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 Art Director 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 different 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 now 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 layout, you can catch Serena (who must have 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 too 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 all 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 turns 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.

Unfortunately for Diavolo, who is arriving to the scene victorious in a helicopter delivering 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, spectacular 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 showing 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 year. "The 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.

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