Released for the PlayStation 2, the Xbox, and the GameCube last year, From Russia With Love is a third-person action game based on the 1963 James Bond movie of the same name. Currently scheduled for release in March is the PlayStation Portable version of From Russia With Love, which promises to offer not only an enhanced single-player experience, but also a number of new multiplayer options for up to six James Bond wannabes. We recently got our first look at From Russia With Love running on the PSP during a meeting with Electronic Arts and were quite impressed with what we saw.
Like its console counterparts, the PSP version of From Russia With Love kicks off with a London-based mission that tasks you with rescuing the prime minister's daughter from kidnappers. After checking out the game's action-packed intro movie, we got to watch an EA representative play through part of the first mission and were impressed by the level of detail in the building interior where much of it takes place. The London mission afforded us our first look at the PSP game's revamped skills upgrade system, which levels up the effectiveness of your weapons on the fly based on how well you use them. The upgrade system will award you "Bond stars" for performing focus shots, hand-to-hand kills, and attack combos, and every star you earn goes toward filling up your upgrade meter. When the upgrade meter for a particular weapon is full, Bond's proficiency with it will improve without your ever needing to visit a menu screen.
Based on what we saw during our presentation, much of your time in From Russia With Love will be spent using the game's lock-on targeting system to shoot at enemies with a minimum of effort. That won't be the most challenging or enjoyable way to play the game, though, which is why the revamped upgrade system is designed to reward you every time you bother to go into focus mode and aim at your enemy manually. New to the PSP game will also be a number of special bonus achievements that you can attempt for every level (to unlock up to 16 minigames as well as additional multiplayer characters), some of which will only be possible to complete if you're aiming manually. Upgrades and unlockables aside, it should also go without saying that it's far more satisfying to take out an enemy with a headshot (or by shooting a grenade from his belt) than to simply lock on with the left shoulder button and pull your trigger with the right.
Because the PSP lacks a right analog stick, which you could use to look around while moving with the left stick, you'll use the square and circle face buttons to look left and right respectively. You won't be able to look up and down while you're moving, but you'll use the analog stick to do so when you're standing still to line up a shot in focus mode or while holding down the left shoulder button to enter look mode. Melee attacks will be performed in much the same way as ranged attacks and will be triggered whenever you attempt to attack an enemy that you're very close to. After landing an initial blow, you'll have a short time to hit one of the four face buttons as the picture of it pops up on the screen. Hitting the correct button will finish off the enemy and award you a Bond star; missing it will leave you vulnerable to an attack from the enemy you failed to put down Sean Connery-style.
In addition to conventional melee and ranged attacks, you will, of course, have access to a number of Bond gadgets. During our presentation, we got to see Bond using both the Q-Copter from the original game, which is small enough to fly through air vents and can be detonated on command, and the all-new Q-Dart--a thrown weapon that targets and incapacitates enemies at close range without the risk of sustaining splash damage as you might from a grenade. We saw the Q-Dart put to good use inside the Russian Consulate in Istanbul--a level that quite accurately re-creates the movie sequence in which a bomb is used to create a distraction so that Bond can get into the building and search for Bond girl Tatiana and the Russian's Lektor decoder. Your arsenal in From Russia With Love also includes a laser watch, a serum gun, grenades, and a bazooka.
The single-player portion of From Russia With Love comprises eight distinct missions that are split up into 32 stages, which means that the game can easily be played for 20 to 30 minutes at a time. The game can be played on operative (easy), agent (medium), and 00 agent (hard) difficulty settings and employs a checkpoint system so you won't have to restart a level from the very beginning if you get killed in action.
In addition to the single-player game, From Russia With Love will support wireless ad hoc play for up to six players. Multiplayer modes on offer will include classic (deathmatch), domination (last man standing), dogfight (classic with jetpacks), and flying ace (domination with jetpacks). When setting up a game, you'll be able to tinker with a number of gameplay options, such as weapon sets, time limits, item respawn times, game speed, and whether players can use radar to locate enemies. All-new options for the PSP will include a new map, Mario Kart-style power-ups that appear as question marks in levels, and bot opponents. Power-ups in multiplayer games will come in plenty of different flavors, not all of which are good, so while one power-up might make you invisible to enemy radars or temporarily increase the amount of damage that your attacks do, another might randomly remap your controls for up to 20 seconds.
We didn't see enough multiplayer action during our time with From Russia With Love to comment on how intelligent the bots were, but the option to include up to five of them at varying difficulty levels is sure to be a welcome addition to the game for any of you lacking PSP-owning friends, which would otherwise be necessary to get a multiplayer game going. One particularly neat feature of the multiplayer game is that while you're in the middle of a match with bots, any of your friends who show up will be able to jump into your game, which kicks one of the bots out in the process.
From Russia With Love, then, looks like a game that will work well on the PSP and that, thanks to some new features, could improve upon its home console counterparts quite significantly. We'll bring you more information on From Russia With Love as soon as it becomes available.