From Russia With Love First Look

We get an exclusive look at EA's latest Bond game starring everyone's favorite Bond, Sir Sean Connery.

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Word on Electronic Arts' latest Bond game, From Russia With Love, has been making the rounds for some time now. The game has been in development over at the publisher's Redwood Shores studio since the stellar Everything or Nothing shipped in 2004. The current crack team working on From Russia With Love is made up of the EON and Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King developers. Given the hazy identity of James Bond these days now that Pierce Brosnan has bowed out from the role, the decision was made to go retro and draw on the rich catalog of films that make up the franchise's 43-year cinematic legacy. We recently had the opportunity to get an exclusive look at the upcoming game.

Bond is back! And he looks an awful lot like Sean Connery.
Bond is back! And he looks an awful lot like Sean Connery.

Since FRWL is based on an existing film, you might be thinking that the game won't hold much in the way of surprises. However, EA has worked with MGM to really flesh out some of those aspects. The hope is that the end result will serve up an engaging "director's cut" take on the adventure, which will stay true to the source material but still feel fresh. If you haven't been keeping up on the Bond film oeuvre, we'll fill you in on what FRWL is all about. The film is based on the fifth novel published in 1957 from the late, great Ian Fleming. It begins with the resourceful MI-6 agent on a mission to stop the evil SPECTRE organization from using a stolen Russian decoding device that will allow SPECTRE to peruse secret Russian files that could potentially unbalance the precarious world order of the day.

While this story is obviously core to FRWL's narrative, there have been some notable additions. The game will feature a new opening for the story, a modified middle section, and a new ending that will contain a twist to the story's denouement. In addition, you'll encounter new characters that are going to be integrated into the familiar tale.

As far as its gameplay goes, From Russia With Love's play mechanics should be familiar to anyone who played last year's Everything or Nothing. But, while the game shares its predecessor's core control scheme and accessibility, there have been a number of additions and enhancements to the experience that look very promising. First and foremost, the point and upgrade systems have been beefed up to have more of an action role-playing-game feel. You'll once again earn points that will unlock the ambitious assortment of extras the team is cramming into the game, but you'll also earn currency that will let you upgrade different elements such as your weapons. As with any Bond game worth its license to kill, FRWL will feature a full complement of weapons, gadgets, and vehicles for you to use in your adventure. Some, such as the rappel, will return from EON, but others, such as the oh-so-cool jetpack, are brand new. And, yes, before the Bond purists out there point out that the jetpack didn't appear in FRWL, we have to say that the addition of the unique mode of transportation is just a bit of dramatic license. But once you start zipping around and blowing things up, we doubt anyone's going to complain. FRWL will also feature driving sequences that will send you tearing along at high speeds, dodging all manner of danger. One of the nice new pacing tweaks is that the jetpack and driving segments will no longer be stand-alone levels. The team is aiming to integrate both types of gameplay into a more cohesive experience.

But, since the vehicle segments only make up a portion of the experience in FRWL, the team has put a hefty amount of time into refining the on-foot sequences. The most welcome new element to the experience is the ability to jump, which finally lets you get over debris that's blocking your path. More importantly, you'll be able to traverse large gaps--such as the ones between the second floor of a building and the safety of a chandelier--when you're in a firefight. Speaking of guns, FRWL will also feature an enhanced shooting system that will let you feel like a highly trained British secret agent without the hassle of going through all the pesky training. A new focused aim lets you pinpoint specific points to shoot at on an enemy, such as his head or the grenade he is preparing to throw, which comes in very handy.

You'll keep it real as Bond has one of his most memorable adventures from the 1960s.
You'll keep it real as Bond has one of his most memorable adventures from the 1960s.

When you feel the need to get more up close and personal with your foes, you can choose to go mano a mano with some melee combat. While the core handling is about the same as in EON, Bond's fighting style has been changed some to keep it more in line with the way Connery's Bond carried himself. As a result, you can expect a much more visceral style of combat that uses throws and a satisfying touch of boxing tossed in for good measure.

The aforementioned tweaks, while plentiful, fold nicely into the play experience (based on our time in one of the early levels in the game). The sequence we played through sent us on a mission to rescue a damsel in distress. During this mission, we passed through a number of interior and exterior environments and experienced a quick jetpack joyride complete with a brawl against a helicopter. The core handling is already on a par with Everything or Nothing's, and the focused aim slips easily into the mix. Melee combat works equally well and is complemented by new animation that gives Bond a meaner edge. Also, the jetpack handles like a breeze. You'll simply have to aim yourself in the direction you want to go and adjust your altitude accordingly.

As always, you'll have access to some of the coolest toys a spy could ask for.
As always, you'll have access to some of the coolest toys a spy could ask for.

The visuals in the work-in-progress version of the game, while understandably still in an unfinished state, were looking mighty fine. Bond already has a commendable photo-realistic look that we're told is going to be improved by a new take on the game's art. The non-player characters we encountered sported a solid amount of detail that is set to be fleshed out. In keeping with the film's classic story, the game will span a variety of locations around the world. We were only able to get a peek at a small sampling that was set in London in and around Big Ben. Thanks to a powerful new graphics engine that draws on the best elements seen in the one used in Everything or Nothing, FRWL ably pumps out detailed interiors and expansive outdoor environs that were already moving along at respectable frame rates. However, this time out, the tech side of the visuals proved to be a less daunting challenge than the art. Given its 1960s setting, FRWL posed a unique new challenge to the team as the visuals were coming together. How do you go about re-creating the rich world of Bond circa 1960? Besides the obvious hurdles such as the passage of time, more subtle elements, like the color and lighting used in the film, were all challenges to be addressed.

Fortunately the team was granted full access to MGM's sizable collection of reference material from the film, which helped guide the artists. In addition, the developers did some old-fashioned legwork and visited locales such as Big Ben and took reference photos that were used as art guides as well as material for textures. The results we've seen so far are looking good. The game uses a rich, almost saturated, color palette in spots, which models the look of its film counterpart. At the same time, we're pleased to see a good amount of interactivity with the locales through which you'll be adventuring. Though UK residents may be mortified to see the damage caused when Big Ben is hit by an errant rocket, we're pretty pleased by the results. The last bit of flash to the visuals that caught our eye was the special effects for the jetpack, which you'll be using when the situation calls for it.

The audio in the version we saw was the most incomplete element, with the bulk of it being a placeholder. However, the plans for the final game's audio should be a good mix of the expected and unexpected. It's a given that you can bank on a solid collection of voice actors to give life to the cast, which will be led by the distinctive brogue of Sean Connery. The sound effects will obviously draw on the staple Bond effects with some new touches added. The soundtrack will be a rich score, with that extra touch of class that only a live symphony can bring.

You'll find yourself going through familiar locations from the film, such as this hedge maze.
You'll find yourself going through familiar locations from the film, such as this hedge maze.

Based on this early look, From Russia With Love has the makings of a game that is more than capable of running with the considerable momentum that started with Everything or Nothing. The gameplay feels as though it's building on the right aspects of its predecessor and certainly brings some intriguing elements to the table. The customization options will add a cool twist to playing with friends and should prove to be a fertile playground for players to have some fun with. Above and beyond the rich single-player experience, FRWL's multiplayer offerings should add to the game's winning charm as well. Finally, the impressive visuals and the presence of Sir Connery have as stacked a deck as you could hope for in a game that's still in development. From Russia With Love is currently slated to ship this fall for the GameCube, PlayStation 2, and Xbox. Look for more on it next month at E3 and in the coming months.

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