Classic game with a couple of flaws
Release Date: August 25th, 1997
Developer: Rare, Ltd.
Publisher: Nintendo of America, Inc.
Nostalgia is a bit of a double-edged sword. I’ve often gone back to play games I remember playing when I was younger and enjoying. Several times, my experience now differs greatly from what I remember. It happened when I replayed Sonic Adventure for a previous Retro Review, and it happened again with GoldenEye 007 on the Nintendo 64.
Unlike Sonic Adventure, however, GoldenEye 007 is not an unmitigated tire fire now. It’s still a very fun game today. It’s even more fun when friends get together and engage in some old-school fragging. But a couple of issues mar the experience, one of which is almost unforgivable.
The game that eventually became GoldenEye 007 started out as a 2D platformer for the Super NES. When the Nintendo 64 was unveiled, Rare decided to scrap the original idea and went with a 3D FPS. Even then, only the single-player missions were planned. The multiplayer modes – the content retro gamers revere the most – were originally not included in the game. It was only added towards the end of development as an afterthought.
Plot-wise, GoldenEye 007 largely focuses on the James Bond movie of the same name, starting on the dam and ending with the climactic fight scene on the antenna. Players guide Bond through twelve levels, each with their own varied mission objectives. They range from planting explosives and hacking computer terminals to rescuing civilians and stealing plans.
Players can also select the difficulty to play in before each level. Agent is the easiest difficulty; Secret Agent is roughly equivalent to Medium difficulty; 00 Agent is the highest difficulty. The difference in difficulties is more pronounced than just “more enemies who do more damage.” Mission parameters can change or have additional steps. There are certain areas that can be avoided at Agent difficulty but must be entered as 00 Agent.
Also, the NPCs themselves behave differently at different levels of difficulty. Some areas will have scientists who throw their hands up immediately. Shooting an innocent scientist at Agent difficulty has no real consequence. On 00 Agent, however, the surviving scientists will whip out guns and spray you with bullets.
As a single-player game, GoldenEye 007 is extremely rewarding. The ability to try conquered levels at a higher difficulty changes the gameplay enough to give more variety and challenges. This is also one of the first to include unlockable cheats. Beating missions at higher difficulties or before a certain time would unlock certain content. Cheats like Infinite Ammo and All Weapons are self-explanatory, but there are a few silly ones like DK Mode. When activated, in-game characters look DK-ish, with huge heads and fur in some cases.
The single-player mode was great, but it’s GoldenEye 007’s multiplayer mode that gamers loved the most back in the day. Up to four players can pick up a controller and shoot friends in the face or other parts of the anatomy. There is a lot of variety here, too. Players can choose from five different modes, four named after 007 movies. The base mode is Normal, which is standard Deathmatch. This can be played with everyone for themselves, or Team scenarios can be used. There are 2v2, 3v1, and 2v1 options.
You Only Live Twice gives all players only two lives. The last one standing wins. The Living Daylights is Flag Tag. One player hunts for a flag and has to pick it up without being killed by the other players. The Man with the Golden Gun is as the name says. Rather than a flag, one player must find the Golden Gun and pick it up before being blown away. The final mode, License to Kill, is Insta-deathmatch. All players die in one hit.
The multiplayer mode also has its own Easter Eggs and unlocks. There are eight in-movie characters in multiplayer that players can choose from. They are Pierce’s Brosnan’s James Bond, Natalya, Alec Trevelyan, Xenia, Gen. Ouromov, Boris, Valentin, and Defense Minister Mishkin. Meeting certain criteria during the single-player game will unlock scads of other characters. Most of them are NPC models from the single-player campaign, like a helicopter pilot or scientist. But four specific characters are from other Bond movies. These are Jaws from Moonraker; Mayday from A View to a Kill; Baron Samedi from Live and Let Die; and Oddjob from Goldfinger.
As much content as the game has, an amazing amount of content was cut out. Among the casualties were player models of previous Bonds. Models for Sean Connery, Roger Moore, and Timothy Dalton were made are would be available in-game. The four save files would also use portraits of the past Bonds. However, Nintendo and Rare didn’t have the license to use those Bonds, so they were scrapped. Other cut content included a motorcycle riding level and some changed weapons.
