GoldenEye 007 has been the talk of the town again over the last few days, thanks to its recent re-release on to Nintendo Switch and the Xbox Game Pass service. There are, apparently, issues with the Game Pass version, but the Switch port is basically exactly the game you remember from the N64 era. This means it has some serious warts going on. It also means that it is incredible.
It’s almost impossible to conceive in 2023, but there was a time when first-person games didn’t have a dual-stick setup to rely on. The original PlayStation controller didn’t have analogue sticks, and the Nintendo 64 had just one. That was the era GoldenEye was released into, and while there are many different control options built into the N64 game, none of them really compensate for the fact that there is only one analogue stick.
Most serious players would recommend the control option that maps movement to the four yellow “c” buttons on the N64 controller, and use the analogue stick for looking around and aiming. But this is a less-than-ideal option for anyone that has “left hand for movement” so wired into the brain that it’s impossible to unwire. No, my default for playing GoldenEye was to rely on auto-aim for any close-up gunfights, and the rare time that I had the opportunity to snipe from a distance, use a dedicated button to turn the analogue stick from a movement stick to an aiming reticle.
On top of the control issues, GoldenEye is also best known for things that have aged very poorly within it. For example, the game was, back in the day, famed for its enemy AI. If you played well, you could stealth your way around levels because the enemies would only notice you if you did attention-grabbing things (like firing a gun that didn’t have a silencer attached). Back then, at a time where “FPS” meant, basically, arcade-action games like Doom, this came across as revolutionary, but, of course, is no longer the case. The AI is really quite laughable now (especially the way that enemies try and dodge out of the way). Likewise, the level design was once famed for being intricate and highly engaging, but now feels very restricted and linear, even with all the objectives that the higher difficulty settings pile on.
For all of these reasons, I had assumed that I would enjoy a moment of nostalgia when re-playing GoldenEye for on the Switch, but that would quickly give way to frustration. Even after someone (MaPo64) on Twitter had shared a clever button re-map that would help GoldenEye play roughly like a modern console title, I still assumed that the other “dated” aspects of GoldenEye would limit it to a single gaming session or two.
Then I played the multiplayer with my brother. GoldenEye’s multiplayer was always its greatest strength and while I again assumed that this would be a dated quality (split screen, allowing you to “cheat”, and no bots to fill out numbers?!?), it took all of one session to be hooked all over again.
— Expert About Everything 🎴 (@MattSainsb) January 27, 2023
Because here’s the thing about GoldenEye – everyone’s struggling with the same issues. The controls do suck for everyone. The level design is the same for everyone. Everyone’s on a level playing field, it’s fair in its clunkiness, and that means you can enjoy it on its merits. On the other hand, there are a couple of qualities about GoldenEye’s multiplayer that I simply did not remember about it. One is its sheer speed. This game is fast in multiplayer, and I’m not talking about the framerate. I’m talking about the speed with which players fly around the map, and how brutal and blistering the gunfights can be. Because subtle aiming and tactical positioning are less of a viable strategy (or not one at all), multiplayer becomes a case of being able to stand and deliver with brutal efficiency, and with levels being smaller than modern shooters, the whole experience feels more dynamic and pacey than the modern gun-a-thon. More twitchy. Less cerebral, certainly, but also more visceral.
And then there is the occasional moment where a sheer fluke is the cause of outrageous laughter. The video clip that I put above was from my multiplayer session, and in a thousand more matches I will not achieve a fluke kill using a handgun and manual aiming like I achieved there. The laughter that ensured reminded me of those late-night gaming sessions back in the day, where everyone had to get together into the room to play because online multiplayer was not a thing yet (on consoles, anyway). The simple fun of it all was nostalgic… but also a reminder that while video games have become objectively better, more nuanced, more complex, more competitive and more of just about everything else… there is a little something that we’ve lost along the way.
I would rather spend all weekend playing GoldenEye in multiplayer than a single round of Call of Duty, Overwatch, Apex Legends, Fortnite, or whatever other modern shooter you want to bring up. It’s not that I think it’s the better game, because it’s not. That’s not a matter for subjective conversation. GoldenEye is a massively important game in the history of video games, but it has been thoroughly eclipsed. But at the same time, the amount of fun I have had with it over the past few days is not just pure nostalgia speaking. As the saying goes “they don’t make ’em like they used to.” This has connotations both negative and positive and it’s a truism that perfectly applies to GoldenEye. So, just like that, Rare’s classic shooter has re-entered my regular cycle of “go-to” games. Not just because I fondly remember playing this about 20 years ago when life was so much less complex. Rather, because I’m having a lot of fun with it – particularly in multiplayer – today.