MI6 reviews the latest 007 game from EA, "From
Russia With Love". Has going retro with James
Bond worked, or does it miss the mark?
"From Russia With Love" (VG) Review
18th November 2005
James Bond, 1963, Sean Connery… All
music to any 007 fan’s ears. Seemingly the idea behind
EA’s latest hotshot title “From Russia With
Love” (FRWL) has been a long time coming – the
chance to dart around as Connery’s Bond in a white
tuxedo should tickle any fan’s senses.
Do classic gadgets, Miss Moneypenny and an Aston Martin
DB5 secure it as the finest Bond experience yet? The problem
recognised early on seemed to be filling the bits in-between
the original movie to craft a modern day videogame–
and make it a good one.
The game is based on the 1963 movie, but EA have delivered
what they describe as a “directors cut” of the
film by adding extra characters, missions and plot lines.
This only goes to show that the film did not contain enough
material suitable for a modern videogame, so the plotline
has been stretched and stuffed to meet player’s expectations.
As well as Sir Sean Connery coming back as Bond, EA have
added Natasha Bedingfield and Maria Menounos as new Bond
girls Miss Stark and Eva respectively. Some of the actors
who originally played characters in the film have since
passed away, so although their likeness is preserved from
the movie, soundalikes supply the voices.
Nothing Propinks Like Propinquity
FRWL is a spiritual successor to last year’s “Everything
or Nothing” (EON) which saw 007 move in to the third
person perspective for the first time since EA’s very
first Bond game “Tomorrow Never Dies” (which
bombed terribly against “GoldenEye 64” from
EON succeed in moving the Bond licence away from the tired
first-person shooters, and it made perfect sense with the
likeness of Sean Connery secured that FRWL would continue
in the same mould. The “Being Bond” experience
just went up another notch.
The single player campaign lasts for fourteen missions,
with four secret missions along the way, comprising of side
challenges that are independent of the main storyline. Multiplayer
mode consists of a two to four player split-screen deathmatch
in the same third-person perspective as the main campaign.
Boys With Toys
Despite FRWL looking a lot like EON, the latest adventure is built
on a completely new game engine. The major benefit is the ability
to include the vehicle based missions within the same engine as
the third-person roaming, much in the style of the immensely popular
“Grand Theft Auto” series. Whilst executed fairly
smoothly in FRWL, with the play switching between on-foot, car,
boat and jetpack action relatively seamlessly, the only let down
is the design of the missions themselves. Whereas EON had thrilling
vehicle action and nail biting races (especially the Pontchartrain
bridge motorcycle level), FRWL lacks any real “oomph”
and the adrenaline level is set a good few bars below that of
The handling of the cars is not what it should be, and is inferior
to that of EON - although who cares what the cars handle like
when the vehicle involved is the classic Aston Martin DB5 complete
with gadgets? Boating missions are consigned to Bond manning a
gun rather than the boat itself, and is really a dressed up rail-shooter.
The real star of the show though, is the jetpack, which performs
just how you would imagine it to. The controls are simple and
intuitive and it is by far one of the better features added to
FRWL. This was clearly seen by the development team along the
way though, as it is somewhat overused throughout the single player
campaign – even the bad guys have them.
||Of the rest of the new features, climbing was
one of the early items of interest during the game’s
development. Unfortunately, the delivery is somewhat of a
let down, with the action too scripted and restricted to only
places that the designers thought you would like to climb.
Going retro and keeping FRWL in the era of the movie was
a smart choice. The costumes, settings (except the final
mission where the conceptual integrity leaves the designers
for dust) and aura of the game is largely in keeping with
the early 60's and certainly sets the tone.
Despite a few ludicrous gadgets and modern twists, FRWL
on the whole manages to take gamers back in time for some
classic Bond. Also, hats must be tipped to EA for sticking
with the original movie artwork and basing a lot of the
look and feel on the original 1963 materials.
Graphically, FRWL is an improvement on the already high
standard set by EON. The character models, production design,
animations and cinematic sequences are all of high quality.
