Goldeneye’s reverence and prestige within the gaming industry is up there Mario and Grand Theft Auto. It’s a game that invokes passionate memories of midnight multiplayer sessions, huddled around a television taking out the swine that chose Oddjob. It’s a game that created the blueprint upon which console shooters would come to be judged, breaking free of DOOM and Quake’s stranglehold on first-person shooters and establishing how console shooters should work. It’s insane popularity dwarfed every James Bond game that came out after it while leading many to beg for its HD-release (Something we came oh so close to in 2009). So naturally, it’s only fair to say Goldeneye has aged like also a loaf of bread.
What’s truly amazing about Rare’s Goldeneye though is that it didn’t even come out in the shadow of the movie. Almost two years passed between the release of the blockbuster flick and its tie-in game; almost unthinkable by modern standards. Rare pushed for the game to be a showcase of their engine, the same engine that would go on to power Perfect Dark some years later. It’s a game that didn’t even have a multiplayer component until a last-minute addition. Goldeneye was the perfect storm at the right time, giving the Nintendo 64 some much-needed maturity while establishing Rare as a standout second party developer to Nintendo.
The game follows the movie, by and large, taking some of the key plot points and expanding them into full offerings. The movie’s prologue for example is excellently fleshed out across three levels, all of which invoke a sense of purpose and unique charm. You’ll certainly have no problem telling which part of the movie you’re currently re-enacting. You meet various characters from the flick and have the chance to interact or murder them outright (as long as you’re willing to accept the taste of failure).
Where Goldeneye succeeds is in its execution. The game doesn’t bog itself down with needless complexities, it keeps things simple and relays this simplicity to the gamer. You’re given a stack of objectives to work through, and an exit point to which you escape from. These objectives are mandatory, but they’re not overly complex or hard to work out. On the easiest difficulty you’ll barely be given one or two to work through, but on the 00 Agent skill you’ll find a lot more to do before you can escape the level – and this is where the level design really becomes a huge benefit.
Levels themselves are incredibly detailed for a Nintendo 64 outing, offering multiple layers, yet on the easiest difficulty, this typically involves just getting to the exit. It’s only on the higher difficulties where you’re truly forced to go hunting through these. For the most part, though, levels are fairly linear and designed to get you to the place you need to be with the minimal amount of fuss. A huge variety of levels are on offer, from Soviet missile silos through to the Cuban jungles, all adding to the feeling that you’re playing through the movie. That being said, the worst levels in the game (Severnaya) are where this formula awkwardly fall apart. The game isn’t really designed for large open spaces, and it’s in these moments where things begin to fall apart. Performance dips, enemies spawn awkwardly and really it highlights a number of problems the game has.
Likewise, the gameplay hasn’t exactly held firm over the years. To compensate for the console limitations of a controller, the game offers up an auto-aiming feature. This allows guns to tag to enemies and lets you target them as you unleash your fury. The problem with this is that in huge crowds of enemies, the game will awkwardly only target single enemies – leaving you defenseless. There is a manual option but it’s somewhat clunky and leaves you exceptionally vulnerable to side attacks. You’ll end up running for cover more often than not, trying to survive until the enemies stop coming. And don’t even get me started on the AI behavior, which became infamous for its awfulness in the shape of Natalya – who does everything and everything to get herself killed.
Not that the game’s controls will help you out at all, which going back to play in modern times is akin to riding a unicycle for the first time. The N64 controller was bad back in the day, but it’s certainly not helped by the clunky, tank-like controls that hang over everything in the proceedings. Controlling everything from vehicles to James Bond feels like moving on Lego, and that’s when things get hectic, they get really messy. It’s a problem that the game has and it’s an unfortunate one when considering just how well-loved this title was back in the day.
But all this negativity overshadows the great aspects of the game. The ability to unlock cheats by speed running levels was way ahead of its time, while multiplayer itself is an absolute dream. The huge amount of customization when it comes to rules, weapons and characters assists in making the mode feel full and complete. It’s just a blast to play, even by modern standards and is well worth a revisit all to itself. It’s such a shame that Nintendo and Microsoft have never been able to bring the game to modern consoles.
Not only this, the game itself is still fun. It’s the touches like how everything blows up in spectacular (and damaging) fashion. It’s how all the enemies have real looking faces that look awkward. It’s the way you can dual wield pretty much every weapon and go crazy once you’ve unlocked all the cheats. It’s even the way the game offers up two classic levels once you’ve completed the campaign, a nice nod to classic Bond.
Goldeneye may not have held up well over the years, but there’s no denying the impact it had upon its release. It’s one of the most important video games ever released and influenced a generation of shooters. More than this, it’s just fun. Should you go back and play this game? Sure, just don’t expect it to hold up under the wave of nostalgia.