Why the GoldenEye 007 Remaster Was Cancelled

Did a remaster of GoldenEye 007 really get cancelled ahead of its Xbox 360 release? Here's what we know about this incredible story:

GoldenEye 007
Photo: Nintendo/Microsoft

If you’ve been keeping an eye on video game social media over the last few days, you’ve probably spotted this video of a YouTuber playing a remaster of GoldenEye 007.

While many people were quick to call this remaster “fake” or merely a fan-made tribute, recent evidence strongly suggests that this is the remains of an official attempt to remaster GoldenEye 007. Naturally, that information has left many people wondering why such an incredible remaster of such a beloved game never saw the light of day despite the fact that it appears to be nearly finished.

The answer to that question is complicated, controversial, and heartbreaking for legions of GoldenEye 007 fans who have been waiting for the chance to play one of the best multiplayer experiences ever released on a Nintendo console. Ultimately, though, it’s a story you have to hear.

What is the GoldenEye 007 Remaster?

The GoldenEye 007 remaster is an updated version of the 1997 N64 classic. It appears to be the same game content-wise (aside from a few additional multiplayer maps and a couple of relatively minor features), but it has been updated to feature 60 FPS gameplay, a 16:9 ratio, and various visual improvements. It’s been said that the remaster was designed similarly to the Halo remasters, which is to say that a team essentially just swapped out a few parts of the original ROM. Like those Halo games, the Goldeneye 007 remaster even offers the ability to swap between the old and new visuals on the fly.

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The reason we know so much about this remaster (and the reason it’s been in the news lately) is that a YouTuber called Graslu00 uploaded a full playthrough of the seemingly lost project. While footage of the remaster had been uploaded online before (more on that in a bit), this was the first time that most people outside of Rare had seen it played from start to finish.

The extent of that footage (as well as the quality of the remaster itself) inspired many fans to ask new questions about this canceled remaster that many people long suspected had been abandoned before it could be completed.

When Was the GoldenEye 007 Remaster Developed?

Before we go further, now is the time to clarify that some of the answers to these questions are based on loose information and more than a little speculation.

With that out of the way, the public conversation about this remaster really heated up in 2008 when EGM’s rumor mill turned out a brief mention of a GoldenEye remaster that had seemingly been canceled by Rare. A 2008 article from 1UP elaborates on this story by suggesting that the game was just a couple of months away from being released on XBLA for Xbox 360 before the plug was pulled. Uncovered files suggest that work on the remaster began as early as 2007.

However, there are a couple of details in that story that don’t gel with what we know now. For instance, the 1UP article notes that the “XBLA version would have featured the same graphics, maps, and weapons from the N64 version” and that the big selling point would have been the “crucial addition of online multiplayer over Xbox Live.” That doesn’t seem to describe the footage of the remaster that we’ve seen years later.

So far as that goes, there are two things to consider. The first is that some of the information available in 2008 was simply incorrect. This really seems like the most likely factor given how much information on this subject was known at that time.

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It should also be noted that the remaster itself has been improved in some ways by modern emulators. While I won’t name drop some of the emulators and uploaders involved with this process, it’s clear that some of the visual fidelity that we see in these uploads wouldn’t have existed in 2008.

Still, the bulk of the remaster footage certainly seems to be based on the game that Rare quietly worked on sometime around 2007 and ultimately had to abandon just a few months before it could have been released.

Why Was the GoldenEye 007 Remaster Cancelled?

Unlike some of the details regarding the GoldenEye 007 remaster’s development, we actually know quite a bit about why it never got released simply due to the fact that Rare has talked about it a lot over the years.

For instance, in a 2008 interview with Videogamer.com, Rare engineer Nick Burton clearly stated that the game’s cancellation ultimately came down to licensing:

“I kind of wished that the differences got sorted out, but obviously there’s the licensing issue for Bond, even if it’s something that’s already come out,” said Burton. “It’s incredibly hard to solve because there are so many license holders involved. You’ve got the guys that own the license to the gaming rights now, the guys that have the license to Bond as an IP, and there are umpteen licensees. Me, just personally, I thought, ‘God, that’s a difficult problem to solve.'”

Over the years, the narrative regarding those licensing problems boiled down to the idea that Nintendo and Microsoft (who owned Rare by the time this remaster was in development) simply couldn’t agree on a deal that allowed either to re-release GoldenEye. This story is seemingly supported by a 2006 MTV interview with Reggie Fils-Aime in which the former Nintendo of America president stated that he’d “love to see [GoldenEye 007] on virtual console” but that “there are a lot of issues there.”

