For an entire generation, whenever GoldenEye was mentioned you were talking about a video game, not a movie. And when you were talking about that video game you were almost always talking about getting the gang together for a few rounds of its legendary multiplayer option.
Even just typing about GoldenEye’s multiplayer winds back the hands of time to those epic four-way split-screen bouts: the unspoken code that no one was to select Oddjob; the futile attempts to curb screen-looking (I mean, c’mon, it’s all right there on the screen in front of you!); the codes that let you run around with giant heads or paintball splatter everywhere.
Sometimes when things got really heated a living room could look much the same as the bullet-strafed walls of the map you just played.
But what some may forget is that GoldenEye actually had a pretty dang awesome single-player game too. (In fact, the inclusion of a multiplayer mode was a total afterthought. It was thrown together at the last minute without Nintendo’s awareness or permission and likely would never have made it into the game otherwise.)
But even without its glorious multiplayer, GoldenEye would still have been every bit as revolutionary as a first-person shooter, completely redefining the way you could move through maps, interact with the game environment, and complete objectives. Not only that, but GoldenEye’s single-player game let you walk through really faithfully recreated locations and scenarios from a James Bond movie.
With the 25th anniversary here already and the internet abuzz with anticipation for the long-rumored Xbox remaster, here’s a definitive ranking of every one of GoldenEye’s single-player levels. Feel free to post your own ranking in the comments. I dare you to change my mind on any one of these!
20. Bunker 2
I don’t mind admitting I’m not the biggest fan of levels where endless waves of soldiers come pouring at you down narrow corridors, backing you into side chambers you can only hope to shoot your way back out of—and that’s essentially Bunker 2’s whole setup.
In addition to the pleasure of being repeatedly overwhelmed by waves of soldiers, Bunker 2 offers the very least fun objectives in the game: shooting security cameras and collecting keys from random guards so you can collect items from random safes. At least you get to navigate the glamorous setting of a Severnayan prison while doing so.
The one plus to the level is that you get to pick up a VHS copy of GoldenEye (presumably with Russian subtitles) from one of the more heavily guarded rooms. Somebody must have worked hard to smuggle that particular item into this frozen wasteland, and you just know Her Majesty’s Government does not stand for the bootlegging of popular media. But the joy of seeing a GoldenEye VHS added to the arsenal of items in your watch is usually short-lived when you realize there are ten guards in arctic blue camo trying to get in at you through the room’s one exit all at the same time.
How I love you, Bunker 2.
How they could take one of the most fun scenes in the movie—Pierce Brosnan cruising around St. Petersburg in a tank—and turn it into one of the least fun levels in the game is beyond me.
I dunno, maybe you find enjoyment in the soothing crunching sounds of the soldiers as they fall under the wheels of your tank (hey, no judging here, we like what we like), but for me, Streets is a long, dark slog that finds you repeatedly turning corners only for rockets to come flying at your face or near-invisible mines to start going off under your tank.
Who knows which corner you’re supposed to turn around and when. You’ll always reach the finish line eventually—that big, colorless blur where the street ends, sort of like when the wall breaks away in Dark City revealing nothing but the frigid expanse of space beyond. Yes, you’ll always reach that finish line eventually, but you won’t have the faintest idea how you got there.
18. Surface 2
Same map as Surface 1 only this time it has all the visibility of when you close your eyes and press your palms against them to make red blurs appear.
This level actually feels a lot like trying to find your way about your room when the lights are out. You can’t see very far ahead of yourself, but it’s familiar territory and you have a vague sense of where things are.
As with Bunker 2, it’s amusing to see the updated security measures they added to this level, as if the Russians thought to themselves, “It was surprisingly easy for James Bond to walk in and steal our blueprints. Maybe we should put a lock on this door.”
This isn’t anything terribly challenging about Surface 2 so long as you don’t trigger waves of soldiers to come pouring after you. But there isn’t anything terribly exciting about it either. It’s a large, open map, so it’s really just a lot of walking through the dark in the end (which I’ve heard you can do outside in fresh air instead of on your TV screen).
This might feel pretty low for the climactic level of the game where you finally get to do what movies have been doing for years and kill Sean Bean.
But as satisfying as it is to settle the score with Trevelyan, I’m not crazy about games that play games with me and I swear it’s completely random whether Trevelyan gives up the chase after 20 seconds or 8 minutes. The AI in this level also has a habit of spawning enemies just outside your range of vision, allowing them to take off a health bar or two before you even know they’re there.
