Goldeneye 007

Developer: Rareware
Publisher: Nintendo
Released: August 25 1997
Regions: NA, PAL, JP
Genre: First Person Shooter
Multiplayer: 4 player
Cart Size: 12MB / 96Mbits
Saving: Cartridge
Rumble Pak?: Yes
Expansion Pak? No
- Required? No

If you only played as Oddjob, you were a horrible person

Goldeneye 007. All you have to do is say this one word and a whole generation of 90s kids are instantly taken back to a simpler time where they'd sit around the old tube TV with that fancy new N64 system. There's no way to fully express just how big of a deal Goldeneye was. Some of you reading this might mention a movie called Goldeneye 007. It was a big movie for sure, it was the best selling James Bond film in years, a film most fans consider to be one of the best in the entire series in fact, but the game based on the movie was arguably a bigger deal with its effects still being felt in games today.

Let's wind all that back a bit though. Goldeneye 007 is a legendary game today, but it originally started small, really small. According to former developers at Rareware, it initially began conceptual designs on the SNES, then it was moved to the N64. At first it was intended to be a rail shooter, sort of like Virtua Cop or House of the Dead, where the camera would move automatically and the player would have to shoot enemies when they appeared on-screen. As former Nintendo and Rareware developer Ken Lobb has stated in interviews in the past, the game was shown at Shoshinkai 1995 in Japan and everyone thought it was a first person shooter rather than a Virtua Cop-type game, so Rareware set off to avoid disappointing everyone by upgrading Goldeneye 007 into a full fledged first person shooter game, an effort that would take them nearly 2 more years to finish. In the end, Goldeneye 007 ended up becoming the second ever first person shooter game on the N64, following the incredibly successful Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, both released in 1997. It's interesting to think that the game based on the 1995 James Bond film of the same name would see a release roughly 2 years later, yet still went onto become the third best selling N64 game, only being bested by Super Mario 64 and Mario Kart 64, respectively.

That's all certainly a lot of pedigree associated with this nearly universally loved movie tie-in game, but like many N64 games, it has garnered a lot detractors over the years. Newer games keep looking better, making Goldeneye 007 look ever more dated, but is it really? For a 1997 N64 game, compared to other titles from that same year, Goldeneye 007 is perhaps not the best looking of them all, but it did feature some impressive visuals such as incredibly long draw distances with next to no fog (something Turok couldn't do), fairly detailed textures, high polygon counts and perhaps most iconically, it utilized scans of real people's faces for the character models. Some are better than others, but they're all recognizeable and hold up fairly well even today.

Before we go further, we need to discuss controls. Getting around in Goldeneye 007 seems to be the one aspect of the game that has received a lot of unneccessary flack over the years. A common complaint is the N64 has only one analog stick and therefore the game is unplayable if you are used to Halo type controls and onward where you have two analog sticks. The answer to this dilemma couldn't be more simple. Step one, get a stock N64 controller or the excellent Madcatz controller, something with three handles. Step two, go into the options menu during single player mode and select Control Style 1.2 "Solitaire". Step three, hold the left handle with your left hand and then hold the middle handle with your right hand. All you have to do now is walk and strafe with the D-pad and aim/look around with the analog stick. The L button is your crosshairs button, the Z button still fires the gun like in other control styles and the A and B buttons still reload, open doors and swap weapons. Yes, you can have your Halo controls in Goldeneye 007, all you have to do is take advantage of a control setting that's been in the game for the past 20+ years. If you really need two analog sticks though, the 2.x control styles in the same options screen are there for you, but you'll also need two controllers connected to the console. Unfortunately, the 2.x styles can't be used in Multiplayer, at least not with four players.

One of Goldeneye 007's greatest strengths has definitely got to be the music. I know, there's still something I haven't gotten to that is the best part of the whole package, but props need to be given to Grant Kirkhope, Graeme Norgate and Robin Beanland for their tour de force of musical compositions. The soundtrack makes excellent use of the N64's sound hardware, keeping that iconic James Bond feel while masking hardware limitations. It's not even just the tracks we all recognize directly from the Goldeneye 007 film, it's all the original tracks using musical cues that come from other Bond films. If I were to pick one particular track to point out as especially great, it'd have to be the track that accompanies Surface 2, it's simply excellent. Control and Caverns are great too.

