Version tested: PlayStation 3
Bond is strapped to a metal table. Above him an industrial laser powers up and a red beam begins to eat away at the surface between his legs. The laser starts to move up towards his joy department while nearby a villain gloats. "Do you exshpect me to shell?" barks our hero. "No, Mister Bond!" shouts Bobby Kotick. "I'm sending you out to die!"
Every inch of 007 Legends has been covered in a camo-coloured Call of Duty paint - then left face-down on a hotel bed while it suffers epidermal suffocation. Without its bra on.
This game trades in nostalgia but ends up undermining the films it should idolise. It desperately tries to cater for the modern shooter generation but has production values and gunplay that fall well short of their demands. The stealth is broken, the dialogue is abysmal and the gadget mini-games are insipid. Although it's been released to celebrate James Bond's 50th anniversary, what Activision, Eon, MGM and developers Eurocom have actually done is to pick up the wheelchair of the ailing Bond game series and drop it down a large chimney.
The story posits that, as in the opening of the new movie Skyfall, Bond has been accidentally shot while battling a foe atop a speeding train. He falls off a bridge and into the torrents below - where he has five extremely detailed flashbacks about past missions. First up is Goldfinger, and then there are highlight reels of On Her Majesty's Secret Service, License to Kill, Die Another Day and Moonraker. Once Bond has seen these bastardisations of his life play out before his eyes he surfaces, does a little bit of sick into his mouth and waits until Skyfall gets into cinemas so he can download the thrilling denouement.
In each modern retread of cherished Bond material, all of yesterday's raised eyebrows and Scottish burrs are removed. Each film has been updated to the modern day (smartphones and all) and the trigger finger of Daniel Craig is constantly on show. What could have been an engaging romp through the history of the franchise is turned into a bland sequence of massacres in factories, temples and alpine bases, frugally peppered with recognisable Bond moments. Each of these is, invariably, a stilted scene with a villain who's clearly at least 30 years outside of his comfort zone - always resulting in a depressing 'Press up on the right stick now!' bout of fisticuffs.
I came to this review expecting to criticise the choice of the films being adapted, but if the mistreatment of Moonraker can make me feel so low, who knows what mental trauma would have been inflicted had Eurocom chosen to rehash a film I actually liked? I'm genuinely thankful that my dreams of one day negotiating Scaramanga's Wild West trip-out obstacle course have not been answered. The films are flushed so far down the toilet that their content ceases to matter. Any personality the movies had is erased by the modern Daniel Craig update, and any personality Daniel Craig has is erased by the fact that someone else is providing his voice. I never thought that fighting Blofeld in a cable car would make me feel so sad.
007 Legends' action simply isn't of an acceptable standard for a 2012 release. In all honesty, it's of a quality that's been inexcusable in any big-league shooter since the release of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare - a game from the self-same publisher.
"I never thought that fighting Blofeld in a cable car would make me feel so sad."
Mediocre character animation, repetitive corridor-laced locations and a total lack of weight or intelligence in your combatants unite to bring distress to the player. You fire and forget into crowds of enemies spawning in ice-palace vestibules, and will often find it all so tiresome that the best option is just to jog past everyone in an attempt to find the next checkpoint. Every familiar shooter convention is pushed out in front of you with no hint of imagination or ceremony. When you hear "James! Get on the mini-gun!" you'll be so distraught you'll instinctively start to hide yourself beneath your sofa cushions from the sheer shame of it all.
The game explains itself poorly out of habit but, once you understand how zapping security cameras with a laser-watch and silent pen-gadget takedowns actually work, then the bar is raised a little. This, unfortunately, is soon compromised by occasional teeth-gritting dips into insta-fail stealth, which make the game feel positively Jurassic. A riff on Arkham Asylum's Detective Mode with Bond's phone only serves in occasionally slowing the game down to a constipated crawl, while driving sections where you must dodge incoming rocket strikes or satellite lasers don't particularly help matters either.
Is there a saving grace? Could there be a sprightly Denise Richards thrown into the mix to elevate an otherwise wholly sub-standard Bond outing? 007 Legends sometimes threatens to be good - take a skiing section that has you swerving between trees and taking out skidoos as an example - but it's always compromised by a lack of polish. Many of the mission finales, Die Another Day specifically, can raise the pulse, but they still feel like something a COD development team would hand in as a first rough pass before all the shouting, camera-wobbles and explosions were stitched in.
"Somewhere deep within Activision - or, more likely, within the Bond establishment - there seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding of both video games and the potential of their hero."
Once you've finished punching Gustav Graves' stupid face in, meanwhile, the multiplayer to back it up is perfectly functional - and replete with all the XP and unlocks you might expect. It's here, in fact, that the meatiness of the guns underlines that the solo campaign's issues aren't to do with the simple gratification of pulling the trigger, but instead the vapid shooting gallery you find yourself trapped in.
007 Legends could have been - should have been - my perfect game. I've always wanted to take a tour through vintage Bond in a shooter, but sadly the final product has been force-fed a gas pellet Kananga-style, and has deposited its grey, depressing innards all over my hopes and dreams.
I don't feel, however, that developers Eurocom can entirely be held to blame. Somewhere deep within Activision - or, more likely, within the Bond establishment - there seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding of both video games and the potential of their hero. How can the boardroom that holds Bond's leash put out the greatest cinematic reboots in decades, but at the same time consistently peddle backwater gaming like this?
A final thought: early on, deep in Goldfinger's lair, you meet Pussy Galore. She asks you your name and you simply reply: "James Bond". That's it. Nothing else. From this point it's clear that in terms of being a shooter, 007 Legends is dismal - but in terms of being an actual James Bond game, it's a genuine insult.
3 / 10