On a dark and stormy night, 007 stalks a miscellaneous airfield, on the prowl for a man named Goldfinger. While viewing the airfield through his smartphone a handler orders Bond to go undercover. Presumably, this means set off an EMP charge that causes a nearby hovering jet to crash, then leap onto a passing semi-truck and bound off of that into the base itself. Airplanes begin exploding left and right for no apparent reason outside of spectacle. This is the James Bond experience as told by a theme park ride, throwing logic and narrative out the window in hopes that there’s fun to be found in the running and gunning of old time Bond villains.
Turns out, at least in this case, there is no fun. Only mediocrity lies in the iron sights of this Walther PPK, at best. Everything from the narrative to the gameplay, the level design to the simple act of shooting generic henchmen in the face with bullets suffers here. This is a rushed title, pushed out into the market far before it could have developed into something worth playing.
The game is told via flashback during the events of the upcoming film Skyfall. While busy confronting a thug atop a train a nearby employee of MI-6, brandishing a sniper rifle, shoots at the thug and hits Bond. It is after the fall from the train, spiral in and out of consciousness in the waters below, that the memories of these older missions surface. This makes no sense for a number of logic reasons, most notably that Casino Royale is the film that resets the Bond timeline, making it assumed that everything that happened beforehand happened to a different Bond. Also, because of the specific movies that were picked, now there are two versions of Felix Leiter: one that exists after the reboot, and one that dies before it.
There’s also the whole Legends issue. Aside from Moonraker and Goldfinger, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone willing to argue that any of the other three featured movies as legendary. Die Another Day was Pierce Brosnan’s worst outing, License to Kill employed a thuggish Timothy Dalton chasing down a drug kingpin, and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was riddled with winter sports.
It’s not that this a terrible idea, just a bad attempt at tying them all into a single narrative. With 22 already released Bond movies to choose from, there’s plenty of source material available. This is the only place the game shines. Every locale is distinctly its own, from Fort Knox to the Ice Palace, each level presents a new location for Bond to stealth or fight his way through.
Each Bond movie is turned into two missions, with the exception of Die Another Day which is divided into three, providing only the briefest glance of what the original films were about. These highly abridged version cover only the bare necessities of the films plots, cutting out anything that might require dialogue or exposition to explain. It’s all about getting Bond straight to the action, of which is a decent goal.
The problems lie in its execution. Each mission is an identical romp the plays out the same. Begin by charging forward, following map markers, or buddies marked “follow”, while applying pressure to enemy faces with a precise application of bullets. Stop and investigate a room, learning who the villain is and what threat they pose. Then, a melee encounter! A mini-boss approaches, assumes the position, and it’s up to you to tap the right or left analog stick when the appropriate icon appears. Rinse and repeat until the current villain has been defeated.
There’s a lot of old that got mixed in with the new. Enemies continuously spawn until you’ve progressed far enough. Headshots kill a bad guy with a single bullet, but shoot anywhere else and you might as well unload half a clip before they go down. There’s an option to modify how your health is restored. It’s possible to play with current health schemes, in which it’ll merely regenerate if you give it time, or you can opt for the health packs and body armor experience. It’s a nifty addition, but there are quite a few spots that playing it the classic way would be masochistic, where cover is not an option and all of your enemies are deadly accurate.
Their ability to snipe you from long distances with nothing more than a revolver is all they’ve got going for them. Enemies are only capable of taking cover and occasionally popping out, or charging nearby you, standing perfectly still and unloading. That’s of course while they’re not running around the level for no apparent reason, running into a wall or merely standing still, staring off into space. Sometimes you’ll walk into an empty room only to discover a squad of enemies spawn in from nothing. Frequently bad guys will emerge from connecting hallways. Look into those hallways and all you’ll find is a dead end, barely big enough to be called a closet.
In between bouts of combat you’ll find yourself either dealing with having to be sneaky or having to investigate. Investigation is simple: scan fingerprints, hack computers and break into safes with your cell phone. Its stealth sequences are old and generic, and quite a few of them will cast you back to a previous checkpoint if an alarm goes off.
None of these things are quite as bad as its boss battles. Imagine Punch Out, take away the gameplay and replace it with a series of Quick Time Events. Every boss is fought in this manner, including the generic guards that are tossed in for the sake of filler. Whether you’re fighting Gustav Graves, Blofeld, Oddjob or Sanchez, it’s all done via these poorly disguised QTE’s. Every time a boss would step forward and assume the position, I cringed.
There were times in which I wanted to like at least some part of the game. Little increments of play, such as floating in space in Moonraker felt like they should have been more exciting, but in execution turned out to be very underwhelming. Like always, 007 will return, and when he does hopefully he’ll bring along a game worthy of his name and number.