British secret agent James Bond has had many varied adventures in books and on the silver screen, and he's always managed to thwart evil, get some action, and look incredibly cool while doing so. However, 007's track record has been considerably sketchier on the video game front. Fortunately, the last few years have found the MI6 agent with a license to finally find a solid stride in EA's games. The Redwood City-based publisher has made some savvy choices, which have made for solid games that have managed to both stay true to the license and offer good gameplay. The latest title to star agent Bond, James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing for the GameCube, PlayStation 2, and Xbox, tweaks the formula a bit, thanks to some codevelopment between EA's Redwood Shores and Canadian studios. We had a chance to try our hand at work-in-progress versions of the game--on all three platforms--and are pleased to report that the game offers one the most promising experiences yet.
The game's story, an original tale that would be perfectly serviceable as the plot for a film, offers all the thrills you'd expect from a Bond adventure and manages to toss in more than a few nods to fans of the film franchise. As always, James is hot on the heels of a villain. In this case, the villain is a surly Russian named Nikolai Diavolo, a former KGB officer who is unhappy with how Russia has changed. Apparently, he has some plans for the world. By "plans," we mean "world domination." While most would-be world dominators would say, "I want to take over the world, but in today's competitive market, what can I do?" Diavolo has an edge, thanks to his tutelage under the late Max Zorin, who plummeted to his death after a fight with Bond on the Golden Gate Bridge in 1985's "A View to a Kill." However, whereas previous evildoers have had to rely on elaborate devices, including enormous bombs and even biological weapons, due to the magic of technology, Diavolo is poised to use the smallest army known to man to do his bidding--nanobots. Specifically, Diavolo plans on unleashing nanobots, which have been designed to take over computer systems, on the world. As always, James' main task is spiced up by the inclusion of some sexy ladies and an investigation into the death of yet another MI6 agent. (We've noticed that the turnover rate at MI6 is rather high, what with James' fellow agents exhibiting a penchant for dropping like flies in tough situations.) Given Nikolai's full schedule of scheming, he's had to contract out for some muscle, which explains the appearance of a familiar menace from 007's past. Fans will be pleased to see OG-menace Jaws--the henchman who sported blingin' teeth before it was fashionable--on hand to make like a demented, impossible-to-kill Energizer Bunny of pain.
You'll find two main modes to choose from in the game, single-player and multiplayer. Single-player mode is the core of the game, and it sends you off to stop Nikolai. The multiplayer mode features a coopertive mode and three games--race, scramble, and arena--for you to play with up to four friends in split-screen.
The game's structure follows a linear flow, which alternates between gameplay and cinematic sequences that move the story along. The gameplay itself breaks down into a few different types of action. At its most basic, the game offers on-foot and vehicle segments. The on-foot game will, as usual, pit you against a veritable army of highly armed foes who want nothing more than to kill you in a third-person perspective. But, as always, James comes armed with a respectable--and deadly--assortment of gadgets and firearms to help even the odds. You'll find a solid selection of pistols and rifles to choose from, although you can actually make use of your enemies' weapons in a pinch. On the gadget-side of things, Q has offered up some gems to use. The Q Spider is a remote control unit that you can use to access new areas, recover objects, and eventually take out enemies. Grenades come in coin-sized explosives with varying properties that come in very handy when squaring off against enemies in confined spaces. The sleeper-dart gun lets you quietly take out enemies. The handiest new gadget is the rappel, which lets you fearlessly race down the side of buildings or lets you climb up the side of them. You earn the gadgets and upgrades for them as you progress through the game. As you finish each stage, you're rated on your performance so that you can get a feel for what secrets you've missed. In addition to your standard objectives on each level, you're able to trigger "Bond moments" that basically ask you to perform specific actions--all of them invariably cool-looking--at key points in the level. The moments range from slick moves, like taking out clusters of enemies, to finding some time to mack on the ladies as you dodge danger.
The vehicle sequences offer quite a bit of variety, which helps keep the game's pacing tight. While James, of course, has his swanky Porsche Cayenne Turbo--that's armed to the teeth and can actively cloak itself--it's just one of the vehicles Q has sorted him out with. You'll also get to use an Aston Martin V12 Vanquish and a Triumph Daytona 600 bike. Cool wheels aside, Bond will adapt if the situation calls for it. As a result, you'll find yourself piloting helicopters, tanks, and motorcycles, among other things, in your quest to stop Nikolai.
Despite the varied gameplay, the game's control is responsive and transitions smoothly to various styles. James' range of action in the third-person sequences encompasses everything a good spy needs to kick ass. Aside from weapons proficiency, you're able to engage in hand-to-hand combat, and you can perform a number of stealth actions. When driving a car, the controls are tight and responsive, which may have a little something to do with EAC's work on last year's Need for Speed Underground games.
The graphics in the game are looking very sharp, thanks to a powerful and versatile graphics engine, strong art direction, and a keen attention to detail. You'll immediately be struck by the character models used for the primary cast. All the major players from the film cast have been scanned and skinned onto their virtual counterparts, which results in great-looking character models. The original characters introduced in the game benefit from the process as well, which shows off the star talent pulled into the game. You'll see R&B chanteuse Mya, supermodel Heidi Klum, and actors Richard Kiel and Willem Dafoe brought to virtual life alongside Pierce Brosnan, Judi Dench, and John Cleese. The visuals are complemented by motion-captured animation that helps sell the whole character package. However, the graphics engine doesn't just pump out highly detailed characters. The environments, which are set across the globe, are varied, expansive, and sport a comparable level of detail as well. The variety holds true regardless of whether you're roaming through a complex or racing after a train through a canyon. You'll also find that there is a certain measure of interactivity with the environment, which is shown in painful detail when everything around you blows up more often than you'd like. Despite the onscreen craziness, the game's frame rate manages to hold steadily. As far as how the experience breaks down across the platforms, the Xbox version looks and moves the best. The texture quality and special effects come off smoothly on the system without bogging down the frame rate. Second place finds the PS2 game slightly edging out the GameCube version in terms of overall quality, although they could both use some tightening up. The frame rate and clarity in both look good, but they're not great. However, given how well last year's multiplatform offerings turned out, we expect some work to be done on them.
The game's audio includes a good mix of music, effects, and voice. The music stays true to the feel of the tunes you'd hear in a Bond flick. (In such cases as the theme, it is the same music.) The sound effects are good and do a fine job of immersing you in the action. The voice in the game has a bit of an unfair advantage over most games, thanks to the boatload of actors on hand who bring the characters to life. While there are a few odd bits in delivery, the voice in the game is very good overall.
From what we've seen so far, James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing may end up being the best Bond game in a good long while. The combination of graphics, gameplay, and story provide a promising mix that should make a potent final game. Anyone looking for some cool spy action would do well to keep an eye out for the game. James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing is currently slated to ship next month for the GameCube, PlayStation 2, and Xbox. Look for more on the title soon.