With The Godfather, EA has used the following formula: simply take everything about the movie that leaves any possibility of being ambiguous and fill in the supposed blanks with plenty of action. For example, how did Don Corleone get to the hospital after his near assassination? He was driven there by a nameless guy (the player) with Fredo literally riding shotgun with a Tommy Gun. Fredo, sweet, lovable, backstabbing, whiny-boy Fredo manages to make himself seem like the streetwise Rambo that he isn’t thanks to EA’s treatment. But the game itself was actually fun.
But then there are titles such as Rare’s Goldeneye that manages to not only expand the film that it is based on, but does it with a style and imaginative flair all its own. Rare got it. It’s still quoted by console fans everywhere that had a chance to play it as one of the greatest console-FPS titles to ever hit the market and for good reason.
So when I heard that EA was going to return to Bond’s franchise with their take on From Russia With Love and saw Sean Connery flying with his jetpack in front of Big Ben in some of the released footage for the game, I wasn’t so sure what I was going to expect. I like the film and consider it one of Connery’s best roles in the series, but if EA had managed to twist the subtle brutality of The Godfather into a game that felt more like a take on Grand Theft Auto, one can only imagine what they could do with From Russia With Love. Actually, I could imagine what they might have done with it. I only wish that they hadn’t.
From Russia with Love defected to the Xbox, and most other platforms out there.
You’re the Man Now, Dog!
For those that aren’t familiar with the film, the story takes place in the 1960’s during the Cold War as a beautiful Soviet clerk working at a consulate has managed to get the word out that she wishes to defect. To make the deal more enticing, she will also provide a Lektor Decoder, a device that the Soviets use to code their most secret communications. The curious thing is that she is asking that James Bond be the one to bring her out, as she has fallen in love with his photograph. It’s obviously a trap, but the West is eager to take the bait if there is a chance to get their hands on the Lektor.
Unbeknownst to Bond, the clerk, or to the West, the Soviets aren’t the ones responsible for setting this up. An organization known only as OCTOPUS has secretly manipulated the West into doing exactly what they want. The Soviet clerk believes she is doing this mission for the Motherland. Once Bond has managed to steal the Lektor, OCTOPUS will take it from his dead hands. It will be an act of coldly calculated revenge for his actions that led to the death of one of their own, Dr. No, while giving them exactly what they want.
Russia plays out Bond’s latest adventure in third person, much like what had been done with Everything or Nothing, when he both shoots and drives his way through trouble. The controls make it easy to get into the action and the game is extremely friendly to newcomers, indicating special hotspots for when Bond can jump or rappel his way up and over obstacles as an example. The first mission is a tutorial that will take the player through a rescue that will test everything that they will need to know. It’s a good thing, too, since the thin manual can be mistaken for a warranty card with a fancy picture.
Aiming also takes a page from the friendly manual of introducing an action game to new players by making it almost too easy to target and shoot bad guys without much effort thanks to “Bond Focus”. Once you click and lock onto a bad guy, going into Bond Focus allows you to adjust your aim and target special areas such as someone’s head or result in the body armor of some thug falling completely away when the latches are blown off. As long as you can lock onto a target, you can focus in on where you want to shoot them. Or simply lock and shoot, hoping for the best which also works.
Additionally, players will also get a chance to modify and improve the weapons they find as well as the gadgets Q gives to Bond by earning research points. Finding schematics during the missions is one way that Bond will earn the research points that might be needed to give his Walther PPK a few more bullets or improve his body armor. The weapons also have ‘special’ ammo that can result in greater damage and foes will drop quite a bit of both as Bond goes through the game. He’ll even find briefcases that he can unlock from solving a timed puzzle for extra research points.
