You Know The Name. You Know The Number.
When Rare’s GoldenEye 007 launched on August 25, 1997, it represented a dramatic leap forward for the then fledgling first person shooter genre. The game is loosely based on the film GoldenEye, which sees MI6 Double-O agent James Bond investigate the origin of an EMP blast that destroys a Russian radar site and investigate a plot by the criminal organisation, Janus, to use the remaining satellite weapon. In the process, Bond discovers his old partner, Alec Travelyan, founded Janus with the intent of avenging his parents and destroying the United Kingdom. Both the film and video game would represent a massive leap forward for the James Bond franchise: the film was the first post Cold War James Bond to be produced and introduced Judi Dench as the first female M, while the video game revolutionised first person shooters. Until GoldenEye 007, first person shooters had been simple in terms of mechanics; players would explore an area, defeat all foes and find an exit to move on. DOOM had added additional depth by requiring keycards be found to access new areas, and compelled players to explore for secrets. However, the fundamentals behind each level was the same: one simply needed to utilise their arsenals and slay anything that moved. On the other hand, GoldenEye 007 featured an incredible amount of level variety, each of which were characterised by a set of goals players needed to complete as Bond. From sneaking into a facility undetected, to planting tracking bugs on a stolen helicopter and providing covering fire for Natalya as she reprograms the GoldenEye satellite, each level offers something unique. The idea of objective-based levels meant that players needed to, by definition, explore to understand what was being asked of them, and this forced players to carefully consider how they wished to approach a mission. Moreover, various gadgets were added to increased the sense of immersion, convincing players that they are the super-spy, James Bond. From using the watch laser to cut a hatch open to escape an exploding train, to taking photos of top-secret developments, GoldenEye 007 set the standard for what shooters could become.
Besides its narrative and design elements, GoldenEye 007 also would set precedence for modern shooters through its arsenal of modern weapons. Rather than exotic weapons like DOOM‘s BFG 9000 and chain-gun, GoldenEye 007 possesses a diverse variety of weapons, from Bond’s iconic suppressed PP7 (Walther PPK), to the KF7 Soviet (AK-47), AR-33 (M16A2) and D5K Deutsche (MP5K). Different weapons have different handling characteristics, allowing Bond to carefully pick off foes from a distance, or stealthily down nearby foes, but in a bind, one can switch over to the full-automatic weapons, and even dual-wield them to double firepower. Because stealth and precision are factored into one’s performance, GoldenEye 007 also introduced the idea of manual aim. This feature locks players in place and allows them to gain access to a reticule which greatly improves weapon accuracy at the expense of movement. Manual aim with some weapons, like the sniper rifle or KF7 Soviet, also offer zoom. This would eventually translate into weapon optics of later games like Half-Life and Halo, and that in turn inspired the aiming-down-sight mechanics of contemporary games. The additional precision is necessary because GoldenEye 007 is the first first person shooter to have context-sensitive damage (i.e. headshots are a one-hit kill). These mechanics, while dated compared to the sophistication of modern titles, have actually withstood the test of time extremely well. Gameplay in GoldenEye 007 still feels smooth and responsive, and while movement may feel a little floaty compared to today’s games, the shooting remains incredibly satisfying. Weapons feel and sound powerful, and there is no greater satisfaction than dropping a distant foe with a single, well-placed headshot from Bond’s signature PP7. While GoldenEye 007 took the market by storm after its release, received well-deserved rave reviews for its innovation and ambition, and became a must-have stocking-stuffer that holiday season, the legacy GoldenEye 007 leaves behind is even more impressive, laying down the groundwork for every first person shooter that has since come after.
Screenshots and Commentary
- GoldenEye 64 is the first-ever first person shooter I’ve ever played. Back then, I wasn’t a gamer by any stretch and preferred to spend my time reading: my relatives had gotten me a Super Nintendo system for my birthdays, and I remember popping in Rare’s Donkey Kong Country, losing all of my lives on the first level and then never playing again. When my relatives caught wind of this, they then got me Super Mario All-Stars, and I remember beating the game by means of using warp worlds. The me of twenty-five years earlier had no patience for games, and I remember playing games with an eye out for cheats and exploits.
