The year was 1997. Wolfenstein and Doom had long since established the First Person Shooter (FPS) genre and it had become a beloved genre for competitive play. However, the PC proved to dominate the scene, with consoles at best getting ports that almost universally failed to do the original game justice. Then, in August of that year, that all changed. Goldeneye 007 was released, and the face of the console FPS was never the same. Not only was Goldeneye an exceptionally beloved title on the N64, but it could stand up to any other FPS without being forced to quiver at the PC’s superior hardware. Console gamers finally had their definitive FPS. Goldeneye also proved innovative in the console FPS multiplayer genre, through its inclusion of the incredibly popular four player deathmatch, which proved that consoles could be a powerhouse in the multiplayer field as well. The FPS genre is now among the most popular video game genres out today, becoming the one of the go-to genres of the industry, but sometimes it helps to take a look back at its roots. So that of course begs the question, does Goldeneye hold up?
The first thing that the player is going to notice upon starting the game is that the music is amazing. Graeme Norgate, Grant Kirkhope, and Robin Beanland all worked together to make sure every last note sets the tone perfectly, making the game immediately recognizable as a James Bond title before any scene from the movie actually happens. Every time the player pauses the game, it brings up a fancy spy watch and a sleek remix of the classic Bond theme plays, making the player really feel like the titular super spy. The most amazing aspect about the music is how authentic it all sounds without actually being ripped from the movie. It all sounds like Bond, and Bond is good, so I approve.
The most noticeable aspect of any game, due to being the thing that makes the game seeable in the first place, is the graphics. I have never been the kind of person to say old graphics look inherently bad, and in several cases I outright prefer them. I have always loved classic Doom-2D-sprites-in-a-3D-field-style-graphics, but there are certainly ugly looking old games. Goldeneye’s environments are fantastically designed, making sure that each room is unique and continues each level’s aesthetic. The character models on the other hand look fugly to say the least. Half of the faces of the NPC’s look as If they are constipated, others look like they are disturbingly happy about something, and then the others’ face textures are too pixelated for me to even begin to tell what they are supposed to look like. Shoot the hat off of an NPC while sneaking around, and you will be met with the realization that Bond may very well be the last person alive with an actual round head. There’s also the standard early 3D model problems, like hands that are just stumps with fingers drawn on, but I am not going to fault Goldeneye for the technical limitations of the era and none of these problems make my eyes cringe, they almost hold their own special charm. Goldeneye actually has some pretty impressive graphical features for the time, like light effects off of glass surfaces. Overall, the game’s graphics may not hold up in certain areas, but is by no means a deal breaker.
Now on to the actual gameplay, the meat of the experience. I’m gonna start off with the biggest complaint that can be made against Goldeneye, its controls are terrible. It’s not entirely the game’s fault, the N64 controller was designed on the planet of the three armed people and unfortunately the dual armed galactic community was not taken into account, so Goldeneye was starting off climbing a mountain. The default control style is the stick to move, strafing on the left and right C buttons, up and down C to control looking up and down. The weapon switching is controlled through the A button, reloading is B, firing is Z and manual aim is R. Mapping the weapon switch to just the A button means that one must actually cycle through their inventory to get to the weapon they want, the only other way is to pause the game and select a gun from the inventory screen. Either way creates constant breaks in the action, though this is not as big a deal as it would be in most other FPS’s, due to Goldeneye being a slower pace game. Aiming on the other hand is almost non-functioning, and I think the developers knew this, because the aim assist is very prominent, as if you weren’t expected to be able to actually aim during combat. If you face the general direction of an enemy, your gun will just gravitate towards your target, eliminating the need for aiming. The only time manual aim really comes into play is when you want to hit a specific body part, but even this is incredibly frustrating as it requires the player to completely stop moving, which means you will get hit if you try to use it mid combat. Even using it out of combat is unwieldy, as moving the crosshair to the spot you actually want to shoot can take an excruciatingly long time. The mere act of looking up and down is also strangely complicated as the camera does not reset to level unless the player begins moving and then stops again, again not a huge issue, but a weird little quirk nonetheless.
The level design and progression is truly the standout feature here. Goldeneye eschewed the traditional linear, action oriented approach that nearly all shooters before had taken and instead created expansive, non-linear, objective based missions. This approached slowed down the action considerably, but it instead encouraged players to examine their environment and think about different approaches to the problems presented. The game incorporated several stealth elements to allow and encourage players to avoid conflict. Guards can actively “hear” unsuppressed gunfire, and proceed to activate alarms or zone into the player’s location. All of these features seem basic by today’s standards, but at the time they were almost unheard of. Games like Doom had enemies either attacking the player or doing nothing, for enemies to now be able to react to a player’s actions several rooms over was groundbreaking. Making missions objective based allowed for more variety in terms of gameplay possibilities. One could be saving hostages one moment, disarming a bomb the next, or taking down waves of troops after tripping an alarm. This makes for levels that can create different experiences through each play through.
So the single player campaign still stands out as exceptional, but how about the famous multiplayer of Goldeneye? Unfortunately this part of the game has definitely become dated, but not just because multiplayer has become deeper in the FPS genre since, but also because it already had problems even for its time. The Golden Gun was an iconic weapon from this game, so much so, that it found its way into most other 007 games, no matter how unrelated to The Golden Gun the actual movie, they were. It always killed in one shot, and it was this glistening hunk of gold you carried around as you dominated your friends. The novelty of the gun quickly wore off however, and would end up being turned off because any match with its presence became nothing but a race to the Golden Gun spawn point. Without even taking the Golden Gun into account, the various aiming problems make most of the matches very brain dead, with little to no reason to place shots correctly over simply mashing Z. Level design is also thrown out the window in the Multiplayer maps, with what were once expansive and lively environments being replaced by vacant rooms with only textured walls to inform the player what level they are on. Being an older game, Goldeneye also suffered from cheap tactics like Spawn camping, waiting at the respawn point and taking advantage of the newly resurrected player’s vulnerability, and an over reliance of knowing all the nooks and crannies of every stage, because without good weapons, you simply cannot do much.
Overall do I think Goldeneye has held up after all this time? Yes, an answer which even surprised me. Goldeneye has many problems, and it definitely shows it’s age, often times unfavorably, but the single player campaign is so full of great level design and music that I found myself once again enjoying myself as I played through to write this review. I would never look back on the multiplayer mode, but that’s okay, Goldeneye succeeds as a fun game on its own merits, and the current FPS scene could stad to put some more focus back in their campaigns.
Overall Score: 8/10