The world of 007 seems to be a natural fit for the videogame world. Its many facets translate easily to the many genres we play through everyday. James Bond's indiscriminate dispatching of foes with a high-tech assortment of weapons and gadgets makes him a perfect candidate for a first-person shooter. His talents as a spy would carry over effortlessly into one of the stealth games that are all the rage right now. And let's not forget his popularity with the ladies—perhaps MGM will someday give the green light to some sort of dating simulation. Electronic Arts, granted the license from MGM, took notice of Bond's affinity for fast cars, and 007 Racing was born. Unfortunately for Electronic Arts and its developer, Eutechnyx, every release that followed Rare's brilliant GoldenEye 007 has proven that the license can only carry a game so far. 007 Racing is a game that barely carries its license and succeeds only in driving it into the ground.
First and foremost, I'd like to say that 007 Racing's title is deliberately misleading, as there is no actual racing in the game at all. Much of the game is spent going into buildings, speeding through towns and exploring cities while trying to complete various objectives—none of which involve crossing a finish line. That wouldn't even be so bad if it weren't for the fact that these objectives are rarely ever compelling. Most boil down to pointless car chases, picking up and delivering bombs, rescuing hostages (without ever getting out of the car mind you), or blowing things up with reckless abandon. In this regard, 007 Racing could be compared to Sony's famous Twisted Metal series, but at least Twisted Metal could boast player-friendly handling to up its enjoyment factor.
Eutechnyx incorporates driving physics for the available cars that seems better suited for a driving simulation than an obvious arcade-action game like 007 Racing. The cars are slow and unresponsive when they should be quick and agile. Something as simple as steering a car in motion becomes a chore, which is baffling since it can so easily determine whether you live or die. I can't count the number of times when I needed to turn around and take out the source of unfriendly fire only to die or suffer needless damage in the process because it took too long.
Handling doesn't fare any better in wide-open areas or long straight-aways, either. The skids, drifts and 180-degree turns promised by EA's promotional material are impossible to pull off without gathering a certain amount of momentum. If an enemy was behind me and I didn't have enough momentum, I had to rely on wide-arching turns or even four-point turns to turn around and face it. Keep in mind that the enemy wouldn't hold fire to allow me to do this. And even after pulling off a 180, I was still at the mercy of another foe: the game's inadequate camera. If the car turns too quickly or is pointed in a direction slightly askew, I'd have to wait while it repositioned itself behind my car.
007 Racing falters further during confrontations with enemies. I mentioned the car handling, but there is also the issue of mounting an offensive. The selection of weapons is decent for the type of game that it is, ranging from Hellfire rockets to machine guns. However, none of these weapons are easy to use while driving a car. The machine guns are usually too weak to do major damage and the rockets will almost always miss if the car is not perfectly lined up with its target. There also seems to be a strange law in the game that states that if you miss an attacker with a rocket, said attacker will most assuredly close the distance between the two of you and wipe you out. Since everything in the game seems to be faster and more mobile than you, weapons that cannot be aimed quickly and easily are essentially useless in close contact. In fact, I'd say the only time the odds are not stacked against you is when there is a good amount of distance between you and the enemy.
Even the simple weapon selection process is more tedious than it needed to be. Weapons selection and firing are relegated to the shoulder buttons. In the midst of a fire fight, its hard keep track of which button does which, especially when you want to switch weapons during a chase. There is the option of firing two weapons at once, but it never proved to be a practical feature. Making matters worse is the fact that weapons are switched automatically to whatever icon you happen to run over.
The design of the stages plays a part in this calamity as well. There are instances where the enemies are spread out across the screen taking pot shots at my car, but since my vehicle is so lacking in maneuverability that I would have the damnedest time lining them up in my sights. Which begs the question, how could a developer believe a car would suffice to take on bad guys in relatively confined spaces—especially when the bad guys are so much more mobile? I would also like to know why something as obvious as a free-moving gun turret attached to the roof, or perhaps the ability to strafe, was ever included. It certainly would have added some enjoyment to this otherwise bland experience.
EA and Eutechnyx did make good use of the resources that MGM Interactive made available. 007 Racing features a full catalog of authentic cars from James Bond lore including the Aston Martin DB 5 and Lotus Esprit (my favorite Bond mobile). 007 Racing is also packed with flashy movie cut-scenes taken right out of 007 films. From his famous car chase scenes to odious footage of his bond babes, the James Bond movie experience is well represented. The sound effects and soundtrack are taken right from the movie and the voices are done by talented voice impersonators—except for "R" who was played by John Cleese himself.
Unfortunately, when you get past the flash, you see the game doesn't have a leg to stand on. Each level opens up with a panning camera that previews the 3-D environments as R dictates what must be accomplished to move on. In my opinion, this was a huge miscalculation on Eutechnyx's part because while it reveals what the stage has in store, it also gives players an eye full of just how bad the game looks. No matter where I looked on the screen, I saw some of the most horrendous graphics this side of the Atari Jaguar. The textures are coarse and the vehicle models are primitive and unpolished. There wasn't a moment in the game when the framerates didn't stutter, and it took very little for the game engine to choke and slow to the game to a crawl.
What's worse is that EA threw in ample amounts of CG full-motion video as a supplement to the live-action footage. There is also a "secrets" feature that features polygonal Bond babes, in various stages of undress, offering tips to unlocking cheats for future play. However, the tips are unbelievably lame and all of this eye candy—no doubt done by a completely different company—only serves to contrast the in-game graphics against higher quality video.
007 Racing is a perfect example of what's wrong with license-based games. I'm sure 007 Racing sounded like a great idea to anyone reading its design document, but I find it hard to believe that between then and the point when the game was going to ship that someone didn't think to put a stop to this project—which was clearly going wrong. It is lacking in every conceivable area except in the sound and FMV departments. The only answer for Electronic Arts releasing this game is that it could not clear the dollar signs from its eyes while playing to see the game for what it was.