When Electronic Arts first announced From Russia With Love I was excited, it felt like my dreams were starting to come true. As a huge fan of the 007 film series I was overjoyed to have another chance to relive a Bond adventure, and the fact that Sean Connery, the greatest Bond of them all, would be reprising his role made it all the better. From Russia With Love is one of the best Bond outings, a story full of cool gadgets and intrigue. But despite having so much going for it EA's video game port of the 1963 movie just couldn't recreate the magic.
It's been six months since From Russia With Love was unleashed on the console market, just enough time for Electronic Arts to port it to Sony's PlayStation Portable. This PSP game is essentially a direct port of what Xbox and PlayStation 2 owners were playing back in November, everything from the graphics to the cinema scenes are the same. But just because this is a port doesn't mean it's the same. The PSP's hardware manages to create a few new problems and EA made a number of questionable edits to the story mode. All this adds up to yet another disappointing adventure for our favorite British spy.
From Russia With Love takes James Bond to Istanbul to meet up with a valuable (and foxy) Russian defector who claims to have fallen in love with the agent. But Bond is being set up, and that means that a lot of action ensues. Soon he's dealing with the evil "Octopus" (or, SPECTRE, as it was known in the movie) organization and their attempts to trap the world's most exciting bachelor. In true Bond style bad guys are killed, bombs are planted, and women are embraced.
All of this story and presentation is fine … until you start playing the game. The game's shortcomings are apparent right from the very start. For one thing, if you're the type of person that wants to run and gun then you're not going to get very far. Thanks to a ridiculously low bullet count Bond has to line up each shot with precision. This means that every time you want to kill somebody you have to go into what the game calls "Bond Focus". By pushing the square button the camera will jump closer to the target and allow you to use the analog nub to focus your shot. When you use this Bond Focus you will also see enemy's weak spots, making some of the more difficult baddies a lot easier to take down.
This Bond Focus isn't a bad addition to the 007 game play, but the fact that you have to use it every time cheapens the effect. Had the game given players more ammo (or at the very least the ability to hold more ammo) this Bond Focus could have been used more sparingly, but as it is the use of this gimmick is imperative to you staying alive. Unfortunately this is just the start of From Russia With Love's problems.
The real enemy in this Bond adventure isn't Octopus or the Russians; it's the crummy camera system Electronic Arts cursed the game with. From the very first scene until the last boss you are going to be fighting the camera, but since the camera controls (which are mapped to the system's face buttons) are so slow you'll find that you're stuck in a losing battle. To make matters worse, if you aren't looking directly at an enemy you won't be able to lock on with your aimer. Too many times I found myself being shot at from off screen unable to lock on and take them out, leading to a lot of cheap hits and unfair deaths.
Bond does have a healthy selection of weapons at his disposal, all of which can be upgraded at least once. Most of the weapons are your standard Bond fare; you get your trusty PP7, an assault rifle, a shotgun, an even a bazooka. Along for the ride are a few Bond gadgets, like the Q-Copter and the Laser Watch. The problem is that outside of a few specific locations, you won't really have much of a use for these gadgets. They are nice to have around, but it's a shame Electronic Arts didn't go that extra step and pack this game with memorable (and useful) items.
As I said before, every gun in From Russia With Love can be upgraded. You gain experience from simply killing your enemies, the more guys you mow down in a row the higher your experience goes. You also get extra points for shooting bad guys in their weak spot and disposing of them in a timely fashion. By the end of the game you will have upgraded every major weapon in the game as well as a few you probably don't use that often.
One problem people had with the original console version of From Russia With Love was the game's length, a dedicated player could easily bust through it in a matter of hours. Instead of making the PSP version longer, Electronic Arts actually made this game shorter! By cutting out all of the driving sequences this PSP Bond gets rid of the few exciting elements from the original console game. It's not that these driving missions were especially good, but they were a welcome change of pace to the run and gun action that makes up the rest of the game. Considering that some of the PSP's best games are racing titles it seems odd to exclude these missions in this port, and worse yet, it makes the experience that much shorter.
