GoldenEye 007 is probably my all-time favorite video game. I spent a lot of time playing the multiplayer mode and even more time playing the missions. It was the first game that I bought by myself, and I definitely got my money’s worth. The amount of content and the quality of it still impresses me. Its lasting influence and popularity is not surprising to anybody who’s old enough to remember the era.
I first played GoldenEye at a friend’s house. He managed to rent a copy when the game was brand new. We played three-way deathmatches with his younger brother that afternoon. I clearly remember us playing in the Complex level, and I vaguely, maybe falsely, remember us playing as different versions of Bond. The game was supposed to have Connery, Moore, and Dalton, but they only would’ve been available with a GameShark, which my friend was using.
I next played GoldenEye at my house. I reserved a rental a few weeks later for my youngest sister’s birthday party. I borrowed two controllers from my previously mentioned friend and I had two of my own. Six family friends and I played two-on-two deathmatches, tournament-style, that afternoon. I clearly remember us playing in the Facility level, and I remember everybody wanting to play as the only version of Bond that’s available without hacks.
I tried the missions for the first time the next morning. I probably played on Agent difficulty, and I failed the Facility mission a few times. I loved the tension, though. I managed to get to the Surface mission before I had to return the rental. I finished the campaign some weeks later when I borrowed a classmate’s copy for a weekend. He was impressed that I’d done, in two days, something that he hadn’t done in two months.
I didn’t play the multiplayer mode that weekend, but the four-player, split-screen battles had already become legendary: my classmate asked me to not delete the user profile that I was using when I’d told him that I unlocked a bunch of characters and levels. I enjoyed my share of these battles at get-togethers with friends, but I didn’t buy a copy until the one-year anniversary of the game’s release.
I hadn’t bought the game earlier because I was broke and picky. I was fine with borrowing and renting games for the first two years that I had my N64. Then one day, my friend phoned me and said that Nintendo was lowering the price of GoldenEye. I went to our preferred store shortly thereafter and paid the lowered price before it was official; I bought a copy that had the standard cover and not the one with the newer Player’s Choice label.
I played GoldenEye like a man possessed over the next year. I probably started with Secret Agent difficulty, and I definitely ended with 00 Agent difficulty. I remember the Control mission on 00 Agent being the hardest of them all. I also remember being daunted by the 00 Agent target times for the Facility mission (2:05) and the Archives mission (1:20). I earned the 007 difficulty and all of the cheats, though. I even did it again with another profile.
Rare’s masterpiece paved the way for other games in its genre. Its real-world setting and special-operations theme set the stage for Rainbow Six, Medal of Honor, and Call of Duty as well as Metal Gear Solid and Splinter Cell. The popularity of the game’s multiplayer mode created the template that Halo obviously used and arguably surpassed. Simply put, GoldenEye proved that historical-political intrigue and console-based shooters were viable.
It introduced, or at least popularized, gameplay features that have become standard. Enemies react based on where they get hit, and they try to dodge the player’s aim. They also respond to loud noises like alarms and gunshots. This type of programming was ahead of its time, actually. The sniper rifle and its adjustable scope-zoom was relatively novel, and the two-controller schemes were nothing short of revolutionary, even if few people used them.
The James Bond license is the proverbial icing on the cake. The multiplayer modes, except Normal, are named after Bond movies and the control schemes are named after Bond girls. The cast of the GoldenEye movie are accurately represented, considering the technology at the time. The manual has a preliminary screenshot that shows the other, fabled versions of Bond, but at least some memorable Bond villains are playable, including Oddjob.
The game is appropriately cinematic. Besides the outdated graphics, the startup and ending credits are presented like they would be in a Bond movie. The user interface, with its dossier files and wristwatch screens, suits the spy theme. The missions each have randomly selected pre-mission scenes and dynamically generated post-mission (and player-death) scenes. The video options even include widescreen and 16:9 settings.
GoldenEye has become a brand within the Bond brand. The 1995 movie is the first and best one to star Brosnan, and it has the distinction of reviving the franchise after the end of the Cold War era. Different game developers have tried to capitalize on Rare’s 1997 game; there’s been a 2004 spinoff called GoldenEye: Rogue Agent and a 2010 remake, starring Daniel Craig, that has a 2011 port called GoldenEye 007: Reloaded.
Interest in Bond movies is higher now than ever. The passing of Roger Moore earlier this year and the announcement by Daniel Craig earlier this summer, along with the next Bond movie being number 25 in the franchise, has probably put 007’s real-life Q Score over the top. Apple and Amazon seem to agree, because they’re competing for the multi-billion-dollar distribution rights. The franchise turnaround from several years ago to now is amazing.
Interest in Bond games, on the other hand, is different. The games—which are based on one movie, different movies, or none at all—they tend to be derivative of other games, and the better ones are still the products of game companies that are trying to cash in their license to thrill. GoldenEye is the same in this sense, but it’s the only Bond game that’s been a financial blockbuster and cultural landmark in its own right.
I can’t imagine another Bond game being as successful. It would have to be innovative enough to set itself apart from other games and from the Bond license. I’d like an open-world game in which the player assumes the role of a new 00 agent who’s totally customizable, and the game could be a combination of Assassin’s Creed, Metal Gear Solid V, and Shadow of Mordor. The various Bond actors would be unlockable characters.
In the meantime, I might buy some of the PS2 Bond games that I can play on my backwards-compatible PS3. I might also buy a used N64, two controllers, and a copy of the best Bond game ever made.