From Russia With Love
It’s been more than 40 years since From Russia With Love dominated the box office and further solidified the appeal of Sean Connery in a tuxedo. A lot has happened since James Bond’s 1960s successes, particularly with the advent of parodies like No One Lives Forever and the Austin Powers movies. The series’ ridiculousness has also been toned down in the latest film, with a grittier approach favored over superhuman smoothness. Now, does the elusive spy even still have the relevance to deliver thrills, or is the video game remake too dated to contribute anything that the parodies haven’t already poked fun at?
“The rather brief cut scenes in between the levels that do little justice to the deliberately paced and expertly crafted film”A Bond game without one of the main actors is at a severe disadvantage, and From Russia With Love manages to snag Sean Connery, the most recognizable 007 of all. The Scottish actor not only contributes his likeness to the game, but he also voices the dialogue, most of which is just reworked lines from the film. Seeing a stunningly rendered Sean Connery, clad in tuxedo or any other of the various outfits, is a sight to behold for fans of the films. Add in the appropriately over-the-top music, plus other familiar faces from the movies (voiced by competent sound-alikes), and From Russia With Love has the look of an expensive Bond film, which almost helps alleviate the game’s problems.
Gone from the movies is Bond’s main nemesis: the evil organization of S.P.E.C.T.R.E. This was done due to legal issues surrounding the rights to that fictional group of maniacs. Instead, the group is now named OCTOPUS (in all caps, which signify their intense evilness). This isn’t really that detrimental, and neither are some of the levels that bear no resemblance to anything in the movie. However, it’s the rather brief cut scenes in between the levels that do little justice to the deliberately paced and expertly crafted film. James Bond has always done very little spying for someone who calls himself a spy, but in From Russia With Love, he does little aside from kill one cookie-cutter henchman after another. Sean Connery provides plenty of great one-liners, but it’s just not enough considering the admirable source material.
The main problem with From Russia With Love is that it feels too accessible and simplistic. For proof of this, look no further than the odd aiming system. Hitting the trigger button instantly locks onto a target, with very little skill needed. Bond can take cover behind pillars and shoot from behind them, but there isn’t usually a reason to do this since it’s so easy to mow down the enemies thanks to the powerful auto-aiming. Even worse, auto-aiming is the only way to aim. There’s no way to aim at whatever target at will, such as the scenery or hard-to-hit objects, so this lack of freedom feels very limited. Perhaps this is because I’m an American and I’m used to shooting at whatever I damn well please, but having to rely on auto-aiming made me feel like I was having my hand held throughout the game
To be fair, there is a nifty “Bond focus” feature that helps tone down this issue. While the authoritarian auto-aiming limits the freedom, hitting another button enables a crosshair and then individual spots on an enemy can be aimed it. It’s the closest thing available to manual aiming available in From Russia With Love, and it manages to be pretty fun for a while. Most enemies have a weak point in the chest, but the best enemies have grenades holstered at their side. Shooting at the grenade knocks it to the floor, and the faceless goon dies from his own blast. This is pretty satisfying, as is shooting the rope that’s holding up those brave baddies that rappel in from the roof. Still, restrictions exist even in this aiming system because oftentimes there is another enemy or a nearby explosive barrel, but you can’t hit it unless you switch targets with the clumsy right analog stick. These targets can be inches from the character you’re focused on, but you’re not allowed to stray from whoever is locked on to.
“There are some serious attempts at pumping out some replay value”James Bond wouldn’t be much without the gadgets given to him by trusty Q, but these inventions, which range from remote controlled exploding helicopters to a laser watch, serve little purpose. All they’re used for is to sometimes advance in obvious puzzles and to get secret items. While they can be used at any time, these doohickeys just don’t work as well as the assault rifle, or even the meager pistol. This means that instead of clever usage of items or stealth, shooting is the only things to do. Fortunately, Bond moves around fairly well, although diving and using walls for cover aren’t as necessary as they should be. This makes the game feel tedious, since the main design of the game is to take a locale from the movie, and then add dozens of idiotic henchmen to help drag out the brief length.
Some levels offer something else to do aside from mowing down generic goons, but the driving portions are so prevalent that even they become tiresome. Bond’s sleek car is armed with tire spikes, machine guns and rockets, though it doesn’t handle as splendidly as it looks. It feels a little loose, which makes the high-speed battles less enjoyable than they could have been. There are also a couple rail-gun levels where Bond is on the back of the boat and needs to take out hordes of boats, armed henchmen, and in the later level, helicopter after helicopter. These segments are satisfying, mainly because there’s no auto-aiming and everything needs to be done manually.
One great thing about From Russia With Love is that, despite its short length, there are some serious attempts at pumping out some replay value. First, each level has a set amount of goals, from killing a certain amount of enemies, to performing a special task, like finding a secret room. Completing the stage on the highest difficulty nets another award. These awards are then used to unlock new stages. While the stages are obviously just bonuses that weren’t given the same attention as the main game, it is rather nice to have some incentive to play well.
Another feature that tries to fix the short runtime and lacking gameplay are the upgradeable weapons. The ammo capacity, rate of fire, and a couple other stats can be increased on most weapons, and even the worthless gadgets can be jacked up by finding objects and scoring well (this is something Bond is good at) in a level. Another modest addition is the split-screen multiplayer mode that would have been more entertaining if it wasn’t for the insultingly basic aiming system. At least different Bond villains, such as Dr. No and Goldfinger can be unlocked. Probably the best unlockable items are brief videos on the development of From Russia With Love. It’s obvious the developers are huge fans of James Bond films, and there’s even an interview with Sean Connery, who seems to love being in a video game, even though I’m sure that at his age he would never bother playing one.
If From Russia With Love could be solely judged on its sheer Bond-ness, it would receive high marks thanks to the stunning music, the incredibly detailed in-game Sean Connery and the excellent voice acting. However, as an actual game, this one just doesn’t do enough to impress. From the moronic auto-aiming to the dull levels, this surely isn’t Bond at its finest. Even to the most die hard Bond fans, this is little more than forgettable diversion.