, meaning that if you whip out Mr. Dostovei during a covert op, you’ll be besieged by a ton of Russians, all wielding handy-dandy- AK’s. On the 00 Agent difficulty level you’ll have very few advantages except for strategic ones: enemies on 00 Agent difficulty can easily take four hits from a standard gun; James Bond can only take eight hits without body armor (don’t count on getting any in the 00 Agent mode). Also, enemies shoot very accurately and have unlimited ammo, while you have very, very limited ammo (10 rounds from each dead soldier – sounds like a lot; it ain’t). Most of the levels revolve around stealth and craftiness – backstabbing, leaning around a corner and shooting, getting that all-important head shot and careful use of the big guns and grenades. You’ll have to think like a secret agent, and not like Duke Nukem, because video cameras and auto-guns abound and are often camouflaged. The slightest slip can set of an alarm and cause a flood of guards.
The objectives are quite logical and not too farfetched (given the fact that you’re infiltrating secret Russian bases and all). There are a variety of them, from “Eliminate Xenia” or “Recover Videotape” to “Protect Hostages” to more gadget-y ones, such as “Defuse Bomb”, “Install Tracker Bug”, “Turn off mainframe computers”, etc. All these objectives have a purpose (a believable purpose; that is, they’re not just excuses to get into trouble) and a pre-mission briefing gives you helpful hints as well as an air of authenticity hard to come by in a FPS. Well done, Rare!
Remember, this game came out Christmas 1997. That was before the Expansion Pak, before smooth-skin technology, before some of you were born (well, not really). Still the graphics are still good and while they wouldn’t be considered brilliant now, even by today’s standards they’re still pretty good. Everything, from the discarded shells of a gun to the semi-opaque muzzle flashes to the realistic enemy animations and deaths, looks very realistic and reeks of effort on Rare’s behalf. All the visuals are crisp and the textures are all nice, from the green of the jungle to the um, different-colored green of the caves to the grayish texture of the Russian compounds.
The levels are extremely well designed with lots of soldiers conveniently placed to test your skill, as well as very good and often-beautiful architecture (the threatening and huge Dam, with snow-capped mountains in the background; the sprawling Runway; the dense, Rainbow 6-esque Jungle, the official-looking Bunker and Facility, the cramped Archives, the desolate expanse of Surface, etc., etc.). Rare has put lots of little things in to enhance the realism and gameplay: swiveling video cameras; classic red-bell alarms; lights which dim when you hit them; blowup-able crates, computers and video-monitors, which display flickering images; nice bullet marks; the list goes on and on. These little things make or break a game, and they certainly help elevate Goldeneye above the posers.
Another good thing is that Goldeneye’s fog-distance is quite far, so you very rarely realize that indeed, there’s fog. Another reason for this is that instead of using boring old fog, the developers have let all the distant details be enveloped in a bluish haze, reminiscent of those old movies. So, while there still is fog (hey, this game was made in ’97, folks!), Rare has made it blend into the whole gameplay experience very well. Because of the fog and the fact that enemies are not over-abundant (there are lots of them, often 30 or 40 in one mission, but they don’t appear all at once) slowdown is rare, despite the sizes of levels like Cradle and Surface. Acclaim has a lot to learn about the art of atmospheric use of fog.
The music score is excellent, ranging from a jingly, jazz-type elevator music (yes, elevator music – Rare does put pride into the little things) to tense, techno variations of the Bond theme to powerful orchestral scores such as the one in Statue. One of my favorite scores is the one from Surface – a slow, melancholy version of the Bond theme in a minor key. This really gives a sense of atmosphere as you trudge across the snowfields of Siberia.
The sound effects are very good. Everything sounds authentic, so when you hear that hissing you’ll know it’s the sound of poison gas escaping. The gunshots sound pretty realistic, and the ricochet sounds, while probably not that realistic, at least sound authentic and do a good job of accenting the fact that you’re toying with death. Other sound effects include the tinkling of grenades and the monotone of autoguns. The effects aren’t groundbreaking, but are pretty good.
Music plays a large part in Goldeneye because of the lack of audio. Unfortunately, the characters “speak” through words which appear on the screen, accompanied by hand gestures. The team probably didn’t have enough memory to fit in much audio, but in any case this aspect prevents Goldeneye from getting a perfect 10 in this category.
The default controls are quite intuitive and the game runs very smoothly. Once you get the hang of the control scheme there won’t be any need to consciously think about what buttons you’re pressing, because the arrangement is pretty logical. B reloads, A changes weapon, and Z fires. The C-up and C-down buttons look down and up, respectively, while the C-left and C-right buttons allow you to strafe (a valuable art). The control stick moves you around, and holding down R while you move the stick around lets you precision aim (but you cannot move while precision-aiming). Pressing a C-button while holding R will let you lean left or right, or crouch/uncrouch. Pretty basic stuff really, as the control scheme isn’t really that complicated. Succeeding at this game revolves not around crafty maneuvers involving several buttons, but around knowing when to reload, knowing what weapon to use, conserving ammo for the right bits, and mastering the arts of leaning, strafing, and run-strafing.
