The man with the golden game
When it comes to old school games, it's not about whether the fifth generation is considered old school enough to be retro, but about whether you can go back and play them without the need for nostalgia goggles. It goes double for games with a lot of historical importance - Goldeneye basically revolutionized the idea of a first person shooter working on a console by being a very successful and somewhat out of character game on the Nintendo 64. Sure, Turok was first and did garner a good amount of popularity, but nowadays, that game's controls feel more like operating a scalpel with your ass cheeks. In general, the Nintendo 64's controller... it's not even about age because even back then, it was never a particularly good controller. An innovator, perhaps, but with that fragile control stick, these controllers didn't last long. Speaking of being an innovator, Goldeneye wasn't a case of simply making it to the end of the level with some key cards; it was about accomplishing objectives with different gadgets and guns. Not only that, but it's one of the first shooters to show that consoles can be on par with PCs in terms of control. It was the first of its kind, but certainly not the last.
Being the first doesn't always mean you're the best - games like Dragon Warrior and Pokemon Red aren't games we gleefully go back to and have a grand old time with. Goldeneye is an exception to this rule. "But Jak, the controls are bad" - no, the Nintendo 64 controller is bad due to its three prongs and if you were using the D-pad, you'd have to move your left hand from the left prong to the middle prong to press the Start button. The controls themselves are simply a result of Rare knowing what would work best with the controller. There are a number of different control schemes to hopefully suit your style of play, and each of them work well enough within their styles, ranging from using the control stick for X axis movement to using the Turok control scheme (C buttons to move your feet and control stick to move your head... aka the poorly aged scheme). James moves smoothly enough and operating the guns is a breeze. The only control related issue I have on all schemes is the precision aiming mechanic. It covers the entire screen and has to touch the edges before you can move the camera around, instead of just keeping it centered. Now, this isn't a huge deal when dealing with enemies as there is auto aim when you're not holding the aim button, and it also stays centered when you're not holding said button. It's when you're taking down security cameras and the like that it just feels wonky. Not to mention that while in aim mode, you can't actually move. What is this, Resident Evil? But other than that, the controls are actually fairly good.
The only thing that may not have aged very well is the presentation. Goldeneye's look is aesthetically presentable, but only barely, given the blurry textures and character models that may as well be silhouettes. There are small details, but they are static. I've always found it amusing how every character seems to have cube shaped fists and that every time I see somebody, it's like they have some chips on their shoulder because they always have their hands in fists. But yeah, it's definitely not aged all that well. What has aged well is the framerate, which is consistently smooth.. unless there are like heaps of enemies on screen at once, but that's a rare occurrence (like on one or two levels rare). But yeah, you won't have to worry about the framerate shitting out on you or anything. The lack of voice acting is also something that's not quite right in a game like this. While it's true that voice acting in the 90s was terrible, it'd be appreciable if, in a game where everything except the short beginning and ending scenes happens in real time, there was voice acting. It's so awkward just standing there, only listening to the music. The music is really *bleep*ing good and easily one of the best video game soundtracks of all time due to how well composed each song is on top of their memorability, but some voice acting would make things feel less awkward.
But Goldeneye's gameplay structure is one that ages like fine, fine wine. While shooters nowadays are more about watching flashy set pieces than actually playing the game, Goldeneye focuses on a blend of espionage and some good old fashioned run and gun gameplay. Well, maybe not so much run and gun gameplay as much as it is situating yourself in a position to kill maybe a few bad guys at a time. James Bond isn't as durable as Doom Guy nor does he have Master Chief's regenerating power armor, so it's not as if you can simply run into a firefight and walk out, all bloody and bruised, and act like it was nothing. It also doesn't help that you don't have the luxury of obtaining any health kits throughout each level - the closest thing to healing is some body armor that you'll find in each level, and even then, that's your armor, not health restoration. So in that respect, Goldeneye is a bit more about picking off targets rather than taking down hordes of guards. Except you'd only be warm. Really, killing is something you do because guards get in your way while you complete a set of objectives. I mean, it's not as if you're exactly welcome in enemy territory or anything, especially if you're destroying their alarms, sabotaging their attempts to control the world and keeping friendly scientists alive. Then again, the guards aren't exactly worthy adversaries - whether they run in motion in front of doors, always feel the need to roll or strike a pose before shooting you or even need to be waken up either by loud guns or stepping on a specific set of tiles, yeah, ain't nobody saying this is a good AI, not even for back in 1997. That's more or less something concocted out of circumstance and what was available, so yeah...
