The games based on the world's most famous superspy, James Bond, have taken a strange turn over the last several years: They've all been run-and-gun first-person shooters. That may seem obvious, and yet the character himself certainly doesn't walk around movie screens with a weapon for 90 minutes, shooting anything that gets in his way. While most of the games haven't done a particularly good job of making you feel like a secret agent with tons of options at your fingertips, these Bond shooters have always been at least competent, with the wildly popular and then-revolutionary GoldenEye 007 for the Nintendo 64 being the lone standout. The latest Bond game, James Bond 007: NightFire, inches itself away a bit from the run-of-the-mill action script, injecting a more interesting storyline and more classically cool James Bond moves into the mix. While any new Bond game seems doomed to live in the shadow of GoldenEye 007, this one at least tries something different.
But not all that different. NightFire's single-player campaign is a story-driven first-person shooter. You'll see prerendered video clips before and after most missions, which provide context for the in-game events, and you'll hear radio messages from your allies as your objectives change mid-mission. The game starts out in classic James Bond fashion, with an action sequence that isn't terribly related to the main game--here it happens to serve as a flashy tutorial. The actual plot focuses on a multination corporation known as Phoenix, which is supposed to have been contracted to dismantle nuclear missiles and clean up nuclear power plants around the world. But, like most video game corporations, Phoenix's intentions are evil to the core, and the company's leader intends to overtake an orbital missile defense platform and use it to essentially destroy the world. Of course, that's where James Bond comes in. His objective is to defeat Phoenix and save the world from destruction. Along the way, 007 will use a good collection of weapons and spy gadgets to achieve his goals. You'll also do some driving, turret-based shooting, and underwater craft piloting. The story is well told and contains enough twists, turns, and polygonal "Bond Girls" to provide a similar level of suave intrigue to what you'd expect to find in one of the films.
The level design in the single-player section of the game is solid. You'll occasionally find more than one way to tackle a problem--the difference is usually between simply running in with your guns blazing or trying to find a stealthier way to achieve your goal. The objectives are good and give you a lot of chances to execute cool Bond-like maneuvers. You'll use a decrypter to crack door keycodes, upload a virus into Phoenix's computer system, and use your watch laser to melt hinges off doors, grates, and safes. In one case, you'll have to avoid detection by a building full of guards, invisible alarm sensors, and video cameras. You'll have tranquilizer darts to neutralize pesky guards, and your sunglasses can be set to night vision or infrared mode, which will let you see the alarm sensors. The stealth elements are well implemented to change up the game's pace, and other diversions are also well done. The driving sections of the game aren't terribly complex, but they're fun and move quickly. One section of the game has you piloting your Aston Martin underwater: In classic James Bond fashion, the car transforms into a submarine configuration and lets you jet along underwater, taking out enemy subs and so on. NightFire has three different difficulty settings, but the major difference between them is that the enemies become more accurate with their shots as the difficulty level increases--which is usually enough to tack on a lot of extra challenge. The easiest setting provides helpful tips during play, making it well suited for new players.
While the story portion of NightFire may be good, it's definitely on the short side. Even on the highest difficulty setting, experienced first-person shooter players should be able to make their way through the game's 12 missions in a couple of days. Like Agent Under Fire, the game attempts to infuse the single-player campaign with replay value by tying the game's unlockable multiplayer items to your single-player performance. Reaching score goals earns you various medals for each mission, and different medals unlock different things, such as new multiplayer modes, gadget upgrades, and different player characters. This system will surely annoy people that are mostly interested in the game's split-screen multiplayer, as some of the medals can be devilishly difficult to earn.
Thankfully, the game has a decent collection of multiplayer options available right out of the box, but you'll surely want to strive to unlock everything or find codes to open up everything the game has to offer. All told, the game has 12 multiplayer modes. The standard deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture-the-flag, and king-of-the-hill modes are here, as well as other modes, like demolition, where one team defends an object and the other attempts to destroy it. The team modes are nice, but the game's multiplayer levels don't really seem suited to handle some of the game's team modes. Maps with clearly defined base areas and slightly more balanced design make for better capture-the-flag maps, but only a couple of the game's maps do this well. The game lets you play with up to six computer-controlled players, and these bots can be configured using several different behavioral modifiers. The bots do OK on some maps, but they seem to get lost here and there depending on the settings, mode, and map used. One of the game's maps, ravine, relies heavily on moving cable cars that link two bases. The bot AI apparently wasn't up to the challenge of navigating this level, so bots are completely unavailable on this map.
Any multiplayer first-person shooter is only going to be as good as its map design and weapon set. There certainly could have been a few more multiplayer maps in the game, but what's present is done reasonably well. The weapon set is your standard post-GoldenEye set of toys, including the normal bouquet of pistols, submachine guns, assault rifles, and shotguns, as well as guided missiles, timed explosives, a briefcase machine gun, and the like.
Graphically, 007: NightFire looks very good. Probably the most striking element of the game is James Bond himself. The character models throughout the game are very well done, but the lead character looks and moves just like Pierce Brosnan. Apparently some sort of supersecret face-scanning technology was employed to bring the actor to life in the game, and all of the game's facial work is wonderfully done. The characters' faces are very expressive and animate well both when speaking and when reacting to the other characters' spoken lines. Beyond the models, most of the game has a nice style to it, and the environments--even the final showdown against Phoenix's leader--all look believable.
As is par for the course when it comes to third-party games these days, James Bond 007: NightFire has been ported around to all three major console platforms. The Xbox predictably takes the lead with slightly sharper graphics and faster loading times, but the PlayStation 2 and GameCube versions of the game still look great and play just as well.
The game's concept seems to be focused on delivering an experience on par with that of a James Bond movie, and NightFire's sound definitely does its part here, as well. While NightFire's Bond isn't voiced by his silver-screen counterpart, the Pierce Brosnan sound-alike does an admirable job. The rest of the game's voice work is excellent, conveying just as much feeling as the elaborate facial animation does. The music is suitably Bond-like, and the game's sound effects are equally fitting.
While NightFire is hurt by its relatively short length, the game's single-player mode is well constructed, and its multiplayer mode is good too. If you're a fan of multiplayer first-person shooters, NightFire has a nice selection of options, though a multiplayer-focused game like TimeSplitters 2 does a better job in this department. Those purely looking for a first-person shooter won't find that NightFire is the best choice around, but as a Bond game, NightFire successfully re-creates the style, presentation, and action of its source material.