When GoldenEye for the N64 was released, the latest Bond film was actually Tomorrow Never Dies. This meant the inevitable post-GoldenEye showdown between the two most popular consoles would have to be pushed off until the next film. Perhaps this means both camps had time to prepare, and it certainly gave the PlayStation an opportunity to play some technical catch-up, but regardless, the end result is a pretty excellent Bond game. For the PlayStation anyway – Dave will be tackling the N64’s version, which I intentionally have not played.
Like the 16-bit glory days, two different development studios tackled the tie-in independent of each other. Both obviously follow the movie, but the PlayStation features levels and mechanics not seen in its 64-bit cousin. A lot of these mechanics follow exactly what you would hope to see in a Bond game (namely, gadgets!) and to me at least, make this feel like an exceptionally well-rounded Bond experience. The gameplay isn’t as smooth as GoldenEye, and the engine not quite as crisp, but it’s certainly more than serviceable.
The World is Not Enough has Bond investigating the assassination of a British oil baron. His daughter Elektra is the next target of a group seemingly headed by her former kidnapper, an anarchist named Renard. The game has you putting pieces together across eleven different levels, each following the plot of the movie exactly with areas certainly extended, but no missions invented just to pad out the game. This is actually handled surprisingly well – a boat chase in the second level seamlessly and plausibly transitions to a foot pursuit through narrow London streets. Clips from the film appear as cutscenes, and these too end up matching. A level ending in a stand-off clicks right to a movie scene, which got to the same point in a different (usually, shorter) way. I haven’t seen the film in a while, and so without knowledge of the cuts, it struck me how well the game and film intertwine.
The same engine powering Medal of Honor is used here. It controls well, offers a variety of scenes, and even reuses some of that game’s unique systems (an infiltration level has you finding clearance documents and holding them out for guards to inspect, just like ol’ Jimmy Patterson). Medal of Honor was not a fast-paced game, but Black Ops has managed to up the speed of encounters here without actually increasing the speed of the engine. It’s no Doom, but roughly comparable to GoldenEye, which is all you can ask for. You’ll certainly mow down frequent hallways full of stooges, duck behind doors and crates for cover, and even race to defuse the latest explosive objective. Mixed in with the straight action levels are ones focused on stealth, chases (with failure to keep up resulting in a restart), and hostage rescues.
You won’t drive a car, but you’ll do just about everything else Bond would. There’s a skiing level, where you’re really just sliding down carved trenches whilst shooting at snowmobiles, but it works. There’s a casino level where you actually have to play cards and build up $100k to proceed (it’s blackjack instead of baccarat, alas). You’re also allowed to personally enjoy as much of the action as the engine allows – for example, one level has you racing down a tunnel to outrun an explosion. Instead of cutting right to the film scene, or asking you to run on foot, you use the grappling watch to slide along a chain rig to the end of the tunnel, flames in pursuit. You’re actively doing what Bond did in the movie. It’s neat touches like this that really help the presentation.
There’s a variety of weapons, albeit none that feel really unique. There’s a handful of submachine guns that vary in accuracy more than power. All the rifles are plenty deadly. Shotguns require extremely close range, and are so best avoided. Bond’s signature Walther (here a “Wolfram P99”) holds its own against basic baddies, and comes with an integrated silencer for stealth levels. The rest are collected from fallen enemies, and the guns you use are dictated entirely by which you’re finding ammo for. Satchel charges, grenades, and grenade launchers also make appearances, but only in very specialized situations. As with GoldenEye, damage to your health can never be repaired, but body armor can be refilled with pickups around the levels.
The R1 button can be held to go into aim mode, and is useful if you can catch a limb peeking out from a corner, or are trying to nail a distant sniper. Headshots count, so aim is rewarded. Unfortunately, the DualShock’s right analog stick isn’t used, so holding R1 and using the left stick is also your only way to look and aim vertically. It’s cumbersome, and pretty much relies on you to stand firmly in place to line up a shot. This is offset by an optional auto-aim system that is reasonably responsive and always fair. You can crash through the whole game shooting from the hip without too much fuss. The tradeoff is that auto-aim always snaps to an enemy’s center, so you’ll burn a little more ammo and never get a headshot this way.
