Gaming On Her Majesty’s Secret Service: Part One.
You know the name, you know the number 007, the suave, sophisticated secret agent and when he’s not saving the world he’s bedding beauties and making puns usually involving everyone’s two favourite things sex and violence.
In the past (and presumably the future) 007 hasn’t played many video games during his globetrotting adventures preferring Texas hold ’em or baccarat to a session of Call of Duty 4 or Mario Kart, and for all those Bond fans thinking â€œWhat about Never Say Never Againâ€ well that’s not an official Bond film and the VR bit in Die Another Day doesn’t count. Right that’s enough waffle lets see if any of the various 007 games have ever been any goodâ€¦
(Parker Bros – 1983)
Playing this gave me flashbacks to when I studied Raiders of the Lost Ark awhile back for ‘Fortune and Glory’ and many of the problems I had with that game apply to this too with the abstract graphics and problems with of sticking to the source material. Taking control of Bonds car (presumably the Lotus as it’s white and has a fin at the back) the game drives you from left to right like a horizontally scrolling shoot ’em up across what looks like a brown/green lunar surface avoiding helicopters and satellites that shoot at you and jumping over flaming pits that you can crash into.
In-between dodging all that you can shoot blue diamonds floating in the sky to increase your score although they seem to appear randomly with long patches of nothing followed by two or three at a time. If you do this for long enough the screen changes with the brown ground giving way to blue water along with the car changing into the submersible Lotus allowing you to also drive under the appearing water and fire downward torpedoes along with your standard fixed angle gun. It’s still the same bullet dodging gameplay as before with the extra complications of divers swimming up from the bottom of the screen and the satellites dropping bombs that make whirlpools that have to be avoided too.
This goes on for a few minutes with the same blue diamonds randomly appearing until an oil rig appears that can’t be jumped over and always has a whirlpool under it making progress impossible and that’s before it disappears only to reappear when you crash into it losing another life. Reading up on this game has been hard as nobody remembers it fondly and if it wasn’t for the fact it’s a licensed game would be long forgotten and written off as a load of badly made crap and quite right too.
(Domark – 1985)
While the previous game lacked variety this game has it in spades with three different types of game, none of which are any good ‘though. The First level has you driving a car around Paris pursuing Mayday as she uses a parachute to flee the scene of an assassination. Viewing the car from overhead at the bottom of the screen and in a first person view above it you have to drive around the narrow streets avoiding cars but even the slightest bump sends your car ricocheting around like its made of rubber. This is further compounded by the car’s momentum which means that if you do clip a corner and don’t adjust you’ll just go shooting backwards until you hit something else and go ricocheting of in another direction and so on.
The second level switches to you controlling Bond in the third person as he walks around city hall quickly becoming consumed by fire. You have to walk around and find items and use them to progress but the inventory system is so counter productive you’ll spend an age scrolling through the various actions until you find the one you need only to find you don’t have the right one selected. The third level ups the action with Bond now controlling a lot like the main character in Impossible Mission but is still crippled by the useless inventory and action system as you run around the mine trying to defuse Zorin’s bombs before they can detonate.
The only redeeming thing about View to A Kill is the ending which compared to games of the time is fairly elaborate showing a cut scene with Bond taking a shower with his lady friend before smashing the camera lens but if you’re willing to play though the whole game to get a twenty second cut scene stick to Halo 2.
(Domark – 1985)
Next up we have a strange Operation Wolf shooter hybrid with you controlling 007 in the third person along with a crosshairs that controls where he shoots. You primarily control the crosshairs but if you move it far enough to the right 007 will start to walk allowing you to advance through the eight different levels often escorting Georgi Koskov through the early stages as you help him to defect just like in the film. Just like in ‘Op Wolf enemies pop up from behind scenery and out of windows and the longer they stay on screen alive the more they will whittle 007’s energy bar until its game over.
With each new level you can select a different Bond gadget to use but I’ve yet to find they have an effect on the gameplay and seem rather arbitrary. Despite the limited gameplay the game does a good job of portraying the films plot with the opening level recreating the rock of Gibraltar training exercise then going onto the Russian pipeline, mansion safe house, Tangiers and then to the final confrontation with Brad Whittaker inside his personal armoury.
(Mindscape – 1988)
Rather than wait for a new movie Mindscape backtracked to Moore’s debut for this next entry and used the lengthy speed boat sequence as its inspiration. You can play any of the game’s four stages at any time from the simple training mission in the North Pole shooting static targets through to the main mission in New Orleans filled with hostile bots, turrets, sea mines, strafing planes some of which need more that your simple machine gun to be destroyed and require one of your limited supply of missiles. Natural obstacles like rocks and even the odd log come makeshift ramp to get some air time along with tight tunnels and handy slopes you slide across when there’s rocks to avoid or jumps to make.
The biggest risk aside from being blown out of the water is simply running out of fuel as 007’s speed boat is a thirsty beast but thankfully Q has managed drop the odd fuel tank in the water for you to collect along with crates that replenish your precious missile supply. The gameplay limited as it is takes a backseat when studied as you have to wonder what the designers where thinking when they chose the locations for the levels. New Orleans for the main mission and England for one of the three training missions are fair enough but whose idea was it to use the Sahara desert and the North Pole as training grounds? Especially as even my limited knowledge of geography knows large rivers aren’t exactly plentiful within a desert environment. Ignore this and there’s fun to be had here just be sure to go easy on the gas pedal.
