Review by Vauclair
Natalya: The Escort Mission
GoldenEye 007 was developed by Rare and released exclusively for the N64 in 1997. The game runs on a homebrew 3D engine and is notable for featuring wide open areas where you can actually look in the distance - although enemies only appear once they are reasonably close. It's definitely a far cry from the corridor shooters PC gamers were so accustomed too: gone are the abstract sci-fi bases and maze-like maps in favor of realistic looking environs - not to mention how the mission objectives require the player to perform sabotage and espionage related tasks, offering a level of gameplay depth you'd rarely come across in pure FPSes at the time.
The game was also notable for using a manual aiming system similar to light gun shooters, whereas in games like Doom the weapon would be fixed on the center of the screen and as long as you'd aim in the general direction of the enemy, the game would make sure you'd be hitting your target. To be fair, GoldenEye 007 also features an autoaim function, but it leaves much to be desired and becomes particularly ineffective on higher difficulties. Not to mention how you'd rarely be able to score any headshot with it, so you might as well switch it off.
Unlike Perfect Dark where difficulty is fairly consistent throughout the entire game, GoldenEye 007 starts easy and then it gets... Painful. It's like having a car accident and you start arguing with the other driver: the guy seems reasonable and he even offers to pay for the damage, great! You move closer to shake his hand and he suddenly punches you hard in the teeth. You fall to the ground, while you're spitting blood he goes back to his car, comes back with a baseball bat and starts beating you with it: that's how playing GoldenEye 007 felt to me.
Just like another shooter from 1997 I've played - Chasm: The Rift - I found the core gameplay to be fun and innovative but weird game design choices and obtuse difficulty really bogged down the experience for me. In that obscure Ukrainian game, the main issue were the Gotcha! moments where you'd push a button and enemies would appear around you out of thin air to block your every avenue of escape, in GoldenEye 007 it's the infinitely respawning enemies, the escort missions and the bulletspongy enemies (three headshots to take down a guy who is not wearing a helmet?). I also hated how getting hit will stun lock you for half a second or how your character has to stop and look at his watch in order to access the menu and check your status/inventory/objectives. An in-game menu might sound cool, but it leaves you extremely vulnerable for a few seconds and that's all your enemies need to annihilate your health bar.
Granted, escort missions and respawning enemies are also a thing in Perfect Dark, but they are used with some restraint in that game. There's no restraint here. The level where you have to protect Natalya as she hacks into a computer and enemies start pouring in the room from everywhere really stood out to me because it almost made me feel physically ill. Escort missions are the worst. Finally, I'd mention how the game has a pretty minimalist approach to storytelling and it takes for granted you're already familiar with the movie. It's definitely not as ambitious as Perfect Dark and there's no voice acting to speak of, but it's fine. The music is quite catchy and consists of various takes on the 007 theme.
So yeah, innovative shooting mechanics with body area based damage, good use of a movie license, very impressive graphics for the time. Great achievements partly marred by abusing respawning enemies and frustrating escort missions.
Product Release: GoldenEye 007 (US, 08/25/97)
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