Though Wolfenstein 3-D and the Doom franchise had come and gone long before its time, Goldeneye grabbed the First Person Shooter genre and ran with it for what seemed like miles and miles. Forget a touchdown, this game ran the ball for fifteen hundred yards, with three interceptions and a dozen scores of various value. There just wasn't anything that could touch Rare's masterpiece when it first hit the market. Nothing on a home console was even close to its league. And even today, in the afterglow of behemoths like Halo, Metroid Prime, Unreal Tournament and a limitless roster of PC shooters, the game holds up surprisingly well considering its limitations.
The premise couldn't be any simpler. You're James Bond, MI-6 secret agent. Complete your objectives without collapsing in a puddle of blood and piss, and you're home free. Fail, and enjoy multiple camera angles reliving the precise moment of your death in all its glory. Don't forget to prepare your controller for a flight across the room.
It's difficult to call any game "perfect." No matter how original, how exciting, how breathtaking it may look, sound, play or feel, there remain a couple frustratingly overlooked areas, and Goldeneye is no exception. Most notably poor are the one or two levels which feature a limitless stockpile of enemy soldiers. No lie, I've memorized the layout of a base from start to finish, known there's nowhere these soldiers could be coming from, and watched as dozens and dozens miraculously appear from thin air to resume their fallen brothers' attack. It makes strategy an impossibility and frustrates the player to their wits' end. In addition, there's the small matter of dead or dying enemy soldiers who stand in the way. Every once in a while, an armed adversary will take a headshot and then stand, blankly staring, for several moments before slowly dropping to the floor. This wouldn't be such a bad thing if the other soldiers' bullets couldn't pass right through him. As a result, you'll often find yourself firing into the chest of a dead man, a futile attempt to get at the soldiers behind him, all the while taking fire from those still breathing on the other side of his body. Despite my small misgivings, however, 99% of Goldeneye plays flawlessly. The progression of difficulty is astounding, moving from the relatively easy early levels to a series of seemingly impassible stages near the cart's conclusion. And it's all done while walking that razor's edge between being excessively cheap and being overly giving. The player realizes these missions are possible, even as he's watching Bond die for the twelfth time in as many minutes.
Add to all that three initial difficulty levels (with a fourth available later in the game's life), cheats that must be unlocked with speed, precision and overall know-how, hidden stages and hidden characters. Not only do you have a legendary FPS, you've also found nearly limitless replay value. Goldeneye is more than just a very good game, it's the stuff legends are made of. It's a game you'll want to play with your grandkids years from now.
Hands down, the most attractive part about Bond's N64 debut, even today, is its controls. The Nintendo 64 controller was seemingly created exclusively for use with 007's repertoire, as every button is in precisely the right place for its function. It truly is the kind of thing that takes five minutes to learn and a lifetime to master. The center grip of the N64 controller seems to BECOME the handle of a silenced PP7, Bond's revolver of choice. The "Z" button is a perfect trigger, and if you've purchased a Rumble Pack you can even feel the weapon kick back when you fire. Strafing is done effortlessly with the right hand, as is crouching and adjusting the zoom of a sniper rifle. No control system has ever felt so immersive, so right. After the first level, you hardly recognize the controller is there, it's already become such an extension of your own body. I can't sing any higher a praise than that.
If you've seen the feature film of the same name, you'll notice some eerie similarities. Everything, from the writing on a wall in the city to the placement of the soldiers deep within a Russian bunker is precisely as it was seen on the silver screen. It's honestly unsettling, how well the level designers did their jobs. Ever wondered what was behind that last bathroom stall in the film? You'll get your chance to find the answer on the N64. It's an experience I can't really put into words, something I'd never seen before and haven't seen since. It's a level of perfectionism that has yet to be matched in a video game adaptation.
Graphically, the game doesn't shine nearly as brightly as it did five years ago. The limitations of the hardware at the time are all too obvious now, with the next generation of console wars already at their height. You won't be seeing individual blades of grass beneath your feet as in Halo, the enemy soldiers don't have flawless profiles. Not everyone has a unique spring in their steps, an unusual scar hidden away underneath their clothes. Still, this game is far from unplayable. You're more than able to tell where you are and where your opponent is. Plucking off heads at two hundred yards is still a possibility with the sniper rifle, and while it's not something you'd want to frame and put up on your wall any more, the engine still gets the job done. Besides, no amount of graphical enhancement is worth the kind of fun, intentional and non, hidden away within Goldeneye. I've never laughed so hard during a moment of Halo as I did when I caught my first close and personal glimpse at one of the guards' goofy, sneering facial expressions in 007. Nothing's even come close to the riotous laughter inspired by multiplayer action, watching a buddy scoot past on one knee. I often wonder if Rare programmed certain aspects of the game's look to be clunky and awkward on purpose, so as to further entertain players long after their graphical wizardry had been exposed as nothing more than smoke and mirrors.
As nothing more than a signature horn riff here and there, filled in with some horrifying MIDI audio, the musical score is not something I'd listen to in my spare time. But, like the graphics engine before it, the musical system is entertaining in dozens more ways today than it was upon the game's release. The often imitated, timed bell, ringing along with the music. The slow, sickly crescendo of the synth-orchestra. It keeps a smile on my face, even if that's never what it was initially intended to do. And, god bless them, I still almost piss my pants when I hear the gay prance of muzak during one of the few moments you find yourself in an elevator. That alone makes the entire audio system worthwhile by me.
Last, and about as far from least as one can get, there's the multiplayer aspect of 007. While the single-player mode is challenging, unique and groundbreaking, multiplayer is absolutely unreal. I had the good fortune of living in a large college dorm complex at the time this game was first released, and thus experienced more multiplayer Bond than I'd wish on anyone. There were literally lines leading into my room, just for the chance to grab one of our four controllers and get in on the action. People would hang around my room after I'd already gone to sleep, quietly assassinating one another as I sawed logs in the corner. It was an addictive community event whenever that little red light on the front of our N64 lit up, truly something special. With multiple modes of play, a handful of playable levels, some hidden surprises and dozens of options, you were guaranteed to never play the same match twice, and it didn't take much for the lighthearted action to become a cold-hearted war. In a time and place where four player deathmatches are a no-brainer, it's hard to imagine a game that pioneered the field. Goldeneye blazed that path, and did so in style. It cleared out the weeds, flattened the hills, and paved the roads that Halo drives its way across today. Truly, the game was revolutionary and it still plays as such.
In short, Goldeneye is almost reason alone to own a Nintendo 64, even today. There's a charm about it that can't be described, a realism and authenticity that goes beyond the aging graphics and occasionally slow gameplay. It's got the look and feel of a legend, and that's exactly the word I'd use to describe it. While there are certainly flaws, this is a game you'll kick yourself for never owning in a few years, when it becomes increasingly difficult to track down. I'd almost call It fitting that Rare will never make an official sequel, as I don't think anything could possibly top the original.
Overall Score: 9.8