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GoldenEye 007 box art
Game Details
  • Platform N64
  • Publisher Nintendo
  • Developer Rare
  • Release Date 1997

Sep 21st
2012

GoldenEye 007 Retro Reflection

Diamonds are forever.

When it comes to the first-person shooter, a voyeuristic variety of the video game, the modernising milestones in its fruition are historically many. As one of these later landmarks would accurately boast in its subtitle – Combat Evolved –  the growth of the FPS as one of the most visceral forms of engagement today does not owe itself to any one title.

There was no big bang for the shooter, which ironically did not blast its way onto the scene in a method as frenetic as its fiction. Rather, it crawled from a baptism by fire to evolved combat; to the modern warfare firmly fixed on the front today. Though you can trace this evolution as far back as the primordial ooze of the arcades, in games like Maze War and Battlezone, id Software’s Wolfenstein 3D and DOOM were the ones to really establish the core blueprint of the category.

Backed by the programming mastery and creative design of the two Johns – Carmack and Romero respectively – these games set the stage for the PC phenomenon that wasted many a worker’s hours, to the disgruntled dismay of his employer, blowing bots to bits in a deathmatch. The virtuality of seeing through the eyes of your hero almost took the hero right out of the equation entirely. You were the hero, more than you could ever be over the shoulder, and in 3D, id’s revolutionary rampages were adulterated, eye-popping awesomeness.

“For England, James?”

But this escapist elation was monopolised by the PC, its parties now passionately proud and protective of their newly-born, pulsating game-type. For years, the shooter genre was more of a DOOM clone genre, with hoards of rip-offs, most encouraged by Carmack’s open-source shareware theology, flooding the market.

GoldenEye 007, instead of copying id’s design, radically built upon it. Rareware, a company founded by industry veterans no stranger to reforming the mold, was back on its familiar high horse after the graphically ground-breaking Donkey Kong Country, and though initially toying with the thought of sticking it safe and turning the GoldenEye movie license into a Super Nintendo sidescroller, gambling gonads played a straight flush with a shooter.

Goldfinger

GoldenEye was principally golden because of its realism.

GoldenEye was principally golden because of its realism. Instead of the comic-book, over-the-top slaughter of DOOM, James Bond’s operation was methodical. Inspired by Super Mario 64’s idea of presenting the gamer with multiple objectives in one level, GoldenEye’sassignments included a multitude of mini-missions: save the hostages, install a covert modem, etc. Secondary objectives, and the open-world feel of being often able to approach these objectives in a flexible order, and each mission’s ending string of stats, gave the game extremely long legs with loads of replay value. As in other spy games like Splinter Cell years later, gracefully getting through a max-security missile silo without a single hitch was a rewarding rush and kept you coming back for more.

Bond’s signature PPK was your default mode of dispatching guards, its silencer making stealth a major part of the game, a component that had always eluded the shooter. DOOM had made the shooter frontal, blasting the living hell out of everyone and everything your only priority, but GoldenEye was about subtlety and choice. While you could definitely whip out your Kalashnikov and rile up the camp from the outset, you felt duty-bound as the virtual incarnation of Her Majesty’s secret service to stay under the radar until that metaphorical radar was riddled with figurative red.

“Don’t forget to wash your hands.”

View To A Kill

The gunplay kicked ass, and firmly proved to the PC camp that the consoles could shelter the shooter just as amiably.

The gunplay kicked ass, and firmly proved to the PC camp that the consoles could shelter the shooter just as amiably. In the greatest leap for realistic violence since the use of digitised graphics in earlier fighting games like Pit Raider and Mortal Kombat, GoldenEye was an anatomy lesson. Shooting limbs and lower parts of the body would cripple your enemies, but headshots would kill instantly. The destructive sound of the AK was music to the malicious male, and the animations of its movement were unexpectedly immersive, your weapon adjusting ever so slightly as your sights swerved. And for the first time in a shooter, the sniper rifle was equipped with a zoom feature (although aiming at 100 yards with questionable draw distance and finicky controls can be a royal pain).

Yeah, we sure as heck had some good times huddled in the darkness of our lonesome bedrooms plowing through another late-night session of GoldenEye, but it was those multiplayer moments with our buddies that trumped those solo sessions with numbing ease and gave us the conversational catalogue we’ll take to our high school reunion years from now to re-break ice once liquified by the heated exchange of ‘Golden Gun’ gluttons.

As a kid, I missed out on those moments unfortunately. Born in the early ‘90s, I was jumpin’, not gunnin’. My preadolescence perfectly positioned at the peak of the Super Mario 64 platformer renaissance, I grew up on Rayman 2 and Banjo-Kazooie. Strange as it may sound today in a culture when you hear an 8-year old at your local game shop raving about his K/D in C.O.D. – remedied immediately by the hilarious response of an eavesdropping elder who can’t fathom why any sane child would eat their Kraft Dinner with a side of seafood – back then, kids were kids and, speaking for myself, were repelled by the dreariness of a serious setting. Sex for dinner, death for breakfast? Boo! We wanted to stomp on turtles and jump into magic paintings! Alas, let this aging gamer’s ‘get off my lawn’ spiel come to a close.

“That’s it…a little closer…straight into my proximity mine.”

You Know My Name

The graphics were unbelievable. In fact, I distinctively remember my mother giving me hell because of how life-like the faces in the game looked (ironic now because of how laughable they look by today’s standards). “Oh my God, those look like real people!”, shouted Mom as I countered with, “But they’re Soviets, Mom!” Okay, that last bit’s a lie… I was 6. All the same, GoldenEye was visually stunning. Deaths were gratifyingly gory, Commie combatants flailing their arms, grabbing their gut, and flying back at the fearsome force of a bullet barrage. Glass shattered, bullet holes and blood brutalised the environment, and all of the faithfully recreated scenes from the movie were captured in huge, open worlds that made you feel like you had a lot more freedom than you really had.

You felt like James Bond. That and its revolutionary innovations are what made GoldenEye so breath-taking. Remember, the shooter has been a gradual process and each milestone title in its history has fabricated its formula and left a legacy. DOOM outlined the basic parameters of movement, and Halo would master the console’s controls; because of the N64’s one control stick, Goldeneye 007 was therefore not yet the complete FPS we now know. But what it did was just as extraordinary. Its design innovated in more ways than one, from graphics to gameplay, proving once and for all to the world that the genre was viable on the home hardware, its realism set the benchmark for the military shooter, and its mature content kept the N64 afloat against the edgier Playstation.

By all measures, GoldenEye should not have worked. A licensed game, late of the movie by two years no less, a console shooter by an inexperienced team kept true solely by the veteran leadership and work ethic of the Stamper brothers… hmm, I suppose rarer things have been realised.

Prefer moving pictures and sound? Then watch our video retro reflection here