Review: GoldenEye 007 (N64)

Are those golden eyes wearing rose tinted specs?

Highly revered by countless N64 owners, GoldenEye 007 is often credited with kick-starting the first-person shooter craze on consoles. It not only showed that a good FPS could be crafted for a machine other than a high-spec PC, but arguably also created the multiplayer FPS phenomenon. In fact, if it weren't for GoldenEye, it's quite feasible that a franchise such as Call of Duty might never have experienced the ridiculous popularity it's grown accustomed to in the last few years.

However, the games industry evolves and moves along faster than that of perhaps any other entertainment medium and gamers, likewise, are more often than not a fickle bunch. Aside from certain titles that manage to cling onto what we like to refer to as "retro charm", a game that would have been cutting-edge in 1997 might not necessarily cut the mustard when placed side-by-side with today's games. So should you still bother with GoldenEye?

Visually, Rare's magnum opus of the 20th century is difficult to pigeon-hole, perched precariously between so-bad-it's-good and simply past-its-prime. Naturally its production values don't have a hope in Hell of impressing in this day and age: blurry textures, characters with permanently clenched cube-shaped fists and the lack of any speech — save for the odd grunt or groan — may have impressed in 1997, but their limitations are all too clear today.

GoldenEye, luckily, has more to offer than flashy graphics and Hollywood flair. The FPS genre has had many years to degrade into a series of linear shooting galleries in which players are spoon-fed objectives that are never off the beaten track anyway, so playing GoldenEye will be quite a shock to many younger gamers. Rare constructed a brilliantly balanced difficulty system that not only affected the amount of damage that the player and the AI enemies inflict, but also added extra mandatory objectives in each level, depending on the set difficulty. Thus, whether you're a FPS novice, veteran or sit somewhere in between, GoldenEye has a difficulty level that will suit you. This formula encourages players to improve their skills and gives them an incentive to run through the game multiple times, kicking things up a notch each playthrough. Indeed, you could go through GoldenEye's campaign three times and each playthrough would yield a sizeably different experience from the last.

Rare continued to utilise this unique take on difficulty settings in its subsequent FPS titles, Perfect Dark and Perfect Dark Zero, but the system went unused until the Wii revamp of GoldenEye 007 in 2010. While this is indeed a shame, GoldenEye nonetheless clings onto other, less favourable old-school gameplay mechanics. Holding the shoulder button for more precise aiming at the cost of having zero manoeuvrability — while an innovative addition that pre-dates "iron sights" aiming — feels slightly too archaic now. It could be argued that GoldenEye is a shooter that's supposed to be played at a more methodical pace than today's run-and-gun titles anyway, with many missions requiring the player to remain completely undetected. But doing so is a lot more laborious than it should be with this stop/start aiming system feeling somewhat counter-intuitive.

Of course, for many the above few paragraphs will consist almost entirely of moot points, because — as mentioned above — GoldenEye is most fondly remembered for its immensely enjoyable multiplayer suite. Those iffy visuals and the less-than-convenient aiming all fall by the wayside once you get three friends to join in the fun. GoldenEye multiplayer doesn't quite boast the dizzying array of options of its spiritual successors, but its five distinct modes and their team-based variations each bring with them a unique gameplay mechanic to keep things fresh for a long time. Normal is your standard deathmatch, while You Only Live Twice and Licence to Kill shakes things up slightly; the former sees players only possessing two lives before they're out of the game, while in the latter mode a single shot from any weapon is enough to kill you.

Additionally, The Living Daylights has players all scrambling to hold a flag for the longest time in order to win, but it's The Man With The Golden Gun that's by far the most interesting and frantic mode in the game. Only one Golden Gun — a weapon that kills with one shot — is available in a match, and once a player grabs it the only way for his/her opponents to gain possession of the fabled firearm is to kill them for it. This leads to some frenetic action in which fragile alliances might be forged in order to take down the holder of the Golden Gun, at which point all cooperation is thrown out the window as a three-way struggle for the gun ensues. When paired with a generous helping of arenas, a plethora of available weapons and an insane roster of characters from the Bond universe — spanning 35 years of Bond's history — GoldenEye's inspired variations on the standard idea of four people all trying to shoot each other in the face go a long way to keeping its multiplayer modes tremendously entertaining even now.

Conclusion

Let's be honest: GoldenEye 007's visuals have dated terribly, and the precision aiming mechanic is fiddly and ever so slightly impractical, but this is still inarguably a textbook example of how to put together a FPS that's built to last. It's also one that represents one of the very last instances of genuine innovation in a single-player FPS: going through the campaign presents players with pseudo open-world levels and objectives that alter depending on difficulty, two things that developers have for some reason discarded in favour of linear level design in which the only goal is to shoot everyone or maybe stop to press "X" and trigger a context sensitive event. GoldenEye definitely has certain aspects that haven't aged well, but as a history lesson in how things used to be done and as a split-screen multiplayer game, GoldenEye still delivers the goods where it counts.