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That quote reinforces the idea that between Rare being a Microsoft owned company, Nintendo publishing the original GoldenEye 007, and EA and Activision controlling the gaming rights to the Bond franchise in later years, there were just too many moving pieces that had to come together for the remaster or a re-release to ever happen.

What’s interesting is that many people seem to think that the reason Rare couldn’t release the GoldenEye 007 remaster on XBLA or as part of the Rare Replay collection is simply that Nintendo ultimately failed to give the port their blessing. That idea makes some sense as it would seem that Microsoft and Nintendo would be the two major players involved in a deal over that specific Bond game. On top of that, a remake of GoldenEye 007 that was published by Activision was released exclusively on Nintendo Wii in 2010. That remake reinforced the suggestion that Nintendo ultimately blocked the Goldeneye 007 remaster from being released.

Is Nintendo Really to Blame for the GoldenEye 007 Remaster Never Being Released?

While Nintendo does seem to be a factor in this story, leaker Graslu00 shut down the idea that this is all Nintendo’s fault in an extensive message that they recently reposted on Twitter.

If you can’t read that message, it basically says that even if Nintendo and Microsoft had struck a deal, they’d still have to deal with MGM and Eon Productions who had their own concerns about James Bond video games. Those concerns may have required Rare to alter the original GoldenEye in ways that would have almost certainly hurt the game in the minds of many fans. The idea of a remaster of GoldenEye with “no cheats, no use of Bond theme, and no good vs good characters in multiplayer” certainly doesn’t sound appealing.

While there is some debate regarding the exact content restrictions placed on Bond games, this isn’t the first time we’ve heard of such restrictions. In a 2020 interview with GamesIndustry.biz, Adam Foshko (Activision’s director of story development when they controlled the Bond gaming rights) explains that making Bond games requires adhering to certain ideas of the character.

“Bond is unique because the IP holders have a very particular view on Bond as a character and how he should be used,” said Foshko. “Having worked with them, it’s more about: ‘How does Bond get out of a situation?’ rather than: ‘Can Bond shoot a guy in the face?’ It comes down to the goals and things that are unique and special about Bond in particular — even though people would like to play Bond in a situation.”

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Restrictions aside, the other factor that doesn’t get referenced all that much is Rare’s interest in such a project. In a 2015 interview with Polygon, Rare operations director Drew Quakenbush noted that one of the reasons GoldenEye wasn’t included in the Rare Replay collection is that the studio chose to focus on “characters and worlds that Rare made independently” when selecting the games for that collection. He says that the issue “wasn’t necessarily licensing” and that “GoldenEye doesn’t really fit tightly in with that particular boundary that we put on there.”

Even if licensing is more of an issue than Rare was willing to suggest, this idea that Rare wants to somewhat distance themselves from GoldenEye certainly isn’t new. In that 2008 interview with VideoGamer.com, Nick Burton is asked “Does GoldenEye almost haunt the studio?” Here is his response:

“No, not at all. I wouldn’t say indifference. It’s nice to see people still talk about it. But I also think, and a lot of us think this, that you look back at it and it’s still good fun to play, but if I played it now with my gaming tastes as refined as they are now, would I still have the same reaction or have I really got rose-tinted spectacles on? It’s almost impossible to separate one from the other. I still look at it and think, no, it’s got great level design for instance, but then you think I’m saying that because maybe the control feels really good, but it’s not perfect. But it’s not perfect because the frame rate wasn’t high enough. It’s very difficult to separate your memory. As someone coined at work the other week. ‘You need some brain bleach’ so you can get rid of the memory.”

From everything I’ve seen, the issue basically comes down to a combination of licensing problems, content restrictions, and willingness. The long and short of it is that many people see GoldenEye 007 as a time capsule that has proven to be especially difficult to dig up and preserve.

Can You Play the GoldenEye 007 Remaster?

Recently, outlets and players have revealed that a full, working version of the GoldenEye 007 remaster has been leaked online and is currently playable.

While the process of downloading and playing the game is complicated and almost certainly wouldn’t be approved by anyone with controlling interest in this game’s license, it’s already clear that the game files are rapidly spreading online and is generally well-received by fans so far despite its obvious rough edges.

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It should also be noted that those interested in playing a more modern version of GoldenEye should absolutely check out the GoldenEye: Source fan project which remakes the N64 game using Valve’s Source engine. It’s a brilliant experiment that almost perfectly captures nearly everything that made GoldenEye 007 special while updating the game in ways that even this remaster necessarily does not.