Two years ago, Eurocom rewrote the book on James Bond videogames. While the world of 007 games had languished after EA lost the license, Eurocom changed all that with their modern take on the Bond game Holy Grail, GoldenEye 007. Their 2010 Wii remake of GoldenEye, and its HD port GoldenEye Reloaded
for 360 and PS3, proved that the original N64 GoldenEye wasn’t a fluke—James Bond games could not only be good by licensed game standards, they could be damn good shooters in their own right.
Remaking GoldenEye and doing a fantastic job of it was one hell of a long shot, but Eurocom has upped the ante with 007 Legends, a spiritual sequel of sorts that incorporates not one, but ultimately six James Bond movies into one game. Like GoldenEye, this new game updates each movie to a modern setting, placing Daniel Craig as 007 in all of them, in this order: Goldfinger, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, License to Kill, Die Another Day and Moonraker. A sixth mission, based on the upcoming movie Skyfall, is set to release shortly after the film hits American theaters, so as not to spoil the plot of the movie. For the purposes of this review, I’ll be examining the game in its “unfinished” state, as it will release on October 16th,
Packing five classic Bond movies into a single game must have been quite an undertaking, and as I expected, it has some interesting effects on the gameplay and plot, with a few similarities even to some of the classic EA published Bond games, specifically Everything or Nothing and, naturally, the Eurocom-developed 007 Nightfire.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves—first things first. Eurocom clearly pulled out all the stops to make this an authentic Bond experience, right from the opening title; the game starts every time with the iconic Bond gun barrel sequence, and segues into a main menu featuring rotating profiles of all the legendary villains that feature in the game. 007 Legends is running on an enhanced version of the GoldenEye Reloaded engine, so as soon as I started the first mission I felt right at home. From the outset, 007 Legends plays a lot like GoldenEye Reloaded—you have standard cover-based firefights, melee attacks and explosives, but with a healthy mix of stealth and a couple much needed enhancements on standard cover mechanics.
Basically it’s a lot like one of the recent Call of Duty titles, but with more class and sophistication. But Eurocom didn’t just copy-paste the exact same gameplay mechanics from GoldenEye; they’ve added onto and enhanced a number of the concepts from GoldenEye, with…mixed results.
For starters, they’ve completely overhauled the stealth system. Unlike in GoldenEye, where if you were spotted an enemy would almost immediately call in reinforcements, in 007 Legends they have a suspicion gauge very similar to the Assassin’s Creed games. An arrow on the HUD points to any enemies that have spotted you, and the more visible you are/the longer they see you, their suspicion level will go from white to yellow to orange where they’ll come and investigate, and finally red for when you’re completely detected.
This system seems like a great idea at first and on paper it works just fine, but in practice there are a few things that make it very frustrating. Naturally, enemies are alerted by dead bodies so you have to be careful not to leave dead henchmen just lying out in the open. The only problem is that you can’t move bodies around and hide them. Even worse, stealth areas are positively packed with patrolling guards and cameras, so it’s highly likely that even enemies you’ve taken out off the beaten path will be discovered eventually, usually when you’re slowly sneaking toward the area’s exit.
This leads to aggravating trial-and-error where you restart a section over and over just to get the stealth sequences right. Your radar only highlights enemies in your general line of sight, so it’s very easy to get spotted or accidentally run right into a patrolling guard as you try to mentally map out an area. It typically took me at least 3 or 4 retries just to find out where all the guards were, much less find an effective way to take them all out or sneak past without being detected.
There are distraction items in the environment that you can set off to draw attention away from you, and a gadget is unlocked about halfway through the campaign that lets you fire distraction darts, but simply giving me the ability to hide bodies—something that’s been around since Metal Gear Solid 2—would’ve made the stealth sequences a lot more enjoyable. After so many retries I usually just gave up, and ran in guns blazing. Now that’s not something Bond would do, is it? Well maybe, but certainly not all the time.
GoldenEye Reloaded had perfect stealth gameplay partially because it was rather unrealistic. Enemies would vanish after you killed them, yes, but the multiple paths through levels, silent melee takedowns and quick, last-ditch suppressor kills made the stealth organic and fun, and most important of all you felt like James Bond, sneaking his way through an enemy base and beating the odds through quick thinking and concise action.
