On August 25th, 1997, Goldeneye 007 launched on the N64 and the very fabric of reality seemed to take notice. This game was a monumental achievement, a first person shooter of remarkable scope and one which delivered a, for the time, near perfect gaming experience. For the N64, it was essential – it became the console’s statement to the industry, above even the likes of Nintendo’s very own Super Mario 64 or Ocarina of Time.
British developer Rare created Goldeneye, which enjoyed the official James Bond licence from the mediocre 1995 film, and the title immediately launched the already renowned company into the stratosphere. Rare was suddenly the greatest games developer in the world, Goldeneye 007 was a revelation for the industry, and although it hasn’t aged particularly well, its legacy has been vast and far reaching. Oh yeah!
The fact it has been 20 years seems weird. Two decades? It was the 20th anniversary for the Nintendo 64 back in March (the UK release, anyway) and Rare had already launched the disappointing Killer Instinct Gold, which was followed by the innovative and great fun Blast Corps. The company was also about to launch Diddy Kong Racing, which surpassed the overrated Mario Kart 64 as the console’s best racing game.
It was an incredibly busy period for the company which, these days, is sadly nothing but a shell of its former self after the departure of key staff in the early 2000s (more on that later). When this game landed, many console owners simply hadn’t played a game like it before – the N64 had just arrived and the FPS genre had consisted of trigger happy games like Doom – a lot of fun, but rather simplistic.
Goldeneye was a lifelike experience, with high standards of artificial intelligence (AI), impressive graphics, music, and sensational level design. Until this point, FPSs were about barging into scenarios with all guns blazing – suddenly, gamers had to use their brains. Stealth had been done before in video games, of course, in the likes of Metal Gear Solid (another classic title released the same year on the PlayStation, after previous NES incarnations) and Tom Clancy, but it was employed in Goldeneye with such flourish, intelligence, and panache it was genuinely remarkable – a landmark experience.
For us, as barely 12 year olds, this was the first time we’d come across such gems as the sniper rifle – the ability to take out foes at a distance. It was, as a whole, just so bloody immersive – with multiple difficulty settings per level, we’d retrace everything over and over (Facility being our favourite) and the 007 setting was for the best players only. Cripes, we even completed this one 100% and we’re gosh darned proud of the achievement – for England, James? Hell yeah, biatch!
As this was such a sociable video game (more on this below), it made sense to get fan feedback on the 20th anniversary. Thusly, we have input from one Lightning Ellen, who is a prehistoric warrior entity with the power to fly, walk, and brainwash individuals with merely a stern glance. Her one weakness?! The N64, the mere sight of which is enough to stop even one of her most dangerous rampages. What can she remember about Goldeneye 007?!
"Age has been somewhat unkind to my first first-person shooter ever, but I'll always have fond memories of, well, shooting things in Goldeneye 007. Young me had never watched any of the James Bond movies, or even knew what the hell was going on, but man, that game was something magical! There was so much more to it than just massacring generic guards in hailstorms of bullets (that was fun though). I remember roaming around in the bunkers, jumping off that damn dam, destroying alarm panels, hating that smug 006 dude, and NOT killing the innocent scientist guys who always cowered in the corners (I swear). There was a level where you drove in a freaking tank too! How cool was that? Oh and there was this other level where you started off in a jail cell, and you had to use you magnet watch gadget thingy to get the key. You could also use it to secretly get throwing knives from the guard patrolling the area, and then kill him from inside your cell with his own weapon. So awesome! Also, I occasionally played split screen multiplayer with the one to two friends I once had. I remember pwning them with the Golden Gun and cheating by looking on their side of the screen. Good times. I can't forget those glorious single player cheat codes either! Having trouble with headshots? Good ol' DK Mode made me feel like a champion, while I laughed uncontrollably at all the big heads and gorilla arms on the NPCs. Whoa, wait... the name "DK mode" suddenly makes sense to me. Clever!"
She signed off with, “That’s it. Brap, brap, brap, brrrrrrrap!” to which we must wholly concur.
It’s impossible to reminisce about this game without bringing up the four player multiplayer mode. This was added by Rare as something of an afterthought towards the end of development, but it went on to be an absolute sensation. Up to four players could huddle around a TV and blast each other to bits – it was incredibly good fun and soon became the essential N64 multiplayer title.
Back in our day, this meant four split-screen segments on your TV screen, which meant you could simply look at what your competitors were doing to steal an advantage. It’s incredibly basic now, compared to titles such as Call of Duty or Overwatch, but for the time it was unlike anything else.
Cripes, this game is iconic. As mentioned, it hasn’t aged overly well but, back in 1997, this was the gaming equivalent of Led Zeppelin hitting the music scene. Just flat out of nowhere awesome – there had been a bit of hype prior to its release, but all of a sudden it was upon the gaming scene, it was effing amazing, and everyone (even God!) was talking about it. Heck, Rare even won a batch of awards for its efforts at the UK BAFTA awards.
Now, compared to modern FPSs it simply doesn’t hold up, but in terms of its influence and impact, it’s really a quite astonishing achievement. If you were around in 1997, you’ll know why it holds legendary status, which is why it’s such a shame, only a handful of years later, Rare fell off the gaming scene after an inexplicable batch of events.
Nintendo and Rare had enjoyed a special business partnership which was lucrative, and highly critically acclaimed, for both parties – the dinky British developer in Twycross, Leicestershire had impressed Japanese behemoth Nintendo enough to warrant handing over its treasured Donkey Kong franchise. By the late ’90s, it was seen as arguably a superior games developer than Nintendo!
Then it all went sour – key staff members left Rare in the early 2000s, Nintendo promptly lost interest, and the company was snapped up by Microsoft in 2002. At the time this seemed like an incredible win for the tech giant, but little of interest has come from this partnership. All that really remains of Rare is the legacy it created due to its phenomenal run in the 1990s, with Goldeneye right at the forefront of it all, a shining beacon of creative loveliness.