Little known fact (because how the hell would anyone else know?) I was going to review this all-time great alongside my review of the film, but decided to hold off on it because it’s arguably my favourite game of all time (I say arguably because I’d have to sit down and really think for a very long time to come up with any actual all-time best list…) and I wanted to give it more attention. Well, when better than a series of reviews celebrating 1,000 reviews? This was always hanging over my head as something I “had” to review at some point, so may as well make it now! Let’s have a look at this classic and see if it still holds up!
Well, I had to open the review with a shot from the opening level (in more ways than one!)
GoldenEye 007, often called “GoldenEye 64” or just “GoldenEye”, was released in August 1997, funnily enough less than a month away from the release of Tomorrow Never Dies (the film…) It was a huge hit, and innovated so much of what modern FPS games are all about.
For such a beloved and innovative game, it’s never been re-released. As you’d imagine this is due to rights issues, and although attempts have been made (both officially and unofficially) nothing has materialised. There was a below average “remake” titled GoldenEye 007 for the Wii and other consoles, plus before that they tried to cash in on the name and created an entirely original title called “GoldenEye: Rogue Agent”. In terms of game mechanics Perfect Dark was the real successor to GoldenEye 64, and a fantastic game in its own right, plus a lot of the GoldenEye staff created the also great TimeSplitters series. Sadly in 2020 Perfect Dark is long dead, and TimeSplitters is getting less and less likely to return…
Using a silencer to kill someone right in front of someone else seems … counter productive.
A lot of what makes GoldenEye so special is going to sound really obvious and routine in 2020, but that just goes to show how much it innovated back in 1997! At this point FPS games were predominantly against demons or aliens (or Nazis… same thing?) and were mostly “get from one end of the level to the other”, but one of GoldenEye’s biggest innovations was adding missions to do in each level, missions you can mostly do in any order, allowing you to freely roam the 3D levels and complete them in a variety of ways. You can stealthily take down enemies and get through a level without alerting any guards, you can alert a bunch of guards and take them all down, or you could set off an alarm, which led to an endless amount of guards pouring into the level until you die (unless you’re lucky!) As you go up in difficulty not only are the enemies tougher but there are more objectives in each mission, so completing a level on Hard (or 00 Difficulty) requires a completely different plan of action to the one you used on Normal difficulty. A great system, and the first time I played a game to “just mess around” and, say, kill all the scientists in the Facility level for a laugh with mates rather than fulfil the objective to save them.
Another staple of most FPS games at the time was the fact that they were often 2D, but not only was GoldenEye entirely 3D but it had unique controls which were the forbearers for dual stick controls, just due to the N64 controller it was “stick and C-buttons control” Still, it allowed for strafing around corners and meant you didn’t have to stop and swing the camera around to begin moving in the other direction, so it was great (at the time). You could also free aim with a crosshair for extra accuracy, but I’ll admit beyond stealth headshots, shooting people’s guns so they stopped working and the sniper rifle I relied on the auto-aim most of the time, where your gun automatically snaps to roughly the centre of the body of an enemy in front of you. Also, since you’re facing other humans rather than demons or monsters, they added a reaction system, so if you shoot someone in the left hand they shake the hand or hold it while doubled over with a comedic “ooo!” sound. The same goes for killing people, shoot them in the head and they just drop, shoot them in the crotch to death and they slowly falls over holding their private parts and cradle back and forth on the floor… before vanishing because the memory didn’t allow for bodies to stay on screen.
I have to praise the HUD as well, which is actually just an ammo count in the corner and that’s it, unless you take damage then a circular health/armour bar flashes on screen. This circular bar is always available to look at by pausing, which is very cleverly Bond’s watch: hit pause the you see 007’s arm lift up towards the screen and then the watch becomes the pause menu. Great stuff. Along with plenty of different handguns, machine guns and explosives (from rocket launchers to grenades) there are several gadgets on hand that, much like Bond’s gadgets in the films, just happen to be handy in the levels they appear in. His watch laser from GoldenEye is used to escape the train, much like the film, but his super-powerful watch magnet from the Roger Moore era gets you out of a bind in one level, and I can’t mention the different mines enough, proximity and remote mines are things of endless fun, both in single player and…
The mysteriously small-in-height version of Oddjob: an enemy to us all…
Of course I can’t leave out the other big innovation GoldenEye … erm, innovated, and that would be split-screen multiplayer! While again multiplayer FPS had been a thing before hand, it hadn’t been up to four people on one console, and had never been this easy to set up, especially with the N64’s four controller ports. You picked your character (I was mostly Alec Trevelyan, and yes I did have a friend who played as Oddjob, the cheating git!), your level, which was often, but not always, chunks of one of the single player levels, and a weapons set, then its Death match time! Me and my friends lost HOURS to multiplayer GoldenEye, entire four person “sleep-overs” were consumed with just this game (and maybe a bit of an AKI wrestling game…) and I’d still happily play it today.