- Today, I play games with an exploratory mindset, and while I now go through games honestly, I still maintain a trace of my old mindset: video games can be a pleasant experience, but they can also be a distraction that takes away from life’s priorities. The key is moderation, and on the average week, I average about half an hour of gaming per day (in practise, this translates to two hours on weekends, and then an hour on one or two weeknights). As a result of how I do things, I’ve never become “good” at games, and instead, choose to play them casually.
- It felt quite strange to return to GoldenEye 007 after having not played it for over twenty years. My first experience with the game was at a Christmas party with family, and as the story goes, after dinner ended, my cousin had asked us to come downstairs and check out the gift he found to be the most exciting. Because I’d been weak with games, I’d never asked for a Nintendo 64 (most of the time, I would request Legos or books). Although I was unfamiliar with the controls, GoldenEye 007‘s controls were intuitive, and in one memorable match, I found the RC-P90.
- In the original facility mission, Bond starts with the suppressed PP7, but can pick up an KF7 Soviet off fallen foes. Long ago, I would play this part of the game, and after clearing out the first area, get stuck because I could never find the keycard. However, despite having not played GoldenEye 007 for over twenty years, the experience I’ve accrued over that time meant that, in revisiting this game, I was able to finish missions more quickly. The game is as every bit as enjoyable as I remember, and while the visuals are very dated, the mechanics held up surprisingly well.
- GoldenEye 007‘s greatest asset was that it brought iconic locations from the film to life while at the same time, expanding things out into a full-fledged game. Here, I enter the chemical room, and after rendezvousing with Trevelyan, I make to set off the explosives after Colonel Ourumov shoots him before diving out onto the conveyer belt, just like in the film. Unlike the film, some areas are expanded out and transformed into playable areas: GoldenEye 007 allows players to infiltrate the dam and fend off guards on a heavily-defended runway to reach a waiting plane, which never happened in the movie.
- The suppressed PP7 that Bond starts with is a remarkably fun weapon to use. Pistols are often presented as being sidearms in modern games, a backup weapon to fall back upon in event of an emergency, but in GoldenEye 007, landing headshots with the PP7 is an effective way of dropping foes without arousing suspicion. Unless I’m mistaken, GoldenEye 007 is one of the first games to introduce suppressed weapons, and while they’re certainly not the whisper-quiet weapons the game presents them to be, the game tread into exciting new grounds with weapons that didn’t alert enemies to one’s presence.
- As a primary student, I was so enraptured by GoldenEye 007 that, during recess and lunch breaks, I would play pretend and re-enact missions from the game with friends. The school’s playground became the Facility mission, and the large field surrounding the school was Surface during the winter months. These missions became my favourites as a result of the associated memories, and to this day, I still enjoy playing through Surface, which has a very distinct aesthetic about it. It’s set in a forest clearing, and the skies suggest that it’s early morning.
- The sniper rifle in GoldenEye 007 is a generic weapon, but its greatest two features is that it has the highest zoom of any weapon in the game, as well as a suppressor that allows it to pick off enemies from a distance. While perhaps not capable of dropping foes from 400 metres like Battlefield, it’s still an excellent weapon, and one of its most curious attributes is that its stock can be used to bludgeon enemies. As a primary student, I mistakenly referred to this weapon as a “bazooka” because of its size. In the years subsequent, I learnt more about the weapons that were in the game, and by the time I received 007 Nightfire as a birthday gift, I was more familiar with the different kinds of weapons games would feature.
- Here, I arrive at the communications dish that needs to be powered down as a part of the mission objectives. GoldenEye 007 has no minimap and objective indicator, leaving players to explore the world space on their own to find everything. Modern games come with HUD indicators, detailed maps and radars to help players out with navigation, but back in 1997, exploration in a virtual 3D space was a part of the fun. The communications dish reminds me of the old playground at my primary school, and until my move earlier this year, I occasionally walked back there.
