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 Rare).

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 its predecessor.

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 retro style.

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 significantly.

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 approach.

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 The World
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 Me Something
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 not 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.

Pros   Cons
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
Interactive Q-branch   No co-op mode
Jetpack   No multiplayer bots - again!

Single Player Campaign
Overall MI6 Rating

Related Articles
MI6 "From Russia With Love" Coverage

Images courtesy EA Games and Amazon Associates.