James Bond 007: NightFire Preview
Secret agent James Bond is gearing up for his debut on the PC. Get all the details here.
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It's a good time to be James Bond. It's the suave superspy's 40th movie anniversary this year, and this winter's upcoming release of Die Another Day will be the 20th film that's featured the debonair MI6 secret agent. Electronic Arts and MGM are commemorating this momentous occasion by releasing a quartet of 007 games later this year, one for every major platform. And while Bond is no stranger to consoles--developers have been constantly trying to match the level of commercial and critical success received by Rare's GoldenEye 007 for the Nintendo 64--EA's James Bond 007: NightFire will mark Bond's first appearance on the PC. It's interesting to note that Electronic Arts had a Quake III Bond game based on The World Is Not Enough in development a couple of years ago, but the game never saw the light of day. NightFire will be a different story, though.
The game has been in development for nearly a year and a half at Texas-based Gearbox Studios, the company made famous by its work on Half-Life: Opposing Forces and Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 for the PC, as well as its upcoming releases of Counter-Strike: Condition Zero and Halo PC. We recently saw the latest version of NightFire for the PC at EA's Redwood City headquarters, and we were pleasantly surprised to find that it isn't a port of its three console brethren. While all four versions will follow a similar plot and share some locales, the PC version of NightFire is truly the unique one among the bunch. For starters, the game lacks the five driving and flying levels that the console versions will have--this is strictly a first-person shooter. To make up for these missing elements, Gearbox has added a pair of PC-specific levels that you won't be able to find in any of the three other iterations of NightFire. These areas--an Austrian airfield and an underwater level in the South Pacific--are just as large as any of the game's other levels, which makes this version the longest of the bunch. NightFire for the PC will also be the only one with any kind of online support for its multiplayer component, and it's being created using a proprietary 3D engine, not the one that's being shared by the GameCube, PlayStation 2, and Xbox versions of the game.
In creating NightFire, Gearbox took the latest version of Valve's Half-Life engine, modified it extensively, and dubbed it the Gearcraft engine. The engine's renderer was written specifically for this game, and, according to associate producer Michael Condrey, "there's so little original Half-Life code in NightFire that it's practically using a brand-new engine." To put it plainly, this will be Gearbox's best-looking game to date, and this point is clearly illustrated in one of NightFire's early levels. Here, Bond will find himself in the middle of a social gathering at a posh Austrian mansion. The walls of this expansive level are lined with sharp, detailed textures that do a good job of reflecting the environment's rich setting. The high ceiling is supported by gold-trimmed columns, and many parts of this small castle are decorated with priceless oil paintings, murals, and ornate rugs, all of which are textured very cleanly. Subtle lighting and shadow effects from numerous chandeliers and track lighting round out this level's impressive appearance by giving it a realistic look. NightFire's new engine is just as adept at rendering visually pleasing outdoor areas as well. Water is drawn with specular environment-mapping in order to create lakes and rivers that undulate and reflect their surroundings in a realistic manner. Procedurally rendered skies allow for moving clouds, and at times, you'll be able to make out lightning flashes and other ambient weather effects too.
Having said that, all four versions of NightFire do have a few things in common--specifically, exotic locations, outrageous spy gadgets, and of course, the requisite Bond girls. As Bond himself, you'll start out the game aboard a cargo plane, dressed in black HALO garb, and leap out into the dark, snowy night to infiltrate a massive Austrian mansion. This area is heavily guarded by a number of sentries, and you'll be presented with the choice of trying to sneak your way past the security guards or taking them on in a gun battle. "James Bond is a spy and superhero," says Condrey, "and we're going to let players take both of these avenues in the game." Making this possible is a wide array of gadgets and weapons that will let Bond assume his role as spy and superhero, respectively. Bond's arsenal includes his signature silenced Walther P-99, an Uzi, an FN P90, a Sig Commando, a sniper rifle, a shotgun, a grenade launcher, and a rocket launcher. Like most first-person shooters, many of the weapons in NightFire will have alternate modes of fire. The rocket launcher, for example, can fire a single unguided rocket or a rocket that you can control using your movement keys. This alternate mode switches your perspective to the nose of the rocket to make it easier to aim, much like the way it was done in the Metal Gear Solid series, though it leaves you vulnerable to an attack while trying to guide the rocket.
For those who prefer a more subtle approach, NightFire will also include nearly as many items and gadgets as weapons. Taken straight out of Q's lab, these multipurpose devices are often weird, but always useful. Some of the items that you'll have access to include a pen that doubles as a dart gun. This weapon makes no noise, and while it doesn't kill its victims, it does incapacitate them for a brief period of time. There's a lighter that unfolds to become a minicamera and a cell phone that can shoot a powerful grappling hook, perfect for getting to those hard-to-reach areas--like penthouse balconies--in a snap. Bond will also have access to a briefcase that, when opened, becomes a turret gun that will fire at anyone who strays within its line of sight. It also has a fuse and can be used as a massive bomb.
The most important item you'll have in your collection of toys, however, is the Q Specs. These designer sunglasses not only look good, but they also act as night-vision optics, infrared goggles, and X-ray glasses. Night vision will obviously enhance your sight in low-light situations, while the infrared mode will help you detect body heat in some of the game's colder environments, but it's the X-ray mode that has the most significant impact on NightFire. With these glasses on, you'll essentially be able to wallhack--up to a certain point anyway. You'll be able to see through walls that are within a small radius around you in order to spot ambushes or to catch enemies unaware. Condrey says the X-ray ability is included in NightFire to make it easier for players who wish to play the game in a stealthy, sneaky manner to be able to do so.
Bond will need all these weapons and more, because he'll be traveling all over the world to ensure that the bad guys get what's coming to them. Each area in NightFire will be more exotic than the next, finally culminating in the most exotic location on Earth: the stratosphere. The final mission in the game takes place aboard a low-gravity space station, which is clearly a tribute to Moonraker.
In fact, practically all of NightFire is an homage to the entire Bond legacy. Pierce Brosnan himself will voice the dialogue in the game, and his likeness has been "cyber-scanned" to create a body and facial model that looks like the real deal. Some of the multiplayer maps, like Fort Knox from Dr. No, also recapture the essence of the movies they're derived from. Electronic Arts says that the game will have around 15 multiplayer maps in all, with Bond-esque twists on the traditional deathmatch, capture-the-flag, and escort modes of play. Additionally, single-player and multiplayer test demos are scheduled for release sometime in August or September to iron out any kinks that pop up before the game's November release. We'll have more on NightFire for the PC in the weeks to come. In the meantime, be sure to take a look at the new screenshots and movies that we've taken from the current build.
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