The graphics and sound were absolutely incredible for the time. But it’s the game’s visuals where the game sputters today. GoldenEye 007 has the same issue endemic to all 3D games in the fifth generation: coarse polygons with muddy textures. While very unattractive by today’s standards, they were state-of-the-art for consoles in the late 90s. The game also suffers from the “fog” effect many console games had back then. Because of limitations in processing power, some developers would employ a fog technique to reduce draw distance or hide rampant pop-in. This wasn’t unique to the N64. Silent Hill on the PlayStation had copious amounts of fog. The developers used it to their advantage, though, as Silent Hill’s fog enhanced the game’s creepiness.
On GoldenEye 007, though, it wasn’t a terrible thing. Yea, maybe St. Petersburg is a foggy place in the winter. But zooming in with the sniper rifle is clear even at long distance, so it doesn’t hurt gameplay.
Is it fair to ding the game for it being a product of its time? Not really. That’s the way graphics were. Besides, the game is plenty fun regardless of the visual fidelity. But the biggest knock against this game today, while also a product of its time, is harder to excuse: the controls.
One of the more divisive features of the Nintendo 64 was its controller. The odd, three-pronged input device raised eyebrows back in the day. In addition to its odd design and weird-ish button layout, the controller had one really great thing: the analog controller. That thumbstick, combined with the Z trigger under it, was actually pretty useful at the time. The controller’s layout worked with GoldenEye 007 at the time. It feels unwieldy now. The game gives you eight different button layouts but doesn’t allow much customization. Looking around is relegated to either the d-pad or the yellow C-buttons. The scheme I was most comfortable with had either shoulder button aim and used the d-pad for looking. Thankfully, aiming allowed players to move the reticle to hit off-center enemies.
The controls were the most frustrating aspect of the game for me when playing on the N64. I got used to it for the most part after a while, but I still found myself lapsing into more modern mechanics. Eventually, I reverted to trying to fire with the R button, which would aim. I also lamented the lack of a second thumbstick a few times. There is a control layout that allows movement with two sticks, but it requires two controllers. That makes the game pretty unwieldy.
It doesn’t seem fair that I’m knocking the game for something beyond its capability. Again, that’s how games were back then. Dual-stick controls weren’t possible until the PlayStation’s Dual Shock controller. Even then, it wasn’t until Alien Resurrection that the twin-stick layout existed in an FPS. Still, it’s those controls that may sap the fun out of the game for those who never played it originally. I feel the same way whenever punish myself by playing Raiders of the Lost Ark or Star Raiders on the Atari 2600. The controls kill the experience.
(Emulation note: On the PC, the Project64 emulator allows using the twin sticks on the PS3/PS4 and Xbox 360/Xbox One controllers. I tried it out for “research” purposes and found that I can map the left thumbstick to the C-buttons or d-pad. The improvement was instant.)
Does it still hold up? For the most part, yes. The blocky graphics might grate at some folks, and the control scheme hurts. But past that is an incredibly fun game. My original playthrough for this article was frustrating for me, and I almost wanted to eviscerate this game in this review. A second playthrough, however, settled me down. Once I accepted the controls as they were, I was enjoying. The controls may be shit, but the gameplay is awesome.
I imagine that anyone who still owns an N64 has GoldenEye 64 in his or her collection. If not, the game is not difficult to find. A quick search on eBay and CraigsList netted about three dozen listings for the game. For those who don’t have the original hardware, there are other avenues. Nintendo re-imagined the game for the Wii. That version subs in Daniel Craig for Pierce Brosnan and includes more modern features like iron sights and melee attacks. They also added QTEs, which are the bane of my existence. A DS version of the re-imagining exists as well. For those who prefer to play the original game but in HD, the PlayStation Store and Xbox Live Arcade have 1080p ports. All the home console versions use more modern twin stick controls. For PC gamers, check out GoldenEye: Source. It’s a modern take on only the multiplayer portion of the game. As the name implies, it uses Valve’s Source engine to render the levels. It also has online play, which is a godsend on PC.
Playing any of the home console re-imaginings or remakes of GoldenEye 007 would be superior to the original simply because of the controls. As much as I enjoyed playing the game on the N64 both back in 1999 and today, I have to admit that the controls made me quite salty. Still, the N64 version is a classic. My nostalgia for the game still remains, unlike Sonic Adventure, which infuriated me. Swap out the original cartridge with the PS3 or Xbox 360 versions, and the game is just about perfect to me.
Good: Great variety in gameplay and content; tons of unlockable content; excellent soundtrack; awesome local multiplayer
Bad: Horrible controls; 90s-era console 3D graphics
Final score: 7/10