The first James Bond game was released a quarter century ago. James Bond 007 was a 1983 side-scroller developed and published by Parker Bros for Atari 2600, Atari 5200, Commodore 64, and ColecoVision.
We’ve come a long way since then. Bond’s next-generation debut, Quantum of Solace for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, is mere weeks away.
Movie tie-ins like A View to a Kill, Goldfinger, The Living Daylights, Live and Let Die, License to Kill, James Bond: The Stealth Affair, James Bond Jr. and James Bond: The Duel populated consoles and PCs from 1985-1993.
The popularity of stepping into Bond’s virtual shoes exploded 1997, when Rare broke new ground with its memorable Goldeneye 007 for the Nintendo 64. Goldeneye 007 has received strong reviews, averaging to an astonishing 95.176% as calculated by gamerankings.com (an aggregate site averaging the review scores from multiple outlets), and has sold more than 8 million copies worldwide according to a 2002 press release by Rare. When the credits rolled after an epic battle with Alec “006” Trevelyan high above the ground in a satellite cradle, Rare promised that “James Bond Will Return”.
He did, in Tomorrow Never Dies, a game met relatively unenthusiastically in contrast to the successes of Goldeneye. But when James Bond returned yet again, Electronic Arts had swept in for the kill. In Bond’s final Nintendo 64 appearance, the World is Not Enough debuted in 1999 with a new logo on the box.
Following this competent first crack at the franchise by EA, a slew of non-movie based games were conceived, starting with the poorly received 007 Racing for PlayStation in 2000. The series was revitalized on the then-new PlayStation 2, GameCube and Xbox platforms in 2001 with Agent Under Fire. Then came Nightfire, Everything or Nothing, Goldeneye: Rogue Agent and EA’s finale, From Russia With Love featuring Sean Connery in 2005.
Turning a New Leaf
England’s global representative is not really the Queen, but rather explosively dangerous and dangerously womanizing super-spy James Bond.
Electronic Arts was supposed to develop bond games until 2010, but MGM studios (the people behind the Bond films) terminated the contract when EA abandoned movie tie-ins of Die Another Day and Casino Royale. Activision scooped up the world famous 007 digits in 2007 and assigned developer Treyarch (Call of Duty 3, Call of Duty World at War) a 007 tie-in to Quantum of Solace. That game is scheduled for release simultaneously with the film on November 14, 2008.
Different Face, Different Bond
You’ll be in the post-Brosnan era for the first time in a Bond experience. You’ll play the Bond portrayed by fair-haired bad boy Daniel Craig: cunning, lethal, and smart. Q-branch was polite enough to bring the gadgets in years past, but in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, Bond is left in the field with the simplicity of little gadgetry. As the filmmakers told Treyarch from the get go, “Bond’s greatest weapon is his mind.”
There will be a technical face lift as well. The game uses the same engine that Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare rocked the gaming-sphere with in 2007. It’s been modified to allow for third person cover.
Executive Producer of the Bond Team at Treyarch, Garrett Young, states “When we looked at how we wanted to re-launch this franchise, we asked gamers what they wanted in a Bond game. When asked about a first- vs. third-person in-game camera, most of them said they wanted to ‘Be Bond’ (first-person camera) – but there was still quite a few people who said they wanted to see Bond on-screen (third-person camera). So after some long conversations with our Engineers, we decided to do both!”
Of course, no amount of technology can compensate for a lack of enthusiasm for the actors. It would seem as if sometimes on-screen actors don’t translate well into their licensed game counterparts. Young assures us that the actors “bent over backwards to help make the game great”. “We found out Daniel Craig is actually a gamer too! The first time I showed him the game, I think he may have been a little bit nervous about how we made him look and sound. Once he saw himself in motion though, he was very happy with the results – he even borrowed the development kit to show his buddies the next day,” he said.
If Daniel Craig is truly a gamer, it’s cause to be optimistic that he poured time and effort into the proper representation of his on-screen character in-game.
It’s in the Game (or Isn’t)
The Quantum of Solace game is recreating scenes from both 2006’s Casino Royale and the fast-approaching film of its namesake. It will expand on some scenes that hit the cutting room floor; for instance, a train combat scene (perhaps reminiscent of Goldeneye‘s famed train mission) that was cut in favor of a dialogue between Bond and Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale.
There is a construction site mission that involves chasing down a bomber, inspired by the first action sequence of Casino Royale, but there is no playable parkour (free running).
The most notable absence: gone are the signature driving missions. Driving is a staple of the James Bond experience, like butter on toast, and a driving scene done right would have undoubtedly added to the experience. But Young stands by the decision, boiling it down to quality over quantity. “With Quantum of Solace, our first priority was to get the core gameplay right, and we wanted to ensure that everything we put into our game is high quality and extremely well polished. I’ve played games where it felt as if one or two driving levels were bolted on to add “variety” and a longer checklist on the back of the box. That’s not the experience we want in our game, and we didn’t feel we had the time to really build the type of driving experience gamers would expect in a James Bond game,” he asserts. “We did discuss it – and we do have Bond’s Aston Martin DBS in the game – but at the end of the day, we decided not to do any driving levels in our game.”
Also, no classic characters will be returning (Jaws, Mayday, etc.), as Treyarch places their focus on the new Bond, Daniel Craig, and the new direction he etched in Casino Royale. Young reassures us that the new doesn’t necessarily mean leaving the old behind — “if you look closely you may see a few fun references to Bond’s past.”
The game supports 12-player online play across many different game modes. One of those new modes is called “Bond Versus”, where one player playing as Bond must defuse bombs or take out all members of the Organization, as played by everyone else in the session. “Golden Gun” will also return to form, starring the one-hit-kill gun first wielded by antagonist Francisco Scaramanga in the 1974 film, The Man With the Golden Gun.
There are upgradeable weapons to maximize playing variety, presumably similar to Call of Duty 4‘s persistent character system.
Young claims “The guys over at headquarters even told us that the biggest problem they found during their multiplayer testing is keeping the testers from playing it all the time!”
Inspired From the Past, For the Future
It’s hard to ignore the elephant in the room: the inevitable Rare or EA comparisons. Young tells us that one member of the development team chose his career based on Goldeneye. So, how will Treyarch compete with the high standards that have augmented uncontrollably as nostalgia grows stronger over time?
“Our goal was to create a great core gameplay experience first, then immerse that gameplay in the world of James Bond,” Young said. “The core difference gamers will see in this game is in our James Bond. The filmmakers ‘re-booted’ James Bond in Casino Royale, and this new Bond formed the vision for the experience we wanted to deliver in Quantum of Solace: Daniel Craig is a much more physical, more cunning, and more dangerous Bond than ever before. We think gamers will notice the difference right away.”
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