By Neil Merrett
To celebrate the 2017 London Game Festival Fringe and the 20 year anniversary of Goldeneye’s release on the Nintendo 64, Squareblind is very proud to be hosting a special four player tournament and martini evening for newbies and experienced players alike. Expect prizes, some good natured competitive gaming and an abundance of John Barry Music.
But what made the game so unique in the world of James Bond?
Anyone with a passing interest in films of the last 50 years could probably give you an view on what makes the perfect James Bond movie. Those vital ingredients that for over five decades have defined a hugely profitable, anachronistic, masculine, misogynistic, highly camp, cliched, yet sometimes taboo breaking series of films.
Tricked out cars, expensive formal wear, shoot outs, exotic foreign locations, ludicrous stunts, smug one liners and a dry cocktail to punctuate seduction and violence alike, all wrapped in aspirational clothing and other brands is the order of the day for many.
Love them or hate them, everyone has an idea of what a James Bond film should or must be.
However, in the realm of videogames, James Bond never really move beyond a brief 90’s flirtation with critical and commercial success that captured the imagination of gamers everywhere. This was Goldeneye on Nintendo 64, for many years the best way of allowing a player to shoot up to three mates without risk of ending up in a prison cell.
Despite numerous attempts to create an ongoing series of titles based on the character, Bond is not a videogame icon that is up there with the Marios, Masterchiefs, Nathan Drakes or Lara Crofts of the world.
The popularity of the character’s films has certainly seen fans buying up a number of Bond games, yet they haven’t continued to dominate the landscape the way other action titles and shooters have.
Asking an individual what makes a good bond game is either an impossible or irrelevant question for many.
Videogames have their own suave action heroes and Bond in recent years has been an also-ran by comparison. A chance perhaps to indulge in some nostalgia for the late 90’s, but no where near challenging the modern action blockbusters and multiplayer shooter kings such as Call of Duty or even Overwatch.
Whether literally bringing back Sean Connery for a stylised third person action game in the mid 2000s, or even moving into racing titles, the essential ingredients of a good Bond game are much harder to define.
But it was not always this way.
Back in 1997, Goldeneye on the Nintendo64 hit shelves two years after the film of the same name came out. It was perhaps the first console shooter to balance the film series’ love of ludicrous gadgets, pulp violence, stealth and mayhem with a living room-friendly four player competitive mode allowing players to lord it over their mates.
A paintball mode was even included as an unlockable bonus to play up the emerging leisure practice of shooting friends. Not to mention the game’s little pleasures of booby trapping toilets and finding overpowered golden guns to ensure sofa supremacy for a brief fleeting victory before the next battle.
With the exception of drinking and being crushed to death between an impossibly glamorous assassin’s thighs, Goldeneye largely captured most of the key points of the movie, albeit with even more shooting.
Copious amounts of machine gun fire, laser wristwatches and a ludicrous tank escape through the streets of Moscow were all included, as well as a daring last minute dash from an exploding train or breaking out of prison cells that required you to use your wits and magnetised watch to survive.
Recreating a popular, or even semi-popular movie was nothing new for videogames in the late 1990s, particularly in the fields of science fiction and superheroes. Yet Bond games had been around for a good decade previous and failed to capture the public’s imagination.
By Goldeneye’s launch in 1997, the relatively new Nintendo 64 allowed for fully 3D environments, a lot like carefully constructed film sets, to be built and sneaked through by the player. This created a limited sense of open ended choice to what sort of spy you might like to be; a suave ninja-like figure going undetected perhaps, or a gun toting maniac in a tuxedo.
Rudimentary in this day and age, the game did a lot to influence mainstream shooters to include broader game elements to a genre that on home consoles had not moved much beyond underpowered ports of games like Doom.
Like Bond movies, the player was given missions and optional side tasks depending on how ‘Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’ they felt they were at the game.
You could rain down havoc onto a Siberian army camp, or snipe and sneak your way around like a bastard, loosely living out one’s spy fantasies with a faintly recognisable polygon resembling a young, handsome Pierce Brosnan – the era’s James Bond.
