Gaming On Her Majesty’s Secret Service: Part Two.
With last weeks look at the 8-bit and 16-bit era Bond games behind us I’m turning my attention to the games released in the decade between 1997 and 2007. After the cack handed tender of Domark in the 80’s the licence was sold to Nintendo and later EA but despite the advances in hardware, licensed software didn’t get much better.
Leaving me to wonder is the magic formula for non-shitty licenced games than Ocean perfected in the 8-bit ear was really lost forever.
Well unless it’s thisâ€¦
(Nintendo – Nintendo 64 – 1997)
Before this was released, console first person shooters (to be referred to as FPS’s from here on in) where always seen as a bit of a joke. Sure there where conversions of FPS classics like Wolfenstein or Doom but without the mouse and keyboard control scheme it just didn’t fell right. Goldeneye changed all that and is still seen by many to be the best console FPS ever made. Why? Well let’s start with the aforementioned controls with the default control scheme that mapped every control or move you could ever want all onto the N64 pad with a simple button press or toggle almost eliminating control error induced death. Then there’s the game itself, a beautifully balanced challenge that even when completed has replay value thanks to added mission objectives and extra levels on harder difficulties.
The single player game is only the tip of this digital iceberg as it came with a multiplayer mode that get regular play even today (and will be at Peowwfest ’08, have no doubt) along with all manor of fan remakes and map conversions for classics like Facility. More or less perfectly balanced the only down sides being the lack of bot support for players who couldn’t get three mates around a TV and the need for a gentleman’s agreement to not use Oddjob or to place proximity mines on the collectable crates.
I could (and might if there’s enough interest) write a whole feature just about this game as the impact it has was HUGE with it even taking more money than the film it was based on! This along with Super Mario 64 *spit* basically saved Nintendo back in the mid nineties from total Sony domination and has yet to be bettered by even the company who made it with direct and non direct sequel alike falling short of the sky high standards it set.
(Nintendo – 1997)
Now this might have been made just to cash in on the success of Goldeneye or it might just be that Nintendo wanted to milk the Bond licence for all its worth, its not to clear but despite all that what it is today is JAZC or ‘just another Zelda clone’ The plot is laughable and the gameplay as shallow as you’d expect from a licensed game with a complete lack of Bond style thrills and spills and an overabundance of talking to boring characters to find a tiny clue about how to proceed while performing tedious fetch and carry missions interspersed with combat so bad you wouldn’t even see it in a Godfrey Ho movie.
Just to give you an idea of how bad things are, here’s how the first stage plays: talk to fisherman who needs a hammer to fix a bridge so you can cross, talk to every identical looking character around until you find the one guy who can tell you where the secret passage is to get to the safe which you can open by finding a key which canâ€¦ and so on and so on. The combat that breaks up all this coffee housing consists of holding the block button until the enemy attacks and is blocked then tapping punch before blocking the next attack and so on and so on until enemy one of three on this screen is defeated.
Now in playing all these Bond games I’ve had to endure some dross like View to a Kill’s rubber cars or Licence to kill’s insane on foot controls but this game is by far the most boring, flawed and downright shitty game in the series ever made.
(EA – 1999)
Thinking about it James Bond 007 on the Gameboy might not be the worst Bond game ever made given the shear shittyness of this entry in the series. Switching to a third person camera should make it easier to navigate compared to a first person camera given that you can look over obstacles and around corners but here moving Bond around is akin to driving a very slow tank stuck in second gear with Marty Feldman aiming you automatic targeting for you. Bond refuses to run and strafe in a straight line leading to you getting stuck on scenery and getting shoot which stuns him for a second meaning he gets shot again and so on until the enemy has to reload leaving you at the mercy of the auto-targeting which more often than not refuse to lock-on unless your practically touching him.
Nowadays third person controls are pretty standard with you using one analogue stick for movement and one for aiming but here it’s a strange mix with the shoulder buttons being used for strafing and a very unintuitive inventory system that will often having you scrolling through useless items before finally getting to the important stuff like weapons and med kits. Following the plot of the film loosely it starts of with you having to infiltrate a terrorist arms bazaar before becoming ensnared in Elliot Carvers plans to sell some more dodgy satellite channels in China, a task far simpler if he’d taken the C5 route and just put some soft-core porn on every night after eleven.
