Looking into the goldmine of the Bond legacy, Electronic Arts successfully convinced its licensors that bringing Sean Connery into the fold and re-envisioning an older movie license was a good thing. Agreed. The second Bond film represents the British spy-film formula to a tee, with its recipe of shooting-action, car chases, and high-tech gadgetry. It's a license that Rare was able to flesh out well with GoldeEye 007, and that EA has had some difficulty with over the years.
The videogame From Russia With Love, however, is a solid piece of videogame entertainment, even if it's a little on the light side. Originating from James Bond: Everything or Nothing (EON), the best Bond Game EA ever made, this season's Bond isn't the stinker that GoldenEye: Rogue Agent was, but it's neither Halo 2 nor Half-Life 2. The EA Redwood Shores title is a well-balanced game comprising respectable RPG-light elements, an interesting shooting mechanic, a little of everything. It's perfect for the casual gamer, but for the hardcore player, Russia leaves a lot to be desired.
Building on EON's interesting range of strengths, Russia is based on a real Bond film and it's refined several of the components lacking in the originator. For those who've seen the film, From Russia With Love, the game follows the story of Cold War conspiracies by the script, adding in a few extra missions for punch and completeness. Adding to the 14 regular missions are four bonus missions unlockable by obtaining points; each is a challenge mode (such as surviving a mission or defusing five bombs within a time limit), using familiar Bond landscapes. You'll play as the dapper young James Bond, re-enacted by Sir Sean Connery. Connery has lent his distinguished voice-acting talents and knowledge of the first Bond actor's movements to the game with great aplomb, even if the actor's Scottish accent is thicker, raspier and older sounding than before. While EA does a respectable job of making Russia feel like an authentic game rather than a schlocky movie-based game, the title's overall design follows a tried-and-true model of game making, so few surprises delivered and no one aspect sticks out as extraordinary.
EON delivered a few very good things, and Russia brings picks them up and refines them. First, the shooting mechanic, "borrowed" from Namco's shooter kill.switch. Players press the left trigger or shoulder button to aim their gun at an enemy or object and shoot with the right trigger. The mechanic is a solid one, if restraining. Players can back up against a wall and target over their shoulder. They can duck into a roll, target, and shoot an enemy. They can pull off melee maneuvers when up close to an enemy. They can also shoot a limited number of non-human objects, such as gas cans or explosive barrels. What's especially cool about this technique is that EA brought back the pipper, which enables players to target an enemy, then move a fine reticule within the larger target zone for precision aiming. It works just like in EON. Adding another layer, EA borrowed GoldenEye: Rogue Agent's capability to knock radios and grenades off enemies to temporarily debilitate or permanently blow them into street pizza. A zoom function indicates the items of interest, and it works efficiently.
My frustration with the entire aiming system is that non-human objects are tough to target regularly and the system doesn't permit players to shoot freely with any kind of realism. Sometimes shooting an explosive barrel next to an enemy is awkward or difficult. Sometimes shooting an object you'd like to shoot is impossible simply because EA didn't design and tag that object as an interactive object. The system works, but it's restricting. There were so many times when I wanted to experiment, to shoot different objects to see if they'd blow up, fall apart, or what have you, but was unable to. Also, why didn't EA tag enemy's heads as bonus shot areas? Seems pretty obvious to me that shooting an enemy directly in the head should earn you high points, as opposed to the gut shots it suggests.
Most folks will enjoy the jetpack, which adds a 3D element to both the single-player and multiplayer modes. Using it, you'll blast rockets or infinite amounts of heavy machine guns. Just like in multiplayer, you'll lock on with the left trigger, and when an enemy shot comes at you, pressing B or Circle and a direction will strafe you quick to the one side. The Jetpack looks and plays with ease, and it adds a little extra to the normal run and gun play. Unfortunately, the car and boat racing sections of the game are staid, status quo levels, that add nothing interesting, unique, or different to the kinds of Bond racing games we played before. In fact, the physics and control on every vehicle feels worse.
