Nightfire will provide several hours of enjoyable Bond-themed FPS action provided you overlook its shortcomings.
Looking back I feel that as Nightfire was the first Bond game I played my review of it, and indeed score of 8.5, was perhaps clouded by my earlier immersion in the Ian Fleming's original James Bond novels and the subsequent movies from Dr No onwards.
Since my original Nightfire review I have played, enjoyed and/or endured a number of spy themed games like IGI-2 Covert Strike (IGI2), the Splinter Cell (SC) and Soldier of Fortune (SOF) titles, as well as Quantum of Solace (QOS). This review will refer to those games as appropriate for the sake of comparison. It is important to clarify that this review is for the PC version of Nightfire (v1.1); the console version is completely different, with vehicle driving and alternate missions, albeit the overarching story is apparently the same. Indeed the GameSpot reviews and ratings of the two versions are also very different with the PS2 version seemingly offering the better experience.
Bond movies and indeed games if well done can be like putting on a comfortable pair of shoes. Nightfire achieves that by being fresh. Not fresh in the sense that anything particularly new is bought to FPS gameplay, but rather we have a fresh story with Bond in a new adventure with new villains and locations. Unlike say NOLF, SOF or SC there is no need to flesh out a backstory about the main character ... few would not have seen or heard about Bond, James Bond. Nightfire is very much narrative driven with events unfolding within the missions and cut scenes. Overall Nightfire is a better story telling experience than the visually and gameplay wise more striking QOS ... which muddles the narrative flow through the use of flash backs (to portray events in the Casino Royale timeframe).
Graphically Nightfire is great, irrespective of its age (late 2002, like NOLF2) the various mission maps look and feel right. Character animations are also quite good. The music and sound is also first rate with good use made of familiar Bond musical themes at appropriate times to clue you in that you have either achieved a "Bond moment" or that danger lies ahead. Gameplay-wise Nightfire is very much a routine FPS there is little in the way of a secret agent feel to the game, excepting through the use of the various Q gadgets. Indeed the ability to lean only seems to work intermittently and only when standing, not when crouched (or ducked). Bond indeed only seems to be able to run and I could not find a way to make him walk, though this does not seem to affect the ability of guards to spot (or hear) him earlier. (There are times when a high jump is called for to get onto crates. Some guides refer to a crouch-jump which presumably is for consoles only as is the advice to walk not run. PC-version Bond only runs.)
Enemy AI varies markedly but once Bond is seen the attacks are pretty remorseless. Sometimes you can walk (without a need to crouch) right up behind a guard and take him down by hand. Other times you will be seen quite inexplicably while moving crouched in the shadows. Unlike NOLF or Splinter Cell it seems pretty pointless trying to play the game in a stealthy fashion. Although you are rewarded with a "Bond moment" if you find an alternate (undetected and/or firefight free) way into a particular map section. The AI enemies can be rather unforgiving however Nightfire has a generous save system in that you can save at any time (including thankfully during boss fights), usually best before entering an area yet to be cleared.
The story revolves around Project Nightfire, a plot by Phoenix International, a company headed by philanthropist Raphael Drake, which is ostensibly decommissioning nuclear weapons, to acquire missile guidance technology for use with stolen missiles he plans to launch from a captured US space station. The story is progressed primarily by cut scenes (which are strangely rather poor quality compared to look of the game itself) and by in-game updates from MI6. The locations of the missions that comprise Nightfire include Austria, Japan, a tropical island and a space station; all maps are beautifully presented especially Mayhew's estate in Japan and the tropical island.
Alas none of the characters in Nightfire are truly memorable and this can be put down to both the plot and the voice acting, especially in the cut scenes. Bond's dialogue seems limited to the odd double-entendre and no real effort is made to develop his character. There are a number of curvaceous (virtual) Bond girls throughout the story of whom only Alura McCall, an Aussie agent resembling Lara Croft, lasts the distance. The only real henchman in the game is Rook and he is dispatched fairly early in the story in a boss fight (BF). Drake, the arch villain, is not developed and only appears a few times during the story.
