It has been 25 years since the 007: GoldenEye release on Nintendo 64, a console that defined a generation, and it's still a beloved game by those who grew up with the four-player first-person shooter. Even with dated shooting mechanics and pixelated visuals, GoldenEye set the bar for what a local multiplayer game could be. There are many elements gamers will remember from hours of play, not the least of which is the varied and unique levels in both the single- and multiplayer arenas. Developers are often limited by the technology of the time, and creating a well-designed shooter for any platform isn't easy. Even with these challenges, the GoldenEye level design is brilliant, both closely matching the locales from the 1995 film while offering dozens of intricate environments for players to explore and play through.
GoldenEye levels offer countless secrets to discover, multiple routes to master, and even more bizarre happenings, like the level that was never meant to exist or unfinished parts of levels you can't get to without a GameShark. Anyone who played in the '90s is sure to have a favorite level, because….
The GoldenEye Levels Are a Huge Part of What Make It So Memorable
Part of GoldenEye's replayability is the fact that you can go to your favorite levels in the single-player campaign once you've cleared them. This allows players to become extremely familiar with longer levels like Control and Streets, or memorize Trevelyan's exact route in Cradle. The classic James Bond story and dozens of guns add to the allure, but without well-realized level design, so many other parts would fall flat.
Even levels that are revisited are designed in interesting ways to make them compelling locations to return to. Surface at night casts an eerie red glow across the level, changing the overall feel compared to when you're there during the day. Meanwhile, the first time you infiltrate Bunker, much of the base is still under construction. When you're arrested and imprisoned there just four levels later, it's evident that time has passed and those parts of the base have been completed.
GoldenEye levels bring you to many exotic locales – a Russian chemical weapons facility, a large and lavish boat, a speeding train, a hazy and humid jungle, and even subterranean caverns. James Bond and many of his available weapons may remain the same, but each level transports you someplace new and exciting. It's also very evident the inspirations GoldenEye level design takes from the film since each level leads into the next in a way that makes cinematic sense.
When you escape the Facility and enter Runway, you can turn around see the exit you just passed through. Look up from the catwalk in Bunker and there's the hatch you dropped through to sneak into the base. Jump out the window with Natalya in Archives? You're now running through the streets below. Don't forget to grab the tank to deal some major damage.
GoldenEye gave us so much to explore and enjoy, and the varied design of the levels helped this game endure for so many years. After all, ask any GoldenEye player what their favorite level is, and you'll likely get a different answer each time.
What Were the Best GoldenEye Levels?
Ranking the best GoldenEye level designs is a fool's errand, but I'm going to attempt to do it anyway. Every level presents its own set of challenges, and with three difficulty options with additional objectives, GoldenEye offers players many obstacles to overcome. It's almost reminiscent of the best Super Mario 64 levels where the way you approach a level varies based on what your objectives are.
A level like Dam is an excellent introductory setpiece with a mostly linear progression (though you can explore the hallways within the dam if you so choose). There is a mysterious structure across the water that you can get a closer look at with your sniper rifle scope, but we'll get more into that in a moment.
Facility gives you plenty of enemies to dispatch and the choice of whether you spare Dr. Doak's life. Maybe you blow the gas canisters early and escape before James dies of asphyxiation? Or you let the full scene with Ourumov and Trevelyan play out before dramatically making your exit like Pierce Brosnan does in the movie.
Runway is short but sweet (and also offers an available tank you can drive). Silo is the only level that gives you access to the plastique; I can't count the number of times I set all the explosives at the very beginning and then raced against the countdown to clear it in time. Train is a level that takes place on an actual (well, digital) bullet train, and challenging levels like Jungle and Control put your skills to the test across all difficulties.
And what about the two bonus levels: Aztec and Egyptian, unlockable when you clear all previous levels on Secret Agent and 00 Agent respectively? They make GoldenEye even more replayable.
Though some levels are linear, there are many that provide multiple routes for you to follow. This creates a fun playground for speedrunners, who have spent the last 25 years perfecting their run, like this streamer who completed GoldenEye in just over 36 minutes.
Okay Then, Keep Your Secrets
What's a video game if it doesn't have some secrets for players to discover over the years? GoldenEye is no exception, and some of the mysteries get downright weird. Though, like most things, there are reasonable explanations… mostly.
Let's start with a level that was never intended to exist in the final game to begin with: the Citadel. The Citadel can be accessed using GameShark; many players theorize this was an early testing level placed into the game and then removed by developers, but Rare hasn't been very forthcoming on the origins of the Citadel. The level itself is very barebones and bizarrely designed, but thanks to ROMs and emulators, gamers can even play multiplayer matches in the Citadel now.
The Citadel may require cheats to access, but there is a section in the first level that you can view from the edges of the dam but not actually get to without cheats. Using a sniper rifle scope, you'll be able to see a small island that is inaccessible. There's an autogun in a bunker and a guard tower, but not much else. Years after GoldenEye's release, Rare developers Mark Edmonds and Duncan Botwood stated in an interview that the idea was to code a boat ride into the game for the player to investigate the island and find armor. That part never got around to getting coded, however, but the island remnants were left behind.
Looking to 100% GoldenEye? You'll find even the secret levels have secrets. If you managed to unlock the level Egyptian, you'll know there's a Golden Gun locked in a glass case in this level. If you try to approach it, gun turrets will begin shooting at you. There's no way to destroy the glass, and no clear switch to deactivate the security. So how do you get the Golden Gun in GoldenEye?
The answer was one that took me literally decades to discover. I know at any point I could have looked up the answer to this particular puzzle online, but I wanted to preserve some mysteries for myself. One night not all that long ago, my friend and I sat down at an N64 and decided to work out the mystery. Turns out, the key is the tile floor. You need to approach the Golden Gun by stepping on only specific tiles. Make one wrong move, and the gun turrets attack you.
To the best of my knowledge there are no hints, directions, or any indication of which tiles you should step on. It's just trial and error, over and over and over again, until you finally reach the Golden Gun and retrieve it from the case. Secrets like these make the GoldenEye level design extremely fun, if not a bit frustrating at times.
25 Years of GoldenEye Fun
Goldeneye is of course not the only Nintendo 64 classic (The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time development timeline shows just how much care was put into that one title), but it has held a strong spot in the first-person shooter space for a quarter of a century, and if we ever get a true remake or re-release, I'll definitely be amongst the droves of fans looking forward to revisit these levels and rediscover all their secrets all over again. The care the developers put into nailing the locations featured in the film was a huge part of what made GoldenEye such an enduring title for the past two and a half decades.
And when all is said and done and you defeat Trevelyan on Cradle, you can always go right back to Dam and do it all over again. Here's to another 25 years of exploring the the brilliant GoldenEye level design this N64 classic has to offer.