We now know that finally the N64 classic, GoldenEye is releasing on Rare Replay, Game Pass, and Nintendo Switch Online very soon. The Nintendo Switch Online version will have online multiplayer and will release Friday, January 27th. For fans both new and old, this a classic that should be experienced. In this article, I discuss the history of GoldenEye, why it was such a good game, and the best things about it.
The UK developer Rareware was responsible for developing GoldenEye. They had a good relationship with Nintendo, and while they were never owned by Nintendo, they stayed loyal to them throughout the ’80s and ’90s (presumably because they mutually benefited). Rare started off with a small development team, which expanded over the ’90s. They made games on the Game Boy and NES (and also to a lesser extent Genesis/Megadrive), but it was with the SNES and games like Donkey Kong Country and Killer Instinct that they built their reputation for top quality videogames.
By the time the N64 rolled along, Rareware (or Rare for short) had developed into one of Nintendo’s key developers. They made gems such as Banjo Kazooie, Conker’s Bad Fur Day (kind of a parody of 3D platformers, and life more generally), and Diddy Kong Racing. By this point, the Rare logo was a stamp of quality, and people were always excited about their games. However, they still had quite small development teams, and they hadn’t worked on a first-person shooter for the N64 yet, GoldenEye was their first try and they smashed it. It sold over 8 million copies on the N64 and was also critically acclaimed.
To me, it’s surprising (not in a bad way) that Rare managed to get the rights to the James Bond franchise. You would have thought a bigger developer/publisher would have been more likely to acquire these rights (which soon after, a bigger company did, as EA acquired the rights). However, the product that Rare released, in the form of GoldenEye, was seminal and has gone down as one of the first great multiplayer first-person shooters available on console. The way the enemies react when being shot is realistic and is different depending on where they are shot. It feels satisfying. The enemies look different and diverse, and there’s something humorous about how they react and behave.
GoldenEye began as an on-rails shooter. I’ve read that the plan was to make the game an on-rails shooter if the development team ran out of time. Luckily, they had enough time to complete the game as they would have liked, so it’s not on-rails and has explorative and less linear paths to traverse. GoldenEye 007 was released in August 1997 to critical acclaim from around the world and has left a legacy that has lasted to this day.
Great Single Player
The core experience (for me at least) of GoldenEye was always its great single-player. There are loads of levels that you play through, each of which has different difficulty settings (Agent, 00 Agent, etc). Each difficulty has different objectives, plus there are more enemies and the enemies are generally more difficult when you choose the higher difficulty levels. Each gameplay level is so well designed. Enemies are located in interesting spots and some have their own routines. You can play the game using stealth, or go in firing off at everything. From the classic Facility level to the Jungle level, there are gameplay surprises constantly. The weapons are also awesome, and there’s a nice variety, and as you progress weapons have more firepower and are more fun to use.
The difficulty curve is also nice. The game isn’t too difficult, but to unlock the secret levels you’ll have to develop your skills. I think that the key element of what makes the single player so good is the way the enemies react to being shot, and also the balance that you have to find between stealth and being able to hold your own when it all kicks off. However, that isn’t to say that multiplayer is just an add-on to the experience.
I remember as a child GoldenEye being one of the classic N64 games that you’d play as a kid while feasting on fizzy drinks. The multiplayer was up to four players, and if you had the skills to strafe with the c-buttons and ping off loads of shots, you’d have a good chance of winning. The proximity mines and remote mines in the game also made for loads of fun. you’d have to be careful that your buddies didn’t see where you placed the proximity mines.
It was always GoldenEye, along with F-Zero X, Pokemon Stadium (mini games), and Mario Kart that made chilling with friends and playing N64 games so fun. Everyone would always try and use Oddjob because he was so small, and no one would ever choose Jaws because he was so easy to hit. Overall, GoldenEye’s multiplayer was one of the best experiences on the N64.
A big part of GoldenEye is its cheat system. You unlock cheats by achieving certain things in the game, like beating a level under a certain time. When you use cheats, you can play through the levels, but your achievements don’t qualify for unlockables in the same way as if you didn’t use cheats. They are really fun to use. They include unlocking every weapon (and some are really overpowered which means you quickly finish off groups of enemies). There’s also a big head mode which is hilarious and makes enemies’ heads a massive target.
You can also use some of the cheats in multiplayer mode, which adds another variable to make things more chaotic and fun when you play with friends. Some of the cheats are really hard to unlock, and this gives a massive sense of achievement when you finally check the cheats list and see that the cheat that you’re working to unlock is unlocked.
Following on from great games like Doom, GoldenEye redefined the first person shooter on consoles, and proved that first person shooters could work on consoles (even without dual analogue sticks). Rare went on to create Perfect Dark, a first-person shooter on the N64 that built on the engine from GoldenEye. Rare would eventually be acquired by Microsoft in the early 2000s and it never really reached the standards previously set with its work with Nintendo. Since then, first-person shooters have grown and evolved with titles like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, but GoldenEye will always be remembered as a defining N64 classic. It’s definitely still worth playing in 2023, even if it’s just to see what all the fuss is about.