It’s the fiftieth anniversary of British super spy James Bond, so Nintendo-Nation.net is revisiting Rare’s 1997 N64 classic Goldeneye and asking, ‘What could Goldeneye teach modern FPS designers?’
You are Bond. Creeping through buildings, noting enemy patrols, deciding who needs off-ing to complete your mission, and working out where to find and complete objectives. You are Bond, doing Bond stuff, on Bond missions.
It’s the defining characteristic of classic N64 shooter Goldeneye that went on to define the expectations of an entire FPS generation. No One Lives Forever, its sequel, Timesplitters 2 and Goldeneye’s own sort-of sequel Perfect Dark all followed after and probably improved the template, but Goldeneye was the first of what we now consider a bit of a dead side-road for the ever popular FPS: the spy shooter.
It’s a tragic way for a character as beloved as Bond to be. A character that is so unique in film - even his Bourne-like reincarnation in 2006 held a particularly suave air that was unmistakenly Bond around all the grimy bathroom brawls - the recent Goldeneye 007 showed that the character is now, in Activision’s hands, nothing more than another way to squeeze a bit more cash from the bloated CoD sponge, by using Jimmy B’s name to create little more than a CoD Mod.
But why are the current spat of shooters not as appealing, in the long run, as the N64′s Goldeneye? What did that game do with a machine that couldn’t model a hand properly that new FPS’ seem incapable of doing with machines that can effortlessly mould and animate five separate digits? Why are these games worse?
Simple – the levels in Goldeneye N64 were places with missions built into them, modern FPS games are corridor shooting galleries that funnel you through visually spectacular, but interactively crippled ‘setpieces’.
Goldeneye N64 challenged you to be Bond, to think like him and act like him. Modern FPS’ want to give you the power fantasy of being a character without any of the effort, and keeping that pesky gameplay to a minimum is a big part of that.
Again, it’s the levels. Full of dead ends and believable asides, full of guards that walk active patrol paths, full of sneaky camera’s for Bond to avoid and knock out. By being a cohesive place, and not a linear series of challenge rooms, Goleneye’s missions kept you on your toes at all times, and always offered you a few options in scenarios (except that blasted Train level). The way the game also used higher difficulties to make you explore levels deeper through extra objectives was, and still is, genius, while Wii Goldeneye’s attempt to work this feature into its linear levels was a shockingly ham-fisted travesty. This less predictable design meant that things could catch you out at times, yes, but it also made levels incredibly interesting and replayable.
The game had clear elements of that Bond power fantasy, that’s not in question. The way guards behaved a bit silly was one, and the way they flinched when shot to gave you a clear advantage in gunfights was very empowering – that sort of hit point detection, by the way, is another thing criminally lacking from modern shooters, alongside permanent health bars that meant any hit you did take felt more punishing, but that’s an argument for another time. Then there were levels like The Streets that was pure pencils up nose bonkers, but these stages provided an exhilarating break from the tense spy-like challenges and were all the more entertaining for it. But the levels that really tested you, they made the game great then and still help it stand tall in an overcrowded genre today.
These non-linear challenges were improved even further through the ingenious idea of awarding cheats for those that could clear levels at speed. This meta game was perfect as it tasked agents with working out the optimum routes through the levels, be it via shortcuts or but heading down the stairs here instead of there, by using a particular gadget in a particular way. The game gave you the tools and the levels and the challenges in which to be Bond, but left it up to the player to achieve that zenith through a bit of brainpower and some speedy reflexes.
That’s Goldeneye’s lesson – missions should be places that test a player, not roller coasters. While one is more flash and stunning for the first thirty seconds, no-one wants to live there or is likely to revisit too many times before it gets same-y. Any sound designer worth their salt can splurge Monty Norman all over a game and give it a Bond like feel, but it takes real design talent to make a player feel like a super spy in a simple looking FPS. Ultimately if you’re playing a James Bond video game you shouldn’t just want to feel like you’re steering Bond through a film – this is an interactive medium, you should aspire to be Bond. That’s what Goldeneye allowed you to do, and that’s what it can teach modern FPS’.