As it is From Russia With Love is an excruciatingly short adventure that fails to recreate the best elements of the movie. The game is made up of eight short and linear levels that will take you no more than four or five hours to complete. The locations are varied, with featuring a battle on a train, in a factory, gypsy camp, and of course, a secret lair of the evil Octopus organization.
Unfortunately this video game version of From Russia With Love doesn't follow the movie as closely as you might expect. Much of the game takes place away from the action of the movie, allowing you to see new locations and use alternate vehicles (such as the jet pack). Some of the best moments in the game come when you see things you remember from the movie, such as the action-packed heist at the Russian consulate. But more times than not you'll be playing something that has nothing to do with the film, something that just doesn't add much to the overall experience.
Between these levels you see the story unfold thanks to a number of interesting cut scenes. It's great to have Sean Connery back as Bond, even after all of the other actors have had their shot, Sean is still the best. Unfortunately it's been 43 years since From Russia With Love hit theaters, and Sean Connery's voice is not the same. The Bond in this game sounds old and haggard, not the young and full of energy Bond you remember. Nevertheless, it's great to have Mr. Connery back, even if his voice isn't quite right. It's a shame that the script writers didn't give the actor more to do, his sequences are over far too quickly.
Speaking of the cinemas, while they may have cut out all of the driving sequences, they didn't bother to change the cinemas leading up to them. There are a few moments in the game where the cinema implies that you're about to witness an action-packed driving sequence, but all we get is another cinema that shows that we managed to survive that race. It's almost as if the game is not showing you the best part of the action scene on purpose, it's just there to tease you. This problem is only amplified late in the game where it's painfully obvious that there are supposed to be a couple of race sequences in a row.
The cinemas in From Russia With Love are not especially sharp, the video quality has a muddy look that isn't very attractive. Actually, the entire game isn't very attractive. Some of the locations are nice, but most of the textures are large and blocky, and many of the enemies and objects are repeated. To be fair, the console game wasn't especially attractive either, but some of the polygons are more obvious on this handheld version. That's not to say the graphics are bad, but they aren't going to blow you away.
The music is pretty good … for a few minutes. The game's score sounds like it comes right out of the movie, but it can get a bit repetitious and all start to sound the same after only a short amount of game play. The voice acting is strong, though, so the cinemas are usually worth paying attention to.
With only eight levels (and no racing sequences) it's not going to take long for you to save the world and get the girl. Perhaps Electronic Arts sensed this, because they have gone ahead and added a whole bunch of odd mini-games you may or may not want to play. These mini-games are timed missions that have you doing everything from shooting a certain amount of enemies to racing your Q-Copter to shooting down an enemy helicopter. Do these tasks fast enough and you'll get your initials on the leader board. It's certainly nice to see Electronic Arts add something to this version of From Russia With Love, but since these missions weren't fun in the campaign mode I suspect most people won't want to play them outside of the game. They are also extremely short, most taking less than a minute to accomplish. They don't even begin to make up for the lack of the driving missions.
Along with the mini-games, From Russia With Love also features multiplayer game play for up to six players. The game comes with a few variations, including a standard deathmatch, a last man standing battle, and flying versions of both modes (where you use your trusty jetpack). Unfortunately none of these modes are much fun. For one thing the levels are extremely small and they aren't much fun to move around in. It's also entirely too easy to auto aim and kill somebody instantly (this is especially true when you're playing with the jetpacks). And that's just the tip of the iceberg; From Russia With Love also features a pointless radar, stupid power-ups, and other awful features that render this mode useless.
From Russia With Love just doesn't have a lot going for it. The game's controls are fundamentally broken, the cameras are terrible, the game is extremely short, the mini-games are a joke and nobody will be entertained by the multiplayer modes … this just isn't a very good Bond game. About the only thing Electronic Arts gets right is 007's look, circa 1963. Everything else seems to come a short, one thing the real James Bond never had to worry about. This is nothing more than a lazy port of a mediocre console game.
Electronic Arts quickly ports this disappointing console game to the PSP. And guess what? From Russia With Love is a disappointing PSP game that is hurt by poor controls, a lazy camera, and some strange editing decisions!