This Never Happened To The Other Feller
EA's next 007 adventure may only be a few months away, but Xbox and GameCube owners who don't have all the time in the world can now enjoy the dubious delights of Agent Under Fire, previously only available on the PlayStation 2.
As you may have guessed from the title, Agent Under Fire is not based on any of the existing Bond movies, but instead sports an original plot dreamt up by a group of caffeine-addled programmers somewhere in the depths of EA's Californian bunker complex. Sadly at times this story reads more like something out of the X-Files than a James Bond movie, involving secret cloning experiments and an attempt to replace world leaders, while Bond himself is a generic secret agent spliced together from junk DNA left behind by Pierce Brosnan, but lacking his charisma and dry wit. You'll also be harrassed via radio throughout the missions by a not-Judi-Dench female M and a not-John-Cleese Q-department boffin. Voice acting is quite good by videogame standards, and the script does have a few classic Bond moments, but obviously it's a pale shadow of the genuine article.
Sadly the same could be said for much of the in-game action. Most of the time Agent Under Fire feels like an archetypal run and gun shooter, with nothing but the vaguely World Is Not Enough-ish soundtrack and occasional blasts of the 007 theme to remind you that you are in fact Bond, James Bond. Thanks to a lack of licensing expenditure even your trademark Walter PPK is replaced by the imaginary Wolfram P2K. On the bright side, you have an array of Q gadgets at your disposal, and in true Bond fashion your mobile phone doubles as a laser to burn through locks and a wireless transmitter to gain access to computer systems. These gadgets can only be used in a few clearly marked areas in each map though. For example, the Q-laser can only be used on one particular kind of big chunky padlock, computers and machinery which can be accessed by the Q-remote or Q-decrypter are highlighted by obtrusive flashing green lights, and the Q-claw grappling hook relies on architects conveniently leaving special gratings lying around for it to latch on to.
Named After Your Father, Perhaps?
Rather more interesting are the driving missions which are interspersed amongst the first person shooter levels. These vary from a (literally) on-rails mission which takes you for a spectacular rollercoaster ride through a network of submarine tunnels to driving your BMW (complete with optional machineguns and rocket launcher) around the streets of Bucharest.
To add some replay value, your progress through the game is assessed at the end of each mission by a scorecard, and reaching target scores will earn you medals that unlock extra features such as a golden gun option for the game's multiplayer modes. Once you've completed a mission you can go back to play it again at any time, either to notch up a better score or (if you already have a gold medal for that mission) to gather special 007 tokens to unlock even more hidden extras. There's plenty here to keep you busy, and although you can blast your way through the game in under ten hours, earning a clean sweep of gold medals and uncovering all the special "bond move" bonuses on each map will take somewhat longer.
Rounding out the package is four player split-screen support, with a choice of deathmatch, bomb defusing, hot potato and tag modes, along with a one-off VIP escort map. Settings vary from a cramped little castle ruin for fast-and-furious fragging to sprawling bases which bear more than a passing resemblance to Unreal Tournament. While this is certainly entertaining, the sight of secret agents and curvaceous Bond girls hopping around a Quake-style medieval arena blasting each other with rocket launchers makes it feel a bit out of place. Bots are included for those of you with no friends, but disappointingly they're only available for the vanilla deathmatch mode. Surely coding them to pick up a flag wouldn't have been that difficult?
As a first person shooter Agent Under Fire is fairly entertaining, if a little bland. As an Xbox title it's competent, but there's precious little to seperate it from the (cheaper) PS2 original. And as a Bond game it's something of a failure, with only the driving missions and a handful of the cutscenes really feeling like they belong to the world of 007.
If you can get past the rather generic feel of the game you might find some enjoyment in Agent Under Fire, but it's not a patch on the likes of Frontline and Halo.