Friday, February 17, 2012

Just-Barely-Retro Game Review: "Everything or Nothing"

One thing I haven't made clear on these babbly pages of Bloggery is how much of a Bond fan I am. I can tell you just about everything about any of the films (even the 'unofficial' ones); I've read most of the books (including some of the continuation novels, by authors other than Ian Fleming) and I've even met Sir Roger Moore himself (and got a signed copy of his autobiography).

When you talk about Bond videogames, there's a few important things to take into consideration. Most importantly is the stigma that a lot of people have against licensed games. A lot of games based on pre-existing entertainment franchises (comics, films, books, etc) have a tendency to be less than stellar. With so much brand recognition, why should a games publisher hire a first-rate developer? The game is guaranteed to sell, so why not just throw together something halfway decent, sit back and get ready for green pictures of dead American presidents? For years, games based on movies and comic franchises tended to be truly shite, because they were a guaranteed money-maker. One game changed all of that: GoldenEye 007. 

GoldenEye is certainly a brilliant game. Its emphasis on strategy and cunning as well as its impressive physics and graphics (for the time) made it the most impressive first-person shooter anyone had ever seen. And it's still probably the most iconic and innovative multiplayer shooter ever made. But I just can't seem to enjoy it as much as other people. The main issue I have is that I just don't really gel well with first-person shooters; particularly ones based on characters I really like. When I'm playing AS James Bond, I want to be able to see the character. There's really not too much fun to be had in playing as Pierce Brosnan (or Daniel Craig or whoever)'s WRIST. I want to see his cocksure swagger and his cool reserve in the face of danger. I don't just want to be Bond, I want to see him in action. Sadly, casual gamers disagree with me and the majority of James Bond games released since the mammoth success of GoldenEye have been first-person shooters. 

When EA swiped away the rights to 007 in 1997 from Rare, shortly after the release of GoldenEye, they threw together a game based on the movie "Tomorrow Never Dies". It's really rough, not very intuitive and at times very hard to play, with or without cheats (there was a walk-through-walls cheat that could actually crash the whole game). The main point to consider though, is that it was a third-person adventure game, rather than a first-person shooter. Granted, it didn't really work, but it was the first Bond game I ever played and it's probably because of that that I prefer the 3rd-person format (although I did play "The World is Not Enough" every day for what might have been a year; and that was first-person). 

For some reason, years later, after three successful first-person shooters based on the Bond licence (The World is Not Enough, Agent Under Fire and Nightfire), EA decided to revisit the third-person concept for the Bond games. The result was Everything or Nothing, which is far and away my favourite James Bond game ever.

Before I talk about the game, I should mention that a lot of the Bond games prior to EoN struggled with trying to be visually faithful to the style of the James Bond films, and not straying too far into more outlandish, larger-than-life videogamey territory. This was clearly no easy feat, as the Bond films vary wildly in terms of realism. For every Licence to Kill or Casino Royale where Bond spends most of the movie beaten and bloodied, there's movies like You Only Live Twice, The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, where James Bond becomes a Japanese ninja, goes into space, shoots laser guns, has a car that turn into a submarine and HAS A FIGHT WITH A GUY WITH METAL TEETH IN THE FUCKING SKY

"Everything or Nothing" went into development after the movie "Die Another Day" was released, and luckily enough for the developers, "Die Another Day" was easily the craziest Bond film ever. In Pierce Brosnan's swansong outing as 007, he drives an invisible car, fights a guy armed with a Supervillain Electricity-Weapon Suit, has a punching-match with a henchman named 'Mr. Kihl' ("Now there's a name to die for!") in a room full of lasers, and engages another henchman (who has diamonds lodged in his face during a botched DNA alteration procedure; yes you heard me) in a CAR BATTLE ON ICE.

"Die Another Day" is easily the most polarising of all the James Bond films (closely followed of course, by Moonraker). Some people (like me) like it for what it is; a really silly, but outrageously good fun fantasy romp, perfectly suited to Brosnan's smarmy take on the character. Most Bond fans view it as a retarded stain of bad CGI, awful dialogue and ruthless disregard for Ian Fleming's original novels. 

Either way, there's only one thing that can definitely be said for "Die Another Day": it is the excellent setting for a video game, and visually, it influences "Everything or Nothing" greatly. All of the out-of-this-world gadgets and weapons games-developers would previously have been apprehensive about including in a Bond game, are ready and raring to go in this outing. In EoN, Bond has an invisible Porsche, a rocket-firing motorcycle (just like Chuck Norris!), an INVISIBILITY NANOSUIT (why was the franchise so concerned with things being not being visible to the naked eye, all of a sudden?), a remote-controlled spider-robot, a grappling gun and all kinds of other crazy gimmicks. 

The plot involves Willem Dafoe's villain Nikolai Diavolo, who is (and just wait until you hear this), the KGB protegé of Christopher Walken's character Max Zorin from the 1985 Roger Moore Bond movie "A View to a Kill". INSTANT WIN. 

