Earlier this week, we published an intelligent takedown of the beloved Nintendo 64 James Bond first-person shooter GoldenEye. Maybe, our guest writer wrote, this game was a little bit flawed. Maybe the campaign was monotonous and the multiplayer map design was weird. Maybe we can still love the game despite or because of its flaws.
All well and good, but it got me thinking: why did I like GoldenEye so much? Why or why, considering that, when I had the game in college, I didn't play its famous multiplayer much, yet replayed its single-player mode again and again.
So, as best I can muster, this is why I liked that game:
First level of the game. You can walk up the the sniper tower and shoot through the glass. Maybe you could do this on PC first-person shooters since the 1950s or whenever, but I was mostly a console-gaming teenager and college student in the age of GoldenEye. It was mind-blowing to me that I could see a guy on the other side of the window and shoot the glass out... and shoot the guy in the process. Very cool. +10 points of Metacritic right there.
GoldenEye's life-changing first-level.
GoldenEye was one of the first video games whose enemies had location-specific damage, meaning that if you shot them in the foot, arm or head, they'd react differently. This was about as impressive to me as an automobile would have been to a caveman. I had not played many shooters before this... Turok and, uh, not Doom... not many! But I did formerly believe in the gaming truism that if you stomped on a Goomba's earflap it was as good as stomping on the crown of his head, and that if you shot your Contra enemies in the legs, it did them as much misery as if you shot them in their faces. GoldenEye played by other rules. You might see a guard's elbow jutting out into an open doorway, but shooting that elbow would just make the guy flinch and then turn and fire—or run and set off an alarm, which was also a cool touch I'd never seen before. So you'd really want to make sure you got a bead on the guy's head. Awesome stuff. Creepy, when I spell it out like this, but awesome in the virtual world.
In a first-person-shooter, you begin a level trapped without a gun? How the hell is James Bond supposed to get out of that predicament? That's what we call clever level design.
After you're killed, at least in the campaign, you get to see yourself (well, your James Bond), dying from multiple painful angles. Was that not new either? It fascinated me nevertheless.
The wonderful difficulty levels of GoldenEye rendered the game as a run-and-gun, perpetual-aggression shooter at its easiest setting. Notch it up to medium difficulty and you had to deal with tougher enemies, and you had to complete additional mission objectives (heading off the main path to find secret plans hidden in a room, for example). Notch it up again and you'd have even tougher enemies and even more objectives. With each increase in difficulty you'd re-discover the game, because you'd be forced to play it more thoroughly and more carefully. You'd be forced to find new areas in the levels in order to tackle these new objectives, and you'd have to hatch new tactics to stealthily defeat a now-overwhelming infestation of enemy guards. As the game got harder, it transformed; but those easier difficulty levels proved to be your training sessions, teaching you basic level layout and getting you prepped for playing the game as it probably was meant to be played. Most games don't work this way, not before then and not since. Their difficulty levels just make the game harder, but they rarely require you to do specific new things.
If you shot off too many bullets while playing through the game's levels, you'd trigger alarms. Enemies guards would emerge from the recesses of the hallways, pouring at you with no remorse. At some point in my GoldenEye-playing life, I discovered that the game was counting bullets. If I triggered an alarm and then retreated into a room—stood to the side of a doorway to have a straight shot at the cheek of anyone running through it—all I needed to do to stop the flow of enemies was slowly, carefully, diminish the number of bullets I was expending per bad guy. I think that's how it worked. Eventually they'd stop coming, but only if expended my ammo carefully. For some reason, this fascinated me. Probably because it was so laughably illogical in this Bond-o-verse for the bad guys to stop coming after me just because I was shooting at them with slightly less but still-murderous abandon.
There is definitely a space shuttle in this level.
I felt like I was in on some awesome Nintendo 64 in-joke when I unlocked the space shuttle level in GoldenEye. This was a year-one game for the same system that had already given me Pilotwings 64 and Blast Corps. Both of those games were amazing, and both of them had space shuttle appearances, too. For some reason, I thought this was cool. If only Super Mario 64 has a shuttle level.
No, wait. The Laptop Gun was in Perfect Dark, which I liked even more than GoldenEye. That game was packed with even more interesting design ideas than GoldenEye. Man, that studio that made those games... Rare. What ever happened to them?
You can take your love for sticky mines and big-head mode and paintball cheats and whatever else you may have loved about GoldenEye and write your own article. I've just told you why I was gaga over the game. I admit that my reasons are weird, but, let's be honest, we like lots of things for strange reasons. Good on GoldenEye for its oddball charms.
(GoldenEye box-art via GameFAQs.com)