Why Do I Keep Playing Movie Games? ‘James Bond’ Edition

By March 5, 2014
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The last time I talked about playing a movie-to-game translation, for last year’s Star Trek, I only focused on the single experience. In truth, like a lot of licensed franchises, the entirety of Star Trek’s video gaming history has produced a lot of good-to-great gaming experiences. In fact, I’d like to think that there are more good Trek games than bad ones. So, for this edition of “Why Do I Keep Playing Movie Games?”, I’ve decided to cast a bit of a wider net as far as covering more examples of a gaming franchise.

Perhaps one of modern cinema’s most defining icons is MI6’s most cunning secret agent, James Bond. The Bond franchise, spearheaded by Albert R. Broccoli’s Eon Productions, has produced a staggering 23 films in 50 years, and as a result, the James Bond franchise is one of the most beloved cinematic franchises on the planet. Unsurprisingly, video game developers have wanted to get in on some Bond action for as long as the technology of home consoles has existed, and the results have ranged both from bottom-of-the-barrel godawful to cream-of-the-crop spectacular.

Solid but somewhat forgettable, Agent Under Fire kicked off Bond's 21st century of gaming pretty well.

Solid but somewhat forgettable, Agent Under Fire kicked off Bond’s 21st century of gaming pretty well.

In the space that I have here, I can’t go into the entirety of the James Bond video game franchise, so instead what I’m going to do is focus on the last two generations of home consoles that Bond games heave appeared on thus far: the sixth (Xbox/PS2/GameCube) and seventh (Xbox 360/PS3/Wii). Bond has yet to bow on the latest generation of consoles, but there were a staggering nine games released between 2001 and 2012, and even in just those examples, there’s almost as much variety in quality as the films they’re based on! So, why do I keep playing movie games? Let’s take a look at Bond’s examples, and see if we can get a little closer to an answer.

2001 – 007: Agent Under Fire

The very first Bond game released on the sixth generation had a lot to live up to. You see, 1997’s GoldenEye 007 on the Nintendo 64 holds the reputation as probably the absolute best film-to-game adaptation in existence, and when Electronic Arts picked up the Bond license in the late 1990’s, they were going to do their damnedest to try and claim some of that glory for themselves. Agent Under Fire was their first effort on the newer game hardware, and the result is, actually, surprisingly good! Having said that, it also stands as kind of…forgettable.

I qualify Agent Under Fire as being a good game, but in a few places it tries a little too hard to be GoldenEye resurgent. This game is a first-person shooter (or FPS), and while it feels somewhat related to GoldenEye for that fact alone, it doesn’t manage to do as much with its new hardware to carve a truly unique niche for itself, except for some fun driving sequences. Multiplayer was fun for a party, but also not as memorable as some other, more recent efforts in that department.

Also a little odd was the fact that this is a game undoubtedly based on the characterizations and situations of the Bond film franchise, but all the likenesses are unique. Bond himself looks like a cross between Pierce Brosnan and Roger Moore, which is kind of a cool amalgamation, but why couldn’t EA secure some likenesses? In the end it still manages to be a fun diversion, but it’s not the best that Bond has produced in gaming.

Aww yeah! That's...Bond...I think?

Aww yeah! That’s…Bond…I think?

Nightfire is largely considered one of the best post-N64 Bond games, and is still totally worth playing.

Nightfire is largely considered one of the best post-N64 Bond games, and is still totally worth playing.

2002 – James Bond 007: Nightfire

I have fond memories of Nightfire, because it was the very first game I played on my brand new, shiny platinum-colored GameCube. I received the system for my 15th birthday in 2002, but didn’t have any games for it yet, so I went to a relic of a place called a “video store” and rented Nightfire to try out on my new hardware. Like Agent Under Fire, Nightfire is also a first-person shooter, but in many ways just feels bigger and better than its predecessor. Driving sequences are a bit more punchy, environments and textures are bigger and better, and they actually got Pierce Brosnan’s likeness for Bond! The different voice actor isn’t that great, but we actually had a Bond that looked like the then-current steward of the role!

The story is a little bombastic, though not quite as much so as Agent Under Fire, and feels like it’s perfectly in tune with the time in which the game was released. I think that’s the major difference between Nightfire and Agent Under Fire just as games: one was dipping its proverbial toe in the water of new hardware and capabilities, while this one feels like it’s more readily embracing the capabilities of what systems like the PS2, Xbox, and GameCube really have to offer. The end result is a more rounded gameplay experience, that certainly wowed my 15-year old brain when I first played it.

Nightfire is solid all the way around. Level design is a bit simplistic by today’s standards, but it was an engaging and fun single player experience with a lot of different choices for how to handle certain situations. You could go in guns blazing like Timothy Dalton, or take a stealthy Sean Connery approach if you wanted. Whatever suited you best, and that kind of reactive experience easily makes Nightfire a highlight of Bond gaming history.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gDqfHIV64B4

It's like an untold story of Brosnan's Bond, which makes it pretty awesome!

It’s like an untold story of Brosnan’s Bond, which makes it pretty awesome!

