EA's last James Bond game, Everything Or Nothing (you'll notice we're pointedly ignoring Rogue Agent), was an original story based on contemporary Bond. However, what was most interesting about it wasn't so much the new story, but the way that it built particular gaming scenarios - third-person action, stealth, on-rails shooting, driving, and even sky-diving - around an original narrative. It was what we often expect from a film licence, but without a direct licensee.
From Russia With Love is another curiosity. Like EON, it's tailored many different elements to fit a particular plot, but in this case EA has come up with something a lot less disjointed. Cut-scenes don't just top and tail the levels, and this time all the development is taking place at Redwood Shores; with EON, the driving sections were actually made by EA Canada and then bolted on later in production. As EA reps have told us privately, the approach itself has been fiercely debated within the company - but whatever your feelings for EON, the signs are that this is a more convincing experience.
Mind you, that's not why FRWL is a curiosity. The reason we feel that way is that it's based on a film more than 40 years old. The Godfather, often used an example of an old film being made into a game, was released 11 whole years later. Why, we wondered, had EA chosen to work with this film, which wasn't even the first James Bond; who was the game aimed at; and how had it been brought up to date? We sat down with producer Kate Latchford in London recently and tried to find out.
Eurogamer: Why not start with Dr. No? That had a robot dragon in it. Surely these things have a bearing.
Kate Latchford: [Laughs] We chose From Russia With Love partly because it was Sean Connery's favourite movie. Also it just had all the elements that we wanted; it's got the locations, the women, the fun scenes, the enemies - Rosa Klebb, Red Grant - and it just seemed like a really good choice.
Obviously for a videogame we need the cinematic experience but also things that are going to be fun for the player. So here you get to drive around Istanbul, which has an underground level based on the part where you're in a boat, so you've got all those kind of elements. Plus it's very exotic and stylish, I think, and we really want this to be a stylish Bond game.
Eurogamer: So you're cherry-picking the old Bond films?
Kate Latchford: Exactly, yeah.
Eurogamer: It was made in 1963, so many of the people who saw it are going to be 50 and older. What's the median player you're aiming for here?
Kate Latchford: We do definitely have an older audience as far as videogames go, but the Bond franchise is universal, overwhelming; even the youngest players know this movie. We were just in Leipzig and the German gamers were quoting lines from the film; they knew about it, and that's the reaction we're getting. We knew that going into it, obviously, and what we're able to do now is bring older films to a younger audience - and that's another reason Connery was so interested, as it's a whole new medium for him. He's never done a videogame before and it really appealed to him that he could bring back Bond.
Eurogamer: What came first? Did you go to him and then decide which film to do?
Kate Latchford: It was around the same time. We knew we wanted to do a retro [Bond] game; we knew we wanted to do one with Sean Connery in it; and so yes, we approached him and at that same time we decided which one we were going to do.
Eurogamer: What was his initial reaction when you rang him up?
Kate Latchford: We called his agent and he was very interested right from the start, and our experience with him was absolutely amazing. We flew to the Bahamas, because he lives there like nine months out of the year, and we did two sessions there with him, recording over three hundred lines of dialogue with him, and he was great. He got totally into it; he was making edits to the script if he thought it wasn't as Bond-like as it should be. He really, really participated. We showed him a lot of the concept art, and a lot of the pre-production, and he was really interested to see how we'd put the game together and the technology. We gave him a PSP when they just got released so he could see where videogames were headed, and he told us he'd definitely do another one with us.
Eurogamer: So watch this space then I guess!
Kate Latchford: [Laughs]
Eurogamer: In fact, watch it now: do you have any ideas for another Bond game?
Kate Latchford: Heh, yes, we've got lots of ideas. Right now we haven't decided exactly what our next Bond game's going to be. There will be another one and it will definitely be coming out of our studio [Redwood Shores]. We have the Bond franchise.
Eurogamer: And it'll definitely be Sean Connery...
Kate Latchford: Well, possibly! [Smiles] We haven't decided whether we're going to go retro or whether we're going to go modern, so basically it will be another great cinematic Bond game.