I won’t bother to talking about the non run and gun sections as they’re just as incompetent with the skiing section epically bad or even the liberal use of FMV taken from the game as it only serves to remind you how much better your time would be spent if you’d just watched the DVD rather than playing this lemon.
(EA – 2000)
More franchise milking here with this entry being composed entirely of driving sections inspired by the various car chases and vehicular action in the Bond franchise. Things start off well with Basil Fawtyâ€¦ sorry Q telling you how to drive the good old Aston Martin DB9 and use its different gadgets like machine guns, missiles, smoke screens, nitro etc. Later levels have you bombing (literally) around New York before moving on to Louisiana, Mexico and Eastern Europe.
The driving engine handles well with most of the cars having a good felling of weight and the different gadgets all having a useful function despite having to be constantly scrolling through them to get the one you need as the game always selects the last one you collected despite how inappropriate it might be. It didn’t do to well on release and even today it fells like a series of levels taken from other games strung together than a standalone game but compared to most of the EA Bond games it fares better than most.
(EA – 2000)
After seeing Tomorrow Never Dies go down in flames, developer Black Ops went back to a first person perspective for their second (and thankfully last) Bond game this time based on film nineteen. Of course with such a move it brings the inevitable comparisons to Goldeneye on the N64 and sure enough if falls far short of Rare’s near definitive entry. The most noticeable is how stiff and angular everything looks and fells from rigid controls that fell more digital than analogue to the angular character model designs and boxy level layouts. The levels follow the film’s plot very well with early missions taking place in Spain and London before moving east to Russia and finally Turkey for the submarine finale, although the PS1 version is missing a few stages compared to the N64 version.
For those players lucky enough to have the N64 version there was also a multiplayer mode complete with bot support for solo players and anyone wanting to practice. But just like the single player game it sadly falls far short of the standards set by Goldeneye. Just like TND before it and most Bond games after it TWINE was obviously made to turn a profit rather than to stand as its own game and no amount of FMV and actor likenesses can change that.
(EA – 2001)
A new generation of console brings the inevitable new batch of Bond games and sure enough EA where ready to churn them out with efficient regularity to satisfy the Christmas demand for licensed games those non-gamers would recognise like your mum and dad. Somewhat ironically the original storyline focuses on a villain with an army of clones trying to take over the world while Bond stops him with a mixture of first person shooting levels and Spy Hunter style driving sections and the odd on-rails shooting level for variety along with some four player multiplayer maps if you had either the GameCube or Xbox versions.
Sadly they didn’t learn some lessons from TWINE with the default control scheme being a counterintuitive mess of analogue sticks and shoulder buttons for moving and shooting with the weapon and gadget selection being especially fiddly. Take time to fiddle with the setting and ignore the god awful voice acting used for the Bond character (they didn’t bother to licence Brosnan this time so it’s more John Smith than James Bond) and there’s a fine generic FPS to be had here, its free of a lot of the problems blighting previous games and plays well despite not leaving much of an impression on you when you’re done.
(EA – 2002)
Now EA was starting to get back on track first by actually having Bonds face in the game (but not his voice, going for the bloke from Grease II) and giving the plot a Moonraker style vibe with lasers and outer space action mixed into the standard recipe of exotic Earth bound locals interspersed with Spy Hunter Driving sections. The game plays quite differently depending on what version you play with the console version having more levels than the PC version which had less shooting missions and cut the driving mission entirely.
Thankfully the default controls where the by now standard twin sticks configuration and even did a good job of teaching them in a short tutorial come mission at the start of the game that lead into the Nightfire theme song and opening cinematic all with the amount of polish you’d expect with a EA licensed game. Much like Agent under Fire once you’ve played through the game there isn’t much to return for apart from the obvious unlockable multiplayer characters and cheat modes.
