Hands-on: James Bond in Agent Under Fire

We get a fresh look at the upcoming 007 game.

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We traveled to EA's Redwood City compound this morning, where the behemoth publisher was hosting an event aimed at showcasing its upcoming multiplatform projects. Among the games on display was Agent Under Fire, EA's latest James Bond-licensed action game.

FPS-type gameplay defines much of Agent's focus. However, the game also boasts a full-featured driving engine (developed by the team behind the Need for Speed series), which the team seems to taking full advantage of. Not only are cars drivable, but also tanks can be driven, and the mechanics associated with both vary greatly. But, again, at its core, the game is a first-person shooter, with some stealth and hearty multiplayer elements thrown in for good measure.

As mentioned in our previous coverage, Agent Under Fire is an original Bond story, not tying in to any particular movie or novel. This has given the developers relative free reign in conceiving the game's story and setting, as well as the motley crew upon which it will focus. In a nutshell, Agent Under Fire pits Bond against a terrorist mastermind named Malprave, who is bent on using a clone-army to conquer the world. In order to prevent that, of course, Bond will have to fire guns, drive cars and tanks, utilize spaceage gadgetry, and seduce healthy young women--all in the course of duty.

We got to sample a single-player FPS stage, two driving stages (putting us in control of both a car and a tank, respectively), and a multiplayer deathmatch. The single-player map was fairly straight-forward; as Bond, we had to make our way through an enemy compound, encountering and subsequently dispatching enemies as they appeared. The stage resembled a sort of office complex, albeit with thick industrial piping scattered throughout. At one section, the EA rep present pointed out to us a secret route, which, if successfully taken, would allow us to bypass an area with a particularly thick enemy presence. The catch, though, was that the path was made up of extremely narrow piping, a fall off would mean death. We managed to keep our balance, though, and emerged at the other side safe and sound, with a pot shot at an unwary sniper to boot.

The driving levels are pretty visceral--they're akin to Midway's upcoming SpyHunter than they are to last year's sketchy 007 Racing. In any event, the stage we played took place on the streets of a European city, and there was much in the way of speeding, skidding, and blasting to be done. The control scheme allows you to accelerate/brake with the right analog stick, with weapon controls mapped to the shoulder buttons. As such, you're never required to refrain from one to perform the other. The mission in particular had us speeding through the streets of said city, blasting evil cars with missiles and guns, and picking up objects integral to our mission. Sadly, as some of the more minute details have yet to be implemented, we weren't able to discern what, exactly, those objects were. The sequence was otherwise sharp, in any event, though the controls could perhaps stand to be a bit tighter; at this point, it's a bit difficult to perform 180-degree drifts, which, if the mission we played is any indication, the game seems to call for quite often.

Driving a tank, though, is a much simpler endeavor. The sequence we played, simply put, was an on-rails deal, during which we were allowed control of the tank's two weapons--a gatling gun, and its turret. Much like a well-made lightgun game, these sequences are strangely engaging. As we traversed the streets of the unfortunate European city, we were made to blast fleets of enemy vehicles, as well as scattered gunmen. Pedestrians were fair game, too. What's most interesting, however, is that the stage was littered with deformable elements--some facades could be shot down, for example, with devastating effects. A stone bridge, for instance, under which were parked three enemy cars, was destructible by a shot from the tank's cannon. As you'd imagine, the collapsing bridge made easy work of the enemy cars. The control scheme used to guide the tank's weapons was quite sharp; you switched between the two weapons with the D-pad, while the analog stick actually moved them. The shoulder buttons both fire your weapons, and zoom in on the environment.

The multiplayer map, finally, was fairly straightforward. It seemed to take place in the interior of a medieval castle, with weapons of all types scattered around it. Rocket-launchers were in there, as were various types of handguns and machineguns. Most inspiring, though, is that the game managed to run at a consistent 60 fps, even during split-screen games. Given the level of detail present in the models and environments, it's pretty impressive.

Agent Under Fire is looking great, at this point. The game runs at a consistent 60 fps throughout most of its sequences, and its artistic direction remains cohesive throughout its various playmodes. Very few visual blemishes seem present, at this point; the weapon-effects (explosions, especially) seem a bit rushed, and some of the world's textures are fairly low res. Most important, though, is that the action remains constant throughout, and there is seldom, if ever, a stutter. Any small visual blemishes can be stamped out before release, in any event. Let's just hope it happens.

James Bond 007 in...Agent Under Fire is set to release this year. At this point, only the PS2 version has been officially announced by EA. We'll keep you posted on this one.

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