This is the best James Bond game ever. There are some who might question this statement, and they would most likely that remind me that ever since Electronic Arts (EA) acquired the James Bond license the titles have ranged from an unplayble racing game to many inexcusably generic first-person shooters (FPS). I'd be a fool to question that argument, but the fact is, EA's losing streak ended last February with the release of James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing. GoldenEye 007, while possibly the greatest console first-person shooter (FPS) ever, was far from a convincing or compelling James Bond experience. Sure, the locations were there, and it followed the movie's plot, but it didn't have the feel of a bond film. Where were the beautiful women? Where was the sense of a grand globe-trotting adventure? Where were the fantastic stunt sequences? By comparison, Everything or Nothing will no doubt go down in history as the first playable James Bond movie.
The most discussed facet of this game was, of course, the fact that it was the first James Bond game to feature more of Pierce Brosnan than just his crudely-scanned in face. No, this game features a fully-texture mapped rendition of the now-former James Bond, who is visible at nearly all times thanks to the third-person perspective, making this the most extensive use of a Hollywood star in an original non FMV-video game since Bruce Willis starred in the now almost completely forgotten 1998 game Apocalypse. The cast list doesn't stop there, though, and this may be the first all-star video game. Bond's regular supporting cast, including Judi Dench and John Cleese make appearances, and the villain is portrayed by Willem Dafoe, which is almost a pity—not because he does a bad job, he's great—but because appearance in this game presumably disqualifies him from ever appearing in an actual Bond film.
I assume that the graphic engine was designed to be just good enough that the in-game model of Pierce Brosnan would be completely recognizable, and however much money and time was spent tweaking the graphics to that level was more than worth it, as the game simply looks fantastic. While all of the levels are lushly dressed and lovingly textured, my eyes were drawn to the incredible character models and animation. Friend and foe alike look realistic and move naturally. If there's one complaint I have, it's that at times—especially during the game's great hand-to-hand sequences—the character animation almost looks too fluid to be realistic. There's no roughness to the punches, kicks, or throws, but at least they look great when played in slow motion (as they often are). The pain animations are also impressive. Whenever I hit an enemy with a bullet, I could instantly tell—they stumble, recoil, and even drop their weapons when shot in the arm. It adds such stark physicality to the gunfights that I wonder why more games don't go to the trouble of including similar animations.
Graphics on their own don't go very far to creating a compelling game experience, though, and if this title's gameplay was any less than stellar I probably wouldn't even be reviewing it. It's rare to see a really good driving game, fighting game, or shooting game, so it's something of a minor miracle that Everything or Nothing manages to get all three of these gameplay dynamics nearly perfect, even when cleverly mixed into car combat, rail shooter, and close quarter combat sequences.
Elaborate vehicular stunts have always been key to the appeal of the Bond films, and Everything or Nothing doesn't disappoint in this department. All of the game's (product placement friendly) vehicles handle beautifully, making good use of the industry standard handbrake-intensive control scheme to weave their way through the game's narrow streets and pathways. By far the most entertaining of the vehicles is the motorcycle, and the four levels that feature it are each an incredible pleasure to play. One level, in particular, involves a high speed chase down Louisiana's Pontcharain bridge, weaving in and out (and sometimes against) traffic while chasing down a tanker truck while dodging missiles fired from the sunroofs of a pair of sedans. This level alone is such an incredibly fun experience that even if the entire rest of the game were terrible, I'd still be recommending it. The palpable sense of velocity that the game creates when speeding down the bridge is unlike anything I've seen in a racing game before, and while it may not be strictly realistic, it's certainly more thrilling than I was used to or prepared for.
Amazingly, I haven't even discussed the best part of the game—the third-person shooter engine that makes up most of the game's levels. Now, to some, these levels may seem overly difficult, as the game's combination of targeting locks and manual aiming takes a bit of getting used to. The game features two comprehensive training levels to speed the process along, though, and once players get into it a little, they'll find it's an incredibly intuitive and fun control mechanic.
