JAMES BOND FINALLY HAS A Licence To Kill ON THE PC
BOND. JAMES BOND.
Say those three words and no matter who your favorite actor is (as if there was any doubt), everyone knows who you're talking about. Ian Fleming's 007 was the original superspy: a sophisticated man's man who can socialize with the world's elite one minute, and then save us from their diabolical plans the next. He can out-drive, out-ski, and outsmart anyone—equally adept playing baccarat or hopping in a jet and taking off amidst a storm of bullets and rockets. He never fails, he always looks good, and he always gets the girl.
Since 1962, when Dr. No first introduced audiences to Bond, there have been 22 films with the suave secret agent, all boasting exotic locations, wild chase scenes, killer gadgets that actually kill, and some of the most beautiful women ever to appear onscreen. The movies defined a new genre of spy thriller, while spawning books, video games, accessories, and, of course, that International Man of Mystery, Austin Powers. In the process, Bond entertained millions and made a lot of people rich.
Yet there's never been a PC game that let you slip into his Italian loafers. Why? Given his ongoing popularity, and the fact that most boys between the ages of 9 and 90 secretly wish they were him, he's a ready-made action game hero. Electronic Arts snapped up the exclusive interactive rights to Bond long ago, releasing numerous console games (that have never surpassed Rare's Goldeneye on the N64 for sheer gaming brilliance). But EA obviously never thought they could make enough money on a PC version before now. So the very fact that the world's largest video game company has decided to create a custom PC version of NightFire—complete with full multiplayer capability—is great news for computer players. Too bad EA didn't quite go all the way, but we'll hold our gripes for the moment.
FROM CONSOLES, WITH LOVE
NightFire is being developed simultaneously for several platforms, and all games are scheduled to launch around the same time as the newest Bond film, Die Another Day, which comes out on November 22. Gearbox Software is in charge of the PC version, which is good because they have a great track record, with games like Half-Life Blue Shift, Counter-Strike (boxed version), and Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 to their credit. (Gearbox is also currently working on Halo: PC and Counter-Strike: Condition Zero.)
The games share many of the same plot points and objectives, but each version will have features unique to the platform. The console versions will have driving levels featuring the new 12-cylinder, $229,000 Aston Martin Vanquish (for which there's already a waiting list in real life), equipped with weapons and gadgets. Unfortunately, the closest PC players get to the Vanquish is seeing it in a cinematic cut-scene. But at least we'll have 32-player multiplayer support that lets you choose skins of famous Bond characters like Oddjob and
The PC version will also have some exclusive single-player levels, says associate producer Michael Condrey. These include a decommissioned nuclear power plant, a South Pacific subterranean assembly facility, and an Austrian airfield.
The game features an all-new story that pits Bond against “green industrialist” Rafael Drake. Drake's company is involved with dismantling warheads and disposing of nuclear waste, but he's actually a radical environmentalist. Drake employs his secret stash of ICBMs and a private army of astronaut commandos to assault a U.S. space weapons platform and hold the world hostage. We're not sure why an environmentalist would threaten the world with nuclear annihilation, but what the hell—it's Bond. And Bond is once again the only thing between a power-crazed maniac and global domination.
NO ONE DIES TWICE
The game opens with a dramatic cut-scene reminiscent of Bond's HALO jump into the South China Sea in Tomorrow Never Dies. This time, he leaps from the back of a C-140 and parachutes into the Austrian Alps. His mission: infiltrate Rafael Drake's ornate castle, chat up some women, and find out what Drake's up to. Each mission is book-ended with cinematic scenes to help set the tone. They reminded me of the cut-scenes from Rainbow Six: Rogue Spear, only with higher-resolution models.
When Bond lands on a snow-covered bridge facing the castle, you're in control. Right away the game evokes an authentic feel as you face an imposing castle that's protected by armed guards. Falling snow adds to the atmosphere.
Gearbox is using a new engine for NightFire that has endured far beyond its roots in Half-Life. It draws huge scenes with complex architecture and weather effects, and effectively handles the many scripted events scattered throughout the game.
