One of the most important video games made (according to me) has just seen a re-release. When Rare officially announced that GoldenEye 007 was ‘coming soon’ to modern consoles, pretty much everyone assumed that ‘coming soon’ meant coming soon. That announcement was back in September of 2022 and it was finally released on the 27th of January 2023, over 4 months after that original ‘coming soon’ announcement. Given the totality of time, I guess 4 months is technically ‘coming soon’.
Anyway, I knew that I had to get my hands on this newly re-released GoldenEye 007, it was one of my most played games on my N64 back in the late 90s. I wanted to not only play the game again, but also see if it has held up since its release just over 25 years ago. But before I do get into this review, a brief history of how and why this could be really disappointing.
Just for the record, as I write this bit, it is the day before GoldenEye 007 is released. So, I have not yet played this re-release. But before I do play and give my view, I want to cover how I think this could be a disappointment.
First, it has been just over 25 years since this game was released back in 1997. Some games do age like wine and are just as great now as they were decades ago. Some don’t and I have a feeling that GoldenEye 007 will be one of those titles that are better left in the past. Then, I have to cover the biggest disappointment. This is just the N64 game with a slight bit of polish. A while back, it was revealed that Rare had developed a full remaster of this game, to be released on the Xbox 360. The only problem was that Rare didn’t have the rights to the Bond license and loads of messy behind-the-scenes stuff involving Nintendo meant that the remaster could not be legally released. Fast forward a few years and at the start of 2021, the remaster was leaked onto the Internet, confirming that it did indeed exist.
Much like how Rare remastered Perfect Dark a few years back, the GoldenEye 007 remaster looked really damn good. When it was announced that this legal re-release was coming, many assumed that it would be the leaked remaster and given a bit of a tidy-up. But no, we are getting an N64 port instead. Why? Nobody really knows. Well, nobody outside of Microsoft, Rare and Nintendo know. There is most probably some kind of ‘legal thing’ stopping Microsoft and Rare from releasing the remaster. I have no idea what that is. If this re-release is okay, then why not the remaster? It can’t be an MGM/Eon/Danjaq productions/licencing issue because if it was, then surely that issue would still be there with the N64 version… right? It must be something between Microsoft and Nintendo and I don’t know what.
This is obviously a joint venture between Microsoft and Nintendo because the game is only being released on their platforms. I would assume this is due to the fact that, when the game was originally released in 1997, Rare was owned (or mostly owned) by Nintendo. So, the original source code for the game is still owned by the Big N, I think. This is why Rare have not been able to release the game before due to all the messy behind-the-scenes legal crap. Nowadays, Rare is owned by Microsoft and somehow owns some kind of stake in the original game because one of their (now) studios made it, even if Nintendo own the source code.
Still (as mentioned), Perfect Dark was remastered by Rare a while back and that was made while Rare was under Nintendo. It even uses the same game engine as GoldenEye 007, slightly modified. So, if Nintendo had no problem with Rare remastering and releasing Perfect Dark, why the issue with GoldenEye 007? This does make it sound more like an issue with MGM/Eon/Danjaq as the rights holders of James Bond. But as I previously said, if it was a Bond rights issue, then surely this version would also stumble at that same hurdle.
None of this explains why the Xbox 360 remaster can not appear on both the Switch and the Xbox. Surely it’s the same game, just with nicer graphics. Though is it suspected that it is Nintendo being difficult and that they are the ones preventing the remaster from being released. Why could Nintendo and Microsoft reach an agreement to release the N64 version but not the Xbox 360 remaster? Or even better, why not both the original N64 and the remaster in one package? Best of both worlds and everyone wins. You’d think that these two multi-billion dollar companies could reach an agreement and put a smile on GoldenEye 007 fan faces. Plus, having a share of some profits from the game must be better than having a share of nothing.
Anyway, this is why I feel the disappointment could set in early, because this is not the very well-received remaster (which is still playable, if you know how). Then, there are two different versions of the same game. The Switch version has online play but the Xbox version doesn’t. However, the Xbox version gets a 4K upscale and framerate upgrade, as well as (much-needed) improved controls, I think. Look, this whole thing is a fucking mess. Why could there just not be one version of the game with all the same features on both the Switch and Xbox and more to the point, why couldn’t that one version be the remaster?
And with all of that out of the way, let’s see if GoldenEye 007 still holds up a quarter of a century later. Oh just for the record, I’m playing the Xbox version. I’m not going to do a traditional review, play the game and offer my opinion. Instead, I’m just going to load this up and scribble down my thoughts as I play. A ‘first impressions’ kind of thing.
Just from the title screen, I’m taken back to 1997 and a tsunami of nostalgia has just slapped me in the face. Some minor adjustments aside (copyrights, etc), it is exactly the same. Well, it would be as this is the N64 game ported over. The music, the intro and so on, all put a smile on my face that I honestly was not expecting. There are no bells and whistles here, just the game as it was, with some minor refinements. Moving that red crosshair around the screen feels much more natural on the Xbox than it did on the N64 using its controller. Right then, let’s play this thing and ready myself for some bitter disappointment.
