GoldenEye 007 Review – RetroLuster

Released in 1997 by Rare for the Nintendo 64, perhaps to the sound of angelic harps from on high, GoldenEye is a first person shooter of widespread critical acclaim. While my reflections on games have been mostly positive thus far, I’ve never found GoldenEye to be another glistening jewel in the N64 crown, not when I got it for Christmas as a child, and certainly not now. It would be a very one-sided series of articles of mine to simply heap praise upon games from my childhood which I adore, so we’ll be taking a look at this apparent ‘classic’ and then the heavens can open and strike me down for my heathen beliefs.

As the third best-selling N64 game with over 8 million units sold worldwide, the game is largely praised for its multiplayer mode and for being a pioneer of console First Person Shooters. Perhaps were it not for GoldenEye, the world would be without Call of Duty: Ghosts or MW3, and that’d be a pity?

Of course, this flippant and overly useless remark only serves to highlight my own jaded opinion, so let us take a more objective view of the game.

Glad to be here, Robert Webb.
Glad to be here, Robert Webb.

As a single-player game, you take control of James Bond, making his way through stages in the film’s plot, such as on board the frigate or in the missile silo, and essentially mowing down droves of guards. That said, depending on the difficulty setting, James also has to accomplish various other objectives, such as destroying a radar dish or collecting data files. He can collect various guns, grenades, mines, throwing knives and other implements of death, and even gets the chance to use some gadgets at certain intervals, like a laser cutter installed in his wrist watch. As it stands, it’s playable and can even, at times, be enjoyable. The music is as one might expect, including plenty of instances to throw in the agent’s famous theme music, and the graphics are decent for the era, although they look utterly awful now, a mash of polygons with textures grimly plastered over them.

My main gripe with this colossus, both when I was playing it brand new as a child, and upon revisiting it now, is the lamentable controls. Aiming is accomplished (barely) by pressing the R button on the controller, and depending on your settings either holding it down or toggling it on and off. You then use the control stick to gradually and painfully move the reticule over the target, by which time you have been made into the latest bullet-repository by every Russian within 50 metres. You can use the C-Pad to aim, but when has using a directional pad to aim ever been an effective method? Certainly not from a first-person perspective, as anyone who has played a light-gun game such as Point Blank or Virtua Cop using a controller instead of a preferred peripheral would experience. Heck, the game even helps you aim by gravitating your gun towards targets when you aim vaguely in their direction, because it knows that trying to aim yourself is an insurmountable feat.

Don't be fooled.  They all look pretty much the same.
Don’t be fooled. They all look pretty much the same.

The multiplayer mode which is so often cited as being pioneering, falls flat with me and friends I’ve attempted to play with at the first hurdle. The N64 was never short of multiplayer games, in fact that’s the one thing it did well. 5 minutes into any multiplayer GoldenEye try-to-aim-athons and we’d find ourselves quickly reaching for Super Smash Bros, Mario Party, Mario Kart 64, Lylat Wars, Pokémon Stadium, even Star Wars Racer in a pinch. Anything to stop the mind-numbing obscurity of it all. Again, this is not a retrospective opinion. I recall very rapidly being told to ‘change the game’ after a round of GoldenEye. A combination of dull environments, impossible aiming and an ultimate ‘race to the RCP-90’ dynamic made each attempt to play as tedious as the last.

The counter-argument to simply playing other multiplayer games might very well be that ‘some people’ wanted to play a multiplayer First Person Shooter, and there were few of those on any console at that time. Which is very true. But the experience couldn’t, in my mind, have compared to a genuinely fun multiplayer battle. Was it so critical that the games’ premise be to shoot each other that all of its glaring flaws were to be overlooked? Does firing rockets at one another in a dimly lit cave strike at the fire in one’s soul so much that it is comparable to playing the fondly remembered Pokémon Stadium mini-games together?

Only when you die do you get to see any colour other than grey.  And that's red.
Only when you die do you get to see any colour other than grey. And that’s red.

That said, video games can either be fun, or be as fun as you make them. One thing GoldenEye did do rather well was give the players some fairly fun game modes to play, as well as weapon assortments. Slappers only and using nought but throwing knives is fun in a pathetic kind of way. The game ceases to be a first person shooter and then simply becomes a cavalcade of running headlong into one another mashing the trigger button and hoping for the best, which actually becomes quite exciting with good friends. It lends itself well to that silly kind of enjoyment you can get from just goofing around, and that is the most favourable thing I can say for it.

All in all, GoldenEye is by no means a terrible single-player game. In fact, it has moments of quality, and moments of arduous tedium, such as the tank driving section. But that could be said of most games. Its oft-revered multiplayer experience however is where I find myself scratching my head, unable to relate to the heaps of praise that are mounted at its feet. I found myself and my friends playing an eye-sore, and finger-sore, as grey environments clashed with crippling controls.

I might have given myself away earlier by dancing around the fact that I don’t like First Person Shooters very much. That’s true. But I have to wonder whether that’s the viewpoint which is marring my opinion of GoldenEye, or whether it was GoldenEye which gave me that viewpoint to begin with.

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