First of all, happy holidays, everyone.
I technically have two games to write about at the moment: the town remodeling at the expense of dead soldiers I’ve been attending to in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, and exploring ONE cave so far as a racist elf in Dragon Age: Origins, a game I am finally getting to play.
There is one thing I’ve made clear everywhere but here. I’m a pretty big James Bond fan. I’m no superfan. I haven’t read every book, I can’t recall every gadget used in every scene of every movie, and although I’ll say Connery is the number one Bond, I put Daniel Craig under a hairline second in spite of his two-film-three-game resume. I like the character. Even if you may not like WHAT he does (kill, but you know, he’s licensed to), but you have to respect HOW he gets it done. I like many interpretations of the character even if I don’t always agree on them. I have an eerie fascination with the style of the 1960s as seen in films like Goldfinger, Thunderball, and From Russia with Love. Overall, James Bond is awesome.
After Licence to Kill in 1989, the world didn’t see another film in the franchise for six years until Pierce Brosnan debuted as the famous spy in GoldenEye. Two years after the film, Nintendo and Rareware released GoldenEye for the Nintendo 64 console. A strange wind swept over us all as nearly every single N64 owner fell absolutely in love with everything about the game. It’s a first-person shooter we could play on a console and not with a keyboard and mouse. For 1997, the details, miniscule ones like bullet holes in the walls, were amazing. Hit detection, textures, they were all worth applauding. It gave the player tasks to accomplish that were beyond shooting your way from Point A to Point B, something I wish would return to modern shooters. In addition to an already fantastic single-player, there was a multiplayer mode included with dozens of characters to choose from and many modes and special options to configure, and this is before the explosion of the online deathmatches we all know and love today. In short, GoldenEye was gold.
Many attempts to recreate the game’s success had been met with decent to lackluster to awful reception. The videogame adaptation of 1999′s The World Is Not Enough was a decent entry, but forgettable. It was developed by Eurocom, as after GoldenEye, I believe MGM Interactive had the license and put out the games for Tomorrow Never Dies (an apparently terrible third-person action game) and 007 Racing (…). EA Games had it for the 21st century, releasing Agent Under Fire, which I’ve never played and never will and apparently I’m not missing much. Nightfire was a rather good game for 2002, although when I tried to play it last year good lord was I terrible at it because of the mechanics. 2004 gave us Everything or Nothing, which boasted some good production values. It featured R&B singer Mya in a role as well as the artist for the game’s theme song. It casted Pierce Brosnan, who had filmed his last Bond movie, the mediocre Die Another Day, two years prior, as well as Judi Dench as M and Willem Dafoe as the game’s villain. I actually managed to buy the Gamecube game for $5 and intend to finish it soon. In the decent attempts to make magic happen, it seems we all hoped to see another great game like GoldenEye.
Then EA released GoldenEye: Rogue Agent. I never played it and I never will. It received pretty mediocre to scathing reviews, and a lot of comments touched upon its use of the “GoldenEye” name to try and attract buyers. Studios, in whatever efforts they could exercise to bring in the cash, seemed to think we wanted another GoldenEye in name. We loved GoldenEye on the N64 because it’s a GREAT game. I’ve personally never had conversations with folks about how much they loved the movie as much, or the movie in context to the game. It’s a great adaptation of a James Bond movie, sure, but at its core it is a fantastic game that was incredibly well-realized and designed. We’re not in love with the name; we’re in love with the game. Certain evidence might point against me, as Rare did release a spiritual successor in Perfect Dark in 2000, which didn’t sell as well I believe but received equally acclaimed remarks. I personally argue that Perfect Dark could have seen more success if it hadn’t been released towards the end of the N64′s life span, as we were gearing up at that point for Project Dolphin (the Gamecube), and anticipating the next Legend of Zelda installment in Majora’s Mask. Plus, we needed the expansion pack to actually play the solo mode, otherwise we were reduced to shooting it up against bots (made for a disappointing summer rental at that time). Perfect Dark is a great game and worth revisiting on Xbox Live, but I digress!
Apparently Activision didn’t completely realize or correctly interpret our love for GoldenEye, since they thought their best attempts and best use of the license was to remake the golden goose with Eurocom. It’s seeing good reviews, but it personally leaves a bad taste in my mouth that we clamor for the name itself. Activision released their first 007 game: Quantum of Solace, in 2008 the same week or month the film saw its theatrical release. It was developed by Treyarch, the beta team for the Call of Duty games and remember when they did awesome ports of Tony Hawk games for the Dreamcast? It was a toddler’s version of Call of Duty, reflecting mostly on the Casino Royale film and story (my favorite Bond movie now) and just feeling like a shameless attempt for cash. I scored every achievement in that game. It required zero effect, and did not feel like much of an achievement at all. If you can snag it at a flea market for $5, I recommend it.