Rare intended the multiplayer only to be a fun diversion, and the inclusion of multiplayer into the non-beta version was a last-minute decision (or so I’ve heard). In any case, the multiplayer shines and is probably the most fun and intense I’ve ever seen in a game.
Up to four players on split screens battle it out in various arenas with various, preset sets of weapons. You can pick between pistols, automatics, power weapons (i.e. Automatic Shotgun, RCP-90, Uzi, etc: all the “best” weapons), rocket launchers, explosives, and more. Each weapon set is quite balanced, with the less powerful scattered all over the arenas while the best weapons and body armor are located in a few select spots. If you’re going to get good at multiplayer, you have to memorize all the arenas, especially the spawning spots of the best weapons.
The arenas are well designed, with nice appropriate textures and pretty good architecture (ramps, walkways, secret passages and cubby-holes for the dirty players, sniping spots, etc.) All the levels look and feel good, whether it be the open air of the temple, the winding passages and the many secrets of the appropriately-named complex, or the dark gloom of the caves and caverns. Rare gives a nice sense of atmosphere and so you might be focusing on the scenery as well as your opponents (unfortunately this often results in fatal consequences). Even in multiplayer you can still shoot out lights, explode boxes and crates (you can use this to your advantage in the cramped archives), break windows, and more. Let’s not forget the fun of hiding in toilet stalls to surprise opponents in Facility…
With this blend of balanced weapons/body armor and nice, appealing, strategic, and fun arenas, you can play for hours on end. Goldeneye has many multiplayer modes including capture the flag, You Only Live Twice (everyone only gets two lives; last one standing wins), License to Kill (One-shot kills; experienced players will have a ball with this one, especially the pistol-lovers), and the standard deathmatch (the person with the highest tally of Kills – Times Killed wins). So, whether you’re having a fun match with four players in the stack, or having a highly intense game with one other player, License to Kill, pistols only, you’ll have lots and lots of fun.
Obviously the multiplayer adds to this game’s Replayability, but Goldeneye’s one-player missions are enough to satisfy even the best of gamers for at least a month or two or twelve. The three difficulty levels offer a logical progress through the complexities of the mission, with more and more objectives being offered as you move up through the difficulty levels; also, you’ll find yourself having more and more fun as you get massively outnumbered and outweaponed. Once you’ve beaten the game in 00 Agent, an admirable accomplishment in itself, you can get to work on the cheats. You earn most of these by completing missions in very fast times. Some of them are relatively easy, but some will test your speed-strafing, aiming, and strategy to the max (picture running through a level in just one or two minutes with some twenty enemies behind you, while locating some stupid doctor and talking to him. Then, picture doing this in 00 Agent.)
Most gamers will have a ball with these very fun and challenging goals, but some pathetic and wimpy gamers will give up after they’re stuck on a mission or cheat. Don’t. Just because you’ve completed Agent mode doesn’t mean you’ve completed the game; Secret and 00 Agent modes offer much more fun and challenge than Agent.
The plot is somewhat convoluted, but not quite as much as Perfect Dark’s. Goldeneye has roughly the same plot as the movie, which I’m sure you’ve all seen, so I won’t bother going over it much. Suffice to say that those dastardly Russians (why is it always the Russians!?) have been working on a satellite named Goldeneye, which produces large amounts of electromagnetic energy and can ruin all electronic devices within a large radius. Or something like that. Anyway, MI6 sniffs wind of this plot and sends good ‘ol Mr. Bond to investigate, taking him deep into the heart of the plan and into the facilities and complexes of the Goldeneye project. On the way, Bond has a run-in with a certain old friend of his…
The objectives and mission briefings give you a good idea of what you’re to accomplish in a mission, so don’t worry if you haven’t seen the movie. It all works out quite well and the ending mission, although brief, is pretty good and has Bond chasing after that old friend of his. The ending is rather pants, though. I won’t spoil it, but rest assured: you won’t see any groundbreaking cinematics.
The box art and manual are pretty good, considering the quality of most video-game manuals. The in-game presentation is nice, with the classic Bond opening scene (James Bond walking, turning, shooting) and then a nice “cast list” as the various characters strike poses on the screen. The four game files available are presented in nice manila-folder format, as are the mission briefings, so that does add a little creativity and authenticity to the game.
I give this game my highest recommendation. It’s as good as games get, and considering the fact that the cart is selling for peanuts nowadays, I highly recommend you take a look at it. It’s fun and realistic, and the three difficulty levels allow the worst and the best gamers alike to have fun in the game. The graphics and audio are quite good and crisp, with little slowdown. The multiplayer is probably the most fun you’ll ever have with on N64 (although Perfect Dark and Smash Bros. fans may have something to say about that) and the game is very fun whether testing your skills in a mission, playing multiplayer, going for cheats, or just exploring the surroundings. This game isn’t perfect. It’s classic.
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