Since Daniel Craig began his tenure as Bond there’s been a dearth of high-tech gadgets and gimmicks in the Bond universe. I personally found this refreshing, but it’s been a bit of a damper on the games, which, in the Pierce Brosnan days, relied on gadgets to contrive cool gameplay moments and pad out Bond’s arsenal, setting him apart from just one more FPS dude with a gun. The lack of gadgets was felt particularly sorely in 007 Blood Stone
, which consisted almost entirely of dull, cover-based firefights. With the new Q making his debut in Skyfall, and with 007 Legends borrowing heavily from older Bond movies, it’s an appropriate time to give 007 a few of his toys back.
Bond isn’t weighted down with gimmicky goodies but the few he has in 007 Legends get a decent amount of use, and don’t border on the absurd or impractical like some of the goofball toys Roger Moore fiddled around with. His smartphone, for example, returns from GoldenEye but has a more codified set of functions, making it similar to the scan visor in the Metroid Prime series or Batman’s detective vision from Arkham City.
You can cycle through three vision modes—a camera, an EMP scope that scans for hack points and zappable items, and a bio-signature view that reveals finger prints and chemical traces. A small icon will flash on the HUD indicating when key items, hints or equipment are in the area, but in practice it can be a little difficult to find these things, even in the correct view mode.
Bond’s trusty watch is back as well, with its customary laser for melting security cameras and setting off radios and intercoms to distract guards. It also has a sonar ping display built into the face that tags enemies through walls and on different elevations—something the radar can’t do. The watch, however, doesn’t display topography and has a much lower-res display than the radar, so I found it useful only for judging the rough distance and location of guards—basically a “how screwed am I in this area?” meter. It did come in handy to detect bad guys waiting just around a corner, though, if I currently had the presence of mind to use it.
The final gadget in Bond’s arsenal is a dart-gun pen, which can fire sedative, electro-shock and distraction darts. I found the distraction darts to be most useful, although the sedatives could be handy in taking out wandering scientists (you still aren’t allowed to kill them) and the shocker darts could take out multiple guards in inconveniently close groups; guards in conversation were more likely to raise an alarm if I killed only one of them. All in all Eurocom has done a good, modest job of reintroducing Q-tech into Bond games, even if the gadgets could use a little bit of polish to be more indispensable during gameplay.
The other big addition to the gameplay is boss and minibioss fights that periodically interrupt the standard stealth and shooting. These are strictly scripted hand-to-hand events, where you have to dodge your opponent’s strikes and land your own with judiciously timed flicks of the left and right analog sticks, waiting for openings in your enemy’s defenses. Some enemies will attack you with blunt weapons or knives and you have to disarm them before you can get down to punching it out.
I appreciate the thought and I understand Eurocom must have been under one hell of a time crunch to get this game out the door, but these boss fights are too homogenous. You defeat random thugs the same way you defeat big bads like Blofeld and Jaws—the big boss fights just last a little longer and have some scripted, non-interactive scuffling added, and each one plays exactly the same, as a simple sequence of quick-time events. The final fight with Trevelyan in GoldenEye Reloaded also used quick-time events, but it was a huge, multi-part slug-out on the collapsing antenna cradle with axes, pipes and a lot of bone-crunching and skull-cracking involved. The quick-time battles in 007 Legends just aren’t as exciting or memorable, which is too bad considering the legendary villains you’re fighting.
The gameplay is a bit of a mixed bag overall, but it definitely skews toward the better. It has GoldenEye’s pedigree in it, and I applaud Eurocom for trying new things and taking risks—they could’ve just as easily taken the Call of Duty route and churned out the exact same game year after year. 007 Legends is certainly airtight as far as the technical aspect; I didn’t run into a single bug or glitch on my playthrough, even if the objectives were a bit opaque and it was difficult at times to figure out what the game wanted me to do.
Rather, it’s the plot that runs into a few snags. Eurocom recruited veteran Bond writer Bruce Feirstein, the same man behind the GoldenEye movie script and the story of the 2010 remake, to connect five classic Bond films in 007 Legends, and update them to the Daniel Craig continuity to boot. While the game hits all the iconic moments from each film, making them all fit into one cohesive story is sadly a feat too great even for Mr. Feirstein.
The setup is rather clever. The game begins like the new movie Skyfall, with Bond being inadvertently shot by an ally and falling off a moving train into the river below. He subsequently hallucinates as he drifts through the water, and dreams about a number of past missions.
