This review originally appeared in E48, July 1997.
Film licences have traditionally been rather disappointing affairs, so much so that the term itself is now often used as a euphemism for poor-quality software. External pressures such as the desire to set the release date in order that it coincides with the hype surrounding the film’s own release has resulted in substandard software appearing on the shelves, the publishers responsible well aware that the name alone will sell enough copies to bring in more money than was spent developing it.
Given that Rare’s GoldenEye is appearing almost a year and a half after the release of the movie which provided its inspiration, it can hardly be considered a conventional example of the genre. However, cynics will no doubt argue that Nintendo’s hope is that the game will ride on the publicity wave accompanying Bond’s forthcoming adventure, ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’. True, the timing is unlikely to give Nintendo sleepless nights, but the brutal reality is that quality software takes time to produce, and GoldenEye is just as much a slave to that harsh fact as any other release.
Plugging the cart in immediately dispels any fear that the title will follow in the steps of previous film adaptations. After the mock-up BBFC certification (which gives the game a ‘4’ certificate for fourplayer action) and the rotating stainless steel Nintendo logo, the instantly recognisable Bond theme issues forth as the opening credits introduce the cast, and somehow it is clear that this is going to be something special.
GoldenEye’s 18 missions follow the plot of the film closely, with a certain amount of artistic licence employed in certain sections to ensure that this firstperson shoot ’em up contains even more action than its filmic counterpart. As a result, the game’s scenarios are as diverse as could be expected from any Bond adventure, seeing 007 bungee-jumping from a Russian dam, defusing bombs in Monte Carlo, infiltrating enemy installations, stealing secret weapons form Siberian army bases, disabling enemy satellite communication in Cuba, meeting up with old adversaries and, of course, saving the girl.
For each mission, a number of objectives have to be successfully completed in order to progress (the exact number depending on the difficulty setting). To get out of each typically secret-agent-like jam, the intrepid hero can make use of one of the many different weapons at his disposal, as well as timeless 007 gadgets such as his watch laser or magnet.
However, before jumping straight into action, it’s worth noting the astounding array of options available. Almost every aspect of the game is adjustable – normal or widescreen aspect ratios can be selected, and numerous control configurations applied, including a Turok-like setting (handy for those familiar with Acclaim’s title) and a dual analogue control which requires players to hold a joypad in each hand – one controlling Bond’s movements, the other in charge of aiming duties. Though this isn’t the most intuitive option available, it’s worth persevering with as it offers certain advantages over the single-controller system.
At the beginning of a level, the player starts off with Bond’s trusty Walther PPK, but shooting soldiers and collecting their weapons soon provides access to more powerful artillery, such as machine guns, grenade launchers, mines, and shotguns. Furthermore – and unusually for this type of game – Rare has included a couple of features which would not be expected from a movie licence, one of which is the ability to hold a gun in each hand – an essential survival technique in some of the later levels. Running down one of the corridors in the Siberian computer base with two Russian Klobb sub-machine guns spraying enemy guards with bullets is one of the game’s many supremely satisfying moments
The game’s other novel twist is the ability to zoom in on potential targets when using the sniper rifle (one of the first weapons available), which allows the player to neutralise opponents quietly and efficiently from hundreds of metres away. This feature is particularly impressive when it is used to take out the soldiers patrolling the guard towers on the dam at the end of the first mission, their utter helplessness underlining the beauty of such a form of attack.
However, what stands out most about GoldenEye is the depth of its atmosphere. The realistic setting, remarkably well-animated characters and interactive backgrounds combine to create a genuine sense of ‘being there’ which is rarely experienced in a videogame. Bullet holes pepper walls after frantic battle scenes, lights can be shot out, shrapnel breaks nearby windows, smoke lingers momentarily after explosions, hats can be shot off enemies’ heads, and characters react differently depending on where they’re hit – shoot them in the head, for example, and they go down immediately, but more sadistic players can inflict harm on limbs several times before the injuries prove fatal.
In addition, enemy soldiers are particularly intelligent, moving swiftly into any area where they sense gunfire action is afoot. Stealth is therefore advisable in order to keep a low profile, which means that security cameras should be destroyed before they set off an alarm, something usually closely followed by an entire platoon of guards intent on putting a stop to Bond’s antics.
The soldiers also react differently – some roll along the ground while continuing to shoot; others crouch or come running towards their target. Edge was particularly intrigued by the actions of one guard who suddenly decided to stop firing. It was only when it transpired that he was getting ready to throw a grenade that a panic-stricken attempt to get far enough away from the deadly object ensued.
Even on the easy ‘Agent’ setting, the game’s many stages should keep most players occupied for a substantial amount of time, and completing the game in the hardest difficulty level reveals two extra scenarios. Further bonuses include extra weapons such as a Magnum, which can shoot through doors and – if the player can successfully line them up – will go through four soldiers before it runs out of steam.
As if all of this wasn’t enough, Rare has included a hugely addictive multiplayer option to tempt two, three or four players away from the main game. There are five scenarios here, ranging from a straightforward deathmatch to scenes inspired by films such as ‘You Only Live Twice’, where players have only two lives; ‘The Man With the Golden Gun’, in which one hit from eponymous weapon proves instantly fatal’ and ‘The Living Daylights’, essentially a flag tag game.
After choosing a game type, players have to select a character from an impressive list featuring not only all of the individuals featured in ‘GoldenEye’ but some infamous Bond adversaries such as Jaws and Oddjob. Players can also form teams so that two players take on the other two, or individuals in a confident mood can take on three players singlehandedly.
Further reinforcing Rare’s reputation as the strongest independent N64 developer, GoldenEye slips the player into James Bond’s hand-stitched leather shoes but fortunately discards with the tedium of those seemingly interminable MI6 lectures. It’s a game sure to leave players shaken and most definitely stirred.