Bond games have been the staple diet of the gaming menu since the mid 80s, but just one, Rare's 1997 masterpiece GoldenEye has actually been worth owning. Can EA's latest finally do the franchise justice?
As any follower of the many Bond games will know, EA's frequent stabs at making a decent game based on the world's favourite spy have been fairly fraught. Tomorrow Never Dies on the PSX (1999) has to go down in history as a triumph of marketing over content, and is without a doubt one of the worst licensed titles in gaming history. Its follow up, The World Is Not Enough (2000), was regarded as pretty decent on N64 and fairly lame on PSX, but still a step in the right direction.
And last year's Agent Under Fire was even better, being a fairly slick attempt at marrying the Need For Speed driving engine with fairly solid first person shooter action. But the lasting impression was that it was not built for gamers - being more suited to those that enjoy on rails theme park thrill rides than anything resembling an interactive game.
And so when James Bond Nightfire arrived in the obligatory giant jiffy bag, we approached it with a cautious optimism, hopeful that the lessons of last year would be learned.
Eiffel awful today
Sadly, only three of the 12 levels appear to work in this preview build, but it at least gave us a fair guess of what to expect when it comes out on November 29th. The first level is an all-action scripted sequence where you're bombing around Paris in a helicopter at five minutes to midnight on New Year's Eve. And guess what? A terrorist wants to blow up the Eiffel Tower, so Bond steps in with his big bad, and uncannily accurate sniper rifle. As is becoming EA's trademark, there's no introduction, and you're straight into the action. When the game says 'Fire' press R1 and it's off to the next scripted sequence. Do this half a dozen times and, phew, you've saved the French populace. You hero.
It's all fairly throwaway, and presumably designed, again, to appeal to mass market thrill seekers. For anyone who's played games before, it all looks quite nice, but is a bit patronising and you're wishing you could get to the action.
Blam blam, you're dead
It's the second level where the game kicks in properly, and has Bond attempting to sneak his way into a party, via a snow clad rooftop, and armed with various gadgets, including a grappling hook and laser. Gaining entry isn't exactly much of a challenge, and with the auto targeting system, all you have to do to dispatch enemies is vaguely point yourself in their direction and hammer R1. ZZZzzzzz.
Once inside the mansion, you get to admire some large breasted lovelies standing around looking pretty, but vacant, and a few scripted sequences later you're finally called into some gunplay action, but again, combat feels all too easy. It's only once you're asked to blow up the stubborn helicopter at the end of the level that any semblance of a challenge emerges.
Onto level three, you're bombing around the snowy terrain on a ski-doo, attempting to out run a whole army of angry baddies. Again; fast, furious, action packed, but scripted and ultimately quite easy - on normal 'Agent' difficulty you'll probably do it on your first go. Sadly that's where the game ended for us, but the early impressions are that EA has gone for the Agent Under Fire approach again, albeit with a slightly tidier engine, and possibly even more scripted Hollywood style action sequences than before.
One thing, though, that was impressive was the use of Pierce Brosnan's mug. It really is uncannily good. But will that be enough to make it worth buying? Are the later levels any cop? We'll let you know in our full review in the lead up to its full release later next month.