GoldenEra Review – IGN

GoldenEra is now available on digital.

If you’re reading this GoldenEra review, then you — like myself — probably spent entire summer vacations, endless Saturday nights, and chilly snow days playing Rare’s GoldenEye 007 on Nintendo 64. The console first-person shooter changed at-home gaming forever, paving the way for FPS titans like Halo: Combat Evolved and Call of Duty. Documentarian Drew Roller charts the history of Goldeneye 007’s renegade developers, immense popularity, and everlasting legacies by interviewing everyone from Rare creators to IGN gaming journalists (I spy Peer Schneider). It’s not exceptionally groundbreaking for the format, but as a niche video game doc about one of the N64’s most iconic cartridges? GoldenEra shoots straight and clears its missions.

Roller succeeds in marrying background stories, quippy anecdotes, and GoldenEye 007’s pop-culture impact without an overly serious dryness. Interview subjects are primarily recorded in-person, but for isolated video callers, Roller cheekily frames their feeds on an in-game screen surrounded by radar blips and control panel functions. There are also recreations of Rare programmers bashing away on keyboards in the GoldenEye 007 universe, using the same boxy pixelation, white-coated scientist skins, and three-dimensional levels seen in Rare’s product. It’s more than just random gameplay clips and talking heads — GoldenEra strives to entertain as much as it informs, and these details show creativity in a lecture-driven art form.

GoldenEra spans the first whisper of Nintendo’s approaching Rare (formerly Rareware) for a GoldenEye 007 tie-in to Graslu00’s infamous playthrough of the canceled 2007 Xbox Live Arcade remaster. We’re regaled by Rare’s GoldenEye 007 project squad about their time in Twycross, Leicestershire, working non-stop hours in converted horse stables that became their production offices. Rare’s roster included everyone from ex-biochemistry researchers (David Doak, who you’ve probably killed in GoldenEye 007’s “Facility” level) to pub-rockers turned virtual composers (Grant Kirkhope). A rag-tag undercurrent colors Rare’s perfect storm of conditions, when Nintendo allowed quality to trump release dates and nurtured ambition that spawned the most influential multiplayer experience in the video game universe.

There’s a fascinating story told from the perspective of Rare’s employees about how perfectly the planets aligned for GoldenEye 007.

As a GoldenEye 007 obsessor, GoldenEra sets its crosshairs on the most intriguing elements of GoldenEye 007: why it stands apart from the FPS crowd, how it positioned consoles as viable FPS systems, and the reaction of even computer software developers. GoldenEye 007 is the undisputed best James Bond video game adaptation, and GoldenEra explores further than just coding and Rare’s ranks. Roller incorporates GoldenEye 007 speedrunners, independent filmmakers, and spiritual sequel Perfect Dark as Rare’s timeline evolves well beyond GoldenEye’s 1997 release window. Storytelling isn’t solely development heads droning on about character mapping or landscape sculptures until GoldenEye 007 passes tester expectations. GoldenEra addresses an entire culture around GoldenEye 007, from Oddjob cheaters (you know who you are) to serving as Steven Spielberg’s inspiration for playable World War 2 recreations in Medal of Honor.

However, there are sections of GoldenEra that are less engaging than the enthusiastic sum, like promotion for James Miskell’s mockumentary features. After Roller passes GoldenEye’s release benchmark, Rare’s awards parade, and more, we reach the “aftermath” section. The documentary meanders into Miskell’s set for Bringing Back Golden Eye, his follow-up to cult comedy Going for Golden Eye — which is a lull. GoldenEra is best when focusing on the in-game phenomenon of GoldenEye 007, from its immaculate behind-the-scenes teamwork to modders who’ve dedicated their lives to keeping GoldenEye 007 alive with upgraded graphics or hybrid reimaginings (GoldenEye 007, but with Mario characters). It’s at its worst when deviating from the core throughlines, taking swings on less noteworthy GoldenEye “spin-offs” that lack spectacularity. Rare’s GoldenEye 007 masterminds aren’t always allowed to speak about the most exciting talking points, so I understand why Roller uses N64 animations and set visit footage from some indie video game mockumentary — but GoldenEra sometimes struggles when moving away from its basic operations.

Disclosure: GoldenEra includes an interview with IGN Chief Content Officer Peer Schneider, in the context of providing background around GoldenEye 007’s release. This did not have an impact on our review.

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