Eurogamer: Did he make any specific suggestions that you then built into the game at all?
Kate Latchford: Not specifically for gameplay, but definitely for the script. We've tried to very, very closely follow the script of the movie, but with the new levels we have, we've added... Obviously the script has all the kind of humour in it; the Bond quips he had; and in that respect he was definitely involved.
Eurogamer: You've had to contemporise it a bit because a lot of the gadgets that were interesting then are quite common in cinema nowadays - how difficult was that?
Kate Latchford: In terms of the gadgets and the weapons, we've stayed very true to the style of the '60s, and you can see that throughout the game. But we've added things like the jetpack. We wanted it to be a fun experience so we've added a few things to appeal to today's player.
Eurogamer: You mentioned the jetpack, and that's in one of the new levels set in the Houses of Parliament, where the game opens. You mentioned there are three new sections that weren't in the film. What are the other two?
Kate Latchford: I can't tell you all the levels right now, but there's a new ending level and there's another level that's later on in the game. Basically again they're going to have all the elements you want to see in the Bond universe while staying true to the '60s feel of it.
Eurogamer: Everything Or Nothing was made by the same team, but it was criticised in some quarters for building gameplay events to fit the story. Is it better to do it that way, or would you prefer to do it the other way around?
Kate Latchford: I think doing a true combination of the two is ideal. Obviously the whole experience is capturing the Bond universe and that comes very much from the fiction and the personality of Bond, but it's also a videogame so the mechanics and the gameplay are core to that. I think they just have to work hand in hand.
Eurogamer: A lot of the stuff here is context-sensitive. Some players might argue that that kind of thing - not giving the player direct control of every single event - cheapens the experience. What would you have to say to them?
Kate Latchford: I think what we're trying to do is go back to the roots of Bond and capture the personality of Bond through this, and Bond is a very, very stylish character. So what we're trying to do is drive the player through and reward them for being stylish and Bond-like. We want you to be Bond and I think that's what we've tried to do.
Eurogamer: You mentioned RPG elements. That kind of thing is more likely to appeal to our readers - could you talk a little bit about those perhaps?
Kate Latchford: We want you to be able to customise your Bond, so you earn skill points as reward for playing stylishly. So you're going to be able to put Bond in different outfits; you're going to be able to equip him with gas-masks, for example; you're going to be able to upgrade your weapons and your gadgets. We have about six gadgets - we have sonic cufflinks, the briefcase turret, the laser watch - and with the upgrades they'll be more powerful.
Eurogamer: Do you get to control anybody other than Bond?
Kate Latchford: Not in this game, no.
Eurogamer: How does the multiplayer stuff work?
Kate Latchford: There's four-player deathmatch, and what they're trying to do with the multiplayer is bring it back to sitting around with your friends having fun. They've brought over most of the levels from the single-player and some more. You're going to be able to play... I think it's in excess of 20 characters, and some of those are from the movie, some of those are new Bond, some are older characters.
Eurogamer: You've been talking about being able to complete levels in multiple ways. Could you give an example of that?
Kate Latchford: Sure. The hedge maze, for example, based on the opening of the film [explored in more detail in our hands-on preview of the game], lets you blast through or sneak through; there's lots of different paths within the level. For Istanbul there are multiple paths you can take with your vehicle, and you're also going to be rewarded for how quickly you complete the level as well, so finding the optimal route will play a part in that. And if you choose to do it the more Bond way, he can either sneak in the back entrance of the building or go through the front; things like that. We've added as much choice as we possibly can, and that all builds into the RPG progression as well. You get more kit if you play well.
Eurogamer: Finally, what's your favourite James Bond film?
Kate Latchford: [Laughs] What iiiis my favourite James Bond film? Well, earlier I wondered what I'd like to see as a videogame and I actually said Moonraker [smiles], which is not my favourite film but I just love some of the elements of that film. I love it when we go into space in Bond movies, and I'd love to do that, and obviously the characters are fantastic. Who wouldn't want to see Jaws?
From Russia With Love is due out on PS2, Xbox and GameCube this Christmas.