Agent Under Fire Preview
We take a close look at EA's upcoming Bond game.
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Thanks in part to the efforts of Rare Ltd., games based on the 007 property have become relatively hot. EA now holds the license, and, as the deluge of recent games based on it have made evident, the publisher is not squandering it. The latest game to bare James Bond's likeness has been in development, in some form, for quite a while. Now titled James Bond In...Agent Under Fire, the game was originally the PS2 version of the Quake III engine-powered The World Is Not Enough. For reasons unknown, however, the publisher decided that the game would follow another path altogether. What resulted is a Bond game that seems to want to capture, interactively, all the elements that have made the famous series so memorable.
Agent Under Fire bears no ties to any existing Bond narrative. Rather, the development team worked with seasoned scriptwriters, along with license holders MGM and Danjaq, to craft an original Bond story. The result is a story populated mostly by new characters and a couple of Bond mainstays, such as M, R, and, of course, Q. All throughout, you'll venture, as James Bond, to a variety of fitting locales: Monaco, China, and Hungary, among others. Aside from the level of freedom granted by this kind of deviation, EA mentioned that part of its motive was to present a story whose twists would truly surprise you--since you have no reference from which to draw, you won't necessarily know what the significance of certain occurrences and the allegiances of certain characters are.
Seventy-five percent of the game will focus on the type of FPS action you've come to associate with the 007 license. At this point, the game is composed of 12 missions, eight of which will be action/stealth-oriented first-person stages. As you'd imagine, all types of things will go on during these stages--heavily scripted events, full-on gun battles, and a good deal of sneaking. Some of the stages we got to play during our preview of the game included things such as a scripted-gun battle, in which a helicopter flew over and provided a good deal of suppressive fire (on one man); a sneaky foray into a British government building, during which we were armed with a tranquilizer gun and had to quietly take out guards; and a straight-up infiltration of an industrial complex in China, at the end of which we had to rescue a buxom CIA operative that was handcuffed to the deck of a submarine.
The weapons and gadgets at your disposal will facilitate all of this. All the heavy gear you've come to associate with a Bond game is present: everything from handguns, grenade launchers, and sniper rifles to submachine guns, shotguns, and rocket launchers. The gadgets are just as varied. You'll use a special wristwatch device fashioned by Q himself to do a number of things: infiltrate locked areas by means of an intrusive laser, access remote areas with a grappling claw, and invade enemy computer systems with its security functions. You'll also have access to things such as X-ray glasses (used to spot hidden panels in walls, among other things) and jetpacks (whose functions are gleefully self-explanatory).
The environments in which these missions are set seem to be very well constructed. Graphical strength of the technology aside, the areas seem to be intricately designed and full of interactive elements. Most everything in the game seems to be destructible in some respect; crates will shed particles when shot at, and the wall textures will char when blasted. Other elements actually affect the gameplay. For instance, one of the stages we played had us running through a kitchen in one sequence. Getting too close to the pots and pans hanging about resulted in a good deal of noise, which subsequently alerted nearby guards. And when they did come, the firefight that ensued sent flatware a flying.
Guns, though, are only half the story. Read on to learn about the game's less-stationary elements.
Agent Under Fire is a joint development, the brainchild of both EA and EA Canada. The team across the border, though, isn't tooling around with the Quake III engine. Known for its work on the Need For Speed franchise, the team responsible for roughly half of Agent's code is flexing the muscles it's trained the most: those used to develop driving games.
Four of Agent Under Fire's 12 missions will be based on some kind of vehicle. There will be two types of driving stages: some that feature traditional, free-roaming environments, and others, which put you on rails, in control of massive weaponry. So while you'll actually be driving something during only two of those, the fact that you'll be in some of the cooler cars to grace the Old World will certainly help. Among the cars mentioned by EA are the BMW Z8 and the Aston Martin DB5, both of which you'll actually drive. One of the on-rails sequences, though, has you gunning out of the sunroof of a BMW 750iL that's driven by a partner. There's also one more car, but EA has yet to reveal it, promising only that longtime Bond fans will get a kick out of it.
In any event, the driving missions closely resemble those of more traditional mission-based driving games. In them, you'll be trekking through large, scenic environments (like Bucharest, among others), blasting enemies, collecting weapons, and generally going from point to point as loudly as possible. You'll get to shoot rockets and homing missiles at your enemies (which include cars, as well as things like choppers), and use a variety of SpyHunter-like doodads, such as smoke screens and oil slicks. The mission we played put us in Bucharest, Hungary, and it was largely composed of elements like those we've mentioned. In a nutshell, we had to find an item and take it somewhere else while staying alive. Complicating this were enemy drones shooting at us, as well as crashing into us. The trek took us through the windy streets of the old world city, and it finally culminated in us driving through the façade of a five-star hotel. A suiting end, we'd say.
We also got to play one of the on-rails missions, which put us behind the treads of a tank. While the tank's path was predetermined, we had full control of both the cannon and the guns, which we used to take out the appropriate target. Switching between the two was as simple as hitting the directional pad, and we were able to aim either one independently of the other. The stage allowed for a great deal of carnage--on top of the heavy dose of enemy vehicles (which fired a similarly heavy dose of artillery), we were able to blast bridges, soldiers, and, if we desired, pedestrians. Enemy snipers populated the city's rooftops, which we had to pick off with our machine guns. And at one point, the game went into a low-light mode, which facilitated our spotting, and subsequent shooting, of the human enemies.
Two other on-rails stages will be present, according to EA. One will, as described before, have you firing a gun out of the sunroof of a BMW 750iL, which we have seen, but haven't played, in action. It appeared to behave, from a control standpoint, much like the game's FPS stages; the EA rep at the helm was moving 360 degrees, taking out targets willy-nilly. The other on-rails stage will put you at the helm of a tram in a deep-sea complex. We've yet to see this one in action.
Layer on this a hearty multiplayer mode, complete with 12 maps, three game modes, and fully customizable settings, and you have a game with the potential to be the definitive Bond experience. It's easily the best-looking Bond game yet; in both single- and multiplayer, it will run at a constant 60fps (even during four-player split-screen games), and its polish is impressive. Which, given the game's long life in careful development, shouldn't be too surprising.
James Bond In...Agent Under Fire is slated for release this holiday season. Stay here for more updates throughout this week.