- The school hasn’t changed in the past two decades: a new playground was installed when I was halfway through my primary education, replacing a rickety wooden structure that was prone to giving students splinters. The upgraded playground was the talk of the neighbourhood when it was completed, and I remember spending an afternoon over there with friends on weekends to play around when no one else was around. Those days were often characterised by returning to their place so we could play GoldenEye 007‘s multiplayer together.
- Gaming over at a friend’s place meant that our time would often be spent playing multiplayer, and this is why in those days, I never did have a chance to explore the game’s campaigns. The campaigns of iconic titles like GoldenEye 007 and Halo 2 thus become experiences that I would remain curious about in the years to come. Here, I continued on with my campaign experience, entering Bunker to collect information on the GoldenEye key. This mission exemplifies how stealth works: if one can quietly pick off soldiers, they won’t sound the alarm, and one has an easier go at finishing the mission objectives.
- This spot in Bunker is used as one of the screenshots on Wikipedia for GoldenEye 007: the level is based off the remote Severnaya communications station in the movie, and unlike the film, Bond travels here to gather intel on the GoldenEye weapon. Although GoldenEye and GoldenEye 007 both present Severnaya as being a heavily forested region in central Siberia, the actual Severnaya island chain is a polar desert located in the high Arctic. Once the information is obtained, players only need to proceed out the doors on the right to finish the mission.
- Silo is an iconic mission, which sees Bond investigate a missile launch site in Kyrgyzstan after rumours of an unscheduled missile launch surface. This mission was one of my favourites, featuring the combination of a very cool level and gripping close-quarters firefights. At lower difficulties, the only goal is to photograph the GoldenEye weapon and avoid doing harm to the scientists, while on 00 Agent difficulty, objectives include collecting cassettes carrying the launch telemetry data and planting explosives in the fuel room.
- The level design in Silo doubtlessly inspired Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare‘s “No Fighting in the War Room” mission, which took place in cramped, grim quarters rendered similarly to those of GoldenEye 007‘s. Modern Warfare Remastered completely breathed new life into the once dull-looking level, and I’ve long been curious to see what GoldenEye 007 would look like with modern graphics. The GoldenEye 25 remake, which sought to completely remaster the original game in Unreal Engine 4, would’ve answered this question. An ambitious project that would have released today had it been allowed to see completion, MGM issued a cease-and-desist order a few years back, and while the developers retooled the assets into a new game, my interest in the project had been in seeing old levels given a fresh coat of paint.
- I vividly recalling playing through Frigate and rescuing the hostages at a friend’s place many years ago. Bond starts the mission armed with a suppressed D5K Deutsche, but can find unsuppressed D5K Deutsches around the mission from dropping hostile forces. During my time as a primary student, GoldenEye 007 also became popular among other students who had a Nintendo 64 console. However, game consoles back then were a bit of a rarity. My friend had been one of the few people who did have a Nintendo 64 at the time, and we spent several memorable afternoons playing through the game.
- The cavernous interior of the Frigate reminds me of my primary school’s mechanical room: one day, the custodians had left the door ajar, and I caught a glimpse of what was inside: it looked something similar to the Frigate’s engine room. After its release, GoldenEye 007 had become very popular amongst those who played it, and the graphics were one of the reasons why this was the case: on a console, visuals like these were unprecedented. The game became the talk of the town, and one of the popular students in the year below mine became resentful of the fact that the game had become more popular than the things she liked.
- To this end, she decided that anyone who liked GoldenEye 007 was “uncool”; those who wanted to remain in her social circle needed to conform with her idea of what was acceptable. The individual in question was hailed as the smartest person in her year for being a deft hand in mathematics, and was seen as having “mature” tastes, allowing her to maintain a queen bee status amongst her peers. She was envied and admired to the point where everyone in her year adopted the same actions and beliefs she had, which extended to disliking anyone who found GoldenEye 007 enjoyable.
- As such, some students in the year below mine became bullied and excluded for liking GoldenEye 007 by those who wanted to stay in this individual’s good graces. If I had to guess, these behaviours manifested because expressing even only a mild interest to what people like was akin to invalidating their identity. After primary school, this individual attended a private middle school, and all of the bullying dissolved along with her clique. It was curious that even at this age, people were already concerned with social status and the like.