Speaking of the brutally hard Control and Caverns levels, we really need to look at the main story mode of Goldeneye 007. It's the core of the game that was originally in a Virtua Cop-style then converted to a FPS game. For such an early game in its genre, Goldeneye 007 has a lot of levels, topping out at 20, if you include the two secret bonus levels which you really should. All the levels in the game (except the last two) follow scenes from the movie Goldeneye 007 with relative accuracy which we'll cover later. What made this game so revolutionary wasn't really its authenticity to the source material, rather its difficulty settings and objectives. Back in 1997, most other FPS games focused on simply getting to the end of the level while blasting hordes of enemies. Goldeneye was different, most levels required the player find an object, unlock some area, reach some area, destroy an object, collect a key, protect a particular NPC in the level or any of several other kinds of objectives. That's not all, the number of objectives increase with the difficulty setting you choose. Pick the plain Agent difficulty and most levels are a breeze, often with just a couple of objectives. If you decide on the 00 Agent setting, not only are the objectives increased, but the guards are smarter and deal more damage, but often more areas of a level are required to gain access to. It's an ingenius difficulty system which sadly very few other games since then have adopted. Some of the few examples I've found were games made by the same people who worked on Goldeneye, those games being Perfect Dark and the TimeSplitters series.

One particularly cool feature of the single player mode was the inclusion of two bonus levels, as mentioned earlier. You gain access to these if you complete all the levels based on the Goldeneye 007 film on the Secret Agent and 00 Agent difficulties. The bonus levels are based on the events and characters of other James Bond films, those being Moonraker and Live and Let Die. It's surprising that Rareware was even able to get away with this, but their inclusion was an incredible touch for James Bond mega fans who would recognize these bonus levels. Completing these levels would unlock a few extra characters for the multiplayer mode, which yes we will get to shortly.

Before writing all this, I not only went through Goldeneye the game again, but I watched the movie as well. Looking back, it's kind of surprising how much the game deviates from the film in so many places. Like a lot of people, I played the game before seeing the movie. It surprised me how often a character would die in the movie but in the game, this kind of detail is either glossed over or never really mentioned at all. The Train level in particular I found to be unexpected. In the game, you're on the train trying to save Natalya, don't forget to destroy the brakes in each train car. In the film though, Bond still has the tank from earlier in the film and destroys the train with it. For the most part, Goldeneye the game follows relatively close to the film, but those occasional differences certainly make for a unique experience going from the game to the movie, or the other way around. I'd also like to specially mention the Depot level in the game, which gets a mere couple minutes of screen time in the film. It's funny to think how they could get a whole level out of that one tiny little scene.

We've covered the development background, graphics, sound and even what the film the game is based on has to do with all this. I know you all reading this, we all know what Goldeneye 007 was really about. The multiplayer mode in Goldeneye introduced an entire generation of console goers to the idea of a first person shooter deathmatch mode. Sure, it was done some years earlier with Doom and Quake on the PC MS-DOS platform, but it was expensive to game on a PC back then, unless your parents had one. For a lot of us, we had a PlayStation or Nintendo 64, so ports or console-exclusive titles were the order of the day. What's more surprising is how close Goldeneye 007 was to shipping without the multiplayer mode. According to more Rareware interviews, Goldeneye 007 was purposefully delayed to include a multiplayer mode after it was demoed at the 11th hour within Rareware. The mode wasn't even given prior approval, it was just coded into the game anyway to be showcased later once it was working.

