Released just in time for James Bond's 50th anniversary, 007 Legends, is from Eurocom, the same developers who had worked on the well-received GoldenEye remake. The game brings together some of Bond's biggest movies as a smorgasbord of first-person shooter action.
The big lure is its ties to classic Bond films such as "Goldfinger," "Moonraker," "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," and slightly more contemporary fare such as "Die Another Day" and "Licence to Kill." Between these films, there's a ton of material that could have made 007 Legends worth playing instead of the letdown it turned out to be. I'm a huge fan of the film franchise, so it's particularly distressing to see Bond veteran Eurocom miss so many chances to draw from the rich source material and flex its creativity.
It kicks off with an intro clipped from "Skyfall," Bond's newest caper. It's the scene shown in the trailers leading up to the actor, Daniel Craig, fighting a guy atop a train until he's shot by a sniper and falls into the river below.
That's when the game really begins, as it covers the gap between that and what presumably begins in "Skyfall" while Bond's life flashes before his eyes. This gives the developers a convenient excuse to mash together several of his cinematic roles into a string of missions.
You play as Craig throughout the game, which updates everything to current events — even the classic films — and that may already be a bad sign for Bond fans. For example, Hugo Drax from "Moonraker" now seems like an evil version of Virgin's Richard Branson for space tourism. The game takes the time to run roughshod all over the classics, so that should tell you something about how it treats the gameplay.
The first thing that's really noticeable is that the visuals are terrible. Everything looks good at a distance until you see flags hanging frozen in mid-air as you approach Fort Knox or notice that the cannon fodder all look like clones. These criticisms are piled atop the flat textures that wallpaper the low-polygon environments.
On the other hand, it's a huge treat that a number of Bond actors reprised their roles and allowed their faces to be used in the game. For the actors who didn't participate, the replacements don't look too bad, but the voice acting is more shaken than stirred. It was fantastic fan service when the original stars, such as Michael Lonsdale as Hugo Drax or Toby Stephens as Gustav Graves, took the mic. Other times, it felt like generic filler, especially when it came down to the cliché accents of the cosmopolitan mobs of armed men.
It wouldn't be so bad if the army of hired thugs didn't sound like lemmings being led to a lead shredder. At one point, the game tried to spawn a batch of bad guys only to trap them behind a spawn door that wouldn't open.
On the plus side, they're all dressed like the baddies from the films, and to a Bond fan like myself, that was a clever homage until they wore out the welcome. I've lost count of how often they've rushed through doorways as I filled the air with bullets, leaving a fan-shaped field of the dead in front of me. After wiping out entire generations of these guys, seeing Teflon t-shirts and tuxedos just looks ridiculous. When they use cover, they'll stay planted and pop up for a game of whack-a-mole. It's as basic as it can get.
In some missions, the point is to get to the next area. Infinitely spawning enemies make the exercise feel as if you're at the end of a treadmill while targets are served up for you.
Stealth is similar to the system used by Eurocom in its remake of GoldenEye, but 007 Legends raises the ante with a larger variety of situations involving patrols and "stealth only" sections. Unfortunately, the system hasn't evolved to keep up with the changes, so you can immediately fail a mission. Bond is still unable to carry bodies to keep them out of sight, and due to the guard patrols, it's more important than it was in GoldenEye's stealth pieces. The overhead view that had been a valuable aid in GoldenEye and showed the POV of guards has been replaced with a watch that shows the approximate locations of the bad guys. While it makes it more challenging, it also feels like a step back considering that he is able to keep his miracle cell phone that hacks everything.
If you decide to run in and shoot it out, like I did in one mission just to get on with it, don't be surprised if the antagonist resents you for laying waste to an entire level of his paid thugs. Hacking has also been made more interactive. No longer is it an automated "point and shoot" maneuver, but it's now divided into two types of puzzles. One is based on reflexes, where you have to use the triggers to balance two bars to match the moving sweet spots on Bond's cell. Another is a puzzle involving color matching. Both aren't too tough but feel awkwardly shoehorned in just to satisfy the "improved interactivity" checkbox.