I'm a little biased when it comes to these action sequences, as the game rips off the entire third-person play dynamic from one of my favorite games of all time, the world's only other tactical stealth shooter, one of the Nintendo 64's most underrated games: WinBack: Covert Operations. Just as in that game, the gameplay is amazingly back-to-wall intensive, and the experience of popping out from behind a column to peg someone in the head, then ducking back behind the column as enemy fire peppers it is just as viscerally intense here as it was in that classic.
There's a wide variety of weaponry available in these levels, from the non-fatal sleeper dart gun to the anti-tank rocket launcher, each with enough rate of fire, range and accuracy differences to create distinctly different feels when fired. More importantly, the guns all sound great—loud and menacing, just as they should. The real standout is the shotgun, which is perhaps the best shotgun in the history of video games, as it causes a brutal, tangible impact whenever fired. I can hardly describe the joy I feel every time I see an enemy running towards my position, jump out from behind cover and blast them square in the chest. Watching them cartwheel backwards before falling to a crumpled heap on the ground is the best part of my day.
The one major addition Everything or Nothing makes to WinBack's engine is a surprisingly fun and easy-to-use hand to hand combat system. Unlike his contemporaries Sam Fisher and any of the Snakes, solid or otherwise, James Bond is an extremely effective and deadly fighter. If ever an enemy gets too close for comfort (or if the player just prefers to do things quietly), Bond has a wide array of punches, kicks, throws and counters at his disposal. The game almost makes the fighting too easy, as Bond can easily defeat up to four opponents in a matter of seconds, but the fun factor far outweighs the possible lack of challenge. There's something undeniably cinematic about watching Bond disarm and incapacitate three guards in slo-mo with elaborate camera angles, and then jump back into normal speed just in time to whip out his pistol and blast the fourth guard as he turns a corner. The fighting engine even features the most environmental interaction I've seen in a non-Def Jam Vendetta game. If Bond is near a counter, a throw will have him grab his opponent's head and smash it into said counter. If he's near a ledge, Bond will punch the opponent in the face, causing them to take a step back and windmill their arms as they teeter precariously on the edge—Bond ends the suspense with a quick kick to the chest. And, of course, if the opponent is near a railing, Bond's throw will send them toppling over it headfirst.
(A quick aside: Years earlier, when playing GoldenEye, I found myself growing furious with the game—despite featuring many railings near precipices, no matter how many enemies I shot, they would never fall over the railings to their doom below. At that time I made a Martin Luther-esque statement of protest to lazy game designers: "If at any time in a game a character is killed when standing next to a railing, said character must fall over said railing with no exceptions or excuses!" Everything or Nothing makes no excuses, and has allowed me to throw more people dramatically over railings than any other game I've ever played.)
In addition to the standard deathmatch and capture the flag multiplayer modes, the game also features a surprisingly long co-operative story mode that provided me with an entirely new gameplay experience: team stealth. Just as I was ready to give up on most multiplayer console shooters as repetitive and simplistic, I found myself hugging the corner of a wooden shack, waiting for my partner to silently break the neck of a sniper so I could shoot a patrolling guard without raising an alarm. It's rare to see a game with a multiplayer section that's every bit as good as the main game, so Everything or Nothing joins a very short list of groundbreaking titles who have done something really new and interesting with their multiplayer modes.
This game is almost unbelievably good. It's so good that no one even noticed that EA didn't bother to make a Die Another Day game. I had more fun playing it than I did watching the last three Bond movies. It sets a very high bar for the next Bond game, one that EA has already failed to meet. I know this is a little late, as reviews go, but when I saw what a god-awful train wreck GoldenEye: Rogue Agent was, I felt it was necessary to remind gamers that there's a far, far better Bond-themed game available just a few feet down on the game store shelf, at a far more reasonable price.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the Xbox version of the game.