22 years later, no James Bond has captured the magic of GoldenEye 007

GoldenEye 007 magic

The year is 1997. Rare Limited is finishing up a retooled passion project for the Nintendo 64. Initially imagined as an on-rails shooter, it’s now being made into a first-person shooter. The anticipation is high, and the expectations are low. But even with all the risk, they release GoldenEye 007 anyway.

I’m sure it’s no exaggeration to state that GoldenEye 007 was a huge hit when it first debuted on August 25, 1997. After all, it sold over 8 million copies on the N64, making it the console’s third best-selling game. It also holds a 96/100 on Metacritic, making it one of the N64’s best-reviewed titles. And it single-handedly revolutionized first-person shooters on home consoles, showing that not only could they be viable, but that they were something worth taking seriously. So why, then, has it been so hard to replicate the game’s success in the years since?

The golden dilemma

It’s not like later entries in the James Bond repertoire haven’t tried: Two years after the game came out, EA, who inherited the license, released Tomorrow Never Dies for the PlayStation 1. The game was met with mixed reception. EA would then spend the next six years trying to make another GoldenEye 007-level game before giving up and relinquishing the license to Activision. Some entries, like Nightfire, came pretty close to being another GoldenEye 007.¬†And some, like the misleadingly-titled GoldenEye: Rogue Agent, were considered disappointing.

EA’s attempts at trying to recreate the winning formula have always fascinated me. It’s clear that they were trying; it really is. It’s also clear that something was always off about their attempts. Yet no matter how good, or bad, the end results were, there was no two ways about it: GoldenEye 007 was something special, and they simply couldn’t replicate that special quality. It wasn’t possible.

An admirable attempt

The situation only became that much more complicated under Activision’s handling of the James Bond license. In 2010, to capitalize on the original movie’s 15th anniversary, Activision and developer Eurocom remade GoldenEye 007 for the Wii. They made slight alterations, they didn’t have the rights to Pierce Brosnan’s likeness, and they modernized the story, but the spirit of the original game was left pretty much intact. And give them credit: The remake actually received some solid reviews! Yet despite this, fans of the original game were still pretty lukewarm to the remake, particularly because, as expected, it wasn’t GoldenEye 007.

Here’s where the issue lies: Can you recreate something so timely? Is it even worth it? And even if you could, does that guarantee instant gold? Considering that video games, like all art forms, aren’t an exact science, that so many attempts at recreating GoldenEye 007 have turned up unsuccessful should say something right off the bat.

Recapturing lightning in a bottle

Personally, I think that developers should stop trying. Like Ghostbusters, Men in Black, and many other landmark achievements in entertainment, GoldenEye 007 was the epitome of lightning in a bottle. So many cards had to exactly align — be it Rare at the helm or first-person shooters still being in their infancy — that it’s impossible to expect them to align again. And any attempts are sheer insanity.

Besides, I’m not even sure that literal re-toolings of GoldenEye 007 would’ve been that successful anyway. An HD remaster was attempted, for example, on the Xbox 360, yet never went anywhere. The underground hacking scene has been more successful with their GoldenEye 007 Source, yet for all the discussion of there being a passionate fan-community, it seems as though it’s rarely brought up. I simply don’t believe, in the year 2019, that a game like GoldenEye 007 really holds that much water anymore in the gaming community.

Looking back on GoldenEye

I’m not saying that to be mean or cynical either. I loved GoldenEye 007 growing up! I used to play the multiplayer mode all the time at friends’ and cousins’ houses! But looking back as an adult, the game has some serious issues. Ignoring how dated it is visually, its controls feel wonky and it’s peppered with clipping issues and constant frame rate drops. The escort missions are especially annoying, with many of them routinely breaking the flow of gameplay. And some of the objectives, like Ourumov’s briefcase, feel unfinished or incomplete.

GoldenEye 007 magic
This part always confused me.

In other words, the game is a product of its time. I applaud it for all of its innovations to the genre, including a fully functional multiplayer mode, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been eclipsed since by other first-person shooters. It simply doesn’t hold up, in other words. And it’s time to acknowledge that.

Chasing a moment in time

I also think that acknowledging that GoldenEye 007 is a product of its time would help to make future James Bond video games that much better. It really says something when developers are chasing the shadow of a 22-year-old shooter, yet are unable to catch it. And it shows, as of the 13 official games released since, only a select few of them have been anything worth writing home about. It’s kind of sad, especially given that games like Nightfire are deserving of praise in their own right.

So what now? I know that yet another GoldenEye 007 remake is in the works for 2022, to coincide with the original game’s 25th anniversary. I also know that the original game spawned an indirect successor in the form of Perfect Dark, which also went on to receive praise. But while remaking and re-tooling are both viable options, at the same time I really think that we should move on and look at other franchises. Don’t focus on GoldenEye 007; focus on its legacy. Focus on how it changed first-person shooters, and use that as a lesson for how to craft a timeless game with an impact still being felt today. Focus on the passion that went into it, and how much could’ve gone wrong that didn’t. Don’t ape its success — carve your own instead.

GoldenEye 007 magic
“This game ain’t big enough for the four of us!”

“Remember who you are…”

But if that’s not enough to change anything, keep in mind that games like GoldenEye 007 worked because everyone involved cared. They weren’t trying to make a masterpiece; they were simply trying to make a game. A good game, but a game nonetheless. And the sooner that developers realize this, the more likely they’ll be to make another GoldenEye 007… if they even make one at all.

What do you think? Do you feel like another GoldenEye 007 is possible, or was it truly lightning in a bottle? Let us know in the comments below.

Zachary Perlmutter
News and editorial writer for Nintendo Enthusiast. Is hoping to one day publish a graphic novel or two.