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Goldeneye 007 (Nintendo 64) artwork

Goldeneye 007 (Nintendo 64) review

"Goldeneye was the best game I ever played in 1997. In 1997, the idea of firing explosive rockets in my brother's face without the threat of parental beatings was an experience I had never had (in 1997, of course). In 1997, I – as no doubt everyone else who played Goldeneye in 1997 – was flabbergasted by the shear scope of this thing. The expansive levels, the recoil of exotic machine guns, the hordes of intelligent Russians assaulting our hero from all sides, and the complicated missio..."

Goldeneye was the best game I ever played in 1997. In 1997, the idea of firing explosive rockets in my brother's face without the threat of parental beatings was an experience I had never had (in 1997, of course). In 1997, I – as no doubt everyone else who played Goldeneye in 1997 – was flabbergasted by the shear scope of this thing. The expansive levels, the recoil of exotic machine guns, the hordes of intelligent Russians assaulting our hero from all sides, and the complicated mission objectives all seemed like some sort of divine gift in front of whose presence we console gamers could only stoop our heads in awe and throw bouquets of roses at its feet.

Eleven years have passed, and the ravages of time have not been kind to this former idol. It's expansive levels are ruined by a framerate that dips to something comparable to Crysis running on NES hardware; it's intelligent enemies stand in front of you and cycle through shooting animations as they bottleneck in doorways; it's complicated missions are tedious; and its once exotic arsenal now varies between a poorly rendered 3D gun that makes a “bang” sound and a poorly rendered 3D handgun that makes a “ping” sound. Age has stripped the initial sense of awe that Goldeneye created, and has left something that, in 2008, can only be described as an atrocious mess.

Since I may be the first person in recorded history to use the words “Goldeneye” and “atrocious” in the same sentence, perhaps I should elaborate. The most obvious criticism that can be leveled at Goldeneye is it's framerate, which fluctuates between unplayable in the sense that it causes headaches and unplayable as in “I'm going to go make a sandwich while the next frame is loading.” I am not so ignorant as to think that an early N64 game could have done better, but I think it's reasonable to not be required to take Dramamine before extended periods of play. The problem is aggravated by its own inconsistency – if it was consistent but still poor, one could perhaps get accustomed to it; as it is now one must accommodate the sudden drops that occur at the most inconvenient moments.

The dipping framerate is one of the many reasons that Goldeneye's gunplay epitomizes spray 'n pray to a level that cannot possibly be topped. As the screen turns to a slide-show, you're only defense is to try and look in the general direction of your foes and to rub the Z-button with erotic ferver. You're not really aiming or doing anything that requires finesse or competent levels of intelligence. Even when the framerate is only poor, the lack of a targeting reticle and the way the gun moves from the center of the screen when Bond turns means that all the player can ever do is face in the general direction of what he or she want to kill and hope that thing falls over. You can manually aim too, but this cannot be combined with strafing, which is fundamental to a first-person shooter. Furthermore, when the player aims, the targeting reticle will not stay in the center of the screen, and requires constant pressure on the analog stick to hold in place. Doing this with the N64's notoriously flimsy control stick is not a pleasant task.

Weapons possess a decided lack of variety, almost all of them being mindless bullet fountains. Of course there are exceptions, like remote mines, but your core arsenal is either a handgun or a machine gun that sprays bullets at various rates and with varying degrees of strength. There is no such thing as finesse or precision in your cache, only weapons that shoot faster or louder.

The single player campaign consists of missions loosely based on the film of the same name, with two secret levels set in non-canonical scenarios from other Bond movies. Most of your objectives will be “collect item X,” “meet person Y,” or the dreaded “protect the idiotic AI controlled ally.” Some of these can be really obscure too, like “obtain telemetric data” or “install convert modem.” The escort missions can be downright frustrating in a way that can make the player feel like they're being cheated. Oh, and there are no checkpoints.

There are some rewarding aspects for the single player, I suppose. The way the game menu is styled as Bond's watch is clever, even though enemies can still kill you as you're pulling it out; the control method where you use a controller in each hand is interesting, albeit very counterintuitive; the music is genuinely likable; and when the whole spy thing comes together, one can almost believe that they are the legendary James Bond himself. Unfortunately, it doesn't really come together like it did a decade ago. Haphazarding one's way through a level until the one figures out how to actually complete the mission objectives through trial and error, memorizing the position of enemies, and learning how to run past all of dangers therein is an absolute chore.

Goldeneye tends to reward the player's ability to run past enemies while looking at the wall, which is how one unlocks cheat codes, rather than shooting accurately. Why shoot enemies in a level with infinitely respawning foes? Why shoot when the rock-paper-scissors gunplay will result in more health lost than if you just look away and run like hell? The codes that can be unlocked by speedrunning levels range from infinite ammo to big head mode, and greatly increase the length of the twenty-level campaign. You will be given a difficulty, a level, and a target time, and must complete said level within said time. Most of these are fairly simple, with the gross exception of the Facility. If you have accomplished this feat, you know what I am talking about, and you know it wasn't skill that won the day – it was that bloody scientist deciding to spawn in the correct location.

