The name’s Burkey… Heathen Burkey

GoldenEye 007 (1997)

There seems to be a strange phenomenon in life whereby the most major and far-reaching decisions tend to be left in the lap of children, while the decisions made by adults are of no consequence at all, or you never had that much agency in the first place. You might think that marriage, or buying a house are earth-moving decisions on your part. But it’s society that makes this decision for you, if you’re really being honest with yourself.

That momentous decision to have kids? Oh come on, how many of us were accidents? Even if you’re too careful for accidents, and you want to reproduce, then it’s still not your decision, that’s your genes acting on your behalf. And as you get older, it’s not like you’ll be the one deciding when you’re going to shuffle off to a home, which one you’ll even go to, and when to pull the plug at the end of it all. It seems to me that the older you get, the less you get to decide.

As a young gun though, you really do have some doozies to deal with. For example, as schoolkids we have to somehow know what we’d like to do for the rest of our lives, before putting this down on our college applications. It’s notoriously difficult to make friends later on in life, so you’ll have to make the decision on who you’d like to hang around with fairly early on. I also fervently believe that we all decide early in life if we’re gonna be good stuff or bad news, so that’s another big personal decision. And here in Ireland, we even get to decide one of our own four names at the grand old age of 12.

That’s right, you can pick your own name if you’re a Catholic and you go to get confirmed. Confirmations in Ireland, for the uninitiated, tend to be an excuse for kids to get a windfall of money, and itinerant parents to cause a scene. In amongst all of this, you’ll stand in front of an upper brass clergyman and choose a confirmation name for yourself. Generally this should be a saint name, but you can also pick a grandparent – some sort of papal loophole, perhaps.

Anyway, this means you can make up whatever cock-and-bull story and go for whatever confirmation name you bloody well like. And given that I made my confo in 2003, when an Irishman was James Bond and therefore made us the coolest nationality in the world (at least in the eyes of a twelve-year-old boy), naturally I chose the name Pierce.

And why not? Well, it’s true that most recently he had starred as a decidedly portly Bond in the truly awful Die Another Day, his last Bond appearance unless you count the 007 Everything or Nothing game. Not exactly a ringing endorsement, that. And the general consensus on Pierce Brosnan’s Bond output is that it started strongly but went very wrong, very quickly.

But I’ll hit back with this – today, and throughout most of his life, old Piercey has been and is one of the coolest looking cucumbers on the planet. So you’ll forgive him The Lawnmower Man, because his enormous hair speaks for itself. What I’m trying to say therefore is that my decision to take Pierce as my confirmation name is not a decision that’s aged badly at all.

With Pierce’s enduring coolness dealt with, there still lingers the question – how does Goldeneye 007 for the Nintendo 64 hold up today? And do you know, everywhere I look these days I seem to have people answering the question for me – an overwhelming number of people seem to believe that the game has aged like proverbial arse. But I ask, how can it have done? The game changed the face of license-based games in a profound way, doing its best to deliver us from the evil of Shrek Kart Racers and Totally Spies platformers.

It’s not as if this was slapped together in a weekend and thrown out unapologetically on the same day as the film, certainly not. This was Rareware at their 90s finest, even bringing in many staffers who had never done any game development in their lives. Through toil (80 hours a week for 2.5 years for lead programmer Martin Hollis), effort, enthusiasm, and I have to imagine more than a few drunken, curry-fueled team nights out, GoldenEye 007 came from Twycross with love to show us what shooters could do on consoles.

And this’ll show you the beauty of last-minute productivity – the game’s 4-player multiplayer feature was added exceptionally late in development, when most of the team had already packed their things and gone home, swearing to their spouses that they’d never do a game gig again. Well, as is common knowledge now, the multiplayer became a system selling feature all by itself, contributing massively to Goldeneye’s eventual sales figure of over eight million copies. Oh sure, the game wasn’t able to go full on toe-to-toe with the PS1 all by itself, but it gave the Nintendo 64 much more of a leg to stand on.

Apart from the multiplayer you had 20 stages, three difficulty levels, bundles of great dual-wieldable guns, and a load of bomber music that even incorporated the distinctive ‘dropped tambourine’ sound from the movie score. And probably my favourite feature of the lot, a heap of unlockable cheats rewarded to you for speedrunning through the levels. Sorry to thunder in an open goal here, but they’d make you pay for that type of luxury nowadays.

Although the AI is much maligned now, one of the game’s great features was how fun it was to mess around with the enemy soldiers – you can sneak up on ‘em and slap ‘em, or go fully invisible altogether with a cheat. Or why not lure them into your Proximity Mine trap? Or slice and dice them with your knives, prior to running them over with a tank. When you’re Bond, the opportunities to win are endless.

I often think that the greatest games are those where you can just knock it on and roam about doing nothing in particular, just taking in the wonderful system and engine and world that’s been crafted. And anyway, even if you laugh pitifully at the GE AI nowadays, well, why don’t those same people rip into the Metal Gear Solid 1 AI? You can sneak up on those guards and blow them up from your invisibility cloak too, you know, and they’re not the sharpest tools in the box either.

Of course, I can see that the game’s frame rate and graphics aren’t so hot these days. Still, these slight problems would have been rectified with more juice added if the planned XBox Live Arcade remaster had been released. Alas, it had to be abandoned for all sorts of head-melting legal reasons. This was unfortunate, but if you think Goldeneye 007 has aged so badly, well, I’m telling you that millions of people would have been all over that remaster if it had gotten an official release, and not just a leak.

As it is, the version of Goldeneye we have definitely looks a bit greyer, a bit creakier, with a few more wrinkles scattered about. Sounds just like an Irish dandy I know, and I ain’t talking about myself for once. So are you gonna tell me that Pierce Brosnan has aged badly as well…?

22 October 2021

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