Occasionally, facing off against most of the main villains or particularly tough henchmen trips a QTE-driven Rock 'em Sock 'em boxing sim in first-person view. It comes off as a novel idea before settling into feeling like another waste of time.
In this mode, Bond puts up his fists, and based on how the other guy's guard is positioned, you either tilt up or down on the analog sticks to throw a punch at one of four areas. Missing allows the baddie to punch you and deal some damage. Sometimes he might even grab a pipe or metal bar that you have to dodge before parrying the next swing and disarming him. Then you must go right back into punching him before the big cinematic finish. Every fistfight goes through the same boring process.
All of this buries a number of fun ideas in 007 Legends. Being able to choose between a modern regenerating health system or the "classic" health-pack scrounging, body-armor-wearing modes was a welcome option. Collectibles offer opportunities to learn more of the fiction written for each villain and his operations as well as unlocking them for use in multiplayer. An experience point system allows you to spend those on upgrades, such as training modules to improve the speed of your reloads or new scopes for your guns.
However, 007 Legends stumbles again on the difficulty level. Going in as an Operative makes the fistfights easy — enemies go down faster — and you don't need to worry about doing the extra options because they're locked. But jumping up to 007 difficulty makes the fistfights last longer by virtue of making your punches hit with less power. However, this mode also unlocks the extra mission options that you can pursue for additional experience points. The problem is that the enemies didn't seem that much harder, so the whole point of locking those extra mission objectives is pointless at any of the other difficulty settings.
Some situations in the game also seem to make Bond out to be dumb. In one sequence in "Licence to Kill," Bond leaps from a perfectly good truck to get up on top of a tanker trailer while he's surrounded by Hummers that are armed with machine guns. (In the movie, he's dropped from a plane instead.) So why does he do it instead of shooting out the tires on the truck? Is it because he has regenerating health? It's on rails, too, and Bond can't go prone in the game, so this seemed like the most reckless decision he had made since putting the moves on May Day.
Recklessly cramming all of these films into one game also had the effect of destroying whatever made them memorable in the first place. Only Bond fans who have seen the movies will recognize the weight of what each game scene weakly tries to portray. It's especially disappointing since each film can easily stand as its own dedicated game, which Rare's GoldenEye on the N64 easily demonstrated. I'm not sure which is worse: the bland action aping current trends, or the CliffsNotes treatment of each film to create a selling point for the title.
Multiplayer offers a laundry list of modes, including classic Deathmatch and the Legends mode, which allows players to fight as iconic Bond villains with unique specials. The exception is the Licence to Kill mode, which requires you to level up to 20 to unlock it.
Anyone who has played Call of Duty's multiplayer will see a lot of similarities with 007 Legends, though the action isn't quite as exciting. The maximum count for certain game modes, like team deathmatch, is only 12 players, though doing straight deathmatch restricts the count to eight. Given the huge size of some of these maps, it can take some time before you find anyone to shoot.
This assumes that you can find anyone online to play with you. Of all of the modes that I tried, only Deathmatch, Legends and Team Deathmatch had any players. No one seemed interested in the other game types as I watched the browser try to find players. Leaving and forcing the game to find other deathmatches usually placed me with the same group of players.
It's not too difficult to guess why, as 007 Legends feels like a rushed job, from the visuals to the dish-pan sound effects for gunfire. The main campaign doesn't even have an ending, though there's little exposition linking the missions that the experience feels like a package of modded missions. After the denouement, the game flips over to the credits with the legendary words, "James Bond Will Return."
The game treated the tied-in Bond films like cheap tuxedos, taking away any justice that could have been done with the rich material at its disposal. It's an incredibly missed opportunity by Eurocom, and that's even more disappointing since I know what they can do when they dedicate themselves to a focused experience. I loved my time with GoldenEye, but alas, 007 Legends shoehorns so much history into a soulless shooter, continuing the trend initiated by those who only pay attention when Bond shoots things.
David Arnold's soundtrack, the collectible fiction, the character art, and some interesting ideas weren't enough to salve the disappointment that I felt when playing 007 Legends. It's not the worst Bond game, and it's not the worst take on the films that I've seen, but while 007 Legends may have some of Bond's best lined up in one place, the empty routine tarnishes this license to kill.
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