MI6 visited EA Canada for an exclusive play-test
of the new Bond game "Everything or Nothing"
"Everything or Nothing" Exclusive Play-Test
29th January 2004
MI6 visited the Burnaby office of Electronic Arts in British
Columbia, Canada, late last year for an exclusive play test of
the latest Bond game "Everything or Nothing".
Although the pre-titles teaser sequence had yet to be designed
and the multi-player missions were unavailable in this build,
the main game was there in full and was immediately impressive.
From the slick menus and videos, stunning graphics, to the immersive
soundtrack (although some spot effects were still to be added),
within five minutes of play it was clear this game was breaking
the mould. What would unfold over the next four hours of talk
and game-play revived all expectations that this could well indeed
be the fabled "GoldenEye" beater.
Producer Scott Blackwood
led the mission briefing, the man with the formidable
task of looking over all of the
driving levels in the game. From the Aston Martin Vanquish
speeding through the rainy streets of New Orleans, to the
new Triumph Daytona 600 whizzing along the Pontchartrain
Bridge in pursuit of Jaws, the vast array of vehicular
action in EoN is bewildering.
Habib Zargarpour, the Senior
of the driving missions, popped in wielding man-size displays
of level maps to demonstrate just how big the game really
is. Quite simply "Everything or Nothing" features
level maps bigger than any Bond game before. Not only that,
but the non-linear aspect of the design allows the game
to play multiple paths through a mission, sometimes in
vehicles, and yet without any obvious T-junctions in the
game play (more on that later).
By the time of this visit the game was scheduled to out
be in stores, so what was the story behind the delay? Officially
EA announced it was in order to add extra game play features
to "Everything or Nothing", which is true in part.
The online gaming was not originally in the features plan,
but it was
possible with the release date slipped to February 2004.
Right: The "Everything or Nothing" girls pose in a similar
style to the TWINE international release poster.
However, it was clear that
the delay was mainly because the game simply was not finished.
Although the levels were built (bar the teaser sequence), all the
dialog and cut scenes wrapped, the game still had bugs (such as
being able to drive the Porsche Cayenne through the wall of 003's
hideout and appearing up on the roof). All games have bugs, it
is an inevitable part of the development cycle, and the exhaustive
testing that is required for a game the size of EoN simply had
not been completed by the time it was due out. A lesson must have
been learnt from the days of "NightFire" on PC CDROM,
which was by many accounts rushed and released with obvious bugs,
so the delay for EoN was a wise step - however annoying for eager
fans in the short term.
A lot has been reported about the switch to third-person perspective,
the hand-to-hand combat, and "rappelling" aspects of
the game, so this report will skip straight to the elements you
are unlikely to have heard about yet.
A level that particularly stood out from the afternoon's play
was "Free Fall". Shannon Elizabeth's character Serena
St. Germaine ticks all the classic Bond Girl checkboxes, including
getting captured by the villain. Not just once though, but twice,
and for an added twist the villain decides she is of little use
to them almost straight away.
Katya Nadanova, whom Bond "rescued" earlier,
pushes St. Germaine out of a helicopter hovering over the
top of the platinum mine Bond has just spent the last (long)
level battling through on foot.
So, your ally has just been thrown out
of a helicopter to fall thousands of feet to an unpleasant
death, what do you do? Jump after her of course! Decked
out in a fetching summer suit (making a nice change from
the all-in-one black combat gear 007's previous gaming
adventures was plagued with, Blackwood shared our desires
to see Bond back in classical clothing), Bond free-falls
after Serena, in a refreshing twist on the earlier vertical
levels. This is a very creative way of recycling the "rappelling" level
structure, without the format becoming tiring or over-used.
Bond adopts the classic free fall position and you must
steer him left and right avoiding the goon emplacements
on the cliff edges, picking a few off with your P99 as
you go. Hit too many ledges, take too much time messing
around with the goons, and you won't make it to Serena
before she reacquaints herself with the ground.
Several attempts later, after roughly memorizing the level
substantially higher air resistance in order to fall at
a slower rate
than Bond, less aerodynamic perhaps?), grab her, and
fire your piton into a ledge - just before the ground gets
close for comfort.
One remolding of a common game element that does seem a bit of
a creative stretch however, is the "Rally" level where
007 must take the guise of a racing driver and win a local race
in the South America location to gain favour and a dinner invitation
with the villain Nikolai Diavolo. Blackwood explained that the
previous Bond games had lacked a "sporting" element which
is so prevalent to the Bond films, and this was EA's twist on the
old fashioned sporting face-off. Unlike the free fall level, this
adaptation of a mission format does feel a little jarred. But with
no gadgets, no power-ups and no radio help from M or Q, the sub-mission
certainly brings a refreshing feel of Bond being out on his own,
relying on his skills rather than his equipment. Complete three
laps around the town and finish in first place, and a meeting with
Diavolo ensures Bond's mission progresses.
