Updated: Sep 21, 2020
In the last article, we investigated the classic PC games Quake and Quake 2 and their long-lasting impact on the FPS genre, especially on the PC.
However, the next major advancement in FPS gaming would not be on the PC. Instead, it would appear on Nintendo’s N64 console. The game was 007 GoldenEye, arguably the first truly great console FPS. This is its story.
The Nintendo N64
Previous attempts to bring the FPS genre to consoles had met with limited success. Prior to GoldenEye 007, most console FPS games were watered down ports of PC originals, such as the SNES port of Doom. Lack of analogue controls made them awkward and frustrating to play. Their comparably underpowered hardware forced significant limitations on screen size, resolution, enemy counts and frame rates.
Nintendo was set to change that. The N64 console was significantly more powerful than the 16-bit consoles that preceded it. This was particularly true for rendering 3D graphics. It was capable of rendering fully 3D environments, with polygonal NPCs and level geometry.
Secondly, the N64’s joypad featured an analogue thumbstick. This allowed for a degree of control and finesse that simply wasn’t possible on the strictly digital joypads of earlier generations.
The 'Killer App'
Now the N64 needed a great FPS to run on it. April of 1997 saw the release of Doom 64, which we investigated previously. This was definitely one of the better Doom ports, largely due to it not being a straight port. It aimed to do its own thing by tailoring the Doom experience to match the hardware. This was a step in the right direction, but what the N64 really needed was a brand-new FPS. One that was designed from the ground up to take full advantage of its capabilities whilst minimising the effects of its limitations.
And this is precisely what it got with GoldenEye 007. Based on the 1995 ‘Bronson era’ Bond film of the same name, and released several months after Doom 64, GoldenEye 007 is an example of a very rare thing indeed.
And what is this thing? A direct film tie-in video game that is genuinely worth playing. Indeed, some would argue that GoldenEye 007 is the best film tie-in ever made. (Expanded universe games, such as the three AvP games do not count since they do not follow a specific film.)
Full disclosure before we go any further - I haven’t played the original N64 version. This is due to never having owned an N64, or knowing anyone at the time who did. This is possibly due to being about 18-19 years old and at University/College when it was released, and all the students I knew were into PCs and the PlayStation One. I have however played it via in-browser emulation in preparation for this article.
“I’m afraid I can’t do that James” Does anyone else notice the panels next to the doors in the Kirghizstan level (22:28 to 29:38) are HAL9000s? Exactly what you want running a nuclear missile silo...
The NPC A.I. of GoldenEye 007 (henceforth referred to simply as GoldenEye) was very advanced for the era. Enemies would follow patrol routes. They would run to trigger alarms if they spotted you. If they saw an NPC get hit or heard them cry out when shot they would become alert to danger and investigate. Making too much noise would draw in reinforcements.
Non-combatant A.I. was equally impressive. Scientists and civilians would run in fear when combat was happening around them. They would even stop and put their hands up if you pointed your gun at them. This was achieved via an early form of Finite State Machine. (Feel free to follow the link for a video explanation of what Finite State Machines are and how they work.)
Some friendly NPCs could assist you in combat but would have to be kept alive to avoid failing a mission. Therefore, these were among the earliest FPS escort quests.
Due to the game’s A.I., stealth was usually the preferred option. Waiting for an enemy’s patrol route to take them someplace where other NPCs could not see them was vital. To then take them down silently you could either then head-shot them with a suppressed weapon, or perform a karate chop to knock them out. This would enable Bond to remove enemies without alerting the others. This was among the first FPS titles to employ the sort of stealth mechanics which would be perfected in later games such as Thief: The Dark Project.
This was a stark contrast to the run and gun gameplay of Doom and Quake. This slower-paced gameplay with fewer but smarter enemies suited the N64, which would have struggled with Doom 2 numbers of enemies spawning at once.
GoldenEye’s commercial success proved there was an appetite for such games, and marked a shift away from the frantic Doom-clones.
Headshots and Toe Snipes
Another very advanced feature for the time was its use of Location-Based Damage. This is a fancy way of saying where you hit an enemy will affect how much damage they take. At its most basic this involves the head-shot, which is an instant kill in many games. In more advanced versions whether you hit an extremity or the neck, torso, abdomen, groin, etc., will also make a difference.
GoldenEye was the first game to include this, and it put it to good use. A headshot using a suppressed weapon was the only ranged attack that would *almost* guarantee a silent takedown. Why? Because it would kill them too quickly for them to make an NPC alerting death-cry. In most FPS games prior to GoldenEye, a shot to the head would cause as much damage to an enemy as a shot to the foot.