Of course, starting out on the Dam level. It looks just like the original N64 game (because that’s exactly what it is), but just that little bit smoother. Now in glorious native widescreen too and from the off, those improved controls are wonderful. I’m not a hater of the N64 pad, but it was a tad awkward to use, especially with GoldenEye 007. Having to hold down a button to bring up the crosshair so you could aim and use those yellow buttons to strafe/look up and down. You don’t have to do that anymore as this new control scheme is more like a modern FPS game. Move with the left stick, aim with the right, simple stuff. Though you can hold down the left trigger and ‘aim down the sights’, which does bring up that classic red crosshair. But, you don’t control the crosshair around the screen as with the N64 original. Like a modern shooter, the crosshair stays in the middle of the screen as you aim. I wasn’t expecting this but the controls are great and work very well.
I’ve not played this game in 15+ years, so the old memory is a little hazy. But I still remember most of the level layouts and objectives. Oh and I’m playing this on the easy Agent difficulty, just to see how it plays. I do remember how playing on harder difficulties gave you more mission objectives to complete. I also remember how the game didn’t hold your hand (as with modern games) and left you to work out exactly what needed to be done.
Ha! I actually forgot about the start to the second level and crawling through the air duct and taking out the guard in the toilet, like in the film. “Sorry, forgot to knock.”. It was impressive how close this followed the film, while still doing its own thing. A lot of the levels looked like scenes in the film, just N64ed. I think this is one of the main reasons that the game is so loved and celebrated, it was a movie tie-in that followed the film and did it justice. I have noticed the really stupid AI though. Things have advanced somewhat since 1997 in that regard. The enemies here are willing to just run right at you and directly into the line of fire.
Speaking of the enemies, that awkward side-jump they do brings back memories. The fact that they had various hit areas was pretty impressive for the time too. Shoot them in the leg, arm, etc and they react. Yeah, the AI is terrible, but I have to admit to enjoying this more than I thought I would. The improved Xbox controls are definitely a much-needed addition. You can aim and move at the same time now, couldn’t do that on the N64. That should make unlocking some of the secrets a bit easier.
Some, well pretty much all, of the graphics have dated badly. That’s not something exclusive to GoldenEye 007 though, pretty much all 3D games of this era have dated like rotting meat. I’ve gotten a bit lost on some of the missions as I had forgotten quite a lot of the game, I’d totally forgotten some of the levels even existed. I need to brush up on and refresh my GoldenEye 007 knowledge. But the music, even 25 years later, the soundtrack kicks some serious bum-cheeks. Of course, the pause menu music is amazing. All of the music for this game is iconic and worth listening to on its own. One of the finest game soundtracks ever and it is so damn good to hear it again. I think this game has one of the best renditions of the James Bond theme that even most of the film composers can’t beat.
I had to quit and up the difficulty to Secret Agent, as Agent was just too damn easy and the combination of the bad AI and improved Xbox controls made it even easier. Plus, I get to remember how I’ve forgotten most of the other mission objectives now too. Yup, just as I remembered, no hand-holding, no objective markers. You have to explore the levels, read the mission objectives and work things out for yourself. The AI is still pretty stupid, but just that little bit tricker to take out. It was fun playing on Agent difficulty, but a whole lot better now I’ve moved up to Secret Agent.
I have to be honest, I was expecting myself to play this for an hour or so and conclude that this is better left in the past. I’ve just played through the entire game in one sitting and loved it. Of course, the graphics still look very N64 and are not appealing to the eye for the most part. But then again, they’re also charming in their own way. Just before publishing this, I thought I’d take a look at the general consensus on the Interwebs. There’s a lot of negativity about the graphics. I have no idea what people were expecting, this is an N64 game from 25 years ago and it’s going to look like an N64 game from 25 years ago. The main backlash seems to be about the controls though, on the Switch. See, the Switch version doesn’t have the updated control scheme that the Xbox version has. I can see this being a major issue as even in 1997 and when using the N64 pad, GoldenEye 007’s controls were awkward. I can only imagine that is magnified in 2023 and when using a controller that is not the N64 pad. It seems that, despite the lack of online multiplayer, the Xbox is the best version to play. I think the lack of online play but better controls is a fair trade-off.
Playing on Xbox, I’ve really enjoyed this far more than I thought I would. The controls work brilliantly and the slight upscaling of the 25-year-old graphics is basic, but ‘better’ than not having it at all. Still, the main thing, the core gameplay is great. I think that GoldenEye 007 is as playable now (if not more so) than in 1997, at least on the Xbox. I’ve now played through this on Secret Agent setting and really enjoyed it. I still want to go back and 100% it too, unlock all the cheats, finish on 00 Agent difficulty and so on. I have four new games in my review pile to get through and yet here I am, playing a game that is just over a quarter of a century old instead.
Yes, I’m still annoyed that they can’t work out a deal to bring the remaster to us fans, but I’m not overly disappointed that we got this version instead, as I thought I would be. I can only hold out hope that this re-release is being used as a test to see if putting the remaster on the market is worth it. Microsoft, Nintendo, MGM/Eon/Danjaq productions, if you read this… yes, yes it is worth putting the remaster on the market. £20 a pop, you’ll make a fucking fortune. GoldenEye 007 is available on Xbox as part of Game Pass, or free if you own the digital version of Rare Replay. You can pick this up on the Switch for Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack members. Though Interwebs talk suggests that it’s really not worth it, as the Switch version is a bit poo.