Can I have a third choice?
Like most 8 year-old boys, I had a love affair with 007. When asked what I wanted to be when I grew up I would without hesitation snarl, "Bond, James Bond." Then I'd provocatively raise an eyebrow in between sips of my fake martini…shaken, not stirred.
Unfortunately, Christmas requests for flame-throwers, exploding toothpaste and BMWs were all prudently disregarded, and my dream of being a suave, womanizing alcoholic was supplanted by more mature fantasies, such as getting paid to review video games.
Having just completed James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing, I feel a bit better about failing to become a secret agent for the deadly MI6 agency, as every agent other than Bond has a penchant for dying. And even though Bond does get all the women before the game ends, he gets shot approximately a thousand times for his troubles.
This new Bond is a remarkably complex and dynamic game, a study in exquisite production value and is practically an interactive James Bond film. Though not without its missteps, it's about as close as most of us will come to being a super spy.
Even the pacing feels lifted from a 007 flick. You start the game in some remote, dangerous location and manage to blow everything up and kill everybody in an outstanding action sequence, complete with missile-launchers, tanks and harrier jets. Then the original theme rolls and the opening Bond montage begins. Needless to say, EoN is bursting with awesome, cinematic action sequences that are worked into the game perfectly.
However, the story isn't told very well. After explaining that a man named Nikolai Diavolo is masterminding an evil plot involving lethal nano-technology, the narrative takes a backseat to the action. EoN's story isn't well-phrased; you travel to too many locations, meet too many women and do too little. The problem here is that plot details aren't sown into the levels enough. While the designers did a fine job with plot-related mission objectives as well as having M and Q chime in frequently (a nice, immersive touch), there simply aren't that many developments that have anything to do with the overarching story.
So the action in EoN steps to the forefront and takes place in three forms: stealth, shoot-outs and driving sequences. Bond's stealth elements are the weakest of the three. While he gets props for using a silenced PPK, dart gun, hand-to-hand takedowns and throwable objects such as wrenches and bottles, Bond can't drag his enemies away and sometimes it's hard to tell what exactly qualifies as being stealthy. The problem is that EoN lacks a set of stealth rules like those found in Metal Gear Solid and Splinter Cell. In those games, you knew your stealth parameters and could concentrate on operating within them. In Bond, the laws are far less consistent; if you want to sneak around successfully you have to resort to a lot of trial and error and a good deal of luck.
But the weakness of the stealth game might be a direct result of the excellence of the shooting and driving sequences. EoN is played from a third-person perspective and Bond does all his targeting via lock-on. Bond can cycle through targets by pressing the lock-on button repeatedly or by nudging the right analog-stick in the direction of the desired target. He can also aim at specific areas on a target by moving the right stick; this in turn moves a red bead within the targeting reticule and is how you get your head-shots and crotch shots. It works well by giving you the ease of auto-aim with the flexibility of specific body-part targeting.
Unfortunately, there is no manual aiming feature, which means that if an enemy is far away (and therefore outside your lock-on range) your only recourse is to shoot at it with a sniper rifle. So much for long range pistol kills.
In order to shoot inanimate objects in EoN, you have to enter Bond Sense mode by pressing a direction on the D-Pad. Time is slowed way down, and any usable, shootable, or killable thing in the vicinity is highlighted by a red targeting reticule. From here you can target the thing in question, switch weapons, or go into thermal vision or stealth-suit modes. Bond Sense is also important in that it allows you to detect opportunities for Bond Moments, which range from shooting gas-cans and blowing up lots of guards to successfully killing all the guards in a room without making any noise to squishing a bunch of guards under a chandelier. These moments are often cinematic and give you a reason to play levels several times, which adds to the value of the game.
The shootouts are fairly slow-paced, often having you fire back and forth at bad guys from behind a corner or boxes much like in a Bond film. They're also somewhat difficult thanks to great AI on the part of your enemies, who will regularly hide around corners and tables, throw grenades, and randomly spray bullets in your direction from the safety of their hiding places.
However, enemies do exhibit repetitive behavior and at times you'll sit there waiting for an enemy to pop his head out so you can shoot him in it. The enemies know you're trying to kill them, though, and so they tend to sit tight if you keep shooting. Then you have to not shoot and wait for them to run out into the open, which involves more sitting around. As a result, you get some real lulls in the action.
But never fear - the driving segments in EoN are aided by the Need for Speed engine and are absolutely the most action-packed sequences in the game. Bond gets to tear around in a Porsche Cayenne, a pimped-out Aston Martin, a motorcycle, a helicopter, and some other ones I won't spoil for you. It's just great fun driving around like a maniac, a feature made even more thrilling by the burly Spy Hunter style weapons.
And intensity is the name of the game. The enemies are smart, come from several directions at once and can hurt Bond fast. As a result, you've got to be extremely careful; simply running through an area can get you killed quickly. Even though the pace of the game is slow, it can be very wild, especially since there are no in-game saves.
It wouldn't be Bond without gadgets, and EoN doesn't disappoint. A hand-held grappling hook launcher that allows him to scale and rappel buildings makes an appearance and leads to some really cool moments, as do the handy little Q reconnaissance spider bots. Gotta miss the watch laser, though. I always wanted one of those.
The look of EoN is impressive. Good textures and huge, believable environments bring the world of 007 to life. It's a very vibrant game brimming with nice touches like shattering glass and ammo shells. Unfortunately, framerate dips are common in pretty much every portion of the game across all three systems, though it never actually impedes the fun. As usual the Xbox version looks the best, but none look bad.
EoN goes the distance aurally as well, featuring a ton of Hollywood actors. Pierce Brosnan, John Cleese, Judi Dench and Willem DaFoe stand out, while Shannon Elizabeth, Heidi Klum and Mya merely get the job done. The enemies talk to each other while you're fighting, the gun noises are great and the cars sound, well, like cars should.
The game slips up a bit when it comes to multiplayer. Cooperative play rules the day on all three systems, with missions and levels different from anything you'll find in the single-player game. However, it completely lacks a plot and only requires real team-work in limited, simple capacities. The PS2 version is the only one online, though that just means you can play the marginal co-op with a stranger. The only deathmatch option takes the form of a silly arena mode that gets old in about 15 minutes. I suppose the weak multiplayer is a result of the third-person gameplay, but it's still a bummer.
Overall, though, James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing isn't. High production values, exciting vehicle sequences and the cool Bond Moments outweigh the tedious shooting bits and subpar stealth modes, leading to a solid use of the license. It might not shake the foundation of the action genre, but at least it stirs up some good fun.