The choice of movies at least makes a lot of sense. Goldfinger is one of the all-time great films from the Sean Connery era, establishing tropes and story beats that would be the bread and butter of Bond films for decades to come, and seeing as From Russia with Love was already adapted into a very good game by EA, Goldfinger was really the only choice.
I’m impressed that they included On Her Majesty’s Secret Service at all. George Lazenby’s only appearance as 007, it’s a more somber, slowly-paced movie with some huge events that affect Bond for the rest of his career—that is until the series was rebooted with Casino Royale.
The game then breaks movie order and goes straight to License to Kill. As one of Timothy Dalton’s two films, this one is a decidedly darker mission of revenge against a Mexican drug lord, and it fits more with Craig’s tortured portrayal of 007 than any of the other movies adapted for the game. 007 Legends then shifts to the Pierce Brosnan era with Die Another Day, which appropriately enough is mostly action-packed thrills and little else, much like the movie it is based on.
The final mission is Moonraker. Taken from Roger Moore’s lengthy tenure as Bond, this movie is also one of the corniest, most dated entries in the film series and Eurocom did an elegant job of bringing it up to date. Yes there are still space shuttles and laser battles, but the end result is a lot more epic than the cheesy space battle from the 1979 movie, and fan-favorite henchman Jaws doesn’t fall in love and turn into a big bumbling softy like he did in the film, so just that alone is a big improvement.
007 Legends doesn’t adapt each film in its entirety or do each one equal justice, but instead modernizes the most memorable moments, and more or less turns the last climactic act of each movie into a series of levels. This means that you get to see Bond almost sliced in half by Goldfinger’s laser; you experience the desperate assault on Blofeld’s mountain stronghold; you blow up Sanchez’s cocaine plant and immolate him after a tanker truck chase; you infiltrate Grave’s ice hotel, chase down his henchman Zhao and then battle Graves on his plane; and finally you destroy Hugo Drax’s space station.
These are all great sequences and they are well presented and modernized in the game, to a degree. But without the buildup of each movie, they feel very disconnected, and in any case Daniel Craig’s Bond feels even more anachronistic than ever. In the GoldenEye remake, Craig worked because Eurocom so deftly modernized the story and setting, and the GoldenEye movie was only from the mid 90s, not the 60s, 70s, and so forth. Craig’s Bond just doesn’t fit, however, in a zany spy world of lasers, space battles and characters like Jaws. Casino Royale was a reboot for a reason, and try as they might Eurocom just can’t splice the climaxes of five older movies into that new continuity, especially with so little buildup for the individual villains.
Bond villains always have this great set-up for the first two acts of the movie that lays out their motivations and usually what made them insane or villainous in the first place. Goldfinger, Franz Sanchez, even Gustav Graves and especially Blofeld all had these great melodramatic reasons for their mad schemes. You lose a lot of that bluster and scenery-chewing because the game omits huge chunks of the movies it adapts, so you don’t feel much motivation to take these guys down; they are more of a series of bosses than anything else.
The game tries to make up for some of this with the collectable intel you find scattered around the levels, which fills in the backstory of the villains and henchmen, but in the end Daniel Craig’s Bond feels like an outsider in this world of classic Bond movies, with little stake or emotional drive to complete his missions. This also comes from some of the glaring continuity problems the game creates and never bothers to explain.
Why is Bond’s CIA friend Felix Leiter portrayed by Caucasian actor Demetri Goritsas, when he was reintroduced in Casino Royale as played by African-American actor Jeffrey Wright? Why is Ernst Stavro Blofeld, historically Bond’s arch-nemesis, abruptly introduced as the villain of OHMSS with no buildup or history established? Why is Bond even getting married to Tracy Draco, when his devastating loss of Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale taught him to trust no-one and never get close to anyone ever again? Mind you, all of these missions take place in the brief six years since Bond gained his 00 agent status in Casino Royale, and who knows where Quantum of Solace fits into all this.
The previous Bond films, spanning decades, had a subtle but complex continuity. The whole point of rebooting it with Craig was to start fresh, so cramming all of these older movies and their baggage into the clean slate reboot canon is kind of missing the point. Even with all the continuity errors, you have to be a huge 007 nerd like me and have seen all the movies multiple times to understand where the individual plots are going and why you should even care. I had an idea of what was happening in each one because I know the movies, but for a 007 novice just getting into the series, the rapid plot-switches could get very jarring.
