Year of N64 – January: GoldenEye 007

Let’s not beat around the bush here; everybody’s played Goldeneye 007 for the Nintendo 64. Everyone. It’s that one game that was a must-have if you owned an N64, and if you didn’t own an N64, you probably bought one so that you didn’t look like a fool when your friends came over and asked why you weren’t playing GoldenEye. So you probably don’t really need me to tell you all that much about what it is.

Being the first game in TE’s Year of Nintendo 64 though, I’ve made a paper-thin commitment to write something about it. And now that I think about it, I guess that it’s old enough now that there are kids who are so young that they’ve never played it. That’s a little spooky, and makes me feel very old. But then, a lot of things make me feel old, so let’s not dwell on that.

Today, I want to take a look at GoldenEye from the perspective of someone who hasn’t played the game in over ten years, and see how the real deal holds up against the GoldenEye that is perched upon a pedestal in my memories.

As a little background to my history with GoldenEye, it was one of the first two games we had for our N64, along with The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, so I was playing a ton of it right out of the gate. I continued to spend the next three years honing my GoldenEye skills, only dropping it in favour of its spiritual successor, Perfect Dark. I was never a GoldenEye master, as I didn’t exactly dominate in multiplayer and I was never able to unlock all the cheats without help from my GameShark, but I did beat the game on 00 Agent difficulty, so I had chops enough.

Having spent so much time with the game, a lot of it came rushing back when I recently replayed it. I knew the layout of many of the maps, and I was able to remember how to clear some of the more obscure mission objectives. Of course, I couldn’t be expected to remember 100% of the game, and I did find myself getting lost in some of the more mazelike stages. In particular, one of the later missions, the Control Center, really threw me for a loop. The stage layout isn’t overly complex, but it took me a while to figure out how to complete one of the mission objectives.

Familiarity with the game content wasn’t the thing I was worried about going in though. I was more concerned that I wouldn’t be able to manage with the less-than-ideal Nintendo 64 controller after over a decade of dual-stick controllers. And it was a horrible mess at the beginning. Simply moving was a great ordeal on its own, but it was also odd to be using my left trigger finger to shoot, rather than the right, which I’ve become more accustomed to. It was very often that I’d find myself going into aim mode rather than firing, and taking damage for the mistake.

Over time, I did slowly build up a serviceable level of competence with the controls, and by the time I reached the end of the game I was strafe-running with the best of ’em. Of course, even though I’d re-“mastered” using the controller, it’s still fairly clunky compared to modern games. Using the same button to reload and open doors was a bit of a pain, and there’s a severe lack of button to flip backwards through your weapons. You can do it, but it’s done by holding the weapon change button and then pushing the shoot button. Not the most intuitive combo; I had to look it up to see if it was a thing that existed. One of those rare instances where reading the manual would have helped.

Controls aside, actually playing GoldenEye again was nothing but pure joy. It may have been mostly nostalgia talking, but I had so much more fun playing GoldenEye than I do when I try to play most modern shooters. I can’t say for sure what it is that separates them, but I think that a lot of it has to do with tone. Modern shooters are gritty and 100% serious. It’s stifling at best and flat-out boring at worst. GoldenEye, while it does come off with an air of seriousness, is actually pretty goofy when it comes down to it. The graphics are bright and colourful, and the polygonal characters have a dopey look that you can’t help but love. My favourite part is that so many of the character death animations are overblown and silly, but never overly violent or graphic. It’s more like you’re playing a cartoon than an adaptation of a live-action movie.

The other big thing it has over current games is that the stages aren’t long and padded. I’d say the average time it would take to complete most levels on the easiest difficulty is about five minutes. some are a little longer, but lots of them are even shorter. GoldenEye doesn’t have any mid-stage checkpoints, but this is a game that doesn’t need checkpoints. I was able to clear the game in a single evening, and I’ll certainly put a check mark in the “pro” column for that.

GoldenEye’s best feature for people like me that want to just go back and goof around is its auto-aim. You basically just need to point your gun somewhere in the general direction of an enemy, and the game will adjust it so that (at least on the easiest difficulty) you’ll almost always pop ’em right in the chest. It’s a handy feature, as actually aiming is a big chore that tends to slow down the action-focused gameplay. There are times when stealth might benefit you a little, but in most cases I found that the best strategy is just to mow down everyone as you go. If you’re hardcore, you can turn auto-aim off, but I just can’t see any reason why I would ever want to cripple myself like that.

The most surprising thing I learned about GoldenEye is that it has a pretty great soundtrack. Sure, a lot of the tracks riff on the Bond theme, but a good chunk of them are totally rad. I’d definitely consider dropping a tenski on the soundtrack if it ever made its way to iTunes.

It can’t all be sunshine and rainbows though. I’ll give a pass to the enemy AI because 1997, but the “friendly” AI’s stupidity is atrocious. Many, many missions ended in failure because a scientist or Natalya decided to run in front of my gun while it was going off. I had to redo the damn Jungle level several times because stupid Natalya would see an enemy throw a grenade and then run toward that now-live grenade. The first time I played through the Train stage, Natalya thought it would be a good idea to stand idly beside the train car that was about to explode. If you tallied up all my failures, there would probably be fewer caused by my own mistakes than allies getting themselves killed.

I do have to admit, it’s funny to watch spooked civilians and scientists run around in circles like idiots because they don’t have an actual path to follow.

I’m also of the opinion that the final level is way too hard. Even on Agent difficulty (as easy as it gets), I died nearly a dozen times before finally eking out a very narrow victory. I should note that this is a very small stage, where your only objectives are to blow up a computer console, and then shoot a man. The man in question takes an awful lot of bullets to put down, but the real problem is that he runs very fast, and it’s hard to get a clear shot at him. Also, other dudes are constantly spawning in and they have very good aim, as opposed to the guys you’ve been shooting throughout the rest of the game, who are only about a notch above having Stormtrooper Aim. It’s a pain in the butt, but at least once you know what you’re doing the level can be finished in about two minutes.

And so, somehow I’ve managed to type way too many words about GoldenEye 007. I thought I’d have to pad like crazy to get this one to 1000 words, but once I started typing it just started spilling out and here we are far above that mark. Suffice it to say, I’m pretty impressed at how well GoldenEye 007 holds up for me. I tried playing the new(ish) 007 Legends game on Xbox 360, and it was so terrible that I gave up before I was halfway through. You might not get as much mileage from this gem of the Nintendo 64 library, but it was certainly a bright experience for me, and I think that I might have to keep it in my rotation of short games that I play through once a year.

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