- Back in GoldenEye 007, I’ve jumped ahead to the iconic tank mission: I pass under a sky-bridge here that was also featured on Wikipedia, and note that one of GoldenEye 007‘s biggest charms was that it featured vehicular gameplay. While the tank operation is simplistic, and the tank gun fires projectiles that behave like grenades rather than tank shells, it was thrilling to relive one of the film’s most iconic moments in the game and drive through the streets of St. Petersberg in a T-54/55.
- Not every part of GoldenEye 007 aged gracefully: missions set in the jungle, or anywhere with lots of greenery do not like as sharp. I have read that the game was originally developed with more entities being done in greyscale so they could be rendered at twice the resolution, making things sharper. Difficulties in capturing screenshots in the jungle is why I have nothing here about the fight with Xenia Onatopp, who fights with a grenade launcher and RC-P90 (FN P90). GoldenEye 64, despite technical limitations, did faithfully reproduce characters from the film, and here, I encounter Boris Grishenko, a programmer who worked on the GoldenEye project.
- Although the game makes no indicator of such, if one were to fire on Boris, Natalya would refuse to reprogram the satellite, soft-locking the game into a failure state. GoldenEye 007‘s technical limitations actually serve to enhance the game further: the game doesn’t hold players’ hands through things and leaves one to figure things out for themselves. This aspect encourages replay, since some missions can be quite complex, and may require restarting several times to figure out fully. Here, after Natalya begins reprogramming the satellite, I found myself fending off wave after wave of Janus’ guards. Thankfully, they drop ammunition, making it easy to stay topped off.
- The final mission in GoldenEye 007 is the confrontation with Trevelyan: unlike the film, which has the pair fight in hand-to-hand combat, GoldenEye 007 reimagines the fight as a gun battle. The way GoldenEye 007 does its fights to fit the first person shooter format is creative and imaginative, and for this final fight, the only weapon available outside of the starting PP7 is the ZMG (a mini-Uzi), a fast-firing weapon that can be dual-wielded. Trevelyan is invincible for most of the fight, but shooting at him will push him in a different direction, and the aim of this level thus becomes pushing him into a small room that leads to the bottom of the cradle.
- Once Trevelyan is beaten, GoldenEye‘s story comes to a close. From this point onwards, players gain access to GoldenEye 007‘s higher difficulties and replay missions to eventually unlock both cheats and two bonus missions hailing from the Roger Moore era. GoldenEye 007‘s approach towards replayability and content was a consequence of its times: back then, game developers intentionally had difficulty levels as a part of the progression, giving players a chance to improve at the game before going for more challenging assignments. Players at the top of their game in GoldenEye 007 would unlock two bonus missions: Aztec and Egyptian.
- Aztec is a personal favourite of mine, as it gives players a chance to utilise the AR-33, which is the second most powerful weapon in the game (losing out only to the RC-P90). Rounds from this weapon penetrate through objects, and it has a high rate of fire, as well as a high zoom. Aztec is one of the most difficult levels in the whole of GoldenEye 007 and is a true test for players who’ve completed the rest of the game. The aim of this mission is similar to Silo: Bond must reprogram the shuttle launch in a scenario similar to Moonraker.
- Drax’s hidden jungle base is reproduced with great accuracy, and here, I pass through the control centre where Drax originally oversaw his plan to exterminate humanity before repopulating the planet. While Moonraker is probably one of the most far-fetched 007 movies to be produced, it was also my first 007 film, and I found Moonraker to be especially enjoyable for its portrayal of the space shuttle and the ensuing laser battle. I’ve longed for a modern reimagining of these battles, and the closest that players would get was 2003’s 007 Nightfire, which was a revolutionary Bond game that improved upon Agent Under Fire, which was itself an attempt to bring GoldenEye 007 to sixth-generation consoles.
