Long Play: Goldeneye 007 Conclusion

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Goldeneye 007 is a time capsule of sorts, much like the movie it ties into. The controls are clunky, performance is significantly lower than what would be considered acceptable today, and all around the edges you see things that are held back by the technology of the day. Underneath it all is a game that is still charming, and despite all of the above issues, still incredibly fun. There are flaws here –  a lot of them – but overall this is still very fun and I think it’s worthy of being in every N64 owner’s collection.

 

Let’s start by talking about the two main issues with this game – controls and frame rate. The N64 controller only has 1 analog stick which is a large problem in a 3D first person shooter. The developers worked around this the best they could, and I think the result is actually quite good given the limitations. Generous auto aim combined with a toggle for precision aiming really resolved a lot of the primary issues caused by the controller layout. I did see that there is an option for dual analog control using 2 N64 controllers simultaneously, but I don’t have a second controller to test it out so I’m not sure how well it works. The game also supports the rumble pak, which is a plus for me but that is largely personal preference. Now the larger issue is frame rate. I do not have any special tools or capture gear but Digital Foundry does and they did a retro episode on Goldeneye and found single digit frame rates – which is not a surprise when playing the game. The jungle level in particular is really, really bad. The single digit frame rates, fuzzy N64 graphics (that built in antialiasing filter is rarely a benefit to games), and environmental color palette matching enemy uniforms makes this particular level ugly, difficult, and just plain not fun to play. Performance is easily my second biggest complaint with the game and it’s really unfortunate that this doesn’t run better.

 

Single player in Goldeneye is split up into 20 missions – each of which is relatively short. The story roughly follows the movie (full disclosure, I haven’t watched the movie in at least a decade) and is largely disposable. Most missions are varied enough and short enough that they are entertaining without being repetitive. The missions also have secret goals (such as ‘complete under 2 minutes on 00 agent difficulty’) that unlock additional multiplayer modes. This is a great incentive to run these missions over and over and earn these extras for the multiplayer mode. One negative I ran into is that mission objectives aren’t always clear and I ended up replaying some missions multiple times because I misunderstood what the game wanted from me. It’s a minor annoyance, and nothing compared to my main issue with the missions, and the game really: escort missions. The term ‘escort mission’ should strike fear into the heart of anyone that played games in the 90s and it’s just as awful here as you remember it. You end up escorting Natalya through several missions that have an added objective that she cannot be killed. If she does, you need to restart – the mission will continue and allow you to complete the other objectives but you will still get a mission failed screen when you’re done. Natalya has terrible pathfinding and will get killed often without you being able to do anything about it. She will get stuck in corners and be unable to get herself out of them forcing you to restart the mission. She will block doorways and refuse to move. She is the reason I didn’t finish the game – I played the Control Center mission at least a half a dozen times, each time getting to the end until she inevitably gets killed by the guards. These types of missions have largely disappeared from modern games for good reason.

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Natalya is maybe the worst part of this game.

So how was my time with the title overall? I had a blast. Not only do I have a history with this one, but the game itself holds up very well in my opinion. Sure, it has issues that would be unacceptable today, but that doesn’t mean it’s unplayable or unfun. The missions themselves are usually pretty quick even on the first playthrough so it’s easy to knock a mission or two out in a short period. I played 2 months of this one and didn’t finish, but I had a blast and did play through over 80% of the single player – I’m considering this a success. Maybe one day I’ll go back and finish those handful of final missions. Or not. I hate you Natalya.

Images courtesy of Giant Bomb.

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Long Play: GoldenEye 007

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Where to begin? I guess 1998 or 1999 is the first time I played GoldenEye. I never personally owned an N64 when it was current (in fact, this was part of a gap where I didn’t have any current consoles – I went right from Genesis to PS2) as I was mostly playing on PC at the time. My friends however, all had N64s and every one of them had a copy of GoldenEye. At the time, it felt like a must own for the system – if you had an N64 you needed a copy of GoldenEye no if, ands, or buts. The main draw – for us at least – was the multiplayer mode. Get 4 friends together and you have hours of fun. The one thing that sticks out to me is that we were so into the built in cheats (paintball mode, DK mode, etc.) that we would make sure we had someone’s cartridge with a save that unlocked everything – in a strange way, the single player mode was important to us only in that it unlocked more options for multiplayer. I do remember at least one of my friends had every mission done in 00 Agent difficulty – something that was not achieved easily or without tons of level memorization and experimentation.
Some of my recollection of the game is that controls are a bit strange, as there is only 1 analog stick, and that the frame rate is awful on occasion. I also seem to recall people hating the difficulty in some later levels, but that may just be due to playing them in 00 Agent difficulty to unlock stuff for multiplayer. I do have a rumble pak, and since this is one of the few games in my collection that supports it, I’m excited to give it a workout.

I started playing on 7/19 and hope to be done in roughly a month – we’ll see!

P.S. No Oddjob allowed!

Image courtesy of Giant Bomb

Castlevania (64)

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In honor of Halloween, this weeks entry is the much maligned Castlevania (Giant Bomb|Wikipedia). Interesting note, almost everyone I’ve talked to refers to this game as ‘Castlevania 64’ but it’s actual title is simply Castlevania. This title was Konami’s first 3D Castlevania game, and frankly, it shows – but it’s not all bad.

The game starts out with a big issue – there is no on cartridge saving mechanism, you need a memory card plugged into your controller to save progress. Since most N64 games did not use the memory pak, I never picked one up, so I can’t save my progress. This is really disappointing as according to Wikipedia, the on cartridge save system was in place in certain regions but not North America. I’m sure this was done as a cost saving measure, but its unfortunate. You can select one of two characters, then it starts you off. You play in third person view and have a few weapons to start. Most enemies aren’t too bright and you can dispatch them with little issue. My trouble came from the areas of the first stage where the skeletons will spawn endlessly – eventually you need to just run past them. The poor camera controls (I’ll get to that later) were probably my number one cause of death. Dying forces you to restart the level, there are no checkpoints that I saw. These combine to make a long play session an exercise in frustration. There is some light platforming in the game, and while I generally don’t like 3D platforming, it’s done well enough here.

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Castlevania is a good looking game, if not great. Like all N64 titles, it suffers from extensive fog and, frankly, unacceptably low frame rates. Castlevania isn’t the worst offender however, and it seemed mostly stable. Characters animated well for the time, and environments were fairly large. Also common for the time and system, the camera controls were terrible. I mean, really bad. There are 3 modes you can switch between but each of them is just as bad as the other two. Swinging the camera around when you’re moving between an indoor environment and an outdoor one is a sure fire way to get single digit frame rates. I’ve never been a fan of this generation of games primarily because camera controls hadn’t quite been “figured out”, and this is no exception.

Sound was a highlight here – I dare say my favorite part of the entire game. Music was very good overall, dark and moody and perfect for this type of game. There was some actual narration as well (uncommon on N64) and it was of good quality – in regards to both compression and voice acting.

Verdict: Back on the shelf. This is a novelty, but it has aged poorly and didn’t have enough going for it for me to go back to. A shame, as there is definitely some potential here.