But anyway, there are a fair amount of things that help level in Goldeneye stand out. For one thing, the objectives - while there are similar basic principles behind them, they aren't all interchangeable. A good amount of that is owed to the levels, their designs ranging from being somewhat linear to sort of maze like and even to open areas; it really depends on what kind of environment you're in. Of course you'd expect security cameras in underground bases, and of course you'd expect consoles controlling sensitive information at a control center - the objectives make sense when given what levels you're in! Obtaining your escort and keeping them alive, while a pain in the ass if you have a bad habit of moving fast and ignoring enemies, makes sense within the context of their respective levels. The foggy jungle level may have some pain in the ass sentry guns off in the distance, but the weapon you get there is an assault rifle that zooms in when you're holding the aim button so you can get a better shot on them. One that's become very infamous is where you need to protect Natalya for a few minutes against guards who are trying to kill her while she hacks through the system to disable a satellite. It's tricky because you need to keep your eyes out for guards, especially ones peeking out on the sides poised to shoot her down, but it's so gratifying when you finish it because she's got what she needs to hopefully stop the bad guy and you don't have to babysit her anymore!
Though sad to say, Goldeneye does have a few crap moments. Anytime you're forced to control the tank, the game goes from a smooth acceptable pace to slow and clunky. One of these moments is actually meant to be a recreation of the tank chase scene from the movie, but where the scene in the movie was exciting, this game's version of it has all the excitement of an elderly shuffleboard tournament. Really, the tank just helps you not die against rockets so easily. The level itself is a maze that's more tedious than fun to navigate through simply due to poor design. Nothing exciting actually happens here except you might blow up some mines to take a rocket launcher to the tank. Meh. I prefer to be a spy, not a tank driver. Then there are the *cough* boss fights. One basically takes a lot of abuse before falling, all the while firing at you with a machine gun and a *bleep*ing grenade launcher. Another one takes even more abuse while firing two assault rifles at you, although you can exploit the fact that he has long arms by running right into him and firing your guns at him. The final one... just hit him with the Golden Gun and down he goes! I get that they want to create epic struggles, but the hardware wasn't quite there yet and as a result, it just feels clunky and goes against what this game does best, which is tactical espionage; something Metal Gear Solid did a year later, only Goldeneye has levels instead of a large military base to explore. Goldeneye works great when you either sneak through levels or pick off enemies one by one, not when you're dealing with bullet sponges. Oh, and normally, I'd talk about weapon variety, but most of the variety consists of various machine guns - from rifles to uzis - and maybe a couple of pistols. Oh, and a sniper rifle. Have fun.
Speaking of fun, there's the classic multiplayer mode that you and up to three friends can play. While it's certainly not as robust as PC shooters and current day online shooters, at least it was able to host up to four players on a wide selection of maps with a fair few different weapon loadouts and a few modes. Each of the maps, whether they be original or multiplayer friendly versions of some single player levels, worked in a way that encouraged you to explore for weapons while keeping it short enough to encourage frenetic firefights. The different modes manage to shake things up - of course, there's your standard deathmatch where you simply shoot at each other until somebody dies, and then keep going until time runs out. Then there are spins on it where you either only have two lives before you're out permanently or one shot kills all and, like deathmatch, it ends when time runs out. The winner is either the last man standing or whoever acquires the most kills. Then you have The Living Daylights, a mode that's sort of like capture the flag, only it's more like hold the flag as whoever has the flag the longest is the winner. The catch is that the flag holder cannot switch to any weapons, leaving them defenseless, forcing them to scurry away. But the big one is the Man With The Golden Gun. Basically, everybody scrambles for the Golden Gun, and whoever has it is basically enemy number one as the Golden Gun kills people with just one shot. Add onto that a good amount of fanservice by letting you choose from a few different Bond characters (as well as different guard types you've encountered throughout the game), and it's all just good fun. Yeah, it's limited compared to modern shooters, but it's hard to overlook how much fun it is to blast your opponents with the Golden Gun, or even a regular gun.
As a licensed game, this does a great job of covering the important scenes from the movie. Well, not perfect as the tank chase got reduced to little more than a tedious maze of buildings and rockets, but 1 out of 23 ain't so bad, especially when the other 22 are surprisingly good. Goldeneye establishes its own distinct feeling straight away that not only compliments the Nintendo 64 controller and its inferiority to the keyboard and mouse setup, but also goes well with the fact that James Bond is a spy and not a marine. Parts of this game may have aged about as well as Joan Rivers, but for the most part, this feels more like a refreshing glass of fine wine.
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