(EA – 2004)
Back to third person larks again with the game that was hyped as 2004’s Bond movie but without the movieâ€¦ yeah I know. This time EA really went to town by getting Brosnan’s likeness and having him voice Bond (the last time he would ever play the part as it turns out) along with William Dafoe doing baddie duties and a trio of Bond girls in the form of supermodel Heidi Klum, actress Misaki Ito and uber-babe Shannon Elizabeth along with Mya to sing the title song. Just to give you an idea of how successful this was for about a two month period in early 2004 at the now defunct music and entertainment shop where I worked we daily had requests for â€œthe new Bond movieâ€ before we could explain that despite what it looked like in the TV ads it was actually a videogame.
The game used a modified version of the Agent Under Fire FPS engine and plays just like TND should have with aiming, moving and dodging all intuitive along with extra features like the cover system and a ‘Bond Time’ Max Payne style slow motion effect for those important shots or changing guns at critical moments. The by now obligatory driving sections play well and have a strong Burnout vibe along with all the missiles and nitro boots you’d expect courtesy of Q department. The plot while recycled from the movies like View To A Kill is well handled and follows the standard Bond formula of get girl lose girl get another girl kill baddie and could well be the best non-Goldeneye Bond game here today.
(EA – 2004)
Now to say this game took a bit of a kicking on release would be an understatement. When EA said their next Bond game would be a FPS called Goldeneye the gaming press exploded with speculation, would it be a remake of Rare’s N64 game or a fresh take on the whole movie? Well when they finally admitted you played a guy with a golden eye who worked for Spectre and would spent the game battling against Dr. No many quite rightly foul. Essentially what the plot comes down to is EA throwing every halfway famous Bond villain into a game and then giving you the excuse to use some standard superpowers like X-Ray vision and telekinesis via your cybernetic Goldeneye given to you by Christopher Leeâ€¦ I mean Scaramanga. Now I’m going to go out on a limb here and try and argue the case FOR this game. Yes the plot is the sweaty imaginations of a third rate fan boy wet dream but the game itself plays well and has loads of good points despite the shitty plot around it. Fore most is the dual weapon system, yes it’s a rip off from Halo 2 but it works well and the games weapons are all balanced enough so there’s no one noob killer combo that breaks the single player game or multiplayer mode.
Which brings me to the next point, this game has a great multiplayer option, sure it’s not as good as Goldeneye but as we’ve seen today, what is? There’s no bolted on driving missions or on-rails shooting sections just FPS action all the way that rewards tactical thinking like using hard cover or even taking a hostage to use as a human shield along with learning what and more importantly when to use the Goldeneye powers before swarms of henchmen bring you down. If you can ignore the laughable plot and just focus on the all important gameplay and listen to the worthwhile soundtrack you might be surprised as its not quite the lemon it was made out to be by the gaming press just for having the shear balls to try something different with the licence rather than just recycle Bond until he’s just another meaning less clichÃ©.
(EA – 2005)
After getting burned when they tried something different Rogue Agent EA retreated back to the Bond classics with this game based on the 1963 staring the ultimate Bond, Sean Connery (grrrrr… – Ed). They also managed to score the man himself and got him to record the dialogue for the game, although it must be said its very distracting to hear Connery now saying Bond lines from over forty years ago making him sound like a over acting impersonator rather than himself.
As well as reusing a film, EA reused the Everything or Nothing engine making it a third person action game this time but annoyingly changed some of the controls leaving many EON veterans press the wrong button at the wrong time. The driving sections are here with the gadget filled classic DB9 and you even get the chance to fly the jet pack from Thunderball although this model comes equipped with machine guns so you can shoot down kidnappers over the houses of parliament in the opening section.
Other additions include some stealth mechanics with close quarter’s takedown triggering a quick cut scene along with rewarding you with extra research points that can be spent to upgrade your arsenal of weapons from Bond’s humble PPK to machine guns and gadgets courtesy of Q department. All the additions weren’t for the better though as EA shoehorned in celebrity non-entitles like Natasha Beddingfield to no doubt appeal to a younger audience whose parents weren’t even alive in ’63.
So there you go Goldeneye (still) reigns supreme as not only the best Bond game ever made but possibly the best console FPS ever made. All that’s left to do is introduce the video and suggest you get over to the forum where you can win eight, yes EIGHT Bond games in a new competitionâ€¦
Until then why not watch this video while you wait.