Others things of note include unlockable cheats, some of which require you to essentially speed run a level, I remember unlocking… which ever cheat you unlocked by completing the Facility level at an insanely fast time and I had to play it over and over in a row to do it, but I did it! More comedic cheats like paintball mode and the now classic “DK Mode” (where everyone had big heads and small bodies) were easier to unlock, and still frequently appear in FPS games in one way or another. If you complete the game on the highest difficulty you unlock “007 Mode”, which allowed you to use sliders to decide A.I. reaction time, health, accuracy, that sort of thing. Basically it was a “create your own difficulty” mode. Again I have this unlocked on my cart, though I bet you anything I wouldn’t be able to beat the game’s later levels on the hardest difficulty any more, it’s just how much I was into it at the time!
That’s my final thought on the gameplay really, it kept me so hooked that I completed it to an insane degree, something I’ve never done with any other game. If Games Done Quick were a thing in 1998 I could’ve given speedrunning GoldenEye a damn good go, I was THAT into it.
Graphics and Sound:
It’s his fault for standing in front of the toilet with a rifle and not doing anything. Slacker!
At the time the graphics were impressive (though not as impressive as the screenshots on the back of the box…), not just having so many fully animated 3D people running around but the lighting and sheer size of some of the levels. Little touches like seeing blood on whichever part of the body you hit, destructible bits of the environment like tables and chairs (that oddly explode, but whatever…) and the frame-rate killing fire and smoke effects all added to it as well. Now? Well, okay, it looks blocky, the face textures being just that, a single expression painted on a block-head and a lot of the actual level graphics all look poor in 2020, but of course they do! I don’t think it hurts the game though, it’s not as bad as some 94/95 first-effort 3D games you get sometimes…
The sound is great! The background music is top-notch, they all sound Bond-like, but also are really catchy or really atmospheric, with the songs for Facility and Frigate being forever etched into my head. Soundeffects for guns and explosions are great, and the “ooo”’s and “argh!”’s of the guards are fun. Even in 2020 it makes for a good time, audibly.
I don’t recall the double Uzi scene from the climax of the film, but hey-ho…
If you want a full rundown of the plot to GoldenEye you can read my review of the film HERE.
The game does stick quite closely to the game, but with some creative wiggling for the sake of having more level variety, like the Dam that Bond bungees off of at the start of the film being a whole level before he reaches that point. The cold Russian satellite base that Bond never visits in the film is visited by him twice, once while it’s still being constructed a few years before the main chunk of the film, and during the course of the film’s story, and both times involve reaching the base in the vast open wilderness. The brief shootout and escape in the Archives is turned into a full-on mission, which does lead to a special level where you control a tank, much like the scene in the film though! Otherwise the actual plot is still intact, and the final level and fight match the finale of the film perfectly well.
There are two bonus levels though, one based on Moonraker, complete with enemies in yellow jumpsuits, rocketships, the laser guns from the film, complete with cheesy soundeffects and even a battle with Jaws! The second level, called Temple, is less exciting, though it does features Baron Samedi from Live and Let Die, who wields the Golden Gun from… Man With The Golden Gun. If I remember rightly Temple was another level I had to practice a speedrun of…
What else is there to say at this point? GoldenEye is an absolute classic, and I grew up right at the right age to play it TO DEATH. Be it mastering the single player or endless afternoons and nights playing multi-player, this was an absolute blast. While Perfect Dark certainly took over the multi-player side of things eventually, I was still coming back to GoldenEye for a fun single player experience many years after the N64’s life…
A.K.A. “Time to get murdered for no reason, Dr. Doak!”
I was just breaking into my teens when this came out, so while some games are more nostalgic in a “childhood favourite” way, this game still holds a massive place in my heart. Being honest with myself I can’t give it a five in 2020 because simply the world of FPS games have moved on, control-wise, but I will still give it a four gladly. The level design, sound design and generally how fun it is to play has to count for something, even twenty-odd years later. I’m sure if you’re just entering your teens now and play COD all the time then this will be a 1-star, but for anyone who played it at the time, let me say this: it’s still great!