First-person shooters are a hallmark of the modern video-game age, and most gamers can agree that GoldenEye on the Nintendo 64 (or simply GoldenEye 64) really brought the genre to consoles. It was a game critics and consumers loved, and it became one of the must-have titles of the era. This holiday season, Activision is hoping to capture some of that magic again with its release of a re-made, re-imagined GoldenEye for the Wii and DS, which begged the question, how does GoldenEye 64 hold up? Well keep reading, as I cover GoldenEye 64 based on my original memories of the game, along with my impressions from a very recent complete re-playthrough of the single-player campaign.
While many modern FPS owe a lot to GoldenEye 64, the genre has continued to evolve over the years. Some of this evolution was due in part to new consoles and control interfaces, some was due to a change in game design and mechanics, and some was a combination of the two. And while the game constantly appeared in my mental top-ten list of greatest games of all time, does it really stand the test of time the way other genre-defining classics — like Super Mario Bros. — do?
But first, some brief background on GoldenEye 64. The game came home in 1997, well after both the theatrical and home release of the movie. But when it arrived, it arrived in a big way. It brought the FPS genre, a genre that had long dominated on the PC, to an entirely new audience. It gave players controls that seemed to work, all without a mouse and keyboard. It put gamers in environments and situations they could recognize from the movie. It had enemy AI that reacted to sounds the player made, enemies that would suffer location-based damage, and friendly AI that could run with and assist the player. All this was a big deal in 1997. It also gave console gamers competitive multiplayer, something that is all but an industry requirement in today’s FPS. Even if you did not experience GoldenEye 64 in its prime, you can see why it is often regarded so highly. It more or less helped define console FPS. But that was then.
When I first played the game I remember thinking how great the graphics looked. It seemed pretty impressive. Today, however, one of the first things I noticed was how blocky the character models are. This continued throughout the game. For example, there were several occasions where I was shot at by enemies in the distance that I could not see, either because the draw distance was not far enough or because the enemy did not stand out from the background in any discernible manner. I feel like 8-bit graphics have aged better than early 3D or polygon graphics. Games like Super Mario Bros., or even the newer Mega Man 9 and 10 continue to look “good” and remain playable despite their graphics. Perhaps the difference is that early polygon games were still going for a photo-realistic look, while 8-bit games knew they couldn’t get close, so they didn’t even try. Whatever the reason, the graphics in GoldenEye 64 have not held up well, and at times they can impact gameplay. Many hallways look almost exactly the same, and objectives (like locating a certain object) can prove more taxing than they should.
When I first played GoldenEye 64, I remember just picking up the game and playing. That feeling was a big reason why the game was such a hit. The Nintendo 64 gave gamers an analog stick to work with, and GoldenEye 64 set out to use the stick to bring the FPS experience home. Typically, players controlled both forward and backward movement and looking left and right with the analog stick, while the “C Buttons” were used for left and right strafing and looking up and down. When players brought up the aiming cross-hairs, however, they could no longer move and the analog stick controlled all aiming. This control scheme makes some sense, as moving Bond throughout the world was very similar to how gamers moved Mario in Super Mario 64.
But this control scheme meant that unless players pulled up the cross-hairs, aiming was largely handled with an auto-aim function because the developers decided to put movement, and not aiming, on the controller's lone analog stick. Turok on the Nintendo 64 went with a different control scheme, which is actually much closer to today’s dual-analog set up, but in “south paw,” where the “C Buttons” controlled moving and the analog stick controlled all aiming.
During my re-play it took me a good bit of time to get used to GoldenEye 64’s controls, and they never really felt natural. Because pulling up the aiming cross-hairs meant I could not move, I found myself only using that method when it was required, like shooting a lock off a door. Otherwise, I was just running and gunning, and I actually found that running right at an enemy while shooting was the best way to have the auto-aim lock on.
While GoldenEye 64 should be applauded for bringing a FPS to home consoles in a way that gamers could play and appreciate, I believe the selected control method — even considering the controller’s limitations — leaves a lot to be desired, both in the actual control itself and in how it causes players to play the game. I found myself fighting with with the control all through the game. If the controls were different, I think this game could stand the test of time a little better. After all, the control method in games like Super Mario Bros. work as well today as they did back then.
When I first played the game, I thought it was amazing how the game managed to track the film’s story, while adding fun new levels and situations to explore. Anyone that has played the original will remember the opening from the Facility level. Generally, the enemy AI seemed sharp and the location-based damage really made things feel real. There were multiple objectives and you could take out security cameras or alarms to help you get through levels undetected. It all heightened the experience.
Replaying the game, however, I could not but help notice how sparse the story really is. And while the opening to the Facility level was still fun to play, the AI was much less competent than I remembered. I also found it frustrating that I could exit a level when I hadn’t completed all the objectives, causing me to fail the level, when the door I walked through looked just like any other. That and the graphics made it hard to tell where I had been and where I still needed to explore.
CONCLUSION: IS IT WORTH PLAYING OR RE-PLAYING TODAY:
Yes and no. Generally, however, I would say no, not unless you want to play it for historical reasons, to see where many of the features in today’s FPS came from. If that is your reasoning, then it is worth the time. But like studying some early literary works, the process of playing the game itself will likely not be the enjoyable part. Simply put, while GoldenEye 64 may have been the first FPS to do a lot of things, a lot of games have come out since then, and many do it all better.
What are your thoughts and memories regarding GoldenEye 64? Did you play it; have you played it recently? If so, what aspects of the game did you love and what aspects did you think might not be the best? Are you excited about the upcoming re-imagined GoldenEye remake? Do you think it can compare to the original, or would you rather just see the original get a re-release like Perfect Dark did? Let us know in the comments below.
Activision’s modern and re-imagined take on GoldenEye will hit the Wii and DS on November 2, 2010.