Welcome to “Gaming Memories,” a blog series where I reminisce about my favorite video games. I will slowly but surely get to every game on the list, and speak to why each holds a special place in my heart. That not only means I’ll talk about why I think each is a great game that speaks to my tastes, but also where and how it affected me in a larger context. I hope you enjoy, and thanks for reading.
As a kid, we visited our relatives (who lived two states and an eight hour car ride away) a couple times a year. At first, this was exciting because they had a NES and we did not. Once we had a SNES at our own house though, we didn't have any use for their lowly NES; that was old stuff. But when they one-upped us again with a Nintendo 64? Now that was exciting. We got to see Mario and crew in full 3D, and we got to run and jump and race in ways that we never had before. It was a paradigm shift, and playing games like Super Mario 64 and Mario Kart 64 on our cousins’ Nintendo 64 was magical.
Even more magical, they had GoldenEye 007.
GoldenEye may not have been a better game than Super Mario 64, but as a boy who had minimal exposure to PC games in the 1990s, and who had never played a first-person shooter before, it was revelatory. I knew what Mario was (along with other platformers) by that point, so as amazing as his transition to 3D was, it was still familiar ground. GoldenEye, on the other hand, was completely new. And I liked it. There’s not much more magical to me than discovering something new I like, and the fact that I only had limited access to it via our cousins (at least at first) made those rare moments where I got to play it even more special. As such, those early memories of playing GoldenEye at my cousins’ house are among my most distinct ones. We’d take turns trying our hand at the campaign, and spend hours battling it out in multiplayer with all sorts of different settings and house rules. Every visit to our cousins' house was a chance to see and experience something new; a new interaction, a new campaign level, a new set of multiplayer rules. I took it all in with the wide-eyed curiosity of youth, and remember those early days fondly.
Once we had our own Nintendo 64, however, the memories didn’t stop. If anything, having the time to explore GoldenEye on my own terms revealed how clever and rewarding it really was. I got to play the campaign from start to finish myself, and thoroughly enjoyed its arcade structure that offered a ton of varied, stand-alone levels. Some levels were short, hectic shootouts where you barely had time to breath. Some levels were sprawling environments that you had to bounce around as you completed various objectives. Some levels demanded you take a slower, stealthier approach to avoid being overwhelmed by guards. By offering different layouts, weapons, and objectives, each of the game’s 20 levels felt unique. Then once I finished the campaign on the standard difficulty I started it again on a higher one, only to find one of GoldenEye’s smartest features: levels gained additional objectives as you ramped up the difficulty. Even now, in 2020, most video games adjust their difficulty by simply changing health and damage numbers. GoldenEye was a step ahead 23 years ago, as the way it layered in new objectives made each new difficulty setting feel almost like a new game. The way you moved through a level on Agent didn’t work the same way on Secret Agent, and re-learning the game for each run was a real treat. Throw in other fun challenges which led to unlockables such as cheat codes and bonus levels, and GoldenEye’s campaign had a ton of legs that kept me playing for months.
If its campaign kept me engaged for months, then GoldenEye’s multiplayer extended that to years, as I spent likely hundreds of hours battling with family and friends alike. It was one of the first multiplayer games I got into, and it remains the only one that I’ve ever pulled an all-nighter to play with friends. While in some ways it was your standard deathmatch, GoldenEye’s multiplayer had plenty going for it. First, its maps were extremely well-designed, and provided ample space to flank and jockey for a better position. Second, it offered a ton of customizable game settings, and I had a lot of fun experimenting with all sorts of different weapon configurations; “remote mines only” was always a personal favorite. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, in addition to being my first first-person shooter it was also among the first successful ones on consoles. It’s hard to overstate how important that was at the time, as you no longer needed a slew of capable PCs to get a game session going. GoldenEye brought the first-person shooter to the living room, and its multiplayer thrived for it. I don’t know that I would have gotten into the genre any other way.
Today, decades later, it’s easy to look back on GoldenEye 007 and see how dated it is: its controls are clunky, some objectives are obtuse, and the escort missions suck (sorry, Natalya). But not only was it a great game that was a blast to play in its day, it also had a lot of smart, positive qualities that I still remember it for above everything else. It had a varied campaign with dynamic objectives across difficulty levels, a robust multiplayer mode with lots of options to promote seemingly endless play, and even fun little touches like the way enemies reacted appropriately to where you shot them. Yet perhaps most importantly, it was a huge step for first-person shooters on consoles, and introduced me to the genre with panache. GoldenEye will always have a special place in my heart for that, and I can’t think of a better game to fill it.