Ah, the first-person shooter. A genre whose titles include some of the most groundbreaking and innovative projects in the history of gaming. Wolfenstein, Doom, Quake, Halo, the list runs deep…but alas, the FPS was largely exclusive to the PC market, with a few exceptions (Super Nintendo having a decent Wolfenstein port and arguably the best Doom port), so those of us whose families did not own computers were left in the lurch, largely oblivious to an expanding and increasingly influential subsection of games.
Until 1997, when a certain well-respected British development house promised Nintendo 64 owners their own piece of the first-person pie… based on the recent James Bond movie, Goldeneye 007 was unleashed in August with great hype from the Nintendo machine. And now, over 15 years later, it still warrants discussion as one of the greatest shooters ever… but how much of that really boils to just being the first FPS that a lot of people had extended exposure to?
For those of you born after the Nintendo 64 mattered, you play as the legendary 007, chasing down the mysterious arms dealer Janus, who (SPOILER ALERT) turns out to be your former fellow agent Alec Trevelyan, who apparently got shot/exploded/gassed in a Russian chemical weapons factory nine years prior …oh, and he’s allied with the commander of that same chemical factory… who shot him… yeah… um… I never noticed how wacky that part of the story sounded until now…
Anyway, back to the game itself. Now, Goldeneye was lauded for two major points when it came out: that it was the first FPS with objectives beyond “kill everything in sight”, and that stealth was now a major component to success. The objectives may not have been the most complex (photograph satellite, destroy drone guns, place tracker bug), but the idea of a mission where you meet a double agent to obtain a door decoder, set charges on giant chemical tanks while meeting with your partner, blow the tanks and make your escape while being pinned down by countless Russian soldiers, all in real-time, was worth the price of admission alone.
Coupled with crisp controls (such as the ability to pinpoint your shots with the pop-up crosshair), excellent graphics (mindblowing by ’97 standards, but not exactly shabby today, either) and sound (go play some of the levels over again, doesn’t matter which ones…now listen to the music… I’ll wait …YEAH! I KNOW! I didn’t know there were so many ways to remake the Bond theme without noticing it’s the Bond theme in every level, either!) and by God, you WERE James Bond when you fired this up.
Now, before you accuse me of being a Rare plant paid to slurp this game to high heaven, there are some flaws. First of all, the stealth factor was somewhat inflated. As hyped as it was, the option of being full-on, run-and-gun was still very much a viable one, even on the higher difficulty levels, and in fact, there are a handful of situations in the game where intentionally making noise to draw enemies to a choke point is WAY easier and more effective than sneaking around for stealth kills. It basically comes down to a question of whether you want to gun down a big chunk of enemies now or stretch it out over a few minutes, which for something that was touted as a big upgrade, doesn’t sound that different from luring Nazis into a hail of chaingun fire in Wolf 3D.
My other major nit-pick is with some of the objectives… they may not be the most complex, but they can be obscure. Early on in the game, if you’re playing on Secret Agent difficulty or higher, you have to obtain the plans for the bunker from a cabin in the Siberian wilderness, only problem being, there are a lot of cabins. A lot. Some are locked, requiring you to go to another cabin to find the guy with the key to open the cabin. Some are empty. Some are even filled with little toys that blow up when you shoot them (The first rule of Goldeneye was apparently “no matter what the object is, it is explosive). And yes, you go back to this map later in the game.
In two later missions, you have to meet Valentin Zukovsky, and in both of them, he is hidden in a location that you would either stumble upon, at best, or probably would never think to look without outside assistance (which in 1997, meant that you had Nintendo Power, a buddy that already beat the game, or you were totally screwed). And many a gamer has tried to block out the raw, nerve-touching frustration of trying to protect Natalya from wave after wave of Janus troops in the control center (OH FOR THE LOVE OF GOD YOU HAVE A MAGNUM! TURN AROUND AND HELP ME SHOOT SOMEBODY! WHY DID THEY GIVE YOU A GUN ON THIS LEVEL IF YOU NEVER USE IT HURRY UP ALREADY!)
Speaking of guns, Rare really went above and beyond when arming you to wreak havoc across the world. Unlike Wolf or Doom, which gave you a handful of weapons, Goldeneye featured dozens of lead-slingers of all shapes and sizes, from the gimpy Klobb to the omnipresent AK47 ripoff (the KF7 Soviet), to the ass-ravaging, ammo-guzzling RC-P90. Strangely, though, not all of the guns were available without the All Guns cheat, denying a lot of gamers the chance to raise hell with Taser Boy and its sweet, sweet bug zapper sound effect. Bond also gets a few useful gadgets from the ol’ Q-Branch, like the watch magnet/mine detonator and the covert modem/tracker bug…now, before you go thinking that you’ll be able to use these gadgets to improvise some creative solutions to problems, the gadgets are basically used once, to complete specific objectives or situations and then go back in the toybox, never to come out again.
However, the biggest draw, the ultimate legacy of Goldeneye is can be summed up in one word: Multiplayer. Glorious, hallowed Multiplayer. Again, remember that this was 1997. At this point in time, the world of the FPS deathmatch didn’t extend far beyond LAN sessions of Duke Nukem, and while the N64 already had a list of quality party games like Mario Kart, it wasn’t until Goldeneye that the crazy, stupid, kill-tallying, trash-talking joy of the deathmatch was truly available to the masses.
Rare also deserves all the praise and more for not just making Goldeneye’s multiplayer a cheap afterthought, but actually loading it up with tons of options and characters and arenas, damn nigh creating a second game entirely. Right now, just reading this, you’re probably reminiscing about your favorite character running wild on your favorite map (in my case, handing out many a lesson with Ouromov in the Complex). And rarely has a game caused more real-life fights than Goldeneye when someone inevitably violates the “if you pick Oddjob one more time, I’m gonna punch you in the head” rule that all true Goldeneye junkies swore by.
The last big point that needs to be covered is the replay value. Goldeneye increased the number of objectives on each difficulty, a simple-yet-brilliant move that made each step up in level a bigger deal than “enemies are better at killing you”, and making you change the way you approached some missions. It also had a substantial number of unlockable cheats that were obtained by beating a level in a certain time at a certain difficulty, which ranged from absolute gimme (Runway on Agent in 5:00 for DK Mode) to obscenely difficult (Archives on 00 Agent in 1:20 for Invisibility), giving you the opportunity to rampage through levels with All Guns and Infinite Ammo while Invincible Tiny Bond mows through his Fast Animation opposition (you know you did this at least once).
There is little doubt that Goldeneye 007 is deserving of its place in the Pantheon of Gaming. Go mention it to a thousand gamers and 999 of them will speak of it in glowing terms and flash back to a shining moment of their childhood/adolescence/college years. It singlehandedly revolutionized the idea of the console FPS, and created a formula for the million billion shooters that followed. Pop it in today, and you’ll probably at least burn off a weekend running through it again. Hell, there are even websites dedicated to the BETA version of the game… but I can’t quite seem to give it a perfect score. Why? Alas, it was a victim of its own success. Rare took the Goldeneye blueprint and filled all the holes and added a fresh coat of paint just a couple of years later by creating Perfect Dark, which brought us everything we loved about Goldeneye and more (voice acting, cutscenes, an original storyline, even MORE Multiplayer), but regardless, Goldeneye holds a special place in our hearts and minds, and a few percentage points on a review site can’t change that.
Excellent graphics and sound, especially for the early years of Nintendo 64, easy to pick up and play, deep, MULTIPLAYER, dude.
Stealth aspect lacking, occasionally frustrating moments in single-player with objectives, outclassed by its spiritual sequel.