Tag Archives: Black Ops

Then and Now – Goldeneye 007

21 Jan

Then

I have to have one, I need it, I can’t live without it. That essentially sums up my feelings about the Nintendo 64 after playing Goldeneye. I was just a fool with a PlayStation and a copy of Star Wars: Dark Forces, in all its pseudo 3d, Doom-lite glory. Goldeneye was incredible, a proper first person shooter on a console. I had played Quake and Doom on friend’s PCs and been impressed, but Goldeneye blew them out of the water. The levels looked amazingly detailed, the graphics were mouth-wateringly good and the gameplay was sublime. The N64 control pad was the perfect companion, the Z button was my trigger, the R my sights. Everything worked beautifully in tandem. The missions were immensely good fun, with plenty of options and actual stealth. I didn’t have to just run around shooting monsters, I was using a silencer, taking out cameras, throwing knives at guards. Then there were the cheats earned for completing levels in a certain time, all of which just added to the fun. (Paintball mode!) More difficulty meant more objectives and more of the level to discover. The game just kept on giving. I had only borrowed it from a friend after I got an N64, and he didn’t get it back for some time. The cherry on that cake though, was the multiplayer. There were four of us playing at once, four! I’d never seen the likes of it. It was even more fun than the single player. Proximity mines were my weapon of choice and I was as devious as they come with them. My friends died and had no idea why, until I taunted them mercilessly. Hours and hours of my life were poured into Goldeneye, and if I could do it all again I probably would, because they were an absolute blast.

Now

Rare produced some of the N64’s biggest games, including Banjo-Kazooie, Jet Force Gemini, Donkey Kong 64, Perfect Dark and the phenomenal and underrated Blast Corps (If you haven’t played it, pick it up and thank me later) They were instrumental in the success of the console outside Japan, and the pick of the litter was Goldeneye. Revered as the game that brought the FPS to consoles, for better or worse, Goldeneye brought a huge number of innovations to FPS gaming, from the stealth elements to the use of objective-based mission structure. Goldeneye became the template for future games of its ilk. Sadly, like most original titles, it was later games which would make the most of its innovations. The late 90’s saw the FPS genre explode in popularity, and with it came shooters which were far more technically impressive, and still stand up wonderfully today, Half Life being the most notable example.

Goldeneye is still a fun game, don’t get me wrong, but it has a huge amount of flaws which are blatantly obvious under modern scrutiny. The biggest problem is the controls, which seemed so good at the time. The use of the analogue stick to walk forward, but look left to right was a poor choice, strafing is difficult and thanks to my becoming used to modern FPS controls I tended to stagger drunkenly forward in a zigzag pattern, rather than just smoothly going in a straight line. It took some getting used to, but the controls are far from intuitive and at certain moments I found myself fumbling for the right button to strafe and trying to change my weapon at the same time. Turok actually managed to get the FPS controls nailed down as best they could be on N64, but changing to a similar control scheme here was a miserable failure, thanks to Goldeneye being made for the default system. Trying to shoot the hatch on the train level was an exercise in futility.

The speed of the game is also pretty high on the list of flaws, low frame rate means the enemies move even slower when a lot is happening on screen, with the occasional feeling of a lag between control and on-screen movement. Explosions ratchet the pace of things down even further and it becomes quickly apparent that the great graphics come with a price. It’s not totally game-breaking, and it’s usually an element of games I don’t take any interest in, but it’s too noticeable to ignore here. Especially when there are exploding crates almost everywhere. Those great graphics are rife with glitches too, enemies clip through walls, managing to kill you despite being behind a closed door, and this is a fairly common occurrence. The Jungle level is a real low point for the graphics, a confusing mess where you can be shot by seemingly invisible enemies. It would have made a great Predator game though.

While I’m on the subject, why are there exploding crates everywhere? It’s as if the game designers just wanted to frustrate in as many ways as possible. Crates explode, hurt you, then the slowdown causes you to get shot a few times and later in the level you die, knowing that if it wasn’t for those crates you’d still be alive. What are they keeping in them anyway? Worse still, if the crates hadn’t exploded, Natalya might still be alive, instead of her death causing an instant failed mission and a restart. Escorting her around is absolute torture, and the point where you have to protect her as a constant stream of guards shoot from every conceivable angle is one of the most frustrating in gaming history.

The inclusion of a vehicle level seemed extremely impressive when the game was released, but the tank level is an absolute mess to play now. Mines are impossible to see, they’re the same colour as the ground, and the controls are horrible. It’s next to impossible to drive and shoot at the same time, but stopping means being hit by rockets, as does trying to speed through the level without shooting. Might I remind you, tanks are not fast. The stealth doesn’t really work either. Trying to replay the second Bunker level is confusing to say the least. There is no way to get out of the cell you start in without alerting the guard and seemingly no way to get the silenced pistol without killing a roomful of guards with a rifle, and incurring the wrath of the endless stream of respawning goons that fill the level, and again, cause massive slowdown. Then Natalya stands between you and the guards, you shoot her, and that’s all she wrote, quit, restart. I remember there being throwing knives in a pit to the right of that cell, but I can’t find them anymore, and really, a secret like that shouldn’t be necessary to complete the level.

I’m probably being far too critical, Goldeneye was unbelievably good when first released, and for good reason. It has some really well-designed levels, looks great and is a fun game to play. The weapons feel satisfying and varied, and the challenge of increased difficulty and tougher objectives remains a good reason to play, better than the pointless achievements we’re stuck with this generation anyway. There are some real highlights amongst the levels. The Frigate and Train levels stand out in particular, and the mad dash through the Facility necessitated by that time limit (which must be beaten to unlock a cheat) is still thrilling. The enemy AI may be poor, but it’s forgivable for a game as old as this, and the difficulty is pitch perfect aside from the occasional frustration, mostly due to some poor design choices. Again, forgivable considering the sheer number of new ideas on offer.

It’s tough to say whether Goldeneye is still worth playing. As an FPS, probably not when games like Half Life 2, or even the original Half Life, exist, but on its own merits it is a fun slice of N64 action. The multiplayer is still great, though having only four players makes some of the maps feel enormous, and you can spend a lot of time aimlessly wandering around in circles, though it’s all worth it when a proximity mine takes out one of your friends and you get to gloat. The post-match rewards are a really brilliant touch, and checking them after every game is always entertaining. I still get ‘most cowardly’ more often than not. Single player is a great example of well-crafted gaming, one which still has that addictiveness thanks to the unlockables and the genuine feeling of progression. Not having checkpoints or regenerating health is a huge plus in my book, and makes things far more challenging. Knowing one hit means instant death, but being so close to the end of a level you just manage to push through and complete it, that’s what gaming is about. There are better games, and Goldeneye is something of a museum piece in the FPS world, a seminal innovator which has been bettered but still deserves high regard, and I’d still rather play it than Black Ops.