007 Legends is not a bad game for its story inconsistencies, but the whole affair could have been done far more gracefully. Even the ending, at the climax of the Moonraker mission, comes out of nowhere and goes straight to the credits without so much as a cutscene. Of course, there is that sixth mission based on Skyfall that will be released as full DLC, so hopefully that ties things together better and serves as a fitting climax to a game composed almost entirely of climaxes.
Of course if I just spent all day griping about the story campaign, I’d miss a huge part of the Bond game experience: multiplayer! 007 Legends may be a bit jumbled and over-ambitious in the single player and story departments, but Eurocom has used its experience with GoldenEye reloaded to hone the multiplayer into a peerless experience.
As with the single player, 007 Legends multiplayer is like Call of Duty but more interesting. It also shares many, many similarities to GoldenEye Reloaded but has been expanded upon and tightened up. Both online and split-screen modes are available and the divide is a lot more unilateral this time; split screen has more options, better balance and greater variety. Both modes have a huge roster of characters to choose from, including nearly all of Bond’s classic villains. Even better, when character attributes are enabled, each character has specific perks, weapons and stats to match their movie skills. This can make matches a bit lopsided but they can also be more entertaining this way.
The online mode’s leveling system has been upgraded as well. You unlock new perks, gadgets and weapons/attachments as usual as you rise up the ranks, but 007 Legends also introduces its equivalent of Prestige mode, with 00 Specialization. All of the modes from GoldenEye Reloaded return, including Escalation (basically gun game), Icarus Strike (renamed from GoldenEye Strike for obvious reasons) and the ever amusing take on CTF, Black Box. As an added bonus, both single and multiplayer allow you to use standard recharging health or the classic, semi-circular health and body armor meters made famous by GoldenEye. I’ve already played some great matches in split-screen, testing out the various options and modifiers, so I can’t wait for the online servers to open and light up. I spent months playing GoldenEye’s online multiplayer back on Wii, and I expect I’ll lose many more to 007 Legends’ more complex and more stable online mode.
In terms of production values, 007 Legends is about what you’d expect from a high-budget licensed game, with a few surprises. Eurocom’s facial animation is as impressive and eerily realistic as ever, and the game overall has seen a noticeable boots in visuals from GoldenEye Reloaded. That said, I felt like the phong-shading was a little over-done at times; perhaps it was just the more colorful environments of the classic Bond movies, but a lot of the guns and objects looked a little too shiny to me, as if they were made of plastic. GoldenEye had a very stark, austere palette with a lot of blues, grays and subdued tones, so perhaps the switch to Moonraker and Goldfinger’s lively 60s and 70s colors is throwing me a bit.
The sound work is great as usual, with David Arnold composing a rousing instrumental version of the Goldfinger theme for the game’s opening title, although I had hoped it would be a little longer and include musical cues to all five movies’ theme songs. Kevin Kiner, the composer of GoldenEye Reloaded’s score, is back to provide the in-game music. Kiner does sample each movie for the soundtrack, which I really appreciated, especially the OHMSS pieces. The incidental stealth music can get a little repetitive but overall Mr. Kiner pulls off another affecting 007 game score. There were even a few hints of Blood Stone’s music in there, which was a nice easter egg for longtime fans.
In the end, 007 Legends is just that: a love letter to fans of James Bond films and games. It’s just a little disappointing that it didn’t turn out as cohesive or thrilling as I was hoping, but then again I can’t fault Eurocom for daring to push their limits. I would prefer that they work on single movies or stories like they did with GoldenEye, as I just feel this plays to their strengths better, and if they focus and refine the new ideas they have in 007 Legends, they really have the potential to make the ultimate Bond game as opposed to one that is merely great.
As for the multiplayer, however, I have no complaints. I can already tell this will be a new addiction for me, and I’m even more excited to see how it works on the Wii U version due out in a couple months. I’m also excited to play the final Skyfall chapter and attain a Quantum of Solace, as it were, from 007 Legends’ story. Eurocom has been making James Bond video games for over a decade and they have it down to a science. Rare may have hit it out of the park with GoldenEye 64 back in the day, but Eurocom has spent a career crafting the perfect 007 experience. They’ve earned the James Bond mantle many times over and deserve to be the sole curators of his videogames. James Bond will return, and Eurocom will be there to make sure it is a triumphant one.