The ending sure is a lot of fun though, where you have to drop onto that tiny platform without sliding off and swing around the ladder to get Trevelyan before he gets you. It’s about as close as I’ve seen a video game come to approximating a true draw-from-the-hip duel.
The three long seconds after you’ve defeated Trevelyan where you’re just standing there hoping against hope that one of his guards isn’t going to appear at the top of the ladder to blast you off the platform a mere millisecond before the level decides to officially end causing you to fail the mission even though you’ve already technically beaten it are a particular hoot.
The second of two bonus levels you can unlock after beating the game on a higher difficulty setting, Egyptian combines the first three Roger Moore movies into one level for some reason. You have to hunt down the repeatedly resurrecting Baron Samedi from Live and Let Die with the eponymous weapon from The Man with the Golden Gun in an Egyptian temple complex inspired by The Spy Who Loved Me.
While that might sound like a fun mashup, the level doesn’t have much in the way of a compelling narrative, and it’s actually kind of a letdown to end the game by going through the motions of simply defeating Baron Samedi three times, especially if you’re using the über-powerful golden gun to do so.
There’s also a floor puzzle that’s pretty much impossible to solve unless you cave in and look the answer up online. (Did anybody really go through the trouble of figuring it out themselves?)
Egyptian scores marks for atmosphere with its widely spaced pillars and secret passages and that spooky, Egyptian-flavored soundtrack, but this wasn’t exactly a case of saving the best for last.
15. Bunker 1
Bunker 1 is a pretty modest mission both in terms of the difficulty of objectives and the size of the map, but it’s an enjoyable level nevertheless. You get to walk through a really accurate recreation of the movie’s Severnaya command center and interact with the Hawaiian shirt-clad Boris Grishenko—yes, he of “I am inveenceeble!” fame.
Plus, once you’ve cleaned out all the enemies it’s pretty much just you and Boris in there and you can hang out as long as you want, repeatedly picking up that cool-looking GoldenEye keycard and arcing your view back to see how high or how far you can throw it across the room—or just keep throwing it at Boris.
Yes, I’m doing important things with my life. Why do you ask?
OK, I know this is by far the shortest and easiest mission in the game. Somebody out there probably has a speed record finishing the level in under 12 seconds. There’s nothing remotely challenging or even necessarily all that fun about running and hopping into a plane as fast as you can.
But this mission wasn’t designed simply to be completed the way most of the other missions were. Because the map is so open and the enemies are so easy to defeat, Runway is the perfect playground. You can just hop in the tank and have fun blowing things up: combustible barrels, gun turrets, the plane you’re supposed to escape in … all kinds of things.
I mean, they didn’t give you a tank loaded with 30 missiles in a mission you can complete in 30 seconds for no reason. Not only that, but they give you whole boxes of hand grenades and timed mines too. Honestly, it’s a little overkill on the pyrotechnics.
This level was very clearly designed with one purpose in mind: the opportunity to blow stuff up.
Archives can either be an incredibly fast-paced and fun mission or an incredibly slow and frustrating one depending entirely on the whims of Natalya.
You start out in a pretty interesting situation: unarmed in an interrogation room with your pistol and a loaded magazine neatly arranged on the table in front of you, and two guards basically pleading with you with their eyes not to pick up that gun. Maybe not best practices as far as successful interrogations go, but you live and you learn.
The whole idea is to find Natalya and get out as quickly as you can. But no matter how much stealth you exhibit, the level inevitably turns into a frame rate-stultifying shooting frenzy at some point and Natalya is pretty easily spooked.
As fun as Archives can be, there ain’t nobody who wants to spend their whole afternoon coaxing Natalya out of the attic only for her to run right back up there again the moment she hears a door close three rooms over.
Be prepared also for Natalya to repeatedly interrupt your conversation with Defense Minister Mishkin by telling you, “We need to talk to Defense Minister Mishkin.” Thank you, Natalya. Got it under control.
If you’re lucky, Archives can be a breeze. If you’re not, better have some time on your hands and a whole lot of patience.
The penultimate mission in the main storyline, Caverns is one of the few levels not to be pulled directly from the film. There are a lot of interesting elements in this map, including the futuristic mechanical doors, the serpentine catwalks, and the spiral pathway that leads up from a darkly shimmering underground lake. From a visual standpoint, this is by far one of the game’s most intriguing levels.
You also get to pick up some pretty heavy-duty firepower here, from dual ZMGs to the US AR33 assault rifle to that rarest of beauts, the near indomitable RCP-90.