Not only is he trying to kill Bond (for revenge, of course), but he also tries to conquer the world with a squadron of nanotech tanks that fire bombs that decompose things at a molecular level...If you like your Bond gritty and realistic; this is not the game for you. If (again, like me) you believe there's room for Bond (like Batman) to enter wilder, crazier worlds from time to time, don't miss this awesome game. 

In terms of gameplay, it's really enjoyable, with a few niggly problems that may be down to the fact that the game is a good eight years old, now (it was Brosnan's last performance as Bond). The shooting, aiming, wall-hugging and crouching is all done really well and plays a lot like Gears of War, many years before that game was ever released. You can perform a basic lock-on and shoot, like most third-person games, but the interesting thing here is that when you lock-on, you also have control over a mini-reticle that allows you to aim for an enemy's head, or to shoot the weapon out of their hand (or even their holster). 

The stealth and AI systems work fairly well, particularly given when the game was made. The gadgets all add excellently to the game, and while it's a really silly inclusion, you'll find yourself using the "Q Spider" a lot, not just for the sections of the game where it's specifically needed, but also when you find yourself formulating the best strategy to take down all of Bond's enemies. And that's where the game really excels. Even though you're in a crazy science-fiction universe, you still really have to think like James Bond, using your tools and your environment to your advantage. 

The vehicle levels (the ones on the bike and in the Porsche, at least) are quite honestly, AN ABSOLUTE BANT of fun. They're as linear as they come, but you haven't lived until you've played as James Bond jumping over shanty-towns in a bike, shooting rockets at haters while wearing a tuxedo, on your way to a secret location. There's also suitably insane moments like the freefall level, where you're skydiving through the air without a parachute, trying to catch Shannon Elizabeth who was thrown out of a helicopter (by Heidi Klum), while BAD GUYS ARE TRYING TO SHOOT YOU, EVEN THOUGH YOU'RE FALLING TO YOUR DEATH

(skip to 0:12)

As seen in the video, you even get awards for slipping through the most awkward spots while you're plummeting, and for shooting certain bad guys in bullet-time. It's furiously awesome to the point that the presentation, the ease of the controls and the exorbitant level of fun you're having makes up for the occasional feeling of repetition or linearity. 

I have a few minor complaints about this otherwise-fantastic, wildly under-appreciated game. The hand-to-hand combat (which is actually advertised on the back of the game box) is completely useless. Luckily, you almost never have to rely solely on it, but if you find yourself without weapons and forced to engage in fisticuffs, you can pretty much guarantee yourself a swift death. Also, while the aforementioned vehicle levels are mostly terrific, there are a few levels where you play in an Aston Martin Vanquish that are boring, uninteresting and slightly too difficult to enjoy. There's also a level in a tank towards the end of the game that I didn't enjoy. Other than that, the voice-acting is a bit spotty; John Cleese and Willem Dafoe are excellent as Q and Diavolo respectively, but Brosnan really phones it in as Bond. It doesn't help that nearly every single line of dialogue he has in the game is a lame punchline (an ever-present problem in his era of Bond films). Judi Dench also doesn't do anything special as M (in fact, everytime she's played M in a Bond game, she's phoned it in). Shannon Elizabeth is predictably annoying and Heidi Klum doesn't get much to do, really. 

These small complaints aside, I really can't recommend this game enough. I only even heard about it in 2006 after "Casino Royale" was released. I barely know anyone who has played it, but those who have unanimously agree that it's one of the most outrageously fun games they've ever played. Its few flaws are more than made up for, by the devastatingly impressive production value and presentation. Even though the plot is completely bonkers and far closer to science fiction than the kinds of gritty cloak and dagger tales Ian Fleming ever dreamed up, the game is one of the most essentially Bondian experiences I've ever had the pleasure to enjoy. Like most PS2/Original Xbox games, it can be bought for next to nothing via most online retailers, so what are you waiting for?

(At some point this month, I'll get around to reviewing "From Russia with Love" and "Blood Stone", both of which were very similar in gameplay style to EoN).


  1. I've been replaying the game for a few days now and I've actually found that I under-estimated the combat system. It's still a bit too fiddly (there's two different punch buttons), but once you get used to it it actually is quite effective. This is close to being a flawless action game.

  2. "Sadly, casual gamers disagree with me and the majority of James Bond games released since the mammoth success of GoldenEye have been first-person shooters." - I don't think that's a casual/non-casual split. There have been loads of casual third-person games and there are plenty of super-hardcore FPS players (some of them are so hardcore they play Counter Strike against each other in internet cafés, then afterwards have ACTUAL SHOOTOUTS. Think you're hardcore now, do ya??)

  3. I love this game, and this review. I'm like you... I never really enjoyed Goldeneye or most FPS games in general. This game felt like you were playing James Bond in a Bond movie.

    I played it when it was released and wrote a short review myself:

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