Nostalgia. It’s a funny thing. While your run-of-the-mill human being thinks back to summer afternoons spent in the park or on the beach, days of sticky ice lollies, buzzing insects and childhood adventure, a gamer recalls those same days spent in darkened rooms, curtains closed to keep the sunshine out lest it further obscure the haze of 14 inch screens with analogue inputs and major pixellation.
Yes, I can feel it now. That beguiling mix of happiness and sadness. A tear welling in the eye. Except I’m looking at a dusty, age-beaten copy of Rare’s Goldeneye 007 for the Nintendo 64 rather than a 90’s photo album…
Am I the only one who feels this way? I suspect not. Whisper Goldeneye to any gamer of a certain age and their lip will quiver, their heartbeat quicken in recollection of the first time they sampled that gloriously fluid multiplayer mode, the thrill of sneaking up behind someone, pausing to bring up Rare’s innovative aiming system, and executing them with a single shot to the head.
How innocent we were then! We liked our murder in the subtle, skilled manner of a spy rather than the order-barking, all action chaos of Call of Duty!
On the face of it, Goldeneye was an unlikely hit. Let’s be honest: the film is hopeless. Pierce Brosnan added as much to the Bond franchise as water to whiskey, diluting the punchy essence with bland smugness, and even good movies have horrible, rushed spin-offs. Rare took their time with Goldeneye 007 – it emerged almost two years after the film – and it surprised everyone.
The first time I played Goldeneye is the seminal gaming experience of my life. It was in the house of someone whose house I never went to. I don’t even know how we ended up there, myself and two friends, but Goldeneye was being played on a multiplayer rota, four players peering intently at the miniscule cubes of screen that represented their character’s viewpoint – and, of course, cheating looks at everyone else’s to see whereabouts on the level they were – shouting in primal exultation when they made a kill.
It didn’t even matter that when I was handed a controller I lost – that each time I stole a glance at someone else’s portion of screen I saw my character appear in their sights and heard the Bond-ish music proclaim death as that dreaded flow of blood flood obscured my square. I knew instinctively that this was a new dimension of gaming; a new level of interactive reality and that video games had become more exciting and immersive than ever before.
A Perfect Dark, Timesplitters and the Call of Duty franchise are the spiritual and technical successors to Goldeneye, blending immersive, objective based single-player modes with rambunctious multiplayer potential. All are great games in their own right, replete with the sense of care and detail that stands out in their forefather, but for me, close to 20 years after its release, Goldeneye remains the anchor point, the gold standard to which gamers and developers should return to seek inspiration and craft the next generation of first person shooters.
Think of the music. Bond-themed but also willing to use silence and open spaces to build atmosphere. Those unforgettable touches – regenerating weaponless above a toilet in the Facility with seconds to escape before another player traps you, throwing proxy mines all over the place with satanic glee and the universally unofficial rule that no-one could select Oddjob since he was so small and fast it was like trying to kill a Gremlin armed with a space laser.
Perhaps most crucially, Goldeneye 007 was fun in a way that challenges stereotypes of gaming that persist to this day (and may even be present in this article): that it is a solitary, anti-social pursuit dependent on blocking out the real world. My memories of Goldeneye are social memories, endless hours of shared, spontaneous fun with friends that were life-affirming and life-enriching in ways I’ve rarely experienced. Gaming can be a great way of connecting and sharing with others. Goldeneye in the 90s was the great way of connecting with others through gaming.
While murdering them, of course. With sneaky headshots. Then taunting them.