Rare's GoldenEye 007 for the Nintendo 64 was certainly a hard act for Black Ops to follow, urging an amendment to the old showbiz adage so that it reads, "Never follow children or animals or one of the best games ever made." Expectations have been seriously high for the PlayStation James Bond title because of the success of GoldenEye, and though it had appeared from the beginning to be a radically different game, everyone hoped it would at least meet the same level of quality as Rare's N64 masterpiece. Unfortunately, it doesn't.
Instead of being a mission-based first-person shooter like GoldenEye 007, Tomorrow Never Dies is a mission-based third-person shooter much like 989 Studios' Syphon Filter. Though the bulk of the game has you shooting enemy agents and running spy errands, TND also contains levels where you destroy a convoy of vehicles by using a tricked-out car, perform combat ski maneuvers, or enjoy a short stint behind the controls of a jet plane.
Considering that the developers tried to vary the play modes instead of just sticking with one, the graphics are pretty strong. But the third-person shooting segments don't look nearly as good as those in Syphon Filter - pop-up does occur, the explosions are uninspiring, and you're not allowed to look far enough into the distance with the game's sniper scope. The latter is probably because the pop-up would have become even more evident, which is understandable; but if you can't get really close up with a scope, a sniper rifle isn't worth much.Otherwise, the game camera is very agreeable. It hovers above and behind Bond, and if he gets in the way of something you want to see, he automatically goes translucent. Also, if you're in a tight hallway or small room, the perspective flips to a first-person view. You can aim your weapons using a first-person sighting or wait for a lock-on target to appear on your enemies once you get close enough to them (at least for every weapon except the rocket launcher). This makes a majority of the game very easy, because all you have to do is to let the auto-targeting lock on to a baddie and then fire several times. Repeat and serve. In some cases though, you'll have to shoot enemies that are just out of your line of sight. You know they're there because you've been shot at, but you might only be able to see a glint of something in the distance. The trick? You cheat by standing just outside their visual range and shoot them, just as they've done to you.
Your character control is very tight, but the game controls themselves take some getting used to. Changing weapons is the stickiest part: You must hit the triangle button, cycle through your entire inventory, and then select a weapon, instead of the better option, which is to have a button setup that lets you manually run through your weapons choices. The first time you get shot while fumbling for a better gun will get you pretty mad. The fifth time... you get the picture. Lucky for you, the enemy AI isn't close to being the smartest the PlayStation has ever seen. Agents who've shot at you from far away will rarely come after you or even alert their friends to your presence. An object in the mark of their shot? They'll just keep blasting away as if you're right in front of them.
The driving/shooting section of TND makes you long for a 3D Spy Hunter game. While the skiing segments are relatively fun, both are over pretty quickly. You'll pick up the controls for these side games easily, but that's partially because they're fairly simplistic. In fact, all the levels end up seeming rather basic. Instead of being epic, every mission ends on an anticlimactic note, making you think, "Oh, it's over?" instead of "Whew!" Unlike in GoldenEye 007, you won't want to play the stages over again to get a better rating or to try a harder difficulty level. And you can blow through the whole game in less than five hours.
Tomorrow Never Dies isn't a particularly bad game, but it's definitely one you might want to consider renting instead of buying. It's nowhere near the quality of GoldenEye 007, and it feels like a watered-down version of Syphon Filter. If you've got a jones for a good spy game, either pick up Syphon Filter or Dreamworks' GoldenEye 007-style shooter, Medal of Honor.