2004 – James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing

Another highlight of Bond gaming, Everything or Nothing is the first game in the series that feels like it could be a legitimate adventure of the fabled secret agent not covered by one of the films. Unlike Nightfire, Pierce Brosnan provides both likeness and voice to the game, and he brings with him John Cleese as Q and Judi Dench as M. Richard Kiel also comes back, lending his voice and likeness to classic Bond henchman Jaws!

Willem Dafoe, Heidi Klum, and Shannon Elizabeth all round out the cast of the game, with a rousing single player story and some great gameplay mechanics. Unlike the last couple of games, Everything or Nothing is a third-person shooter/adventure game, which leads me to think of it as a far more cinematic experience than an FPS can ever hope to be, and some new rappelling mechanics, some pretty good performances by the cast, and the good story by GoldenEye and Tomorrow Never Dies writer Bruce Feirstein really lead me to feel like this game could be Bond’s next on-screen adventure after Die Another Day. Because this game came out just over a year after that film, this stands as Brosnan’s last performance as Bond, and I’d gladly take this game over that movie as a last hurrah for Brosnan any day.

2004 – GoldenEye: Rogue Agent

We’re back to a Bond game that stands as an FPS, and is really only included on this list incidentally. It’s called GoldenEye, but has nothing to do with the film or N64 game of the same name, and you don’t even play as James Bond in it. You play as, yep, a “rogue agent” who’s hired by Auric Goldfinger to assassinate his chief rival: Dr. No. It includes some other well-known Bond film characters like Pussy Galore, Francisco Scaramanga (the eponymous “Man with the Golden Gun”), Xenia Onatopp, and Goldfinger’s right hand, Oddjob.

I have to give the game’s writers credit: this is a creative use of the classic characters. Unfortunately, Rogue Agent stands as a rather bland shooter experience, doing no justice to its adopted name, and really only making for an updated FPS experience for players that wanted a party game with better graphics. Split-screen multiplayer was fun, but unremarkable. In fact, the biggest kick I got out of this game was in playing multiplayer in a map resembling Fort Knox from the Goldfinger film. That was about the extent of my enjoyment with this one.

This image might trick you into thinking that this game is cool...but it's not that great.

This image might trick you into thinking that this game is cool…but it’s not that great.

2005 – 007: From Russia With Love

Now THIS was more like it! A return to the gameplay mechanics and style of Everything or Nothing, except it’s a return to the classic Bond of the 1960s. Not only is it a visual return to that period, but Sean Connery HIMSELF would be providing the voice of Bond, playing the character for the first time since Never Say Never Again!

The game really does feel like a celebration of the entire Connery era of James Bond films, since it has a portion featuring not just the classic Aston Martin or the dry quips of Bond himself, but also the jetpack from Thunderball along with a couple of other surprises along the way. If you love those Connery films, it’s hard not to smile from ear-to-ear when playing some parts of this game, since it does such a great job in evoking the period its representing.

I remember bracing for disappointment with this one, but to my infinite delight, there was very little to be found. From Russia With Love may not follow the plot of the film exactly (Blofeld’s SPECTRE organization is replaced with OCTOPUS due to rights issues), but placing a Bond game back in the era that made the film series so legendary to begin with was a terrific place to begin. Squaring off against classic villains like Red Grant and Rosa Klebb made it even better, and for any classic Bond fan, I’d still qualify this as a must-play.

It's hard to get better than the original Bond, and for Bond games it doesn't get much better than From Russia With Love.

It’s hard to get better than the original Bond, and for Bond games it doesn’t get much better than From Russia With Love.

When playing this, you'll likely be thinking, "Duty...Call of Duty" instead of the other thing.

When playing this, you’ll likely be thinking, “Duty…Call of Duty” instead of the other thing.

2008 – 007: Quantum of Solace

By this point, the Bond license had passed from Electronic Arts to the folks at Activision, publishers of the powerhouse Call of Duty franchise. Quantum of Solace is another first-person shooter, but its strategy for making a Bond game takes a bit of a different approach by adopting a third-person cover-based shooting element. While the game can be played from the regular first-person point of view, it encourages you to get behind cover, where the camera then shifts to a third-person perspective and has you dispatch enemies from there. Oddly enough, the game is powered by the same engine as that of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, and though you can see some similarities, the third-person element makes it more unique.

This is also the first video game release of the Daniel Craig era of Bond, and features both the new actor’s likeness and voice. While the game is entitled Quantum of Solace after the Bond film of the same name, it actually depicts events from both that film and 2006’s Casino Royale, and I’d argue that the levels based on the earlier film are more fun. With Craig comes the voices and likenesses of Olga Kurylenko (Camille from Quantum), Mathieu Amalric (Dominic from Quantum), Eva Green (Vesper from Casino), Mads Mikkelsen (Le Chiffre from Casino), and, of course, Judi Dench.

Overall, while not as bad as some people seem to say it is, Quantum of Solace again becomes a rather forgettable FPS game. Playing through memorable scenes in Casino Royale is fun (were there any memorable scenes in Quantum of Solace?), but the novelty wears off relatively quickly, and what you’re left with is something of a Call of Duty clone with Daniel Craig’s face.

