Welcome to another installment of Retro Weekend, the weekly feature where I play a classic game and write whatever I want about it! This week, I played Goldeneye 007 for the Nintendo 64. This first-person shooter is the third best-selling game on the console and continues to sit in the minds of many as one of the best games on the N64, and with good reason: It elevated the genre to new heights and was a turning point in the history of shooters. Due to licensing issues, the recent Rare Replay collection is missing Goldeneye from its pack of 30 games, which means it’s missing a big piece of Rare’s history. Today, I want to look back at the genre before and after the N64 hit.
So, a funny thing happened this week while I was playing Goldeneye 007. I realized, “I don’t really want to play Goldeneye on the Nintendo 64 ever again.” It’s not that it’s a bad game. It’s not because of the chunky, smudgy N64 graphics. It’s because Goldeneye 007 is one of those games that changed the genre forever. It pushed shooters in a new direction that nearly every game after it tried to imitate for years. It gave players freedom in the campaign to take on objectives in whatever order they wished. Guns felt more realistic and effective because of how they behaved and how enemies reacted to them. The multiplayer made it possible for console gamers to taste the fun that only PC gamers were having with titles like Doom. Because of Goldeneye, the first-person shooter simply got better … and left behind that awful N64 controller: the real reason I no longer want to play Goldeneye.
But what did Goldeneye do differently? Why was it such a breakout hit? Where was the FPS before James Bond?
In a broad sense, they were everywhere but consoles. Sure, you had occasional ports and other one-off games, but the genre didn’t have a lot to show on consoles like Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis. In the early 1990s, most FPS games began finding their home on PCs and arcade cabinets, with the latter releasing a plethora of first-person on-rails games that required players to use gun accessories to shoot the enemies on screen. One such title, SEGA’s Virtua Cop, was actually an early inspiration for Goldeneye 007.
Even earlier games like the fantasy-filled Ultima and tank simulator Battlezone certainly laid the groundwork for a lot of first-person games, but it was id Software’s Doom that really made the FPS what it is today. It put players in the role of a space marine, put a gun in their hands, and had them laying waste to demons everywhere. Sound familiar? Sure, you could go back a little earlier to Wolfenstein 3D, another influential title in the genre, but Doom took everything Wolfenstein 3D was and turned it up to 11. It had a compelling campaign that led players through Hell, a huge arsenal of exciting weapons, eye-popping visuals, and the ultimate cherry-on-top, multiplayer. It’s safe to say without Doom, there would be no Goldeneye 007.
Multiplayer was huge for Doom, but it needed to be played over a network, making it a very elite option that few people could access back in the early ’90s. Before Doom, most FPS games were limited to single-player unless you went to the arcade. Being able to play with gamers in another house meant very big things for the medium, but it left console players out in the cold.
Enter the Nintendo 64, the console that supports up to four players simultaneously out of the box! As video games were getting bigger and bigger, Nintendo wanted to bring players together. With the rise of the internet, more and more PC games were being played online, but the Nintendo 64 hoped to bring people together face to face. With games like Mario Kart 64, Super Smash Bros., and yes, Goldeneye 007. And the console did just that, leaving many people today with a pleasant dose of nostalgia for the black box that brought their friends together for sleepovers every Saturday night.
Goldeneye took the best of titles like Doom by incorporating dozens of weapons, giving players a substantial and fun single-player mode, and ultimately, an insane multiplayer mode that kept groups of friends playing until the wee hours of the night. But it went further than that; the game reached new audiences by doing things a little differently. Sure, the easy and accessible multiplayer mode made it easy for people to jump in, but Goldeneye pushed the genre further in other ways, as well.
It may not look like it now, but in 1997, Goldeneye looked good! The idea that games were for children was widely stated by people on the outside looking in, and for decades those people were looking at cartoon-like characters hopping around on screen in wacky and colorful worlds that looked nothing like real life — even Mortal Kombat, a game shot with real-life “actors”. Though it was crucified for its violence, you can’t argue that the characters and visuals are certainly over-the-top and cartoony. From a visual standpoint, Goldeneye, took a much more realistic and grounded approach to everything. The majority of the weapons and locations are all based on real life and the characters look like regular people. Now, in 2015, “realism” seems like the only thing graphics try to achieve in AAA video games, but back in 1997, it was a rare sight to see. And that sight made it all the more attractive to the masses, leading to more and more titles and FPSs to take the same route.
Goldeneye also pushed the boundaries by giving players a choice in how they tackled each mission in the campaign. With multiple objectives and a vast playground to take them on, you weren’t limited to a linear single-hallway design anymore. Even the variety of weapons and the addition of a stealth mechanic let players tackle each encounter in their own personal way. These features not only made for a fun game, but turned it into a design document that you can still see in today’s games. The open nature of games like Halo and later Far Cry may have never existed without Goldeneye paving the way.
And then there’s the multiplayer. But really, what more could I say about the game’s multiplayer that hasn’t been said before? The main takeaway here is that it brought first-person multiplayer to the masses. “Deathmatch” was now a household term. It was no longer a mode for the PC audience, but for console gaming as well. No matter where you looked after 1997, it seemed like every shooter had some type of multiplayer shoved in.
The FPS genre would be a very different beast without Goldeneye 007. While we obviously can’t say for sure where it would be without Rare’s masterpiece, it certainly pushed gaming forward into new territories. The realistic visuals and tech brought in a whole new audience, the open-ended gameplay gave the hardcore something to praise, and multiplayer kept every single type of player laughing, yelling, and thirsty for more. It forced developers to look at both single and multiplayer in new and fun ways that helped to create new franchises like Halo and Call of Duty that still live on today, even as 007 games have been absent for several years.
Goldeneye, I may not want to play you anymore, but your DNA still lives on in the code of nearly every FPS released since 1997. Thank you, Rare, and thank you James Bond.