GoldenEye is 20: Raise a Martini to a classic game

Commentary: Here's the story behind the N64's James Bond classic -- the only game I've ever been good at.

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
Expertise Films, TV, Movies, Television, Technology
Richard Trenholm
4 min read

If you spent a significant portion of your youth running around trying to shoot Oddjob with a golden gun, brace yourself: GoldenEye is 20 years old.

First-person shooter GoldenEye 007 was released for the Nintendo 64 games console on 25 August 1997. Created by Rare and closely based on the 1995 James Bond film of the same name, the spy game was a smash hit and marked an important moment in the history of Nintendo, games consoles  -- and my youth.

GoldenEye is the only game I have ever been good at. During my first year at college, another guy in my halls of residence had an N64 and a bunch of us would pile into his room to play endless death matches instead of going out and talking to girls. Amazingly, the super-popular and enormously entertaining multiplayer element of the game was an afterthought, according to the game's creators, who added it at the last minute when Rare and Nintendo management weren't around.

Even more amazingly, the development team was just nine people -- and eight of them had never worked on a video game before. The game was developed for the as-yet-unreleased N64, and actually represented something of a gamble. Nintendo was synonymous with cute, cartoony games like Mario and The Legend of Zelda. A gritty first-person shooter was something else entirely.

We've been expecting you, Mr Bond.


Despite their inexperience, the Rare team earned their licence to kill. Two and three-quarter years and $2 million later, the game arrived with movie-accurate sets expanded in a free-wheeling way that gave each level an enjoyably open feel. The game had a sly sense of humour, like when you had to take out a Russian guard in the toilets. Having to pick your shots and not attract attention made the single-player option a joy to play, and it had a wide selection of weapons with very different strengths. I loved the sniper rifle's zoom sight and the timed mines, but everybody knew the best gun was the RC-P90 (especially when you had two of 'em).

My mates and I were soon racing each other on speed runs through the train level's brutally linear run 'n' gun action, cursing Natalya's slow movement, and learning to turn up the contrast on the TV to spot the drone guns through the greenery of the fiendishly difficult jungle level. And of course, the multiplayer segment was an absolute blast, drawing on decades of Bond lore by allowing you to play as iconic villains such as Oddjob and Jaws, armed with golden guns and Moonraker lasers.

It was the ability to play as Commander Bond and his supporting cast that drew me to the game. I've never been able to engage with games that are original stories, preferring movie tie-ins -- which was a problem, given that most tie-ins are utter rubbish. GoldenEye was the glorious exception. Stepping suavely around a corner with silenced PP7 in hand and dropping a hapless Russian with a single shot felt fantastic. And when the familiar twanging theme kicked in... double-oh-heaven.


Sean Bean as Alec Trevelyan and Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 1995's "GoldenEye".

Richard Davis/Getty Images

"GoldenEye" (the film) had been the first James Bond flick I ever saw at the cinema, so it's always had a place in my 007-obsessed heart. The game may have come out two years after the movie, but it actually added something to the source for me. Watching the film again is even more fun when you could spot the accurately rendered locations from the game. That toilet was surprisingly lifelike.

The movie, by the way, still stands up as one of the best Bonds -- it was on TV the other night and I loved every minute. Apart from the awful, awful music. And Pierce Brosnan's hair. Apart from that. 

My pal at university would leave his room unlocked while he went off to work or study, which meant I could go round there and play GoldenEye all day instead of going to lectures. I failed that year and ended up dropping out. Not because of GoldenEye, obviously -- getting good at GoldenEye was a happy bonus rather than a cause. I think.

GameSpot's 1997 review gave GoldenEye a score of 9.8 out of 10, praising the graphics and sound and the depth of gameplay that kept you coming back for more. The game sold more than 8 million copies and scooped an Aston Martin-full of awards, including multiple Baftas. Rare was offered another Bond tie-in but opted to make Perfect Dark instead, and no subsequent Bond game ever quite captured the magic of GoldenEye -- even when Sir Sean Connery himself lent his dishtinctive accshent to 2005's From Russia With Love.

After leaving university, I was round at a friend of a friend's house waiting to go out to the pub, and they were playing GoldenEye. They were stuck on the train level, and when they passed the controller to me, I casually stormed through the train in record time, lasered the grating out of the floor and started blasting through the next level. I'd never owned a games console growing up, so it was a neat feeling to have mastered a game. Then I realised that was a bit rude, and handed the controller back.

That was pretty much the last time I ever played GoldenEye, or was any good at gaming . I did try GoldenEye: Rogue Agent, but the Xbox controller had too many buttons -- and that was the end of my life as a gamer.

Two decades later, let's raise a Martini to one of the greatest games ever. Whichever way you shake or stir it, GoldenEye was a solid gold classic. Glad you could make it, 007.  

For more gaming excitement, check out our sister site GameSpot.

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