Gadgets are introduced at the start of each level, and if presented, will always be used. These range from simple keycards you have to actually select in your hand for Bond to swipe, to explosive pens, credit card lockpicks, rocket launching camcorders, night vision glasses, and yet more. You can stealthily knock out goons with your cell phone stun gun, and will even defuse a bomb with it. A grappling hook watch provides a few close escapes. Gas grenades and a flashbang flashlight are nearly mandatory for hostage situations on the hardest difficulty – without stunning the room first, the goons will start shooting at their hostages.
Inventory is cycled with Square and Triangle. Certain levels can build up quite a collection of keys and weapons, so to lessen any problems with selecting the right tool in a pinch, you can use the Start menu to select which items appear in your inventory. You’re able to do this at any time, and throw in (or take out) as many items as you like. If you know you’ll never need a device again, such as the metal detector scrambler in the first level, you can hit Start and remove it from the rotation. If it turns out you do need it later, it’s still in your overall inventory for that level and can be added back in.
Graphics look great for the system, with a surprising amount of texture variety. No two levels really look alike, from the colorful textures of the casino level to the bright whites of your Alpine excursion. A wide variety of locales was always a staple of the films, and it’s nice to see it replicated here. Your HUD is minimalist, which I like. Enemy reactions to gunfire are about on the level of Medal of Honor, with lots of stumbles and staggers if you haven’t done enough damage to put them down. As said, the speed is great. You won’t be sprinting a million miles an hour, but your movement and looking around maintain a solid framerate without visual hitches (save for the texture warping, which seems unavoidable on the PS1).
Audio is similarly solid, with beefy gun effects and acceptable dialogue acting. Adam Blackwood does a surprisingly excellent Brosnan impersonation, and his in-mission quips sound authentic enough. John Cleese also appears as the new quartermaster, giving you the appropriate amount of exasperated sass in the mission briefing. M doesn’t sound remotely like Judy Dench, and Elecktra’s attempted French accent is laughable, but these are the only real disappointments. Moneypenny also offers sad sexual innuendos and absolutely nothing of value, but I suppose that fits the character (with sincere apologies to Lois Maxwell). Audio on the film cutscenes sounds great as well, and they give you a surprising amount of the movie to watch if you’re so inclined. (If not, you can skip them).
If I had any complaint, it would be that this is a short game by most standards. I beat it on the “normal” difficulty in a single evening, and levels are small and linear enough that none should last more than five minutes. There are some occasional annoyances along the way, usually related to having to protect hostages or Bond bimbos from waves of bad guys, or the rare moment where not knowing what to do will kill you outright (such as getting pinched between some blast doors – ouch!). In all cases, you’re dumped back to the start of the level. But again, with levels only minutes long it’s not the hassle it could be. You also can’t skip the blackjack level, which took me a few retries – and repeating unskippable dialogue – before the cards fell in my favor.
For replay, there’s only two difficulty levels. The 007 difficulty doesn’t add objectives, it just makes you weaker and enemies stronger while removing the MI6 radio hints that populate the Agent difficulty. There’s also a scoring system here. You’re ranked per level on points like speed and accuracy, which feed into an overall gun rating (bronze, silver, gold). Getting the best rating on certain levels unlock standard cheats (all weapons, invincibility, etc). The top three scores per level are also saved to the memory card as a leaderboard. This potential competition also marks the game’s only source of multiplayer. Fans of GoldenEye looking for some 4-player arena shenanigans on their console won’t get it here.
Overall, this is a great Bond game, and a suitable PlayStation challenger to GoldenEye, at least as far as the single player compares. The action is fast and the engine is smooth. I would have liked levels to be a little less linear and for the game to use GoldenEye’s system of adding objectives at higher difficulties – this would help an otherwise short game’s replay value significantly. Without them, however, this feels very much like a “one and done” game, and certainly not a “must play” from a modern perspective.
A fine PlayStation Bond. Great level variety. Engine is fast and sharp, as is the action. Stealth, gambling, and gadgets all make welcome appearances. Arguably better than the movie.
Levels are quite linear and objectives don’t change. Virtually no reason to play more than once – bad news with such a short game (I knocked it out in a single evening). “Guard the lady while she hacks something” sections can be annoying, as can the unskippable blackjack challenge. No multiplayer, so PS fans are still screwed there.
“Oh, James. I wish you were in my hands instead of the enemy’s” — Moneypenny