Which leads us to another of GoldenEye’s innovations - contextual death animations. How enemies react to getting shot is dependent on where you shoot them. Headshots are near-instant kills, shots to the torso stagger them, shots to the groin will cause them to double up in pain, whilst a shot to the throat will cause them to sink to their knees whilst holding their hands up to their necks. You can see them, along with the NPC’s other impressive set of animations, movements, and stances, in the video below (NB – video has no sound).
GoldenEye 007 N64 Animations
2:41 We probably shouldn’t laugh at a guy getting shot in the butt. Still going to though…
No game before GoldenEye had this level of character movement. Indeed, it would not be until the year 2000 that we would see its equal in the other great N64 FPS Perfect Dark (also by Rare) and the PC’s ultra-violent Soldier of Fortune.
Many FPS games in the early 2000s were still using what I jokingly referred to as 'plank physics'. Why plank physics? Because when NPCs died, they would fall over as stiff as a plank, as you can see in the video below.
Plank Physics on display
Unless you used explosives of course. Then things got messy…
GoldenEye’s gun-play was also a major departure from the games of the Doom and Quake era. GoldenEye aimed for a degree of realism, and this included having to reload weapons. It may also have been the first FPS game to include silenced weapons.
Another of GoldenEye’s innovations that would become commonplace was its scoped sniper rifle with sniper zoom.
It’s non-sniper reticule aiming mechanic was also revolutionary. It would later be included in Perfect Dark, the Time-Splitters franchise and Killzone 1’s sniper rifle. The later realism based Red Orchestra series uses similar, albeit toned down, version to increase realism and immersion.
Another first in FPS games is its use of lean and shoot allowing the player to shoot around corners. This appears to be twinned with an early form of ‘sticky cover’ which allow Bond to pop in and out of vertical cover to take potshots at enemies. Both lean and shoot and sticky cover would go on to be used in many FPS and Third Person Shooter games.
GoldenEye was also among the first FPS games to introduce semi-destructible environments and ‘systemic’ gameplay. For example, shooting a barrel may cause a chain reaction, which may defeat an NPC off-screen. The noise may then cause other NPCs to investigate, who are then taken out by the sticky mine you placed earlier. This was aided by its largely non-linear level design and the freedom to complete many mission objectives in an order of your choosing. Later FPS games, such as the Far Cry series and first-person RPGs – such as Deus Ex would go on to implement these mechanics extensively.
Just as influential as its campaign was GoldenEye’s multiplayer modes. The game allowed for up to four-player split-screen. Multiple game modes were supported, including Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Flag Tag. This proved to be a resounding success, becoming one of the most popular multiplayer titles on the N64.
GoldenEye 007 Four-Player Deathmatch
Admit it, you sneaked a peek at ‘their’ corner of the screen to see where they were…
GoldenEye was loved by critics and players alike. It scored 90% and up, or 9/10, from many publications. Gamers remember it fondly as being one of the best games on the N64, a great multiplayer game and arguably the best film-tie in ever made.
GoldenEye’s critical success was mirrored by its commercial. It sold 8 million copies, making it the 3rd best-selling game on the N64 behind Mario 64 and Mario Kart 64. In many ways, it was the N64’s Killer App, particularly for slightly older players who may not have found the ‘Marioverse’ games as appealing.
GoldenEye’s contribution to the FPS genre cannot be overstated. It introduced many gameplay mechanics which have gone on to become staples of FPS gaming. What’s more, its stunning financial success served as a proof-of-concept - consoles could indeed handle the FPS genre. Console players would no longer have to settle for second-rate ports of PC originals. Now they could enjoy high-quality FPS games dedicated to their platform. This would lead to the killer App of the OG Xbox console also being an FPS.
However, we are getting ahead of ourselves. First, we must turn our attention back to the late ‘90s PC gaming scene. The A.I. of GoldenEye 007 is said to have been a major influence on the next game we will investigate in the next article of ‘Influential FPS games, a game that would put Valve on the map and usher in a new era of FPS games - Half-Life. See you all then.
Do you have memories of playing GoldenEye 007 back in the day, or more recently? Did you ever play four-player deathmatch? If so, who was your favourite character? How did you find the game's controls, were they intuitive or awkward? Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.
Iain is a 40+ author and gamer from England, who started his gaming journey on the Atari 2600 36 years ago. His specialities include obscure cult classics, retro games, mods and fan remakes. He hates all sports games and is allergic to online multiplayer. Since he is British, his body is about 60% tea. He can be reached via Twitter at https://twitter.com/IainBaker17, and contacted via email at email@example.com
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