Why do Bond games seem to be so hard to get right? The ingredients are all there waiting to be put in the mix, and the hard work of getting the player to identify with a lead character and the role they fulfil is practically done for them, yet only one developer has ever managed to do it right - Rare. Every time a new Bond game is released, it seems appropriate to line it up against Rare's standard-setting N64 classic GoldenEye. So how does the Gearbox-developed Nightfire stand up against that stalwart of Bond gaming?
"Bond, James Bo-" "Oh shut up"
As you may have already guessed, Nightfire doesn't even come close to rivalling GoldenEye. As a bog-standard FPS, it fares quite well actually; it looks reasonably good, there's a compliment of neat gadgets, characters are well animated and locations are varied, fairly detailed and well constructed. As a Bond game, though, it fails quite miserably.
The main fault is an almost complete lack of purpose. Certainly, there are mission objectives to fulfil, but you never really end up going out of your way to achieve them. Instead, you pelt through each level, dispatch some villains, reach the and discover that you've completed objectives without even realising it - all I remember doing was pulling a few levers and shooting a bit.
The levels, while each at first appearing quite detailed and exhibiting a commendable level of variety, are completely static and barely exhibit any kind of interactivity. Your progression through them is deceptively linear through the clever use of locked doors, but the opportunity occasionally arises for a bit of imagination in how you approach a situation. The game pulls this kind of thing off with varied success - take the first mission where you need to get inside a heavily guarded mansion on the side of a mountain for example. Parachuting onto the roof of a guard tower, M radios in and informs you that you may be able to enter the compound on board a goods truck that's heading up the road. We try that, and fail, so we change tack and decide to try and sneak our way in. Spotting a cable attached to the tower and offering a way across the road and up to the mansion, we clamber up and sure enough Bond starts swinging his way along the cable. Brilliant! Except... he won't get off. No matter how hard we try, Bond just dangles there refusing to do anything other than wriggle up and down the cable until we give up and start the level again.
This kind of sloppiness is glaring throughout Nightfire, and it quite frankly ruins an already pale gaming experience. Any attempt at stealth tactics is usually marred by completely unresponsive controls and enemy soldiers with super-human vision, capable of spotting you lurking in the shadows from 300 yards, in the dark, in the middle of a snowstorm. Attempt to peer around the corner and spot any lurking enemies, and see if you're lucky enough for the lean function to even work at all first time - it usually takes six or seven presses. And forget about trying to lean while crouching, it's impossible. I honestly can't understand how these completely obvious flaws were ignored.
The use of Q gadgets also leaves a lot to be desired. For the most part, they're employed to assist in mundane tasks, which simply drive your linear path forward. Using your laser watch to melt padlock after padlock, the grappling hook to hoist yourself up onto a balcony when every door has been found locked, the x-ray specs to peer into a room before you enter and easily bump off the frustratingly stupid guards - nothing particularly interesting. Weaponry is exactly what you'd expect, with the requisite pistol, machine guns, shotgun, grenades, rocket launcher and so on, although it does feel a bit stupid to have Bond walking about with an enormous great futuristic rocket launcher perched on his suave frame.
Oh yes, I didn't mention the AI yet, did I? There isn't any. The sentries happily stand around and watch their colleagues' demise, or take a shot in the leg or the arm without bothering to find out who did it. When they're not ignoring their own impending doom, they occasionally see fit to inexplicably turn on each other. Spectacular.
Despite looking reasonable for the most part and having some genuinely well produced elements - the introduction movie and music in particular is superb, suiting the style of the license tremendously - Nightfire systematically fails to engage you in practically every respect. You just don't feel like you're Bond, and including any number of easy, ridiculously forward, large-chested women and having you take pictures of them (yes, you do) isn't going to make it any more Bondlike.
The problem lies in the way you coast through the levels without any real sense of progress or achievement until you realise you're finished. Garnish this enormous flaw with a smattering of smaller niggles in the unresponsive controls, bad AI, a tacked-on afterthought of a multiplayer mode and some ridiculous bugs and you're left with another extremely unsatisfying attempt at the Bond license. Next!