Nine (9) mission comprise the PC version of Nightfire and these can be outlined as follows (with my favourites marked *):
01 Rendezvous - infiltrate castle, mingle at Drake's party, meet contact, get intel from safe, firefights with guards, on-the-rails cable car vs helicopter (BF) escape with Zoe 02 Airfield Ambush - infiltrate Drake's airfield with Zoe, battle through airfield complex, capture control tower and destroy consoles, cover Zoe while plane is refueled, escape
03 Uninvited Guests* - visit Mayhew's estate to learn about Project Nightfire, attacked by Yakuza, fight through estate to recover intel and rescue hostages, multiple paths and secret (underwater) passages, ninja assassin (BF)
04 Phoenix Rising - stealthy non-lethal infiltration, recover Nightfire intel from the Phoenix Tower, a basement to top floor mission reminiscent of Sierra's Die Hard Nakatomi Plaza with lots of floor clearing, rooftop battle vs helicopter (BF)
05 Hidden Agenda - infiltrate Drake's multi-level missile facility which houses an underwater astronaut training facility, battle Rook (BF)
06 High Treason* - back to Phoenix Tower, elevator ride from hell (hint: use Q-grapple to escape), renter building, destroy computer servers as you fight numerous Drake goons floor by floor, down to the basement to destroy vehicles, escape building via the lobby (hint: visit the security room)
07 Island Getaway* - with Alura on a tropical island but this is no vacation, infiltrate rocket base hidden inside tunnel complex, plant bombs underwater to disable missile gantry, rescue Alura and escape tunnels, destroy communications & ECM buildings, destroy bridge
08 Zero Minus - infiltrate another underground missile complex, recover intel, battle numerous commandos, find Drake's secret lair, Drake escapes on private space shuttle, showdown with Kiko and her ninjas (BF)
09 Re-Entry - Bond heads to space station, disarms multiple missiles (time limited), final showdown with Drake in zero gravity (BF), final cut scene with Bond and Alura. The end.
At the end of each mission your performance stats are displayed, unfortunately all too briefly and cannot be reviewed later. Uninvited Guests probably has the best looking mission map and has some challenging segments. High Treason is one of the longest and most frustrating missions, mainly because two transition (escape) points are less than intuitive and you can replay those segments over and again without success unless you sneak a look at a walkthrough. Island Getaway again looks good and has lots going on with several tasks to be completed.
Looking back, what I recall from my 2008 play through of Nightfire was intense fun coupled with moments of equally, if not more intense, frustration. I remember nightmares of being stuck in an exterior elevator while being shot at by bad guys and not knowing how to get out of that mess. This was when I first learned about game walkhroughs and how they can assist when such moments arise. I recall I did not really enjoy the zero gravity (more appropriately, "slow motion" in gameplay terms) space station segments, including disarming the missiles, which was at times infuriating. Playing Nightfire the first time, I learned about "boss fights" and how they are neither fair nor indeed realistic. I continue to dislike boss fights in games, but they are arguably more acceptable in a Bond (or NOLF) type setting, with the requisite arch villain, than in a "historical" shooter game.
Nightfire is more obviously more FPS than stealth oriented. Bond here is more like NOLF's Cate Archer with a veritable arsenal of weapons and gadgets, than say Sam Fisher. In this lies part of the problem. Like me you may end up feeling that Nightfire is not really spy game ... sure there was avoiding searchlights and CCTV cameras, but there was little in the way of spy stuff like covert sneaking around and evasion. Certainly the sound of Bond's footfalls are enough to wake the dead. Bond walking around with guns drawn all the time just does not feel right.
As with most pre-Daniel Craig era Bond games, Nightfire is heavy on gadgets, less so the visceral hand to hand combat of QOS. Alas even Q-Branch, with all its gadgets, does not have a camera disabler, like Sam Fisher or Cate Archer, and Bond (given the limited keyboard controls) is not as deft at evading them as Sam or Cate, unless that is he can spot a handy grapple point.
Replayability is reasonable in that you can try to find "hidden secrets" or achieve "Bond moments", usually by using the various gadgets to avoid a gun battle or alerting the guards, that you may have missed on your initial playthrough. Indeed during my first play through I was oblivious to both of these "rewards", as the manual fails to mention them, until at odd times a 007 would flash up on the top left of the screen accompanied by the Bond theme.
Nightfire also has a multiplayer component that can be enjoyed offline by the single player against AI bots. This is very similar to STVEF's Holomatch multiplayer system; modes include combat training (a free for all deathmatch), team combat training and capture the flag. If this sounds like your thing then simply select your favourite Bond villains (like Odd Job, Jaws, Scaramanga, Goldfinger) or heroes (like Christmas Jones, Pusey Galore, Q) as AI bots and run around the various beautifully detailed maps trying to kill each other. Maps include those from the Nightfire game as well as others well known to Bond aficionados, like Fort Knox (from Goldfinger) or the casino and Zukovsky's caviar warehouse (both from The World is Not Enough).
OVERALL: Nightfire is an enjoyable FPS game that may well satisfy your Bond itch but it lacks the gameplay of NOLF2 its near genre rival. A lack of engaging characters and fairly standard FPS gameplay prevent Nightfire from being a total success.
So is Nightfire the best Bond game? I cannot say for certain, I know it is a good game with a Bond theme. My son has played From Russia with Love and Everything or Nothing on PS2 and these third person games seem fun, alas my console control skills are very average. In some ways I prefer Nightfire to the better looking QOS because the story is fresh and hence more engaging on that level. I'll be playing and reviewing the latest Bond release, Blood Stone shortly so will be able to compare Nightfire with it.
Nightfire remains, as one of my earliest FPS games, a guilty pleasure ... a bit like watching On Her Majesty's Secret Service ... you know somebody can do it better.