Game Changers: GoldenEye 007

GoldenEye 007 (Nintendo 64) (Rare, 1997)

Game Changers is a semi-regular column featuring games which have had a significant impact on me over the years. Games that were so incredibly stunning and awe-inspiring, they changed my conception of what a game could be at the time. Previously, I have written about Out Run, Street Fighter Alpha 3, and Red Dead Redemption.

When the first-person shooters first rose to prominence, they were almost entirely non-existent anywhere besides the PC. Console controllers at the time simply weren't equipped to handle movement and aiming together in any kind of intuitive way. That all changed with Rare's 1997 smash hit, GoldenEye 007.

Rare made expert use of the uniquely designed Nintendo 64 controller when implementing the control scheme for the game. They utilized the brand new controller features like the analog joystiq, yellow C buttons, and gun-like Z trigger for more natural-feeling movement and shooting than had been possible before. The brilliance of their control scheme was that it worked so well with Nintendo's oddball controller. A device design that had previously left many fans scratching their heads suddenly made (some) sense. It seemed almost as if Nintendo had designed the controller for GoldenEye, and not the other way around. What's more is that for the first time, a game developer had successfully created an acceptable way to enjoy the wildly popular first-person shooter genre on a home game console.

While the first-person shooter control scheme may not have ultimately achieved perfection until 2001's Halo on the original Xbox, GoldenEye represented an absolutely crucial stepping stone along the path; basically, the only real stepping stone. The game opened up the world of first-person shooters to millions of people who only liked to play games on their television sets. The genius of this timeless classic cannot be overstated and the controls are only but one of the numerous reasons why.

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Rare obviously put a lot of effort into capturing the feel of the movies. They even made sure to include the obligatory gun barrel opening.

"Right. Now Pay Attention, 007."

From 1962's Dr. No to 2002's Die Another Day, the James Bond movie series was one continuous 40-year, 20-film, 5-Bond story. Decades rolled by, culture, fashion and even the political landscapes changed but the star character never really aged. It may not have made a whole lot of sense, but that was the way the films were made, and the fans didn't question it.

The fifth and final person to contiguously portray the legendary character was Irish actor Pierce Brosnan. Due to unforeseen setbacks following the previous film, Brosnan's 1995 debut marked the longest gap between installments in the series' history. The unusually lengthy delay, in addition to the hype surrounding the Brosnan as the lead, led to a somewhat greater than normal level of anticipation and excitement about the new movie. 007 fans could hardly wait for James Bond to return.

Upon its release, GoldenEye was well-received by critics. The positive reviews confirmed that the movie had indeed lived up to the hype and easily established GoldenEye as the most successful Bond film in 16 years (as well as one of the most popular entries since the '60s). It's no surprise then that British developer Rare almost immediately decided to turn it into a video game.

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The game's version of the famous "dam jump" scene from the movie.

A Near-Perfect Forgery

GoldenEye 007 really did an amazing job of capturing the look and feel of the film. It was particularly impressive for a game that came out in 1997. Rare adapted the plot of the film to the single-player portion quite skillfully and made use of several fantastic elements which resulted in gameplay that was a blast to play.

The initial concept for the game was an on-rails shooter, similar to Sega's popular light gun arcade game, Virtua Cop. That original vision ended up inspiring several of GoldenEye's key features such as weapon reloading, body-part-specific hit reactions, civilian kill penalties, and a zoom reticle aiming option. All of these features tied together to make GoldenEye an incredibly immersive experience.

Playing GoldenEye for the first time in 1997 was nothing short of mind-blowing. I had become something of a James Bond aficionado by the time the movie came out and it just so happened to be the first Bond film I ever got to go see in a movie theater. Playing the game was just like experiencing that special moment twice. Once on the big screen, and once with a controller.

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"Meeting you with a view to a kill."

A Duel Between Titans

While the campaign was a delight to play for just about any 007 fan, the real thrills came from the incredible multiplayer component. Not only did the game feature tons of exciting modes and customization options, but the levels, characters, and veritable arsenal of weaponry were all pulled directly from GoldenEye and/or the rest of the James Bond universe. 006, Odd Job, Sean Connery Bond, Roger Moore Bond, the golden gun, the Moonraker laser gun, etc; the multiplayer portion was a clear love letter to everything Bond, made all the more impressive by the fact that it was essentially tacked on at the last minute of development.

For most players, the multiplayer mode quickly became the main attraction of the game. It made for some compellingly competitive FPS fun quite unlike any that had ever been seen on a console game before. Once I experienced the 2 to 4-player mayhem for myself, I was instantly hooked. I didn't own an N64 at the time so I was forced to seek the game out wherever I could. I played it at friends' houses, friends of friends' houses, friends of siblings' houses, in my college dorm room, in someone else's college dorm lobby... It didn't matter. If there was a television, an N64, and a copy of GoldenEye present, some serious fragging was about to go down (usually for a couple of hours at least).

The game enjoyed enormous popularity on the system, only rivaled by the likes of Mario Kart 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. After it caught on, if you owned a Nintendo 64, odds were pretty good you had a copy of GoldenEye. Even my wife and her sister had owned the game and they weren't even really into James Bond.

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Despite not being as popular or groundbreaking, Perfect Dark was still a pretty decent follow-up to GoldenEye.

"Oh, It's Had Its Day, I'm Afraid."

The legend of GoldenEye 007 still lives on today, thanks in part to the fact that we will
probably never see an official remake or rerelease. In the early days of the Nintendo Wii and Xbox 360, ports were planned for both systems but they were ultimately killed by legal issues. Instead, all we got were two completely different (and absolutely terrible, by comparison) games that both happened to carry the GoldenEye name.

The only real heir apparent to the GoldenEye legacy was Rare's N64 follow-up, Perfect Dark. It was created as a spiritual successor to GoldenEye after Rare was dramatically outbid on the James Bond license by Electronic Arts (who used it to peddle six years worth of absolute crap). Perfect Dark featured a lot of the same assets and gameplay as GoldenEye but also included plenty of tweaks and improvements to the formula. The game was plenty successful and even developed something of a cult following, but, without the James Bond license, just wasn't nearly as popular.

GoldenEye 007 represented a significant achievement in video game history. The title was a rare example of a movie adaptation that thoroughly lived up to the source material. In addition, the inspired controller layout and unbelievably popular multiplayer mode paved the way for the shooters that followed it and represented a pivotal moment in the evolution of the genre.

(This is a repost of an article that also appeared on 12/12 Games.)


[Images: Nintendo, Rare]