Caverns offers a good challenge for players, especially toward the end when you come up against ceiling-mounted machine guns in a claustrophobic corridor with enemies closing in on you from front and back. The biggest drawback is that the level runs a bit long and the layout can start to feel repetitive. But for more experienced players looking for a challenge, Caverns can be a rewarding mission to revisit on higher difficulty settings.
Statue takes you along a pretty simple path. You head into the deepest part of the statue park, you meet with Trevelyan (sorry, Janus … um, spoiler alert), and you run right back the way you came. It’s also a pretty dark level, and it can be easy to get turned around at times when you’re deep among the statues.
But this mid-game mission stands out for its strong atmosphere and for having a good connection to the overall narrative. The map’s wildly sloping elevations and crowded statues offer an experience unlike any other in the game, and the mission throws some pretty unique scenarios at you, like when you have to go unarmed to meet Janus and quick-draw as his elite squad closes in, or when you find Natalya captured by Mishkin at the end.
All in all, this is a pretty novel and atmospheric little level they snuck in between all the many shoot ’em up missions.
The first level in any classic game is always going to hold a special place in the hearts of fans simply by virtue of being their first experience with said game. That said, Dam really is a pleasure to play.
Right away, you get to experience the range of environment and gameplay GoldenEye offers, from running through tunnels to operating electronic doors to sniping guards patrolling watchtowers or hanging out in pillboxes, leaning back and animatedly raising their fists in the air (still not sure whether that’s their way of yawning, laughing, or trying to swat bugs).
Dam may not necessarily be the game’s most perfect level, especially when you’re waiting forever for that dam truck to make it through the dam gate already, but the moment where you finally emerge onto the top of the dam itself and are suddenly surrounded by snow-capped mountains looming in all directions is still just as impressive as the very first time you played the level.
And what greater thrill could there be in a 3D environment than to relive GoldenEye’s fantastic opening stunt by stepping up onto the ledge and leaping into that wintry void?
9. Surface 1
I know it’s not one of the more elaborate levels or more challenging missions, but I tell you there’s something about Surface 1 that’s just plain cathartic. It’s a big, open snow map with soothing Monet-like skies.
The enemies pose virtually no challenge with their Klobbs, the firepower of which is one step up from a nippy breeze, and you can just stroll around in this winter wonderland, serenaded by the occasional sniper shot you know isn’t coming anywhere near you.
It’s like a little meditation zone you can enter when that 00 Agent difficulty is getting your heart rate up on some of the game’s more punishing levels. You also get to play with one of the coolest weapons in the game, the grenade launcher, which is a very classy way to chat back to those enemy snipers.
Others may find Surface 1 boring. I say they just haven’t discovered the true potential of GoldenEye’s most zen level.
After so many military compounds and urban environments, Jungle is one level that definitely stands out from a visual perspective, but it also offers a surprising amount of variety in terms of gameplay. For a good stretch, Jungle finds you sniping guards and drone guns through a thick green mist, but in the latter half of the mission you get to battle Xenia Onatopp on a rope bridge and infiltrate the villain’s lair through a heavily fortified cave system.
Neither too easy nor too challenging, this level really helps you feel like you’re entering the final stages of the game. The firepower is a big step up from any of the previous missions with the RCP-90 and grenade launcher being quite possibly the game’s coolest weapon combo.
And if you’re doing a terrible job, Natalya will step in with her Cougar Magnum and start taking out guards for you. Not only that, but she’ll hurl insults while she’s at it. It’s a completely different side of Natalya from what you see of her anywhere else in the game, and it’s kind of awesome.
It’s not always clear when she deadpans “Loser…” whether she’s referring to the guard she just shot or you. Either way, it certainly encourages you to step up your game.
For novice players, Control can be a particularly anxiety-inducing experience, mainly on account of the one part where you have to protect Natalya from a horde of guards pouring into the control room from two different floors. Controller cramp starts to set in and the first hot beads of sweat trickle from your armpits as some guard outside your range of view shatters one of the shaded glass partitions with gunfire, and on top of it all Natalya has the nerve to ask you to keep the noise down instead of just getting the damn yaw oscillation above 5 degrees already—sheesh!
Can you imagine if you had to do this in real life? No thank you.
But if this isn’t your first GoldenEye rodeo, Control can be a real blast. It’s one of those levels, like Caverns, where you’re just thankful you made it through alive the first time you play through the game. But it rewards repeat plays once you’ve picked up a little more experience.