There are plenty of weapons to grab and add to Bond’s hidden arsenal of rocket launchers and assault rifles that conveniently fit into his dinner jacket. The player will also be able to find different suits and uniforms throughout the title that they can add to his dapper wardrobe. In addition to the hardware, Bond can also take out enemies with a quick disabling move if they’re close enough as a button flashes onscreen to let the player know that they can perform a “Bond maneuver” that looks just like the kind of close combat that Connery had dispatched countless baddies with on the silver screen. He’ll also be able to sneak up behind foes and take them out quiet like, but don’t expect too much out of the sneaking mechanic since much of the game is centered around big explosions and frantic gunplay.
Bond will also get a chance to upgrade his weapons and Q gadgets by using research points that he can collect in a variety of ways such as in collecting schematics that are scattered everywhere. With enough points, the player can expand the number of bullets that any one weapon can hold or improve the deadly power of any of the Q gadgets at their disposal. Briefcases hidden throughout each of the levels can also hold valuable research points, cracked open only after the player manages to solve the puzzle locking them closed.
As smooth as the mechanics can make the gameplay feel, parts of the interface are pretty clunky. Switching between ammo, for example, is a chore because you need to go into the inventory screen to do it. Switching weapons can be done on the fly without leaving the game screen. Bond also can’t jump at will, only at specially designated spots where he’ll need to do some stuntwork, which simply feels strange.
“She Has a Wonderful Mouth”
The graphics of the game don’t look too bad in bringing many of the scenes to life along with Bond’s signature Astin Martin from Goldfinger, sans ejection seats. The graphics do a decent job all around in providing a shooting gallery of locations that the player will be gunning through, but the levels they dress up are also painfully linear aside from the driving sequences where you can somewhat feel you have a choice as to how you should get to where you need to go. The characters from the film are represented well in the title and look just like they should.
The levels are also cluttered with a lot of interactive items, several of them being useless distractions. Bond can ‘use’ some of the items that are there, such as in being able to rifle through file cabinets in Ms. Moneypenny’s office or the shelves in the Soviet Embassy in full view of the consulate secretary to search for hidden stuff. But he’ll also be flipping switches and playing with machinery to do what needs done. Then there are the phones that do nothing except ring when Bond ‘uses’ them, or panels that just beep when Bond plays around with the buttons. These wouldn’t be so bad if there weren’t so many of these useless props scattered everywhere making me wonder if the time spent dressing the scene with these things could have been used to make the levels feel less linear.
Al Pacino had loaned his own likeness to Vivendi’s Scarface but had opted out of doing the voice work himself because he felt that he was too old for the role, picking instead a replacement who managed to do an excellent job in giving life to the character of Tony Montana. It was great to see Sean Connery’s Bond on the screen, but I had to get used to hearing his older voice attached to the face. The rest of the voice acting wasn’t bad, but none of the characters really stood out as much as the villains did in Everything or Nothing. Given the choppy nature of the story and the lip service paid to famous moments from the film in this title, it wasn’t much of a surprise.
You won’t find any of the music from the film in the game, either, aside from the opening title screen that once more demonstrates EA’s knack for top notch production values when it can bring everything together. The music fits in with what is going on and it isn’t bad, but it isn’t all that memorable, either. It does what it needs to do, though, which is to try and keep things exciting as Bond dispatches one thug after another on his way to adding the kind of bodycount to his record that should have started World War III.
Perhaps the biggest difference of the game in comparison to the film that it is based on is that it feels as if it isn’t. Unlike Rare’s Goldeneye which complimented the film with its expanded take on everything that the movie did well, or Everything or Nothing which blended the elements of Brosnan’s Bond into an action packed title that some had considered to be worthy of film material, From Russia With Love feels as if it had chopped out much of what made the film so good in the first place. The problem might be that film had focused more on the interplay of close, personal encounters and spy work than as an explosion of action and thrilling gun battles that later films would begin to focus on. It would be as if Ubisoft had suddenly decided to draft Splinter Cell‘s Sam Fisher into Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter.
