EA's said that it chose From Russia With Love for its next Bond film adaptation partly because it was Sean Connery's favourite film, and partly because it had all the elements that the devs wanted. Talking to us a while ago, producer Kate Latchford highlighted "the locations, the women, the fun scenes, the enemies". Those things probably were part of the thinking, and indeed the game adopts a similar light-hearted approach to the film, has women, has the locations, has the enemies - but I suspect the choice also had plenty to do with the film's suitability for third-person gunnery, stealth and driving around. The things that worked in EA's last not-awful Bond game, Everything or Nothing. What with the gypsy camp shootout, Constantine's canal, the road trip to Station T., the sniping, the assassination attempts - From Russia With Love obviously maps rather better to the EoN template than, say, Dr. No.
And of course where the film doesn't quite fit, EA can apply the usual film-to-game concertina effect. Instead of simply being tailed by the Russians, it can be a constant machinegun fight against goon-cars, which can be flipped with the Aston Martin's tyre-buster out of Goldfinger, culminating in a quick out-of-the-car bit to reach a gun emplacement to blow up a tank blocking the way. Instead of a simple gun- and fist-fight at the gypsy camp, there can be hostages to rescue, and a section where you have to protect Kerim Bey using a sniper rifle. Instead of propping up Kerim's arm when he wants to top Krilencu, it can be a whole sniper-protect mission and in the end you can pull the trigger and dispatch the oily Russian as he stands there in that billboard's gob threatening to put one in Kerim's temple.
And hey, since the Red Grant hedge maze intro doesn't really work as a tutorial, why not have a separate prologue mission where you have to rescue Natasha Bedingfield from terrorists at the Houses of Parliament, ending up dodging rockets as you zoom round Big Ben in a jetpack firing at a helicopter? Then do the hedge maze to introduce the stealth! It's Bond - who's going to quibble?
It almost seems rude to take a contrary stance on this. After all, this is an entertainment industry, and we shouldn't be surprised our favourite stuff's increasingly commodified - we're encouraging them with our money because most of their games are probably just as good as anything else and have a proper licence. And this is certainly true to that - people who simply want to be James Bond, do some shooting and hop in the occasional vehicle, searching out upgrade points to increase ammo and armour capacities and replaying levels in search of perfection and slightly contrived "Bond moments", will find From Russia With Love perfectly to their taste. It has no more problems than the average third-person action hybrid, and it's presented with typical EA glitz.
The mechanics are reasonably well thought out and intuitive - you hold the left trigger to auto-aim, and right to fire, you can dispatch enemies with Bond-like fist skills by responding to a random button-prompt when you move in close, you can lean round walls by backing up against them and pressing Y and then sidling along, and you can roll out from behind things by pressing B. If you get the drop on an enemy, you can go into stealth-crouch with one button and then club them on the back of the head with another. Transitional bits - rappelling, jumping gaps, etc. - are signposted and you press A when you're told to, and objectives are clearly highlighted on your mini-map. Gadgets are used at obvious points, and by hunting for glimmering search-able cupboards and filing cabinets you gain "research points" to expand your weapons' and gadgets' various health and ammo-type capacities.
Hop in the car and it's plain sailing too. A is forward, X is back, B is handbrake, L is target, R is fire, and Y explosively flips anybody stupid enough to pull up alongside you. The handling's a bit basic - the car turns on a sixpence, and feels very unnatural - but never mind because it's passable.
The mission design, too, is pretty much as expected. Most missions are perfectly doable on the first go - and since you can select your preferred difficulty level beforehand, anybody really suffering can always give up and move on a bit more easily - and involve a combination of gunnery, stealth and vehicular activity, whether boat, car, jetpack or what-have-you. Enemies are set up to be knocked down, zip-lined in when you complete objectives, and there are various casts including some who can't be clubbed in the head, some manning turrets, etc. The health system is a bit Halo-esque, but not quite - your main health bar only runs down when you've used up all your armour, and armour's the main thing strewn about so you have to keep an eye out for top-ups. And of course there are shoot-the-chopper bits, a huge variety of weapons (pistols, machineguns, shotgun, bazooka, sniper rifle, et al), and lots of in-game cut-scenes detailing the plot, all voiced by a 75-year-old-sounding Connery and other, decent impersonators, some of which diverge slightly from the exact course of the film.
Who's going to quibble?
Well, yes. Grr. I don't have a problem with this genre of game - I just find this approach galling. From Russia With Love had a sense of humour, so why not use a bit of imagination to fill the game out in a similar way? Why not let players explore Q-branch looking for hidden jokes, rather than just shoehorning them past a couple of dull skits and into (another) training course? Why not let the players explore the possibilities of the action sequences a bit, instead of prescribing everything? Why spend so much time messing with the Constantine canal that lets Kerim and Bond see into the Russian embassy, to cite an example? Does it really need to be an unpleasantly exacting on-rails shoot-'em-up section (with no checkpointing) featuring rocket-launching Russians, rival boats, several "Shoot the locks!" interludes, and then an entirely superfluous run-through-a-base-shooting bit ending in a jetpack ride back through the canal tunnels shooting at similarly jetpacked Russian guards? And where the hell did all these jetpacks come from anyway?
Here's the difference between Everything or Nothing and From Russia With Love: whatever you thought of its approach, Everything or Nothing had to be invented; From Russia With Love just had to be filled. And it has been - with stuff from Everything or Nothing. Yes, it's what the people buy, but is that all they should be given? EA has so much money at this point that it's in a prime position to create games that transcend the supposed barrier between arthouse and cultish gaming trends and commerciality. Where's our industry's Star Wars, Ang Lee's Hulk, or Pulp Fiction? Ok, a review's not really the right place for this kind of rant - but this is how the game makes me feel. Annoyed. Cross, even. Bits of it are fun. It's well put together. Structurally, there isn't a lot wrong with it, and the things that are wrong with it technically - silly things like brightness controls you can only get to by quitting the current game entirely, and balancing issues to do with ammo loadouts during tougher battles - are forgivable. Go ahead and buy it if you want. You'll probably have fun. But this wasn't a labour of love, and hasn't inspired much in me.