|Released in the US on 8/25/97|
Today marks the 15th anniversary of the release of GoldenEye 007, one of the greatest games ever made, and my favorite game of all time. GoldenEye is the number one selling N64 game in the United States, outselling Super Mario 64, Mario Kart 64, and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. On this historic day, I'd like to say a few words about this enduring icon of the industry.
Development - Naivete, talent...and luck
When Nintendo was given the rights to the Bond license, the film GoldenEye was in production. The big N planned to create a video game tie-in that would launch alongside the movie, and the project was entrusted to the capable hands of Rare. To many gamers, Rare was the company that could do no wrong, and they like to point to their stellar record while under the wing of Nintendo. But as it turns out, they actually had no idea how to approach the title, and development was drawn out and rocky. Eight of the nine developers had never worked on a game before, and the preliminary plan was to make it a 2D platformer for the Super Nintendo. Remember, this was late 1994, and Rare had just wrapped up development of Donkey Kong Country weeks earlier. It isn't hard to understand why that format seemed so attractive.
Fortunately, Martin Hollis, the director and producer of the game, came up with another idea. Rather than create a 2D SNES title, Hollis decided to make it a 3D shooter for Nintendo's new 64-bit console, and he intended to model it after Sega's popular arcade hit, Virtua Cop. Like Virtua Cop, GoldenEye would be an on-rails shooter, where players would take aim at waves of enemies while the CPU would handle movement. As development progressed, the team made the decision to take it off rails and make it a full-blown first-person shooter. Thank goodness!
In his lengthy article, "The Making of GoldenEye," Hollis himself refers to the development process as a "sloppy unplanned approach," and relates how the team had to create the game on sub-par hardware as there were no N64 dev kits at the time. They literally had to guess what the new system would be capable of, and even used a Sega Saturn controller for early playtesting. If Sega had caught wind of that, it would have been quite embarrassing. For those who wish to read more about the making of this legendary game, I will provide a link to Hollis' article at the end of this feature, and it makes for good reading. The development process sounds very chaotic, and all I can say is, the fact that GoldenEye turned out the way it did is nothing short of miraculous. As Hollis himself says, "Looking back, there are things I would be wary of attempting now, but as none of the people working on the code, graphics, and game design had worked on a game before, there was this joyful naivete." While the team who created the game are undeniably talented, I don't think it would be a stretch to say that luck played a major role in the development of this legendary game.
What's noteworthy is that GoldenEye was not released until 1997, two years after the release of the film it was based on. In fact, the game hit store shelves just months before the release of Tomorrow Never Dies, the next Bond film. Nintendo did not put unrealistic deadlines on the project and gave the folks at Rare time to work their magic, rather than putting ridiculous demands on them to ensure it would be released alongside its namesake. Movie-based games, especially those based on the 007 series, would turn out a lot better if other license holders would follow this example.
|Rare took full advantage of the Bond license, including gadgets from several different movies.|
Before the release of GoldenEye, first-person shooters and consoles didn't mix. While Turok was definitely an exception to the rule, it didn't leave a lasting impression. GoldenEye on the other hand, which came along roughly six months later, forever changed the world of console shooters. Enemies that reacted based on hit location, multiple objectives per level, different objectives for each difficulty level, the importance of stealth over mindless shooting...the list of features that are now standard for the FPS genre is long.
Some of these features weren't actually new. For example, enemies reacting differently to being shot in different locations was something seen in Virtua Cop, and the idea of multiple objectives to complete in a single stage was taken directly from Super Mario 64. And yet, GoldenEye's use of these and other ideas ended up being revolutionary because of the way they were implemented. The one aspect of GoldenEye that is by far the most influential and memorable is the multiplayer mode, but even that was nothing new. PC gamers had been shooting at each other for years, but Rare's first and only Bond game was the one that introduced it to the masses and made it a staple of console FPS games. GoldenEye didn't introduce ideas so much as it perfected them.
|Multiplayer was the main attraction for many players.|
I have many fond memories of playing rockets in the Stack, remote mines in the Complex, and pistols in the basement. And who could forget the strange allure of "Slappers only." No two people play exactly alike, and the unpredictable nature of live opponents was really what made the experience. From the second I first took aim at my brothers and friends, I was hooked. Whereas blasting computer controlled characters has its charm, taking on other people is exponentially more satisfying and never gets old. While the combat simulator of the game's spirtitual successor, Perfect Dark, is arguably better, there's just something about GoldenEye I find more appealing. Regardless of which title has the better mode, the multiplayer experience is the main attraction for the majority of Bond lovers, and the influence it had on the industry is almost impossible to overstate. Like I said, GoldenEye wasn't the first FPS to include multiplayer, but it was the first one to really nail it.
