We've seen plenty of the single-player components of the soon-to-be-released From Russia With Love. But since GoldenEye 007 on the Nintendo 64, each new Bond game has had players asking one question above all others: "How's the multiplayer?" We decided to find out the answer to that question with a hands-on preview of the multiplayer component of the new game. Online play wasn't available just yet, so we went back to the series' roots for some good old-fashioned split-screen battles.
From Russia With Love supports split-screen matches for up to four players on each of the consoles (obviously requiring a multitap for the PlayStation 2 version). Right off the bat, you're given two options, play now or survival royale. The former lets you set up a match to your specifications. You can choose your level, game type, victory conditions, and weapon sets, and decide whether you want radar and gadgets on or off.
Survival royale is the best choice for tournament-style play, or if you and your friends want to have an uninterrupted marathon gaming session. Survival royale is basically several games played in succession, with the person with the highest score at the end being the winner. You can set it up so each match is exactly the same, or you can randomize the matches to keep things interesting.
While playing in survival royale mode, players earn credits based on how they perform during each match, and there are also credit multipliers to pick up. These credits are used to buy upgrades between rounds. Upgrades fall into four categories: offense, defense, tech, and inventory. Offensive upgrades include armor piercing ammo, an extra clip, rapid fire, and an endless clip. Defensive upgrades include advanced armor, stealth kits, and regenerating armor. In the tech department, you can get tech skills, and tech expertise, which both increase your speed at activating traps. A weapon stash upgrade is also available, which makes you spawn with the weapons you had when you were disabled.
You can also purchase a lucky charm, which increases your chances of getting good power-ups. Inventory upgrades include various weapons, which, once purchased, you'll automatically spawn with. Each upgrade costs a certain number of credits, and if you don't have enough you can save them up over several rounds so you can buy the more powerful upgrades later on. For instance, if you want to spawn with a platinum gun every time, you'll have to save up 50 credits. That takes a little while, since you'll usually get fewer than 20 credits each match. By default, the winner of each round will get the most credits, but you can reverse that so the loser gets more credits, or you can turn off upgrades entirely.
We tried out three different gameplay modes in From Russia With Love: classic, dogfight, and sabotage. Classic is your basic deathmatch game, in which you simply try to kill as many of your enemies as possible while making sure they don't kill you. Actually, we use the term "kill" out of familiarity, but in the game you don't kill anyone, you merely "disable" them. Dogfight is a jetpacks-only match in which you fly around and blast each other with machine guns or missiles. Sabotage is a variation of capture the flag, in which a bomb is placed on the map and you have to grab it and plant it on the opposing team's base. When you have the bomb, your life slowly drains; you can't just snag it and go hide somewhere. There are also sentry guns guarding your opponent's base, so you have to be careful when choosing your route to place the bomb. You can play any of the games with teams, and of course, sabotage requires team play, though you can still play with as few as two players.
There were seven multiplayer maps available to us in the game, but hopefully there will be more to unlock as you play the single-player game. The maps range from a hedge maze to a missile silo and an underground train station. Some maps have vehicles you can hop into, like a tank and a jetpack. There are also traps located in each level, which you can activate if you find the right switch. For instance, in one map we flipped a switch that flooded one of the rooms with poison gas, which killed our opponent instantly. These traps are an interesting addition to the multiplayer game, but it can be difficult to time it correctly to hit your enemy. There are also some other hazards in the levels. On one level, we shot a chandelier that then fell on top of our opponent, resulting in an instant kill.
The weapons in the multiplayer game range from shotguns and pistols to bazookas and the legendary golden gun. From Russia With Love features an autolock system that makes gunfights seem a bit simplistic. You can simply hold a button to lock on to a target, then blast away until your target is disabled. If you get close, you'll automatically switch to melee and start beating the crap out of your enemy. Oddly, punches and pistol-whips inflict much more damage than shotgun blasts or even magnum rounds. The multiplayer game here would benefit from an option to turn off lock-on aiming. If you have lock-on aiming with the golden gun, you become almost unstoppable.
Overall, it seems like there could be some fun to be had with multiplayer in From Russia With Love. There are some balance issues due to the overpowered melee attacks and the lock-on aiming, but things like fixed traps and interactive environments add a nice bit of variety to the gameplay. We were also intrigued by the survival royale mode, which seems as though it could be a lot of fun for long multiplayer gaming sessions. From Russia With Love ships next week, so be sure to check back here for our full review soon.