- While the RC-P90 is the most powerful gun in the whole of GoldenEye 007, and I don’t have any screenshots of it in this post, I did manage to find the Moonraker Laser, which performs comparably to the .44 Magnum, albeit with unlimited ammunition and a much higher firing rate. The unlimited ammunition makes the weapon incredibly versatile, and after watching Moonraker, I was thrilled to learn that this weapon was featured in GoldenEye 007. Later 007 games would feature similar experimental weapons: 007 Nightfire‘s Phoenix Samurai Laser Rifle is a homage to the Moonraker Laser, but has been balanced so that it overheats after a few shots.
- One pleasant surprise in the Aztec level was that players have a chance to fight one of the most iconic Bond henchmen ever: Jaws. Although GoldenEye 007 is constrained in what it could do, giving Jaws a high health pool and dual AR-33s emphasised to players that this would be a difficult fight. However, continuously moving around and returning fire with the Moonraker Laser eventually allows one to defeat him, and Jaws drops a keycard that is necessary to continue on with the mission. The later levels were never a part of my childhood memories, since my friends never had the level unlocked.
- It is the case that the two bonus missions differ from the aesthetic seen elsewhere in GoldenEye 007, harkening back to an older era of James Bond. In Egyptian, there is no precise analogue with older Bond films, but the mission draws inspiration from The Spy Who Loved Me, Live and Let Die and The Man With The Golden Gun. The map is set in an unknown Egyptian temple, and the aim of the level is simple: kill the voodoo shaman Baron Samedi using the Golden Gun. Players encounter Baron Samedi a few times, and while he can be “killed”, he reappears at later points in the mission.
- The way to get the Golden Gun is immensely convoluted, and originally, players would’ve had to figure things out for themselves through trial-and-error. However, an official strategy guide was released alongside the game, and this guide provides step-by-step instructions of how to finish the puzzle without setting off the chamber’s defensive turrets. Once the puzzle is completed, players gain access to the Golden Gun, plus an extra ninety-nine rounds in reserve. The gun is immensely fun to use against foes, who fall in a single shot. This is the only place the Golden Gun appears in the campaign on its own.
- Once the Golden Gun is acquired, players can finally send Baron Samedi to Davey Jone’s locker: it takes two to three body shots, but once done, the mission draws to a close. With this, my revisit of GoldenEye 007 draws to a close; here, it is worth mentioning that the idea of playing through the game and writing about it had been around since I finished GoldenEye: Rogue Agent back in 2020, but I encountered difficulty in formulating a post about one of the greatest games ever made, and eventually decided that I would write about the game at the twenty five year anniversary.
In the twenty five years that has passed since GoldenEye 007 released, the gaming market is almost unrecognisable. First person shooters are among the most popular genre for their relatively low barrier to entry and high skill ceiling, and games have since built upon the learnings from GoldenEye 007 to advance the genre further. Halo would add the idea of recharging health and a limited loadout to encourage smarter, strategic play. Half-Life brought to the table a story without cutscenes or breaks in the play to immerse players in new ways. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare successfully implemented elements that made first person shooters even more realistic and life-like. The James Bond franchise would also receive several excellent games. The Nintendo 64 platform later had The World is Not Enough, which expanded upon options available in GoldenEye 007. When sixth generation game consoles came out, Agent Under Fire and 007 Nightfire improved upon the mechanics and visuals to modernise the James Bond experience. Unfortunately, the franchise has since languished: there haven’t been any good James Bond games for modern consoles, and owing to copyright issues, fan remakes and official remasters of the game have been suppressed or cancelled. This is especially disappointing when considering the legacy GoldenEye 007 leaves behind: because the gameplay and mechanics in GoldenEye 007 still remain excellent, a lot of die-hard fans of GoldenEye 007 have been itching to see what the game might look like if it were brought to life using today’s technology and techniques. Prior to their cancellation or stoppage in development, some of the remakes have been commented as being how players saw GoldenEye 007 when they popped in the cartridge and powered on the game for the first time back in 1997. The game certainly did have an impact on the me of twenty-five years earlier: after playing it at a cousin’s place during our annual Christmas dinners, I immediately became hooked on both James Bond and the first person shooter genre, and this has contributed to my current interests in Cold War military history and weapons technology.