The license is not enough.
If you think your life is beginning to feel scripted and chock full of regularity, just look at the life of James Bond. Every movie, every book - it's the same thing, over and over. Sure, it might be a life of fast cars, fast women, and fast bullets, but think of where it's all headed. I mean, did any of you see over-the-hill Sean Connery fumble through the nightmare of Never Say Never Again? It's almost like watching a geriatric Hugh Hefner running amuck. Not a pretty picture. Instead of depending on Bond to always get his fill of action, you can count on Bond to always fill his Depends.
While Bond has somehow managed to remain ageless, his video games haven't. Agent Under Fire, the latest in Bond games, is a first-person shooter built upon a recycled formula. At least there's some variety with shooting-on-rails and driving stages, but it's hard to overcome the pervasive feeling of dated gameplay. AUF is best served stirred among the company of friends through the Goldeneye-esque multiplayer.
The story behind Agent Under Fire is an original hodge-podge of old Bond movies. Once again, the world is in peril, this time involving some sort of DNA cloning plot. Bond himself looks like the secret love child of Pierce Brosnan, Roger Moore, and a young Sean Connery. Don't forget the requisite pretty babes and nerdy villain. Sadly, no Korean guy in a Bowl Hat.
The FPS controls resemble the Medal of Honor series. Console shooter controls tend to be structured differently by game, so this setup might take some getting used to for some. There are alternate setups, but AUF lacks customizable controls and a keyboard and mouse option. Guess those USB ports on the PS2 will just have to remain unused.
Along with some semi-familiar weaponry, Bond has a host of Q-gadgets to complete multiple tasks. The item inventory is a bit lunky and it gets annoying scrolling just to get to a certain weapon. Unfortunately, you are unable to swap your weapons while paused.
The game tries to add some flair by including "Bond moves." These dashing acts of daring-do seem to require simply blowing crap up. For example, Bond is awarded for shooting an oilcan, thereby exploding an enemy, giving him third degree burns and scarring him for life. Some Bond moves are naturally awarded with progression through the level. There's even a Bond move awarded for barging into a lady's dressing room.
After you finish a level, your Bond moves are tallied up along with the completion time and other statistics. If you play well enough, you earn extras such as new weapons for multiplayer. AUF tries to add more replay by scattering Bond tokens around the completed stages. Collecting all the tokens on top of other criteria will earn additional awards, like new multiplayer levels.
AUF takes you through some classic Bond scenery. Hong Kong, Bucharest, and plenty of evil lairs make for adequate backdrops. Even though Bond is racking up the frequent flyer miles, his visits are short. These areas are heavily linear and limited.
Like its misogynistic dinosaur of a hero, Agent Under Fire is a bit behind the times. Due to its hardcore linearity, the game bluntly pushes you through scripted events rather than inspiring a sense of adventure and intrigue. Walk 5 paces forward. Shoot grappling hook up. Duck down. Walk 10 paces forward. Turn around and shoot a guy in the head. The scripting is severe and unwavering. After experiences such as Half-Life and Halo, where AI and scripting are used to create a sense of an environment, AUF seems ready for the rest home.
The big problem is that, well, there isn't really any problems to solve at all. Right when you think some kind of clever action or maneuver is required to get past a tricky bit, you realize the answer is smack dab in plain sight with big neon signs pointing out the way.
Enemy AI is dull and repetitive. You'll kill most baddies by simple strafing and shooting. Must be evil henchmen from the temp-agency. Even the levels where you are required to do some sneaking feel so limited in comparison to games where the enemy AI is given more freedom.
Thankfully, the whole game isn't subpar first-person fragging. The addition of some genuinely fun third-person driving levels breaks up the monotony. It's kind of like Crazy Taxi where you are given a large city environment, except you must pick up objects and disable enemies. Still, replaying these stages reveals the ugly truth of a repetitive game experience.
The multiplayer keeps Bond's head above water. Lucky for us, they've followed the Goldeneye formula and created a high-res counterpart. It can be quite fun. At the least, AUF will remind you of the good ol' Bond-ing sessions you enjoyed during Goldeneye's heyday.
Unfortunately, the game doesn't allow you to add bots to multiplayer like in Timesplitters, so you better have a few friends handy. AUF could have used some digital dates for Bond to flesh out the multiplayer experience. The graphics are slick and polished. Explosions look great and the framerate is solid. The facial animations for Bond are very impressive with sarcastic nuances to match his bad puns. I wish the design allowed more level exploration.
AUF continuously pounds the Bond theme into your head. At least you get different arrangements and mixes of the theme, as well as the classic refrain every time you snag another Bond point. The voice acting is right on the moneypenny. M, Bond, and R sound like their real life counterparts. Bond has the favored Connery voice, which is great.
But the scripted adventures of Agent Under Fire aren't. While it's got some good moments and fun multiplayer, the short, bland single-player game makes this better suited as a rental than anything else.