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Bond 50: A Brief History of James Bond Videogames

[Editor's Note: While working on my coverage of the 'Bond 50' Blu-ray set, I got to thinking about videogames based on the James Bond franchise – specifically, why there aren't many good ones. Because Brian is a lot more tuned into these things than I am, I asked him to write up an overview of Agent 007's history in gaming. -JZ]

With all apologies to ‘James Bond, Jr.’, almost any discussion of games based upon Agent 007 begins with ‘GoldenEye’. As the James Bond videogames have tried to duplicate, imitate and even escape from the success of that N64 classic, the character’s gaming franchise has had peaks and valleys of success not unlike Bond’s big screen hits and misses.

After Nintendo and Rare had so much success with the ‘GoldenEye’ (which some players may forget had an awesome mission based loosely on the end of ‘Moonraker’ where you had to confront Jaws in Drax’s Aztec fortress, followed by another tough mission where you had to defeat Baron Samedi using the Golden Gun), EA entered into a long-term licensing deal for Bond games. The studio’s first product was ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’, which was a PlayStation exclusive and, like its film counterpart, pretty much forgettable.

What followed were two different games called ‘The World Is Not Enough’, one for the PlayStation and one for the N64. The Nintendo version utilized the N64 expansion pack (just as Rare’s ‘GoldenEye’ sequel, ‘Perfect Dark’, did), and imitated the gameplay of ‘GoldenEye’ effectively. For me, it was the last big N64 release prior to moving to the PS2. The game also required the superfluous N64 memory card, which cost me a very important save file. Nevertheless, it had several mission segments that I consider textbook examples of modern mission design. The chopper chase sections, and ultimate chopper confrontation objectives could ship as part of a game today. On the other hand, the submarine levels are a good reminder of why similar games have fewer and fewer swimming segments.

During this time, another popular title called ’007 Racing’ came out for the PlayStation. That one was more of a ‘Spy Hunter’ type of game than the First Person Shooter style of ‘GoldenEye’.

Eurocom developed a version of ‘TWINE’ for the PS2, but EA ultimately decided to create a new game called ‘Agent Under Fire’ that incorporated gameplay elements of ’007 Racing’. Due to contractual issues, ‘Agent Under Fire’ lacked the likeness of Pierce Brosnan. However, it featured 007 moments where the player could use clever ways to traverse through missions. Unfortunately, all of the promise that ‘Agent Under Fire’ showed immediately evaporated with the subsequent release of ‘Nightfire’.

As I think of the game now, I want to be fair. ‘Nightfire’ was released when titles such as ‘Timesplitters’ and ‘Halo’ were the class of console FPS games. Other titles, such as ‘Half-Life’, ‘Hitman: Code 47′, ‘Metal Gear Solid’ (both parts 1 and 2) and ‘Splinter Cell’ were all out in world, doing what a Bond game should do, but better.

After ‘Nightfire’, EA put more effort into the Xbox release of ‘Everything or Nothing’, which displays the greatest production quality of any 007 game, right down to the opening sequence. ‘Everything or Nothing’ was the first Bond game to attempt a third person perspective since ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’, and the gameplay is secondary to the presentation. Unfortunately, during this same time, EA tried to pull a fast one and released a game called ‘GoldenEye: Rogue Agent’ that had nothing to do with the previous ‘GoldenEye’ game, the movie or anything. (It actually featured Auric Goldfinger.)

‘Everything or Nothing’ was followed by ‘From Russia with Love’, a Sean Connery throwback. (Brosnan was out of the Bond business at that point.) Taking the ‘Everything or Nothing’ mold back to the 1960s era (complete with Connery voiceover) resulted in the greatest example of fan service for any Bond game, but only managed decent sales numbers.

This led to a dark period where EA decided that it would not be able to bring a ‘Casino Royale’ game out by the film’s release, canceled production of the title and exited as the 007 game licensee. (This was really a lose-lose result for all parties.) Activision then scored the license and managed to get a game out for ‘Quantum of Solace’. Despite some developer pedigree involved, the game was a typical license-based title (i.e. pretty crappy).

Since then, ‘Blood Stone’ and a ‘GoldenEye’ remake (featuring Daniel Craig) have made it to players. The developer of ‘Blood Stone’ was shuttered after production, and reviews for the game were not kind. Eurocom has developed most of the Bond games and is currently working on a new one called ’007: Legends’ that will probably have Daniel Craig playing missions derived from various Bond films.

Aside from dealing with the shadow of ‘GoldenEye’ and the normal pitfalls of licensed-based titles, Bond games have been plagued by another tough issue. Often, by the time one Bond game is released, production is already underway for the sequel to be out the following year. When fans and critics and complain, that leaves little time to make changes to the sequel. This process usually results in cutting every feature that people disliked, but without time to add anything new in their place.

Without the context of the release era, introducing someone to ‘GoldenEye’ or ‘The World Is Not Enough’ or ‘Agent Under Fire’ now is eerily similar to trying to defend any of the many lesser Bond pictures. That is, the person just won’t get it. Revisiting ‘Everything or Nothing’ or ‘From Russia with Love’ is a far more useful exercise. I hope that future Bond games get the development time and budget necessary to make some new highlights for series.

12 comments

  1. Brian’s post reminds me that I purchased Everything or Nothing years ago but never took it out of the shrinkwrap. Has anyone played that one? Worth attempting now, or will it seem too painfully dated? My original Xbox is currently collecting dust in my equipment rack.

  2. I will always defend and love ‘GoldenEye’ for the Nintendo64. It is still awesome, even if the graphics are dated. It was a huge push for the then fledgling console and the game was envied by almost every PlayStation owner.

  3. Nick McMahan

    i had nightfire, it was ok but like he mentions, this is after halo had released and blew the doors off for console fps games