(Domark – 1989)
Once again using their official licence Domark cranked out another muti-genre game to coincide with Dalton’s sophomore entry into the series. You view the action from a top down perspective starting off with the opening scenes of Bond helping his old friend Felix Lighter capture the ruthless drug Barron Sanchez. Level one has you controlling a coast guard helicopter chasing Sanchez’s jeep across an airfield with various goons taking shoots at you and buildings to avoid. Providing you get to the end without exploding or crashing the helicopter the action switches to 007 on foot around the airfield.
What should be a fairly simple run and gun level is ruined by the crippled controls that make you stand on the spot and rotate before you can shoot at any of Sanchez’s dozens of goons all of whom can move freely and fire without having to pause and aim like you do. With that over the action goes airborne again as you chase Sanchez’s plane with the coast guard helicopter, once close enough Bond is lowered on a winch and with a steady hand you can lasso the planes tail to capture Sanchez. Now this sounds simple enough and on the C64 version it is, in fact so easy I did it first time but on the Amiga version I tried for a half hour before giving up and cursing the lack of playtesting at Domark. Once you’ve played the first three levels you’ve seen pretty much all there is, later levels have you water skiing or driving a tanker truck but they all use the same controls and feel the same to play.
(Domark – 1990)
After ‘Licence was released the Bond franchise went into hibernation for almost a decade and not wanting to see their official licence go to waste Domark chose to plunder the Bond back catalogue for games and this was the one they chose. Reusing the software engine from ‘Licence they dropped the on foot sections replacing them with ‘Op Wolf style shooting but still keeping the driving bits al be it on land, sea or underwater. Beginning with the famous Lotus chase you have to drive up the screen avoid obstacles like pedestrians and oil patches while collecting Q tokens that can be spent when you enter Q’s truck by the roadside like in the old Spy Hunter game.
Once inside you can use them to purchase different gadgets depending on your vehicle like machine guns and smoke screens for the car or torpedoes and mines for the underwater Lotus. This sounds fair enough but all the action for this level and the following ones are crammed into a wide screen style letterbox window which lets you see loads to the sides of your car but hardly anything in front of you, forcing you to proceed at a snails pace to avoid crashing. The shooting sections fair better with the letterbox view although the aiming cursor is a little slow so remembering the enemy attack patterns will serve you better here than quick reflexes.
(THQ – 1992)
Oh dear this is one franchise spin-off most fans would like to forget ever happened, myself included. With no new film in the offering someone had the bright idea of making a 007 cartoon to sell some lunchboxes and action figures off of but given that Bond’s two biggest draws aren’t exactly family friendly they invented some pointless bollocks about Bond’s nephew going to boarding school and fighting a criminal organization called SCUMâ€¦ god my head hurts just thinking about it.
Well despite the poor material is the game any good? Well no, but patchy would be a better description of what’s on offer here. Half of the game has you running and jumping platform style around different locations, throwing cherry bombs at different non-human enemies (remember the only ways kids can inflict harm to adults is via elaborate pranks) and these are frankly dull and boring, especially when you look at all the great platform games on the SNES once again showing if it wasn’t for the fact it’s a licensed game nobody would care about it.
The other non-platforming sections are far better with junior controlling different vehicles provided by Q’s nephew from an attack helicopter to speed boat to stealth fighter! These all play very well and provide some fun shooting action to break up the tedious platforming levels but given that you have to play them to get to the good stuff many wouldn’t bother, myself included.
(Domark – 1993)
And finally we come to the last of the 16-bit entries in the Bond franchise with this Sega exclusive effort eschewing any of the films plot and providing its own of an insane scientist creating an army of clones to rule the world. Not only did this give an excuse to have a secret hideaway island to destroy but also let the programmers recreate some of the Bond villains of old to be used as bosses under the guise of evil clones. The game is action based platforming with Bond having his trusty Walther PPK to shoot goons with while rescuing a set number of Bond girls from each stage.
Once you’ve rescued them you have to find the stages time bomb, activate it and dash to the exit before it explodes. Sounds easy right? Well unfortunately a few choices the programmers made hamper rather than help your progress. On the whole Bond handles well with a good amount of speed and a long summersault style jump but with many games of the time like Rolling Thunder the best tactic to fight to duck to avoid incoming bullets and then return fire but often Bond will aim diagonally causing you to eat a bullet and lose a precious heart of energy. When your not getting killed by goons its probably from falling of one of the very small and hard to see platforms in the game, with even small drops taking huge chunks of energy or outright killing you making jumping around the levels just as stressful as fighting the goons. Not fighting the bosses you understand as despite all the effort they went to Jaws, Baron Samedi etc. are all piss weak and have attacks that can be easily dodged (read: ducked)
So there you go, the various James Bond 007 games from 1983 to 1993. Next week I’m going to be looking at the rest from 1997 to 2007 including Goldeneye. Which one? Both the good one and the bad one, but is it really that bad or was it written off because of a stupid cash-in name and pointless plot. Find out next weekâ€¦
Until then why not watch this video while you wait.