Genre: First-Person Shooter
Original Release: August 25, 1997
Platform: Nintendo 64
I’m going to be completely transparent from the start here and admit that I grew up with GoldenEye. It’s one of those games I poured hour after hour into, playing so much of it in my spare time. I love it to pieces, but I’ve gotten into slightly heated debates with friends about it when they said it aged poorly. And after my PS3 developed some issues reading discs and forced me to put off the Demon’s Souls article I was planning to write next while it’s in for repairs, I found myself coming back to GoldenEye. Like I had done previously with Azurik, I found myself wondering if nostalgia clouded my memory of the game and its quality. It was time to revisit GoldenEye and give it a fair shake. Only this time I was going to go out of my way to unlock everything. That meant playing all 20 stages on all three difficulties. And honestly? It was worth it! But I’ll get there in time.
The meat of GoldenEye is more or less a scene-for-scene recreation of the 1995 James Bond movie of the same title, but with a surprising amount of love poured into it for a movie game, though maybe that’s the cynic in me talking based on some more recent experiences. You start by bungee jumping off of the dam in Arkhangelsk to infiltrate the chemical plant at the base, and as things progress you’ll find yourself in the Cuban jungles eliminating the Janus crime syndicate forces. You have three difficulties available to you: Agent, Secret Agent, and 00 Agent. These difficulties impact enemy health, accuracy, reaction times, damage, ammo pickups, objectives that need to be completed, and Bond’s auto-aim functionality. Completing a level on Secret Agent will also mark it as complete on Agent, and 00 Agent will clear it for all three, but it’s notably more difficult to do if you’re unfamiliar with the game. But in addition, each level has a cheat associated with it that requires you to clear it on a certain difficulty within a target time. For example, clearing Dam on Secret Agent within two minutes and forty seconds will unlock paintball mode. This replaces bullet holes in walls or anything that’s not an enemy guard with a paintball splatter of random colors. It’s a small thing, but it’s one of my favorites.
It’s kind of weird to judge GoldenEye by modern standards. Yeah, the gameplay is clunky, especially on higher difficulties, but you can see so much of the framework for current-day shooters in there. Aside from the two-weapon limit I mean. I still don’t get why that’s a thing. Yeah, Bond’s hammerspace weapon storage is a bit ridiculous (especially when you activate the All Guns cheat), but somehow limiting us to two weapons feels a bit…strict. But I digress, let’s talk about the gameplay itself. Bond can run and pick up speed after moving a certain distance, strafe with the left and right C buttons, and crouch by aiming and pressing the down C button at the same time to reduce his size, making him a smaller target and allowing him to fit into tighter spaces. This comes in handy in multiplayer more often than it does in the single player campaign, but it’s still nice to have extra options.
On that note, aiming has always been a little clunky. Holding the left or right shoulder button brings up a crosshair in the center of the screen, and Bond will always aim his gun to the center of it as it moves around the screen. Move it far enough to any side of the screen and you’ll turn until you bring it closer to the center. This is very helpful in Secret and 00 Agent when auto-aim’s effectiveness is reduced. Some guns, specifically the rifles like the KF7 Soviet and AR33 Assault Rifle, also have a basic scope that zooms in that give you more precise aim. Enemies will also take different amounts of damage based on where they’re hit, with headshots doing the most damage, though you can also hit guards in the nether regions and watch them double over.
Bond also has some mission-specific gadgets to use: An electromagnet in his watch, a covert modem that isn’t really all that covert when you look at it (seriously, it just kind of juts out of wherever you stick it), some timed C4 charges, and a floppy disc to reprogram shuttle guidance. That one’s more than a little dated, but it makes sense in context. It’s a neat touch that really makes you feel like you’re actually James Bond in action and the game is that much better for it. Of course, the soundtrack is also a massive help in this situation. It’s hard to pick just one track that best represents the whole soundtrack, but here’s one of my favorites: Cradle.
Now the levels that follow the events of the movie end up being 18 of the 20 playable stages. If you’re able to clear those 18 on Secret Agent or higher, you’ll unlock your first bonus stage: Aztec. I’m not the most fervent Bond movie watcher, but from what little I know, this is based heavily on Moonraker. The Drax Corporation has stolen a NASA shuttle for their own purposes and Bond’s been dispatched to recover it.
I didn’t grab any screenshots of this particular stage, sadly. But just know that you’ll have to contend with Moonraker Elite as you explore the complex to access the guidance computer and locate the DAT tape with the launch protocol on it. They’re armed with assault rifles and lasers, and you’ve got your trusty handgun on you. It’s doable, but it’s going to be rough. Even more so if you’re planning to unlock the associated cheat, but I promise you it can be done. It’s a short stage, but I remember loving it so much as a kid, just the sheer novelty of it compared to the rest of the game that I was already intimately familiar with made it so much more interesting. And I swear, going through it with DK mode activated made the Moonraker Elites look like Oompa Loompas in my mind. It’s worth playing through at least once, but you’ll need to do it on 00 Agent eventually if you want the last stage. And let’s talk about it!
Clearing the other 19 stages on 00 Agent will unlock your final level: Egyptian. This one borrows elements from The Man with the Golden Gun as well as Live and Let Die. Baron Samedi has called out Bond for a showdown in the Valley of Kings in Egypt, and claims to have the Golden Gun previously belonging to legendary assassin Scaramanga. This stage is much smaller and much more straightforward than Aztec, all you need to do is find the shrine housing the Golden Gun, reclaim it, and defeat Baron Samedi. It’s never that straightforward though, the floor in the shrine proper is rigged and there’s no hint or indication about which path is the safe one, so you’re going to have to go trial and error. Step on the wrong tile and the walls will pull away to reveal a nest of indestructible drone guns that won’t reset until you leave the room and come back through the main entrance. This…is not a great puzzle, even by the standards of the day. It relies on brute forcing your way through and eats up a lot of time unless you know the solution or write down which tiles were safe on each attempt. I mean Baron Samedi isn’t unkillable without the Golden Gun, but it makes it significantly easier to deal with him and you won’t finish the level until you get it. At least it’s not randomized with each attempt, that would be awful.
I don’t hate Egyptian, but I find the difficulty unfair compared to the other stages. It felt weaker than everything else. I’m not sure if it’s just that Golden Gun puzzle souring my experience or the fact that I didn’t struggle with this stage on 00 Agent nearly as much as I did pretty much every other stage, but Baron Samedi’s presence saves it for me. And even better, clearing this last stage on 00 Agent nets you the best reward of all: 007 Mode. Here, you get to customize enemy health, damage, accuracy, and reaction speed. I hear there’s more you can do with it, but I’ve never played with it all that much before.
All told, I’m glad I came back to GoldenEye. It’s one of those games from my childhood that still brings a smile to my face and I can’t help but groove to every track as I play. I’ve played better in the time since, and I’ve also played worse, but something about GoldenEye pulls me back time and again. I’m not sure if it’s nostalgia or the hours upon hours of multiplayer with my siblings, but it was awesome to revisit and it gave me a newfound appreciation for what goes into making a game of any size or genre. So naturally I feel that GoldenEye has more than earned my seal of approval.
It’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but it definitely feels like an important piece of video game history that’s worth trying out at least once. If you’d prefer, there’s a remaster made by Eurocom and published by Activision (unfortunately) available on Wii, as well as an unreleased Xbox 360 remaster. I haven’t looked into it all that much, but you have options at least! If nothing else, take a look around YouTube and see what you can find!