AI, Upgrades, and Multiplayer
The AI is decent but it doesn't stand out. Moreover, it doesn't appear smarter, stealthier, or more challenging than in EON. That's disappointing. Plus, the game on the average setting is darn easy. The range of enemies will stand in place and fire at you. Some will charge. Some will hide behind cover. While others will shoot and then do a decent job of hiding. The AI is average at best. Overall, while Russia's levels are longer and more complex than those in EON, the only time they become difficult is when an abundance of enemies swarm the screen simultaneously, and that only happens once in a while. The game offers a difficulty select screen before each mission, which, when combined with the possibility of unlocking bonus levels, will challenge players to replay each mission on harder difficulty levels. That's rewarding, too. By then, you'll have upgraded weapons and will want to use them in their new capacity.
The RPG aspects are sewn deep into the system, rewarding gamers with upgradeable weapons and gadgets. Even if it's been done before in other games better than in Russia, I love this system. You'll search through file cabinets, desks, and explore levels for data sheets and the like, each one rewarding you with upgrade points. Every gun, gadget or weapon is upgradeable. The only dent in the armor is that you can only upgrade ach weapon once. So, once you've upgraded the clip, ammo, speed, and special ammo characteristics once, that's it. No mas, senor. There is a lot of stuff to upgrade -- nine weapons, five gadgets -- so the upgrading is mostly wide, not deep; plus, you aren't likely to upgrade everything the first time through. Over 16 levels, I upgraded every weapon to the max except for the armor piercing rifle. So, it's really is an "RPG-lite" in the lightest sense. That could have been expanded for deeper play, adding more depth and replayability. And burliness. I want this game to be more burly!
Speaking of replayability, Russia is strong. The upgrade system is three-part. You'll collect Research Points to upgrade weapons; Points to unlock DVD stuff, like the "making of," "Meet the Bond girls," and so on, and Advance points, to unlock bonus levels. The menu provides a handy dossier to check the to do list of rewards achieved, and the clever Totals menus at each level's end reveals how to beat the desired time, what the Bond moment is, though not how to get it, and so forth. For the fast-burning gamer, this game is an easy eight hours. For the completest, it's about 15 or more.
That's not counting the multiplayer game, which, if you like the aiming mechanic, is an enjoyable assortment of deathmatch, capture the flag, and similar style games. The multiplayer is fun, but again, it's not deep so you'll get over its novelty after a few hours. It's four-player split-screen, not online. Thus, EA has minimized the polygon count for each level, and the framerate barely holds at 30 fps. A few levels stand out, enabling you to use jetpacks and cars, and one level enables you to use both. Oh yeah, there are a handful of bosses and a few mini-bosses, all of which are moderate to easy in difficulty.
EA's Redwood Shore team excelled in some graphic regions, while sticking to the status quo in others. The facial texture work on all characters, especially Sean Connery's Bond, is excellent. The lip synching is respectable, and the amount of musculature in every character's face is impressive. We're not talking Half-Life 2 here, but it's nonetheless eye-catching. The texture work on everything else, objects, cars, buildings, etc. is passable with no truly noticeable sections worth mentioning. Generally, the animation is workmanlike, though not in any way impressive. In fact, most characters move with a lot of stiffness and some noticeable awkward animations. What you will see that's likeable comprise enemy death animations, explosions, and some neat fiery work coming from near-destroyed cars, boats, and other vehicles.
The sound is also a mixture of good and average components. For instance, it's great to hear Sean Connery doing his thing as Bond in a videogame. That in itself is neat. As mentioned before, his voice sounds older, so the Scottish accent comes through thicker, and he clearly doesn't sound as young as his character looks, but hey, it's freaking Connery! The voice acting from several other characters is not better than the work done in the movie, which is to say, some of the dialog was pretty rough (even Connery's one-liners occasionally fall flat due to age and, well, not being all that great the first time around). Musically, you'll hear a respectable re-creation of the movie score, and sound effect wise, EA has finally got the whole Bond theme riff under control.
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