The story, as it is, is surprisingly spotty despite having Bruce Feirstein back for another round with the franchise on consoles. It presents a hackneyed view of the film that players who have never seen it might believe it to be, with many of the most key moments converted into Cliff Note cut scenes and several others absent altogether. This is also title that could have been better served with gameplay focusing on actual classic Bond-style, spywork using a sneaky collection of Cold War tricks instead of the action extravaganza that was more than appropriate for Pierce Brosnan’s outing as an action oriented Bond in Everything or Nothing. It does feel as if the ideas that had worked in Everything or Nothing have been rekindled for use in Russia, but it simply doesn’t feel as if it fits.
Bond fans will recall that SPECTRE is the secret organization that acts as a sort of international network of criminal syndicates. Due to certain legal issues that have to do with the Bond film Thunderball, it is replaced in the game with the less sinister sounding OCTOPUS. It is probably because, like the organization, it has tentacles everywhere. If EA couldn’t use SPECTRE in the game, the least that they could do is try and reduce the amount of camp already injected into the story by trying to think of something less cliched.
It also doesn’t help that the title goes overboard with the clownish troop of OCTOPUS soldiers that come after Bond, or the scenarios that he’s forced to deal with. I especially like the one early on where he needs to destroy a tank by sneaking around it by climbing around buildings and killing Soviet soldiers in order to get control of a gun that can take it out simply because it was in the way on his drive through the city. Or how OCTOPUS soldiers wear the badge of their secret organization out in public as they attack him en masse while bringing riot shields with them to the country ‘just in case’.
After a few hours of gameplay, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised to see one of the film franchise’s most iconic fight scenes with one of Bond’s coldest killers has been reduced to a shootout where the one with the most health wins. Either the most health, or the most toys.
Out in the Open
The thing is, the game is pretty fun as long as players don’t think about the film. The game is stuffed with plenty of action that makes ignoring the story something to consider when you dive into this title since that is probably what is best. From jet packs to racing across Istanbul in his Astin Martin, to fighting through a secret base with his trusty silencer ready to take out the next foe, Russia gives the player plenty of reasons to blow up, shoot, and kung fu their way to the end. But even then, the gameplay isn’t without its own share of issues aside from being heavily linear.
Most of Bond’s enemies have rocks in their heads, allowing him to come up and either throw them to hear the rattling or simply shoot them dead. The auto targeting makes things remarkably easy, although you can adjust the difficulty to really make things more challenging which some might do since the default will have players plowing through this title in a little less than a few hours. It’s not that long of a game.
Bond’s collection of gadgets will also go to waste as the player will use only one or two of them during the course of the their mission, allowing auto targeting and their guns to do much of the talking. There are a few incentives to keep playing such as points that can be earned depending on how well the player does in any one level. The points earned for hitting special goals go towards unlocking extra levels outside of the main game that the player can challenge themselves with and be used to purchase characters for multiplayer which can help extend the life of the title.
Multiplayer will pit players against each other as famous Bond villains through split screen deathmatches or a “Survival Royale” where players can dish out bullets and explosive mayhem in a series of rounds in between which points can be used to purchase upgrades. There aren’t a lot of gameplay options and the maps are pretty small, but it’s an option that might extend the life of this relatively short game for players interested in dishing out some damage against each other. Unfortunately, none of this is Live! enabled.
From Russia with Love trades in smooth spywork and cunning, Cold War, grit for an adrenaline charged parade of scenes inspired by the frantic action of Everything or Nothing only it doesn’t really do it better. Fans of the film will find very little in this game to remind them of its brilliant, pulse pounding cat and mouse chase through Istanbul’s underground as it fills in the shadows with plenty of gratuitous gunplay and explosive action. Much like EA’s The Godfather, lip service is paid to the film that it is drawn from. Even if you are simply interested in playing an action title, its short gameplay, weak multiplayer, and a disappointingly choppy story hurt what it tries to do as it ties everything up with an awful ending. If you’ve never seen the film, it might be better for you that you hadn’t because EA’s From Russia with Love glosses over much of what had made the movie great. But if you simply want to play as the Original Bond and care less about the film than you do about bullets and babes, then From Russia With Love may satisfy that itch.
– World 1-1