As all the driving levels were developed by the 80-man "Need
For Speed Team", who are also resident in British Columbia
(hence the car rally mission), the racing levels benefit from
those years of experience honing vehicular physics and game play.
Perhaps the best example of the work to bring a feeling of realism
to the controls is demonstrated in the final mission, where Bond
must take control of one of Diavolo's Platinum Tanks during the
showdown at the Kremlin. Although the tank is the product of
the team's imagination, the handling and responsiveness will
leave you believing the developers must have had first hand experience
behind the controls of one. Compared to the driving levels in
EA's previous Bond titles "Agent Under Fire" and "NightFire",
these vehicles actually feel realistic. The tank's controls seem
natural, ramping the believability factor up high, despite the
fantasy elements of the game.
Another key improvement to EA's formula for Bond is also prevalent
in this final mission - multiple paths to glory. From the outset
you can either choose to take on the convoy of eight Platinum Tanks,
or sneak behind them and steal the last one to roll out of Diavolo's
hanger. As with most of the game, the stealthy and sneaky option
goes well rewarded, and progress through the level is eased if
you take the alternative route through the city. After smashing
your way through a building concourse and a few movie-style set
pieces, you arrive ahead of the convoy and the face-offs with Diavolo's
tanks begin. The first few encounters are relatively straight forward
head-to-head tank battles in the streets. A great element to the
game play is the tank's main gun, where you control the pitch and
angle - both of which you must judge perfectly in order to score
a hit on a target. Quite a few shells can fly between tanks before
anyone delivers a direct hit, leading to edge-of-the-seat showdowns.
The adrenaline is really pumping by the
time you get into Red Square itself, although after a few
plays the tank positions become familiar and their presence
can be preempted. For example, on the way to the Kremlin's
catacombs, two tanks lay behind a corner of the building.
With this knowledge, you can angle your gun turret to the
right ahead of passing the wall, and take them out before
they pose a threat.
So does Bond complete his final mission without an exhaustively
long journey on foot through a confusingly designed military
complex? Yes, and what a refreshing change it makes.
After taking care of the Platinum Tank army, Bond cunningly
Diavolo's weapon against him. A quick visit to the Kremlin's
catacombs to disable a bomb reveals a collection of underground
metal supports holding up Red Square.
Diavolo, who is arriving to the scene victorious in a
a very heavy statue of himself, you can remove these
supports with a little help from the nanotech cannons on
your tank. Diavolo
has carelessly forgotten to make all of his helicopter
out of Platinum too, so the route to his demise is quite
straight-forward with a few shots from the nano-cannon,
sending it crashing to the ground with the weight of
the statue collapsing
the unsupported floor. The set piece is the best of
the game series yet, and caps the adventure off with humour,
effects, and a well conceived - original - villain death.
Aside from pulling the camera back in to third
person perspective, giving Bond multiple routes through missions,
extending the game play with larger level maps and adding more
plot twists than a couple of Bond movies combined, there was
a change to the EA recipe that didn't quite make it into the
final mix. The switch between the third-person levels and driving
sections were to be seamless, but early play testing didn't agree
with EA's direction to bring the game that close to the movie
format. Gamers prefer to have set end points and goals, screens
scores and mission progress to give them a a feeling of accomplishment,
Blackwood explained. So the line between the games and
the movies is still there, but it is growing more feint every
Next Bond Game", which is already in the ideas and planning
stage, Blackwood teased, will go further to blurring
divisions between the two formats.
Although the game was in effect complete at this stage, it would
be unfair to comment on precise aspects of the graphics and sound
as these were still to be honed and polished. What we can reveal
however, is that "Everything or Nothing" will look
best on the X-Box after the cross-platform code is tweaked by
the EA graphics experts. Despite the Playstation 2 being the
format most multi-platform games are judged on by the gaming
press, and EA concentrating on it as their benchmark
(as it sells the most units), the graphics happen to look better
on the Gamecube. The reason? Nobody quite knows, Blackwood told
us, it was just one of those things.
Stay tuned to MI6 for the full (release-version) review in February.
In the mean time the latest "Everything
or Nothing" hot topics are being discussed in the "Keeping
The British End Up" forums.
Thanks to Scott Blackwood and the EA Canada
team for their time. Images courtesy EA Corporate.
or Nothing" Coverage
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