The best of the recent videogame first person shooters all owe a debt to one particular game from 1997. Aspects of Call of Duty, Halo, and others all first appeared in the Bond movie tie-in Goldeneye for the N64. Usually videogame tie-ins are awful, cheap cash-ins that have been rushed with little care and hope for some impulse buying based on a movie’s popularity. Goldeneye was nothing like this and is contention for one of the best games for the N64, or any other console from the 90s.
The developers of Goldeneye were the publishing company Rare. At the time they had an almost exclusive deal with Nintendo and were behind some of the best games on their platforms, from Banjo-Kazooie, Donkey Kong Country and Goldeneye’s spiritual sequel Perfect Dark. They would never top Goldeneye though, which had one the perfect single-player and multi-players outside of a sports game.
For starters, the game managed to mirror the plot of the movie without letting it restrict your gameplay. You started in the same place the film did, with Bond in the Byelomorye Dam, even going as far as recreating the “toilet” scene that introduces us to the new Bond, played by Pierce Brosnan. From there it is a mix of stealth, pure shooting, planting bombs, taking out cameras and other manner of spy-type activities to complete the missions.
Goldeneye would then take you to all of the locations from the movie, including Monte Carlo, Kyrgyzstan and finally the Jungle of the Caribbean. This meant that you had a wide range of different environments to work through, from underground bunkers, streets, a moving train and the jungle. All came with their own unique missions and issues which came the game fresh and interesting.
It helpfully disguised the very simple nature of the game which was basically shoot your way to the end of the level. There was little variation in path and no open gameplay but we were talking 1997. That meant that the difference was in the enemies who actually felt intelligent. Not necessarily by today’s standards but they were clever enough to hide, react to where you shot them and interact with each other. For the time, it felt very advanced.
To keep this variation in levels going, Goldeneye also let you drive the tank from the iconic scene in the movie. It was a very cool moment which was basically you shooting your gun from on-top or blowing bridges/buildings up with your cannon but it was different enough to make the difference.
Goldeneye was a tie-in game after all and it meant you also interacted with all the major characters from the movie. Alan Cumming’s Boris makes an appearance while Famke Janssen’s Xenia Onatopp is one of the games more difficult “bosses.” The greatest challenge is the Bond Girl of the movie and by default the game Natalya Simonova. She is infuriating in one particular level: The Bunker. You must free and protect her and she does the most stupid things! It has actually haunted me for future games and everytime I have to “protect someone” (most recently in The Last of Us) I get flashbacks to shouting at my screen as an unseen Natalya gets herself killed by not keeping up! This is particularly infuriating later because she joins you on later missions as a bad-ass with a gun!
This was only one level though and the others were great. It also had a decent build in difficulty, meaning that by the time you get to Control, Jungle and the final level, Cradle, you are really being tested. It meant that when you did finally complete the game, it was an actual achievement!
Going back to the game today it is jarring. Time has not been kind. It can feel clunky, the graphics are awful considering how good you felt they were at the time and the minute that action gets even close to frantic, the slow-down is really noticeable. It is worth it for nostalgia sake, even just to see the links that are apparent in games today.
Overall, Goldeneye’s single-player campaign was excellent. It had a great story which tied closely with the film, mirroring the many different places Bond visits in the movie. It has all the characters and a great range of missions. Levels are different enough to keep your interest and the gameplay is difficult enough to challenge you. It is iconic, influential and still making an impact on shooters today.
Tomorrow: The Multi-player!