Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Electronic Arts
Release Date: November 1, 2005
From Russia with Love, the latest in EA’s yearly James Bond videogame franchise, had a lot of expectation to live up to. The last game in the series, Goldeneye: Rogue Agent, was met with excoriating reviews and underwhelming sales, and 2005 did not see any new Bond movies to ride on the coattails of – in fact, for most of the year there still wasn’t even an actor in the role of Bond. EA’s fascinating solution upped the ante even further – they decided look backwards, to the days when Connery was Bond and the movies were well-respected, and to 007: Everything or Nothing, the best-appreciated 007 game since Goldeneye. Unfortunately, From Russia with Love doesn’t do enough with what it has, the result being a title with high production values but simplistic gameplay.
Those production values are incredible, though. Based on the 1963 Bond movie of the same name, From Russia with Love the game does a decent job of sticking to that movie’s plot. A Russian government clerk, under orders from her superior Rosa Klebb, fakes a defection to England. In return for Bond’s assistance in getting her to England, she offers the means to steal an invaluable Russian cipher machine – unbeknownst to both her and Bond, however, is that their governments are really being played off each other by a terrorist organization (SPECTRE in the film, Octopus in the game), that Klebb is really a double agent for this group, and that their actual goal is to kill Bond as vengeance for the death of their own Dr. No. The game doesn’t stick entirely to the pacing of the film – it excises parts that have no shooting, buffs up the parts that have some shooting, and adds jet packs, car chases, two new Bond girls, and a bizarre post-film ending final level.
The game’s real coup (and what was really played up in the hype preceding its release) is the presence of Sean Connery in the game. He lends his voice and circa-1963 likeness to the project, both of which did a great deal for the game. His voice is clearly older than it was in the film, but his presence remains, and his character model is incredibly accurate. In fact, the graphics in this game are uniformly great – most of the central characters are accurately rendered, everything is animated very well, and environments that are pulled from the film look very close to the original sets. It’s not the prettiest game on the system, but the game does impress visually. Beyond Connery, all of the voice acting is very well done as well. The sound effects are also quite solid – every gun sounds as you would expect it to, and the explosions are particularly beefy and satisfying. The music is, as expected, your typical Bond fare – the whole thing comes together to form a well-realized super spy take on Istanbul, the only real hiccups occurring when some of the sillier game-exclusive content pulls you out of the fantasy with its ridiculous inconsistencies – the last level being the major offender here.
No, the presentation is great, and all of the aesthetics have clearly been polished to glowing; that’s not where the problem with this game lies. The problem is that all of this attractive trimming is hung on rather barebones gameplay. The majority of From Russia with Love takes place on foot, with gun in hand. The triggers are used to lock on to a target and fire, with an additional option for “Bond Vision,” which zooms the view in slightly and allows for the direct shooting of disable points on an enemy’s body.
It starts off fun, and the controls are certainly up to the task of making this gunplay enjoyable – the first time you shoot a grenade off a soldier’s belt, you can’t help but be impressed. This series of moves – lock on, zoom in, shoot to disable – is the majority of the game, though, and eventually it becomes pedestrian and rote. What’s more, this mode of play effectively eliminates the difference between guns – they all handle slightly differently, but once you hit a disable point, most enemies will be stunned long enough for you to kill them without incident – regardless of what weapon you’re using. There are some times where the game encourages other ways to get around the gunfights – sometimes there will be too many enemies for you to zoom in on each one, forcing you to just lock on and fire.
There is also a bazooka for taking out more dangerous vehicles and armored soldiers, and a sniper rifle for long-range attacks – though it has to be said that the other weapons, when locked on, are accurate for the majority of the rifle’s range. There are also a handful of accessories, all of which have limited use. No, most of the time, you’ll just be locking on, zooming in, and shooting to disable, and though this game is fairly short, that’s just barely enough to carry it to completion.
Fortunately, the shooting levels are split up by car battles and jet pack levels. Each of these follow the similar mechanics of locking on and firing and the standard run-and-gun levels, but the excessive speed of the car levels and the excessive power Bond wields with a jet pack differentiate them enough, and because there are less of this type of level neither of them wear out their welcome by the end. The jet pack levels in particular are so bombastic – Bond is very nearly invincible, and can take out most enemies before they can even fire a shot – that they’re entertaining despite their simplicity. And in the car levels, well, everything explodes.
All the same, by the end of the first playthrough every level begins to feel pretty much identical. There are some incentives to try to add to the replayability, such as beating each level in a certain time, or performing the exciting “Bond Moment” in each level – doing these things yield rewards in the form of weapon and accessory upgrades and unlockables. They’re not great incentives, though – some of the Bond Moments are as banal as “Find a way into the kitchen,” and, barring the few “Making of” documentary shorts, the unlockable extras are pretty dull.
There are several unlockable characters for multiplayer, but using them requires you to play multiplayer, and it’s here that the deficiencies in the gameplay are really glaring. Multiplayer feels tacked-on and unpolished – the lock-on reticules don’t do a great job of tracking human players, and the shallow gameplay doesn’t allow for a great deal of strategizing, nor are the weapons enjoyable enough to use to overcome this. No, the focus of the game was clearly on the single player mode. The multiplayer only works to highlight the flaws of the gameplay.
If you don’t play in that mode, however, it will probably take you a lot longer to come to the conclusion that the game is flawed. From Russia with Love is pretty basic and there isn’t a whole lot to do in it, but the overall production is so strong it will likely entertain for the duration of its short single players campaign. With the weak extras, though, and with the shooting gameplay becoming more and more stale with each step forward, it likely won’t hold anyone’s attention for longer than that. From Russia with Love is enjoyable, but the mechanics in it can’t hold up the franchise beyond this one game. In the meantime, though, this is worth a rental.
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