There have been many games starring James Bond, going back to the earliest consoles. But no game before or since Goldeneye has ever given the player such a strong feeling of actually being the man himself. The old saying about the appeal of James Bond was ”men want to be him, women want to be with him”. Of course in the 21st century, both men and women want to be Bond (well this woman does at any rate). Bond is a true English hero; he is always smartly dressed, chivalrous, witty and suave. The development of Goldeneye by British developers Rare meant that the game stayed true to the British spirit of the Bond movie franchise.
After going through a rough patch in the late eighties and early nineties it looked like the Bond movie franchise was grinding to a halt. Timothy Dalton had failed to set the world alight as the ”new man” Bond, so Goldeneye was really a last chance before apathy killed off Bond where so many outlandish villains had failed. It was a huge success, a balls out tongue in cheek homage to previous Bond movies starring the cream of British acting talent and a roguish but charismatic new Bond in the shape of Peirce Brosnan. It resurrected the dying franchise and it can be argued Goldeneye the game helped rescue a badly floundering N64 as well. Certainly in the UK it proved that more sophisticated and adult flavoured games could thrive on what was perceived to be an overpriced kids toy.
Live and Let Die
Of course it wasn’t all plain sailing. The game hit the shelves long after the film had done so well and as movie to game conversions has traditionally always been synonymous with half-assed cash in product there was some scepticism as to the games merit. But when it finally came out all doubts were blown away. Goldeneye is/was probably the finest game based on a film ever programmed and certainly one of the greatest console FPS games ever made full-stop. It’s genius is that it took from the film everything it needed to keep the feel of a Bond adventure and added in all the stuff needed to make it a great FPS. Lesser designers would have maybe welded movie references on some code they had lying around for a different game, but Rare actually went to the trouble of photographing the film sets to make certain recreations as accurate as possible. Re-watching the film after having played the game to excess you find yourself spotting which bits of the Bunker look just like the game version and getting all excited about it… ahem.
The attention to detail even stretches to having the actors faces mapped onto their characters, with extra villains from other films available in the Deathmatch mode. For UK players this results in the hilarity of being able to conduct a four-way death match between Alan Cummings (Boris), Sean Bean (Trevelyan), Grace Jones (MayDay) and Robbie Coltrane (Valentyn). Although the facial detail is pretty crude by todays standards it still adds emotion and depth to the game by actually being able to interact with characters while on missions. In fact the whole mission based structure is the key to Goldeneye’s success. With each mission you are given an MI6 briefing with orders from M and gadgets from Q and a little message from Miss. MoneyPenny, these are all beautifully written and very much in the spirit of the films. Instead of blindly racing though levels pressing switches to open doors a la Doom and Quake, here you actually had to disable computers, take photos, plant mines, not shoot to many neutral characters and meet double agents in clandestine meetings.
The various guns and gadgets available from level to level, as do your tactics. There is only one of you and many Spetznatz troops out for your blood. There are no handy health pick-ups, once your energy is worn down it’s Mission Failed. So pre-Metal Gear Solid you could spend many levels stealthily sneaking about armed with a Sniper Rifle and silenced Walther PPK. In fact probably the most nerve-racking mission of the lot is the second trip to the Bunker where you most shoot out every security camera and alarm. Trip one and its mission over as swarms of soldiers pour in to take you out. So you find yourself sweating with tension as you lean round that corner, hoping against hope a soldier won’t round the corner before you can catch the camera on its sweep away from you. Even many rpgs and survival horror games can’t boast this level of involvement and heart-stopping actions.
The Spy Who Loved Me
Graphically the game is still one of the most impressive titles to ever grace the N64. Unlike it’s flawed (though still impressive) ”sequel” – Perfect Dark, it runs smoothly without the need of the N64 expansion pack and allows fast and frenetic action with only minor slowdown during multiple explosions. The superb design of the enemy characters incorporated hit zones on the bodies. So if you managed to hit an enemy in the head they would drop in one shot. Hit them in the arm or leg and they will hop around still trying to shoot you while you try to finish them off. The level designs managed to stay true to the film as well as incorporating elements to make navigating around them easier. Huge barren snowscapes, dark cramped caves, misty jungles and enemy bases are just some of the places you will find yourself taking on the Russians in your bid to defeat the leader of Janus, the rogue agent Trevelyan.
Married to the wonderful smooth graphics and gameplay are such sublime controls that you really have no one else to blame but yourself if you screw up a mission. The game has one of the most perfectly designed control systems ever. Unlike other console FPS games it does not suffer from lack of keyboard and mouse control. The positioning of the Z trigger on the controller and analogue stick makes it easy to move and fire with one hand, while the other hand controls looking, weapon selection and interacting with scenery (doors, buttons etc). If you possess two controllers you can even configure one to move and fire and the other to look and select so you have even greater control!
You Only Live Twice
The multitude of options give this game tremendous replayability. Each mission can be tackled on one of three difficulty settings. Agent, Secret Agent and 007. If you manage to complete the level within a certain time limit you can unlock a wealth of Cheat Options to make both Single and Multiplayer more amusing. You can exchange bullets for paintballs, become invisible (great for comedy slapping of enemies), grow big heads (watch Natalya get stuck in doorways) and massively increase your arsenal to include magnums and other powerful weapons. There are extra characters to unlock in multiplayer and as you progress you increase the size of the arenas to play around it. Multiplayer is also pure genius. Up to four players can take part and the game handles the split screen action very well. You can choose what weapons you want to use, what winning conditions are needed and even handicap or boost players depending on their experience.
Like all FPS multiplayer games you will soon find out what kind of a person your friend is. Are they a camper – find a good spot and camp down shooting those looking for them)? Maybe they like to charge about regardless of danger firing rockets in confined spaces in the hope they might take you out as well as themselves. Maybe they fixate on one other player and methodically hunt them down. Or worst of all are they a big fat cheat, someone who alters your health settings when you have gone to make a cup of tea? The best psychology yet is the FPS test!
Licensed to Kill
So is there anything wrong with Goldeneye? Perhaps the only criticism that can be made of the game is that on the top difficulty level the enemy soldiers gain impressive super-powers and can take several shots to the head at point blank range, which can be frustrating for those used to the one headshot = death of the earlier modes and indeed most FPS games that followed. Also some of the final objectives become a little vague. But that’s about the only less than wonderful aspect of the game. It’s still as amazingly fun, engrossing and playable today as it was back in 1997. It’s still by far the best Bond game ever to grace a console and the best movie tie-in game to boot. In fact almost its only fault is the impossible standard it set for all Bond and console FPS games that followed. Even today, next-gen console FPS games get compared unfavourably to Goldeneye. It just goes to show what an immense achievement the game is. If you own an N64 this is one of the few games that make the console worth hanging on to. Not just a great game, but a great Bond Sim as well. It’s perfection in one small grey cart. Even your inability to use the magnetic watch to undo Natalya’s zipper can’t spoil your enjoyment of this, the best N64 game ever.