Remembering the Challenge of Becoming a Goldeneye 00 Agent

BY WILL HARGRAVE: My favourite game of all time is Goldeneye. I know, not the most original game, but there’s no other game as a child that pushed me as hard as this one. Ocarina of Time opened my eyes to a world of adventure, Resident Evil 2 gave me a love of horror, and Football Manager showed me it’s okay to stay up until 4 AM, but Goldeneye still stands above the rest.

Goldeneye was revolutionary when it first released in 1997. One of the first true great console first-person shooters, with (for the time) excellent AI and great objective-based level design. But it’s defining feature was its multiplayer. Up to four players could play split-screen matches against each other, with enough customisation options to keep things fresh, and tight levels that ensured that the matches were fast-paced. This kept Goldeneye relevant years after it released. Long after it’s commercial lifespan, I and my brothers continued to wage war on each other. No Oddjobs.

For me though, my fondest memories were with the single-player. I loved the objectives getting more complicated as you slid the difficulty up, and constantly pushed myself to beat the levels in 00 Agent (the hardest difficulty setting). Admittedly, I would always eventually give up, and end up completing the game on Agent or Secret Agent. But I had the motivator in the back of my mind, every time I booted up the game I was greeted by my older brother’s file displaying “007” meaning he had beat the whole game on the hardest difficulty. Like any younger brother, I took this as a challenge.

Suddenly, fairly simple missions like “Depot” and “Caverns” became meticulous levels I had to carefully check off objectives whilst avoiding the hail of bullets from stronger enemies. Months would pass and I had slowly but surely get the elusive 00 Agent on each mission until just the hardest were left. It was on these missions that I was introduced to my greatest enemy. Natalya.

I said above that the AI was groundbreaking for its time. And it was.  Enemies would react to noises, patrol rooms, duck incoming fire, and even scratch themselves when they thought nobody was looking. But clearly, a different person coded Natalya. Despite being unarmed, she would run fearlessly into enemy fire and attract bullets like a magnet until she inevitably perished. She also showed nerves of steel by calming typing on “Control” even whilst swarms of enemies surrounded you. Most people would’ve tried to rush through it, but Natalya, the real hero of this story, went as slowly as possible. Who could forget her greatest moment – jogging next to an exploding train? Giving you the satisfaction of seeing your objective fail and having to restart “Train” one more time.

Whilst as an adult I would’ve given up and moved on to the next game, with all the time in the world I could persevere as a child. The imperfections just created more challenges for me, another hurdle to overcome.

Goldeneye is far from perfect.  In fact, it’s probably unplayable to modern players (though John recently replayed Goldeneye and loved it). Not just the outdated boxy graphics, lack of online multiplayer and a general sense of clunkiness. But the ludicrous 3-pronged trident Nintendo 64 controller. If you’re not familiar with this, it had only one joystick in the middle and you could only hold 2/3’s of the controller. It had a trigger button on the back, which was quite advantageous for first-person shooters, but apart from that, the controller was a mess. If you played the console as a child your claw hands will have moulded around the controller. But new players to the system? They’d have trouble even realising this thing was a controller.

Two N64 controllers, one red and one yellow, being held on top of each other.

Eventually, I overcame Goldeneye on 00 Agent after finally beating the hidden level Egyptian one lazy summer night. That was about 10 years ago and I haven’t played the game since. Even by then, the game was outdated, Halo had revolutionised gaming, and online multiplayer gaming had truly taken over.

Goldeneye will always hold a special place in my and many people’s hearts. As time goes on it becomes more dated, but somehow even more charming. Rose-tinted glasses are firmly melded into me whilst I reflect on my time playing it. Even with all of its little quirks and flaws taken into account, it is still my favourite game. Every time Natalya died on “Control” or I killed a hostage on “Frigate” made it, even more, sweeter when I finally beat the game.

Nowadays, Goldeneye can rub shoulders with other games from the past that changed gaming forever. It has a thriving speedrunning community that finds new ways to make me feel bad for the hours I poured into beating the game. Most of all, it is a source of nostalgia for many, and one of the most iconic pieces of media from the late ‘90s.