Connery’s shoot from the hip and rough fighting style
has been adapted for the game too, and the animations for
the shooting and hand-to-hand combat system look authentic.
The only lacking areas are some of the map textures, which
occasionally look bland or too obviously repeated. The likeness
of all the principal actors is excellent, with Bond, Red
Grant, Eva, Klebb, Stark and Tatiana all looking like their
real life counterparts. The MI6 staff do not fair so well
though (M, Moneypenny and Q), but this can be excused as
they barely feature in the game compared to the lead characters.
Composer Christopher Lennertz had a tough
assignment following on from Sean Callery’s excellent
work on EON, but he pulls off the job well with a sweeping
orchestral score that is very in keeping with the original
film. The soundtrack pays homage to the original in a few
places, and keeps the mood of the game rooted in it’s
I’ve Been Expecting You, Mr Bond
Sir Sean Connery provides the voice of Bond for the game
– if you didn’t already know – but he
clearly sounds all of his 75 years and does not match the
youthful digital appearance on screen. Not that many people
will care though, merely having Connery utter the famous
line “Bond, James Bond” will be enough for most.
On the subject of famous lines, unfortunately some of the
one-liners and dialog does clunk along during the game,
and EA could really have done with a script polish.
The other voiceover performances are mediocre, with some
bordering on the workmanlike.The familiar faces, with the
exception of Red Grant, do not sound much like the original
actors, and better soundalikes would have enhanced the experience
Short And Sweet
14 missions is a lot less than EON’s 29 – another
sign that there was not enough material from the film to
make a modern-day game. However, the missions are longer
than the average EON outing, especially as the vehicle action
is mixed in rather than separate. But the larger problem
is that FRWL lacks longevity.
Artificial intelligence has not changed much from EON,
and the goons make the same mistakes as they did before,
so player’s will not have to think too much to beat
the dozens of enemies that are thrown forward.
How you despatch the goons is another moot point. The aiming
system of EON came in for a little criticism, so EA did the smart
thing and took a fresh look at for FRWL. This time the concept
was an easy “lock on” followed by a selection of secondary
spots on the target to choose from. You can shoot different parts
of the body, and even knock a grenade out the hand of an enemy
or disable his radio to stop him calling for backup. But these
aiming aides mean that there is very little skill involved and
pulling off impressive shots is just as easy as a run-and-gun
On the positive side, the shooting has been switched to the two
shoulder buttons on the controller, a system popular with many
other modern games. But the “lock” system means that
the traditional “free aim” is tucked away as a secondary
option. With the new hotspot feature, you can only choose from
the areas that the designers thought you would want to shoot.
So if there is a barrel sitting near a goon but it has not been
tagged as a hotspot, you cannot lock on and shoot it. This gets
frustrating once missions have been initially completed, as it
affects replayability and the option to roam around and discover
news things about missions.
All of these weaknesses add up to a larger problem – difficulty.
FRWL is just too easy. Combine the fewer missions, straight-forward
AI and a idiot proof point-and-shoot aiming system and the average
player should have the game easily beaten with all the pick-ups
in a day’s solid play.
We Have All The Time In
So what happens after the single player campaign has been
completed? Firstly, some RPG elements have been added to
FRWL to give players some extra objectives on a mission.
Bonus weapon and gadget upgrades, clothing and the more
traditional extra features such as video clips and production
artwork are unlocked by a combination of points to earn
and items to find. The latter consists mostly of searching
through filing cabinets and desks during missions. Once
enough have been earned, players can unlock all manner of
goodies, and the mission progress screen helpfully informs
you what you need to achieve before the next bonus.
Secondly, the multiplayer modes should give a few extra
hours play time. Four-player split screen death match is
back after EON skipped over it due to the switch to third-person
perspective. With FRWL, the polygon count of the environment
and the complexity of the maps have been scaled down to
allow up to four players to battle it out in third-person
on a split screen – even including the jetpack and
cars. This feature works very well and will provide a welcome
update to players still using “GoldenEye 64”
and “NightFire” to quench their thirst for deathmatch..
