A shot rang out... Fifty years ago when the first James Bond film Dr. No was released 007 hit a nerve - and not just with his karate chop. Ian Fleming the author and Albert Broccoli the movie producer created a specific notion of cold-war era Britishness via a stoic, determined and sometimes downright unpleasant character. Bond, for all of his foibles, will willingly suffer injury, hardship and the risk of sexually transmitted disease for Queen and Country: what a hero.
On the silver screen Bond has created more clichés than you could shake a Martini at but arguably his impact on first person shooter videogames has been even greater. When in 1997 Goldeneye was released for the N64 the genre changed forever. A few brief googles will tell you the true scale of the impact: varied mission objectives appeared for the first time in a FPS, there was a console multiplayer deathmatch mode and a zoomable sniper rifle – things now taken so much for granted you'd think they had always been there. Features that have defined all FPS games since. Spin forward fifteen years and we have 007 Legends, hot on the heels of the re-make of the original Goldeneye 007. As the inimitable Yogi Berra may have said, has history repeated itself all over again? Is Legends a barn storming, paradigm shifting tour de force in the same vein as its N64 ancestor? The answer, sadly, is an unequivocal no.
The basics: in Legends you play as a Daniel Crag lookalike bond who, after being accidentally shot by another agent, has a series of flashbacks in which elements of former Bond films play out. Using guns and gadgets you fight, sneak and sleuth your way through the scenarios, foiling the master plans of classic baddies Blofeld, Goldfinger and the like along the way.
In regard to combat there are a wide range of weapons at your disposal – from pistols and machine guns through to shotguns and sniper rifles. They feel different to use, from the big buck of a tactical 12-gauge to the deadly zip of a silenced PPK. By gaining experience points by progressing through the game you can purchase a range of mods to suit your play style. If you want to play for stealth you can put silencers and scopes on almost everything; if running and gunning is your preference you can add recoil compensators, big ammo clips and rapid fire widgets to your arsenal. The combat is sort of like the Call of Duty games in places but not as polished, feeling as if a little less love and a little more haste has been put into production. The baddies you fight have pretty rough AI, with a mix of grunts who tend to run into your sights and slightly smarter officers who take a bit of cover. Providing you don't stand still and get shot it's straightforward enough to pop in and out of cover and take down the identikit hired guns like metal ducks in a Victorian shooting alley. To be clear, the AI isn't as bad as the strafe-and-shoot AI in games like the recent Fallout series and is obviously an advance on the memorable 'hopping' Russians in the original Goldeneye but feels mechanical enough to appear outdated.
As well as shooting, later levels see the introduction of a dart gun and most levels include a 'hand to hand' section where you and another baddie have to go mano-a-mano. This requires you to use the left and right control sticks to throw punches and blocks which though fun is made easy by the fact the game tells you what to press and at what time, like a very basic boxing simulator. However, this is vastly improved by a section where you repeatedly hit a henchman (who shall remain un-named) over the head with an iron bar in a hilarious 'Tom and Jerry' fashion. In fact, intentionally or otherwise, there are several moments in the game that are laugh out loud funny, mostly through in-game animations of Bond knocking people out in suitably comic ways.
The levels take place across the range of different environments of the films – spoiler alert – including Fort Knox from Goldfinger, the snowy slopes and mountain retreat from On Her Majesty's Secret Service and the sci-fi space shuttle shenanigans of Moonraker. If you're a big fan I'm sure you'll get a kick out of wandering round the game's imagining of the places, but even if you're not scenes like the weird, psychedelic maze of repeated bedrooms in Blofeld's basement presents something a bit different from the norm. Although this is all innocuous at worst there is a notably terrible snowmobile section, a semi-on-rails sequence with unclear boundaries resulting in repeated, annoying, crashes.
So, on to sneaking. The game makes a show of having a stealth element which it very nearly pulls off. On the higher difficulty settings it is preferable to avoid a firefight in some sections and instead use a combination of silenced weapons, non-lethal takedowns and lurking in the shadows to achieve your objectives. There is a genuine sense of Bond-like excitement in using your watch's radar to see where the nearest enemies are, popping out from behind a corner to knock one out before sneaking by and onwards towards whatever task M has set you. There's some depth to this too as if you take someone down and they are within the line of sight of a security camera it will set off an alarm and set people looking for you – so knocking out the CCTV is a must. Where the stealth sections fail is in the continuous battle of videogames, because Legends doesn't keep up with games that have recently done similar things. Anyone who has played either of the new Batman titles will recognise the ammo for the dart gun that attracts guards to it and will also note the stealth sections here are far less exciting than the predator sections in and around Gotham City. Also, if you've played Deus Ex: Human Revolution not being able to hide a knocked-out body so other guards can’t find it feels like an obvious omission. Finally, there's a classic mistake that plagues so many stealth games: when one guard sees you suddenly everyone knows where you are. This jars and is something developers should have remedied by now.
The other gameplay element that features throughout is spywork; the sleuthing. Again, it's hard not to see similarities between Batman games and Bond here – your snazzy cameraphone can take pictures, scan and hack electrical devices and follow biological trails like fingerprints or chemicals, much like the detective mode in Arkham City and Arkham Asylum. There isn't too much of this in Legends and although it occasionally feels a little contrived, like it's been added for the sake of it it all adds to the 007 feel. In addition to your phone your watch has a handy laser that can be used to take out security cameras and fizzle various pieces of tech to attract guards in the vicinity.
As well as the campaign mode there are a range of challenges and a substantial multiplayer offering with a range of modes. Although this review took place after the release date there were very few players online and matchmaking was slow. This is essentially the same deal as the Goldeneye 007 remake and though fun enough is not up to the level of the best in show – the Halos and CODs of this world.
So all in all Legends is a mixed bag. It's always nice to see 007 in action and if the locations don't get you in the Bond mood the excellent soundtrack will. The story telling is as one might expect, cheesy as a cheese-monger’s cupboard, which is what you want in a Bond game - but it's not helped by character modelling that looks outdated. In its own right Legends doesn't have much that sets it apart from other modern FPS titles but by no means is it terrible bar one or two dodgy sequences mentioned above. The problem is this: James Bond has such a rich heritage the only way a game could do justice to this would be to capture the Bond feel. Legends gets half way there but falls short – it is all too clear that the lessons other games ran with from the original Goldeneye have been imported back into Legends. So if you've seen Skyfall and are hankering for another slice of secret agent action this provides a tasty distraction but at the end of the day, you'd be better off dusting off your N64 and settling in with a few mates for a round of Rockets on Temple.
Let the Skyfall...