With it's spectactular single player and unforgettable multiplayer, GoldenEye was the complete package. And if it hadn't come along in that fateful August, first-person shooters would not have evolved as quickly as they did.
How does it hold up?
Obviously, the visuals haven't stood the test of time very well, but I think they're just fine. While I would definitely like to see the canceled HD version get released someday, I actually have no real problems with the blocky-looking models and blurry textures. While the framerate is a little on the low side, for the most part it's adequate, and it's certainly not nearly as bad as people make it out to be. Though it does hinder the gameplay at times, GoldenEye rarely turns into a slideshow the way Perfect Dark frequently does. The audio is still great, and the soundtrack is perfect. What's not to love?
|The enemies can't see through glass, which gives you an advantage.|
I have read a lot of recent reviews for the game, written by professionals and amateurs alike. As you might expect, opinions are divided over how well the actual gameplay stands up. The AI is criticized by many, most notably the inability of enemies to look through glass or see over anything that can't be walked over. This is most noticeable in the first level, where you can literally walk around walls of glass and small concrete barriers just feet away from your adversaries while they remain completely oblivious to your presence. Another criticism of the AI is the way enemies don't notice what's happening to their comrades, making it possible to pick them off one by one in some situations without any of their buddies taking notice.
|This guy doesn't even notice his hat has been shot off.|
And yet, as much as people criticize the enemies for being so clueless, the fact remains: GoldenEye is a hard game. Completing all 20 levels on 00 Agent is extremely challenging, and the exploitable AI is what makes success possible. It took me several dozen tries to beat the Control Center mission, and the Aztec ruins gave me some problems as well, but I never became frustrated. Knowing that the AI was fallible kept me going, and after some trial and error I eventually emerged triumphant, completing the entire game and unlocking all 23 cheats.
|The Control Center. Quite possibly the hardest stage in the game.|
Let me say this: if the enemies were as smart as their modern day counterparts, the game probably wouldn't be much fun and would rank as one of the hardest games ever made. In my opinion, the AI doesn't hurt the game, it helps it. I can think of plenty of newer games with some pretty clueless baddies, yet they are given a free pass. I'm not going to name names, I'm sure you can think of at least a dozen.
While this isn't a review, I still feel the need to give GoldenEye the score it deserves. Anyone who gives it less than a 9 has no business reviewing games.
The right way to play GoldenEye - Control Style 1.2, Auto-Aim Off
Aside from the dated graphics and laughable AI, one of the things gamers love to criticize are the controls. The complaints are always the same:
"The C-buttons are terrible for aiming up and down."
"If you want to shoot accurately, you have to hold R."
"The auto-aim is too generous."
"You can't move while aiming with R."
It kills me when I see this stuff. If you are one of these people, I have something to tell you: You're playing it wrong.
There are eight different control schemes in GoldenEye 007. The default control scheme is called "Control Style 1.1," where the analog stick makes Bond walk and turn, the left and right C-buttons are used for strafing, and the up and down C buttons let you look up or down. This setup is good for novice players, but it has some serious issues.
|The default control scheme works okay in most situations, but it is not ideal.|
For one thing, when you hold R to turn on the aiming crosshairs, the y-axis of the analog stick goes from controlling movement to controlling your vertical aim. That is awkward, to say the least. In addition to this, the up and down C buttons are digital, giving you no control over how quickly you tilt your head. To those of you who say "the C buttons are terrible for aiming up and down," I wholeheartedly agree with you. The bottom line is, if you use Control Style 1.1 and you want to aim with accuracy, you have to hold R. To put it bluntly, the default control scheme sucks.