Red Wine With Fish. Well, That Should Have Told
For reasons unknown, bots have been omitted yet again from the
multiplayer modes despite leaked news of their inclusion when
the first reports on the game appeared in print. This deficiency
seems even more glaring on the back of bots being cut from the
previous Bond licenced game “GoldenEye: Rogue Agent”
at the last minute due to pressure to release on schedule. Gone
also is the suprisingly popular “co-op” mode from
EON, as well as any support for online play in any mode. The omission
of bots from deathmatch could have been excused if players were
able to hook up with others online. But all that aside, EA have
succeeded in delivering a well polished four-player experience
in the tricky third-person genre.
Bonding With FRWL
It is difficult to fathom who this game is aimed at. With
the title based on the 1963 movie, older generations and
Connery fans should be interested, but the game seems far
too easy and suited to the 10-15 year-old market. Players
are either going to be disappointed that it's over too quickly,
or will be wondering who Red Grant is and why everyone is
wearing a tie...
What is apparent from FRWL though, is that the design-by-committee
approach at EA has weakened the game substantially. In place
of original and striking concepts are middle of the road
features and watered down ideas. Compared to other videogames
released this year, FRWL looks like a collection of lowest-common-denominator
components, packaged and wrapped with Bond-lore. Whilst
this was relatively ground-breaking with "Everything
or Nothing", the gaming world has moved on
You Know Your History, Mr Bond
Long-time readers of MI6 will recall that FRWL was
originally planned as the next 007 game to follow
EON. A lot of work was done on “Bond 6”
(working title) that featured a young Pierce Brosnan
as Bond in an all new storyline.
Most of the character models, animations and CGI
cut scenes were completed, but when news of Brosnan
being let go from his 00-duties broke, all work was
put on ice. In a bid to get a game out for the fall
2005 release window, plans were put together quickly
to utilise an existing movie due to the lack of time
to conceptualize another original storyline.
Shortcomings aside, “From Russia With Love”
has something to offer anyone who has caught even glimpses
of a Bond movie. The graphics are at times mouth watering,
not to mention the digital version of Sir Sean Connery which
is quite possibly the best character likeness the gaming
industry has seen to date.
In essence, it should have been easy. Classic movie locations,
a focus on stealth gameplay and a plot tied close to that
of the original. It seems the fatal error made in the process
was to complicate the game more than it needed to be –
new characters, extra levels and overkill gadgets which
were unnecessary and only deviated away from the classic
momentum of the movie.
Rather than a fresh approach to the Bond licence, "From
Russia With Love" is simply a re-run of "Everything
or Nothing", with new levels and characters but little
else. Except for minor tweaks and the voice and likeness
of Sir Sean Connery, FRWL is at best a tarted up reheat.
With the lacking multiplayer features and the much-touted
in-game switch between third person and vehicle missions
actually playing less exciting than EON, FRWL fails to hit
the target on two of its major objectives. On the other
hand, the presentation, graphics and sound are all top notch
and do the title justice.
If you are a casual Bond gamer, a weekend rental of FRWL should
see you through from beginning to end. The RPG elements offers some
replay value, if searching filing cabinets for upgrade points is
your thing. Is FRWL just more of the same? More or less. But EON
was a great Bond game, it is just a shame that its success was not
built upon further.
|Sean Connery IS James Bond
|| Too easy and too short
|Classic 1960's retro setting
||Gameplay is very linear
|Four-way split screen deathmatch
||Few additions to EON's format
|Excellent character models
||EA's twists detract from the experience
|Smooth orchestral soundtrack
||Aiming system too restrictive
| Slick presentation throughout
||Vehicle missions not up to par with EON
|Good pace and structure
||Actions feel too scripted
|Inclusion of two new Bond girls
||Dialog is clunky in parts
|Basic RPG and upgrade features
||No online support
||No co-op mode
||No multiplayer bots - again!
|Single Player Campaign
MI6 "From Russia With Love" Coverage
Images courtesy EA Games and Amazon Associates.