The reviews for the game were decent (a generous adjective) to critical (again, generous). They also did the inevitable comparison to GoldenEye, and it was at that point I had come to the realization that I wish everyone else would: WE’RE NEVER GOING TO SEE ANOTHER GOLDENEYE AGAIN AND IT’S SOMETHING WE WILL ALL HAVE TO COPE WITH IMMEDIATELY. Even Rare, who’s been sitting around twiddling their thumbs as a Microsoft property, doesn’t seem to have the incentive to make great games like they used to. Activision, with their reputation for being another money-and-power-hungry megalomaniacal corporation (to whose surprise?), acquired this potentially fun and great license just so no one else could have it, and squander it with mediocrity like Quantum of Solace. That sounds harsh for just one game from one company, until they released Blood Stone last month. I enjoyed what I played of Blood Stone, developed by Bizarre Creations (the folks behind Project Gotham Racing and the Geometry Wars series), when I tested it out at the New York Comic-Con months back. The game gets released to negative reviews, citing an apparently short campaign (four hours, I hear) and I guess not much in the way of multiplayer. Activision dumps this license on a talented team they couldn’t care less for as they count the profits from their latest Tony Hawk’s Call of Duty Shredding Hero game. It saddens me. Because this is the internet, it will all be met with indifference, and I will say to those people that they are part of the problem. I understand that a mediocre game isn’t worth marketing, and that’s where it should start. Activision should at least pretend to care and put out ONE good game in this franchise that’s not a remake that misses the point even if it is decent. GoldenEye has actually seen a lot of marketing, way more than Blood Stone. My bias lies in my decision not to embrace the GoldenEye remake. I will play it eventually, but the whole philosophy behind it makes me feel a little dirty.
So today, Activision is taking another stab at Bond, with Raven Software. They are the fine folks behind Marvel Ultimate Alliance, Wolfenstein (which you probably didn’t play or enjoy), and the recent Singularity (heard of it?), which is apparently decent, but Activision won’t tell you much about it since it doesn’t have the name “Call of Duty” on it. I can already predict that the next Bond game will be met with a constant stream of average to decent reviews, marked with scores between 4 and 7, and will sell two copies because there will be absolutely no marketing for it, and people will just wonder why they bothered in the first place.
I would personally attempt to trust EA with this license again and, of all developers, hand the license off to BioWare. Yes, THAT BioWare. Mass Effect, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic BioWare.
One of the things about James Bond games is that they’re straight-up shameless action games. You’re pretty much in the action setpieces of these attempts to recreate the mood and feel of James Bond movies. Between cut scenes of awkwardly rendered and animated Bonds spitting out some quip about women’s genitalia, we’re shooting at the same turtlenecked henchmen over and over until we see “MISSION COMPLETE” on the screen. M doesn’t really tell Bond to go to Exotic Location A and shoot up guys who give you the slightest dirty look (oh, and take this MP5N with you). Believe it or not, Bond movies TRY to have a story behind it. Heck, even the GoldenEye game had dossiers and case files that set up the context of the who, what, where, when, and why of how many Walther PPK bullets you put into those Commie Nazis. Bond, before he’s the killer, is actually quite the investigator. The train scene in Casino Royale will demonstrate that he’s one hell of a detective and great at surmise, and can read ANYONE like a book. It’s the whole incentive for his playing poker in the film. Incidentally, said scene, a battle of wits and words between smooth Daniel Craig and the luscious Eva Green, is a mission in the Quantum of Solace game: a literal battle with guns as Bond chases some drug czar on his way to the poker game. That’s what’s so great about these ridiculous and mediocre movie-games: every scene is a quest of survival! Anyway, Bond talks to folks, finds clues, gets leads, which will mean doing some talking. Since developers are obsessed now with trying to flesh out characters and have cutscenes interrupting my dynamics with their games, why not have the one developer who’s mastered the art of dialogue? Bond can play just like Mass Effect. If you want to keep the idea that Bond is already skilled in combat, then it doesn’t have to be a role-playing game. It would admittedly be strange for Bond to JUST learn how to be a sniper 10 hours into his mission. Bond can find clues, talk to people on the Citadel–I mean, well, wherever in the Bahamas he’s sent. The dialogue trees can even let the player play as the Bond they prefer: be the smooth yet aggressive Connery, the cold, no-nonsense Dalton, focused but reckless Brosnan, or stoic and overall badass Craig. Hell, most, if not all BioWare games let you create your protagonists anyway. It could be one hell of a licensed game. Why am I the only one who’s thought of this? Or am I?
Please, do something worthwhile with this license or let someone who might give a damn take a shot. Don’t be greedy, Activision*.
*Yeah, futile, I know.