At the time, the multiplayer mode in Goldeneye 007 really was groundbreaking. The only other FPS game available for N64 at that time was Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, a game which although was a big seller, it did not have any multiplayer functionality. Goldeneye 007 was the very first of its kind on the N64, being a staple multiplayer game for the system right alongside Mario Kart 64. In many ways, Goldeneye 007 had the far more robust multiplayer mode. It had numerous weapons, a wide list of characters to choose from, lots of different levels to duke it out in and several different special rules outside of the straight forward deathmatch type mode, notable standouts being You Only Live Twice (2 lives) and The Man with the Golden Gun (1 hit kill weapon), both named after previous James Bond films and offered a lot of variety. The different pre-assigned weapon sets like Slappers Only, various gun packages and explosives all offered different takes on the strategy and basic stealth elements found in the main game. There's nothing quite like littering the area with proximity mines and just letting nature take its course with your friends. Future N64 games like Rareware's own Perfect Dark would of course expand on all those features even further, but being such an early release was partly what made Goldneye 007 so special.

Of course, looking back on the multiplayer mode now, it's limited and maybe a bit clunky. The same can be said of the entire rest of the game, limited and clunky. It's the kind of game where if you really want to enjoy and appreciate it, you really can't compare it to the latest 4K HD AAA blockbuster game from Activision that will just become forgotten when the next one comes out. Goldeneye 007 has never been forgotten precisely because it was and always will be an important part of gaming history. It brought so many firsts onto consoles, set new standards for what licensed games could be and helped revitalize an entire film series.

Tragically, Rareware could have gotten the rights to do a game based on the followup film to Goldeneye 007, that being Tomorrow Never Dies, but the price of the James Bond license for video games skyrocketed after the Goldeneye film and N64 game caused interest in James Bond to explode. EA bought up the license and the rest is history. It's unfortunate, because Goldeneye 007 has never had a re-release due to it being tied to too many companies that don't really see eye to eye anymore. Around 10 years later in 2007, Rareware actually worked on an HD update to Goldneye 007 for Xbox Live Arcade on the Xbox 360. Sadly, the project was canceled due to the aforementioned tangled mess of licensing between multiple companies. In 2021, a nearly finished build of the Xbox 360 remake surfaced online in playable form, so there's at least a small silver lining to the legacy of Goldeneye 007 for the N64.

Does Goldeneye 007 stand up today against the hundreds of first person shooter games that owe much of their design to this ancient shooter from 1997? Maybe yes, maybe no. For the younger crowd, probably not. Is it an important game that set new standards? Absolutely. Is it still a good game? I argue that it most definitely is. The graphics are perfectly acceptable, the music is excellent, the controls are just fine if you have the original N64 controller and use the 1.2 Solitaire control style like you should, the multiplayer mode is still a ton of fun and the single player mode remains an extremely hard but fair challenge, at least on 00 Agent difficulty. You can't say you're an N64 fan if you haven't played Goldeneye 007 before.

Presentation: 10
It may not exactly follow the movie precisely, but you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who feels this game fell short of being a great 007 movie game. Even to this very day, all future 007 games would be compared to Goldeneye. It's not just an excellent adaption of the Goldeneye movie either, it even includes some characters and settings from other 007 films like Moonraker and Live and Let Die.

Graphics: 7.5
If there is one area where Goldeneye 007 lacks a bit in, it's the graphics. Yes, the game may not be much of a looker today, but it was always meant to be playable over visually pleasing and it absolutely succeeded at that. Nobody ever needed amazing graphics to frag their friends with mines on Archives.

Sound: 9.5
Many N64 games have an iconic and distinctive sound, but few can be recognized quite like Goldeneye 007. Even older folks who haven't played games in years could definitely pick Goldeneye out from the crowd. Great music, excellent sound effects and a lot of impressive sound design in weapons and environments, Goldeneye has it all.

Gameplay: 9.5
You may hear people say Goldeneye 007 has aged poorly and is overly simplistic, but not only was it among the most complex first person shooters in 1997, it still holds up today and the serious challenge is fair and addictive. The game offers multiple control styles so there is in fact a button layout for everyone (depending on your controller).

Lasting Appeal: 10
It would be a crime to put any number other than 10 here. Goldeneye 007 is one of the most iconic multiplayer games on the N64, it continues to attract new and old fans alike for decades now. Even if you have no friends, the speedrunning community alone shows how much potential this classic game has even years after unlocking everything.

Overall: 9.3

Written by Aaron Wilcott
March 25 2021