In addition to a varied layout and complex gameplay, Control also features the game’s grooviest soundtrack, from that sweet loungey elevator muzak to those bass-heavy techno beats. Plus, it’s nice to finally hear Natalya say, “James, you were wonderful!” after some of the more questionable language she uses during the Jungle level.
It’s a little surprising just how enjoyable of a mission Depot really is. It’s another night level, meaning enemies come out of the shadows at you unexpectedly, and you’re just dodging in and out of a bunch of warehouses before you get on a train.
Yet Depot proves to be one of the game’s most replayable levels. Because the warehouses are all centrally located you have some choice in terms of which objectives you start with, and the repeated close-quarters combat, both indoors and outdoors, requires some amount of tactics and skill without being impossibly challenging.
The overall brevity of the level allows you to zip through a variety of objectives and combat scenarios without either too much ease or too much sweat on your brow.
Maybe I’m biased because this is the first mission I ever played at my cousins’ house (however many centuries ago that was), but something tells me I’m not the only one who friggin’ loves this level.
You’re on a boat in the ocean on a sunny day in the south of France freeing hostages from terrorists. That’s about as feel-good of a mission as it gets.
Plus, the map is wonderfully designed so you actually get a good amount of choice regarding the order in which you complete the objectives without having to run forever to get from point A to point B. Frigate is probably the game’s most economical usage of playable level space without feeling remotely linear. This is one smartly designed map.
Who knows where all the hostages disappear to once you’ve freed them, but you sure get a rush of satisfaction when you skate down that ramp to your speedboat knowing you’ve made the French Riviera a safer place.
Given the repetitive nature of Silo’s map, where you have to make your way up a rocket launch site from one identical-looking fuel chamber to the next, you wouldn’t think this would be the most replayable level. But there’s actually a great deal of variety in the close-quarters combat the mission puts you through, and the fact you’re racing against the clock gives the whole experience an added thrill factor. There’s something both liberating and exhilarating about having to rush through corridors of guards hunkered down behind steel crates.
The ending where you chase Ourumov to the elevator, knowing there’s nothing of value in his briefcase but trying to get him to drop it anyway just because you can, is a beautiful example of one of GoldenEye’s many simple and tangential joys.
Train simply defies the odds.
The entire level is a straight line from start to finish, yet it’s thoroughly enjoyable and endlessly replayable thanks to the remarkable variety you find in both the aesthetic of the map’s design and the gameplay itself.
It’s a level that really hones your close quarters and barrier-hiding skills. Despite the totally linear setup, you still have guards coming after you from side cabins and carriages you’ve already passed. This makes the mission feel like a real challenge and one that only ramps up as you enter the final carriages where the enemies possess increased firepower and heightened AI.
The ending also does a great job of recreating the scene from the movie, where you have to take out Ourumov before he shoots Natalya and laser your way through the floor before Trevelyan’s timed bomb goes off. It’s a really dramatic ending—one that sometimes comes right down to the wire—and few other levels feel quite so satisfying to beat at any difficulty.
Who knows why the developers were so enamored with Roger Moore that they had to give him both of the game’s bonus levels. (No love for Sean and the 60s?)
Whatever the reason, the first of the two, a mission modeled on the Aztec pyramid lair that pops up in Moonraker, is such a fantastically designed level you’ll wish Rare had developed a full game for every film in the James Bond series.
Armed with one of the game’s deadliest weapons, the Moonraker laser, you get to escape an active shuttle exhaust bay, go up against the steel-toothed Jaws in the most intense mano a mano battle in the game, and finally launch the shuttle itself.
It’s an incredibly challenging level that builds on rather than repeats the gameplay dynamics of earlier missions. There are secret passages to discover, an open launch bay with multiple ceiling-mounted machine guns standing sentry, and some of the most carefully detailed design work of any map in the game.
If you never thought a Moonraker video game was something you were desperately missing from your life, Aztec stands a good chance of changing your mind.
For those looking to relive the movie through the game, it doesn’t get much better than Facility. From dropping into a bathroom stall from the air vents to meeting up with 006 and planting mines on the gas tanks, the game designers did a superb job of translating this part of the film into a fully immersive game environment.
Perhaps more so than any other level, this is the one where you really feel like you’re living out the movie. And as one of the earliest single-player missions and one of the most popular multiplayer maps, Facility is a level that tends to bring back warm, nostalgic memories of a time when Nintendo allowed fans the chance to step into 007’s shoes and experience all the thrills of the spy life for themselves.