In seconds, a carefully plotted infiltration, signified mostly by shooting out security cameras and moving around crouched down on the character’s knees, could literally blow up in the player’s face resulting in chaotic shoot outs that would not be out of place in 90’s action movies.
The consensus among critics of the time was rather than being a good recreation of a James Bond adventure, the game on its own terms was a thrilling and ground breaking title.
“Most movie-to-game translations don’t fare well, and early on, it appeared as though Rareware’s take on James Bond would never see the light of day. After investing several years into development, Rare worked wonders with this explosive license, pushed the N64 to its limit, and shocked everyone who picked up the controller,” wrote Game Informer, which was among a number of titles to include Goldenete in their highly subjective ‘greatest games of all time list’.
“With the classic James Bond soundtrack setting the tone, Rare revolutionized this genre with mission-based levels, stealth and sniping, limb-specific hit zones, and a massive multiplayer campaign. No matter how you approached this game, countless hours of your life were lost.”
For 1997, it was ahead of its time and many other titles in the shooter genre. But in the two decades to come, the film version of James Bond was forced to eventually move with the seemingly more complex times.
In an era of rivals spy icons such as the no nonsense Jason Bourne and a seemingly less certain real world espionage environment with its online ubiquity and murkier, more opaque sense of right and wrong – Bond evolved. He went from a steady diet of martinis, explosions and quips to tackle existential crisis, betrayal, moral ambiguity, compromised British government figures and classic literary references, all washed down with explosions and martinis of course.
Games have evolved as a medium to tackle issues of identity, mortality, depression and even madness. Yet the James Bond series of games, despite eventually moving on from Pierce Brosnan and taking on the face of current Bond actor Daniel Craig, did not move on accordingly to lead the action genre pack.
Arguably, part of the Goldeneye’s enduring success and repeat plays stems from the now almost iconic multiplayer, but being one of the greatest commercial and critical successes the James Bond franchise had in the 1980s and 1990s also helped.
A charismatic, handsome actor who played Bond in four movies over a seven year period that fell either side of September 11, 2001, Pierce Brosnan was the perfect superspy for the late 1990s, suave, handsome, mostly light hearted and convincingly bad ass whether on foot, bike or boat, with occasional glimpses of a brutal, depressive and caring nature.
The villains he faced were rogue super agents, not so far fetched pantomime media barons or rich femme fatales that threatened the modern Utopia of the late 90’s. They were Good vs evil, shoot the bad guy, quip and move on kinda fare that lent itself to the games and politics of the era, at least from a western, suburban perspective.
Yet for a generation of young people, Goldeneye is a name more synonymous with videogames than movies; the Dam level, the wristwatch train escape, and ducking between pillars to avoid a raft of explosives and villains on special multiplayer levels such as the iconic ‘Facility’ map.
Sean Connery was the original, and for many the best bond, sexy and subversive as the 60’s required. Roger Moore, the suave, almost comedic superspy and Craig the rugged, cold, emotionally distant, yet sensitive hard drinker of Ian Fleming’s original books, as definitive as a good Vesper Martini.
But on the Nintendo 64, Brosnan, in his glorious 3D polygon form, remains the definitive videogame Bond. No one has done it better since.
For this year’s London Games Festival Fringe event, Squareblind is proud to be hosting a night of cocktails, sweeping James Bond soundtracks and the chance to dispose of friends with proximity mines for one night in our Goldeneye Royale extravaganza.
Taking place on Thursday April 6 at the Six Yard Box in Elephant and Castle in London, the 4-player Goldeneye tournament aims to give players new and old a chance to test out the classic Bond shooter in a potentially semi-inebriated manner that the Superspy would approve of.
With a £5 entry that includes a free Vodka Martini, there is the chance to win prizes, as well as the try Six Yard Box’s cracking craft beer and discounted food at selected Artworks venues available all night. Players are encouraged to come along and lord it over their foes. No Oddjob though.