2010 – James Bond 007: Blood Stone

A return to the same concept as Everything or Nothing, and released during a time when the Bond film franchise’s future was in limbo, Blood Stone had a lot of great elements to make it a fantastic game: it was a third-person shooter, it featured likenesses and voices of Daniel Craig and Judi Dench, and featured a British pop singer who both sang the title song (for a Bond game? Pretty cool) and played the story’s “Bond girl.” The story was again written by Bruce Feirstein, and for the time in which it was released, featured some pretty terrific visuals.

Something about this game, though, just doesn’t add up. Driving sequences are back and look pretty great, but controlling the cars is kind of a maddening exercise. The story itself, while well-written and perfectly coherent, doesn’t always feel like it needs the skills of James Bond to be told correctly. But really, other than those gripes, Blood Stone does a serviceable job and is a perfectly playable Bond game. Being “okay” is far from being downright bad, and there are definitely moments where this game makes you feel like the modern badass Bond we’ve come to expect from Daniel Craig. Especially when he’s punching henchmen in the throat.

A solid return to form, this stands as the best modern Bond FPS.

A solid return to form, this stands as the best modern Bond FPS.

2011 – GoldenEye 007: Reloaded

Originally released on Wii in 2010, GoldenEye Reloaded is an upgraded high definition port of the Wii game for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Basically, this is a game that attempts to remake and upgrade the N64 classic, and it does a surprisingly awesome job! The single player experience features Daniel Craig’s Bond, not Pierce Brosnan’s as the film did, because it attempts to present the GoldenEye story in a modern context. Resulting from this is a change in the circumstances of 006’s plot with the GoldenEye satellite, as well as a story with enough production value and story twists to make this really feel like an adventure that Craig’s Bond could’ve gone on in between Quantum of Solace and Skyfall.

Bruce Feirstein is back again as the game’s story writer, and since he helped write the original film, this really does feel like quite a good modernization of the original story. We’re back to FPS game mechanics, but the inclusion of Bond’s unique smartphone for accomplishing tasks and an engine that feels like something culled from the N64 game’s solid shooting mechanics (with a couple of modern additions) helps to make the new GoldenEye a very solid game. On top of that, split-screen multiplayer is back, and almost just as fun as the old days in front of the N64.

No. Just...no.

No. Just…no.

2012 – 007 Legends

So, really, what went wrong here? You have the same developer, the same publisher, and some of the best moments in cinematic history to take from, and the resulting game somehow becomes one of the lamest Bond games ever released! The intent of 007 Legends was to celebrate fifty years of the James Bond film franchise, so it takes one film from each of the actor’s tenures – Goldfinger from Connery, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service from Lazenby, Moonraker from Moore, License to Kill from Dalton, Die Another Day from Brosnan, and Skyfall from Craig – and tries to create some first-person shooter levels out of them.

The result, unfortunately, kind of ends up doing a disservice to the films it’s trying to recreate, because the siege on Fort Knox from Goldfinger just doesn’t end up playing well when translated like this. It also tried to take one of the more meritorious aspects of GoldenEye Reloaded by updating the situations and putting Craig’s Bond in these stories, but it just doesn’t seem to work as well as it did in the dedicated GoldenEye experience. On top of that, a poor mimic of Daniel Craig provides Bond’s voice, and it’s just…just awful.

While there’s a certain novelty in seeing these scenes rendered in a 3D FPS game, it wears off quickly, and may end up baffling you with the choices they made. Moonraker? Die Another Day? REALLY?!

Some changes to the engine also makes it frustrating. Unlike GoldenEye, enemy bodies don’t disappear upon death, and the A.I. is so hyper-aware of everything going on in the game that stealth missions are ridiculously difficult. Parts of the game also just look sloppy, which makes this a poor note to end on.

Conclusions

Currently, no video game developer has the rights to the Bond franchise, which is too bad. We’re still about 2 years away from seeing the next film, and not having any games to fill the void will make the wait painful. Overall, this broader look at the entire Bond gaming franchise is designed to show you that it’s not all bad news when it comes to licensed games. The vast majority of Bond games I’ve played have been great, and that’s without even going back to the N64 days. So, for the most part, games from the James Bond franchise help keep me coming back to movie-based games.

The adage of licensed games not being very good is still apt in other places (which I’ll get into soon), but when it comes to 007, I’m glad that, for the most part, gamers have been able to have some fun with one of the most classic characters and franchises in the history of cinema. The games have largely shaken and stirred me in the right ways, and I hope that the best examples will be a guiding light to whichever developer picks up the Walther PPK next.

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Chris Clow
As a former comics retailer at a store in the Pacific Northwest, Chris Clow is an enormous sci-fi, comics, and film geek. He is a freelance contributor, reviewer, podcaster, and overall geek to GeekNation, Batman-On-Film.com, The Huffington Post, and Movies.com. He also hosts the monthly Comics on Consoles broadcast and podcast. Check out his blog, and follow him on Twitter @ChrisClow.