Everyone agrees that analog sticks are far better for precision aiming than digital buttons, so if GoldenEye gave you the option to use the analog stick for aiming 100% of the time, the problem would be solved, right? As it turns out, the game gives you that option. If you have never done so before, fire up the game and switch to Control Style 1.2 right now. Control Style 1.2 is exactly the same as the default control scheme except the functions of the analog stick's y-axis and the up and down C buttons are reversed. The C-buttons, all four of them, are used purely for moving. And the analog stick is used purely for aiming, 100% of the time...and it works brilliantly.
|Take a good look. That's perfection.|
If this control scheme sounds familiar, it ought to. It's the same setup used by Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, only ten times better. The amount of precision Rare managed to achieve with the analog stick is unparalleled - you can shoot out cameras from 100 yards away like it's nothing. It really is that good. And when you hold R to steady the camera, it allows for even greater accuracy. You will find yourself picking off distant enemies with ease. You won't even need a sniper rifle, a pistol will suffice. And best of all, there is no awkward change of functions when you hold the R button. It's flawless. But there is one thing that keeps this control scheme from perfection: auto-aim.
Most players will tell you the auto-aim is too generous. But is it really? Well, yes and no. On the one hand, it automatically trains the gun on anyone standing within a wide portion of the screen. A very wide portion of the screen. On the other hand, it doesn't instantly lock on to your opponent, which isn't good when some enemies are masters of the quick draw. Sometimes you'll have two enemies onscreen and you'll kill one, then get shot by the other because the gun took too long to point itself at him. Worse yet, even when the auto aim does lock on to an enemy, it always aims for the chest. Unless you're playing on Agent, the easiest difficulty, that is not a kill shot. It takes two body shots to down a foe on 00 Agent, meaning you will use twice as much ammo as you should. When holding R, you can override the auto-aim, but that is not efficient. If you want to beat the game on the hardest difficulty setting, you'll need to be able to pull off headshot after headshot, and the cold hard truth is, auto-aim is a hindrance. The solution: turn off auto-aim.
|It takes two body shots to kill a guy on 00 Agent. Auto-aim is a liability.|
If you already use Control Style 1.2 with auto-aim off, you know how awesome it is. It is easily the best setup, and I believe it's the only right way to play GoldenEye. To this day, I have yet to find a game with a control scheme I like better, and I've played TimeSplitters 2 and TimeSplitters: Future Perfect, two other amazing games created by former members of Rare's GoldenEye team. As much as I love splitting time, 007 is still golden for me.
|The first level of TimeSplitters 2. Look familiar?|
As for the complaint that you can't move while aiming with R, that's not really true. When holding R, you can use the C buttons to duck and lean from side to side. Actually, "lean" isn't the word for it, it's more like instantaneously warping a few feet to the right or left. If you use cover properly when holding R, the C buttons provide all the movement you need. A lot of modern games have cover systems that render you immobile, and they often require you to employ said systems to survive. GoldenEye's ducking and lean techniques are pretty much an early version of such a cover system.
I have one more thing to add before moving on. Four of the control schemes allowed you to use two N64 controllers simultaneously for dual analog control. When using any of these four control schemes, you can actually strafe as far to the left or right as you want to while holding R. However, due to the placement of the A and B buttons, these setups aren't really practical. Nevertheless, GoldenEye was the first FPS to feature dual analog control. This game was ahead of its time.
GoldenEye 007 is widely regarded as one of the greatest games of all time, and for good reason. After reading more about its development, it doesn't seem to be as innovative as everyone thinks it is. As I pointed out earlier, many of its most-revered features had been seen before in other games. Rare's gem is a perfect example of how greatness is measured not by ideas, but how they are executed. It rightly deserves the praise it received, and it is a must-have for any fan of Nintendo, first-person shooters, or video games in general. Those who are trying to break into the world of game design would do well to study it diligently.
There have been a lot of other truly great first-person shooters in the years since GoldenEye's release, many of which were created by members of the game's development team. I had originally planned on writing about the legacy of this masterpiece, but I decided it isn't necessary. There are already a ton of people who have elaborated on it, and I'm sure you can find a wealth of information on the subject yourself.
Just a few more things. After creating GoldenEye, the key members of the team worked on Perfect Dark before leaving to create the sublime TimeSplitters series. If you have ever longed for a sequel to GoldenEye, I recommend you check those games out. I think they're the closest we'll ever get.
|The cancelled HD version of GoldenEye 007. More on this next time.|
Thanks for stopping by to read about a truly great title, which is still my favorite game of all time. And remember: Control Style 1.2, auto-aim off.
The Making of GoldenEye 007 - by Martin Hollis
One Last Martini to GoldenEye- Article on the cancellation of GoldenEye XBLA - MundoRare
-GoldenEye 007 XBLA screenshot courtesy of MundoRare. Used under Attribution-ShareAlike Unported 3.0 license.