The various difficulty levels determine your opponents' health and damage output, as well as the number of mission objectives that will be required of you. Despite the drastic difference in health, which turns enemies into literal bullet sponges who do not flinch when shot in the face, this setup ingenious. The sheer variety of environments should be commended as well. There isn't a problem with level design so much as there are problems with other aspects of the game that infect level playability. For example, the idiotic enemies that like to jump in front of you and kneel before firing tend to bottleneck in doorways. The spray 'n pray mechanics make such locations the perfect place to close your eyes and hold down the Z-button. Likewise, the way firefights are geared around mowing down hordes of Russians rather than engaging in tactical duels is one of the primary culprits for framerate woes.

Any (gaming) person who was alive in 1997 has probably played Goldeneye's multiplayer sometime in the past, and the flavor has soured rather than settled. The spray 'n pray mechanics, shoddy framerate, and complete disregard for weapon balance generate an experience that could be recreated by throwing dice. If you want to get better, you should improve your strafe-running and screen-watching skills – what an ass you are to think that shooting well should be a part of this equation! A good player unleashes their bullet fountain a few seconds before their prey by memorizing maps and watching their opponent's screen (while claiming to not watch their opponent's screen) and sneaking up behind them. When the loser of a gunfight respawns without a weapon in an arbitrary location, pray that they respawn in the same room they died in for another undeserved kill. I think it would be fair to label this type of experience a party game.

Goleneye almost single-handed created the first-person shooter genre on consoles, and for that it is worthwhile to play as a historicized object. As a functional thing however, it has been made obsolete by future entries in the very genre it pioneered, including it's spiritual sequel Perfect Dark. Its main appeal was the freshness of an experience that up until 1997 had not existed for anyone beyond a few PC games, but now that experience can be had on any system, and it can be had with better controls and better gunplay. The only thing later entries cannot do better is nostalgia, which is the only factor that can possibly explain this game's enduring status among even the most competent N64 enthusiasts.

Goldeneye is a relic; it no longer has intrinsic value.

dagoss's avatar
Community review by dagoss (August 02, 2008)

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Suskie posted August 02, 2008:

Interesting take on this game. Goldeneye and Perfect Dark were two of my favorite games from the N64 era, though when I go back to them now, it's not the framerate or the level design that bugs me... it's the controls. You can tell that Rare really struggled to pull of adequate FPS controls on the crappy N64 pad. In these days of dual-analog control, it's tough to go back.
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bluberry posted August 02, 2008:

for some reason I've never had any trouble with N64 FPS controls. movement on the C buttons, aiming on the analog stick. boom.
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disco1960 posted August 02, 2008:

I used to be quite good at Goldeneye, but sucked noodles at Perfect Dark for some reason.

I never even beat PD on Secret Agent.

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bluberry posted August 02, 2008:

I was the other way around, I think I unlocked everything in Perfect Dark but could barely even scrape through GE on 00 Agent.
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Suskie posted August 02, 2008:

You know, I always loved the dual controller setup from Perfect Dark. That's one controller in each hand, two analog sticks. It was retarded, but it was awesome.
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dagoss posted August 03, 2008:

I didn't have problems with GE/PD controls until after I played games like Half-life and Halo, probably because there really wasn't anything to compare GE to. The N64's analog stick is very imprecise, and the internal mechanism only gets worse with age. I've been trying to get used to 1.2/Turok controls, but using the C-buttons to walk feels really awkward.

I tried to avoid complaining about the controller since it's not Rare's fault. I felt like an ass posting this review though since GE really was a good game.
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Suskie posted August 03, 2008:

I agree that it's tough to go back after playing shooters with dual analog. On the other hand, I wouldn't feel so bad about blaming Rare like that for something that technically isn't their fault. They didn't design the controller, true, but that doesn't make the game any easier to control.

To clarify, I'm still a big fan of GE and PD, as I consider them two of the most meticulously designed console FPSs ever made. Are they as fun to play now as they were two generations ago? Of course not, but as I've stated before, I don't hold a game responsible for feeling outdated after a decade. No game is timeless as far as I'm concerned, with the possible exception of Tetris.

My first entry in Felix's N64 challenge is another Rare title that I used to love but can't anymore. It suffers from some of the problems I've mentioned here, and it'll cover another letter in the Alpha Marathon that I haven't hit yet. You should have no trouble guessing which game I'm about to review.
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Halon posted August 03, 2008:

The problem for me is Goldeneye really isn't fun anymore. It was great back then because it was the only FPS that I could play with 3 friends at a time in the same room but with newer offerings it's absolutely horrible. The controls are either too responsive or not at all and aiming is a pain in the ass. Not to mention the N64 controller is terrible for the genre (and in general, but most won't agree with me on that one). Back then having to ban certain characters for being too short didn't really bother me but right now it's silly.

It wasn't even epic 10/10 game back then. Quake 2 worked much better and shorty after Half Life and Unreal made it obsolete.
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Suskie posted August 03, 2008:

The N64 sucks for just about anything that isn't a platformer or Zelda. Also:

It's expansive levels are ruined by a framerate that dips to something comparable to Crysis running on NES hardware

Exaggerations of this nature will henceforth be referred to as Timrods.
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timrod posted August 03, 2008:

^ Somebody's a hypocrite.
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zippdementia posted November 11, 2010:

Just spotted this. Really great example of how to look back at a game and discuss how it has aged. Well enjoyed.

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