One of the best features of NightFire is the variety of ways to complete each mission. In the Castle mission, you can hop on a passing truck and ride it into the compound, sneak around to a side door, and burn the lock off with a laser beam from the watch that Q gave you. Or you can head into the woods to go around the castle and enter through a second-story window. Each of the different paths throughout the game will yield a very different experience: some will require stealth, some will simply require a head-on assault.
In another mission, Bond. has to infiltrate a Japanese country estate (also protected by ubiquitous guards with submachine guns). He can clamber across the roof and drop down into a courtyard, shoot his way through the house, or enter via a wire suspended across the garden. To go by wire, Bond must first shoot the lanterns hanging from it, each of which leaves a sparking section of exposed wire; the challenge is to time Bond's crossing over these sections (when they aren't sparking) while watching for patrolling guards (he can't shoot if he's holding onto the wire). This becomes a very tricky and fairly suspenseful moment in the game.
It also illustrates how the player's perspective changes from first
to third person at certain times in the game. The camera often switches to third person when Bond is outside a building, to give the player a view of others in the area. By using this perspective, you can see which windows have guards in them, so you'll know when to make Bond crouch or move away. It should add that extra bit of suspense players expect from a spy game.
DON'T CALL US “HENCHMEN”
Until now we've talked about guards as if they are all the same. Actually, they're not. Some guards and enemy soldiers may look similar, but almost every character will have unique facial features, and some of them will have very smart AI. Landon Montgomery, development director at Gearbox Software says, “We've enhanced the AI system that we've worked with in the past and implemented cool new AI behaviors.” For example, if an enemy enters into combat with you and has access to a corner, he will run to that corner and use it as cover. You'll find that the enemies in NightFire also have survival instincts, even reacting to live grenades in a logical fashion. (Is he close enough to kick it away? Close enough to throw it away? Close enough to throw it at you?) As James Bond, you're definitely going to have your hands full with these guys.
The enemies with the toughest AI will probably be Drake's Black Ops soldiers. Dressed all in black, these guys pack silenced MP5s, so you may not hear them even after they start shooting at you. Even if you can sneak up on them, they have katanas and a variety of jumping moves that will make them very tough to deal with.
But you won't always have to go it alone. A staple of every Bond film is the gorgeous Bond girl who helps 007 with his mission, and the developers haven't overlooked that. Bond teams up with a couple of agents in NightFire, including Zoe Nightshade, who originally appeared in EA's Agent Under Fire. In one of the missions unique to the PC, Zoe has to make her way into an aircraft control tower to disable a security system so the two can escape. When she gets ambushed by swarming guards, Bond has to pick them off with a sniper rifle from a nearby building.
WHERE DOES HE GET THOSE WONDERFUL TOYS?
Naturally Bond will be packing his standard Walther pistol, but he'll have a lot more weapons at his disposal. These include flashbangs, smoke and frag grenades, various rifles, a grenade launcher, and a four-tube missile launcher. Each weapon also has an alternate fire, such as a silencer for the pistol, a scope for the rifle, and a three-round burst for the submachine gun. In alternate fire mode, the missile launcher switches to a nose-cam view and lets you steer it to your target.
Of course it wouldn't be a Bond experience without an assortment of sophisticated and deadly gadgets. Unfortunately, Desmond Llewelyn
is pushing up the daisies, but there will be a suitably gray-haired virtual Q who equips Bond with his toys. Among these are a watch equipped with a laser beam, a stun gun lighter, a cell phone grappling hook, and some special grips that enable Bond to scale buildings. My favorite is a suitcase that turns into a machine gun turret when dropped; it'll automatically mow down any target within its range.
Bond will also carry a tricked-out pair of glasses. They have three modes: night vision, infrared, and X-ray. The infrared mode reveals body heat to detect guards through certain kinds of walls and doors. X-ray mode lets you see concealed objects in people's clothing. Yes, they also let you peep at women's underwear. Curiously, this doesn't work on men-it reveals only their skeletons. It's odd and totally sexist, but then again, it is Bond.
BOND IN SPAAAAAAAAAAAAAAACE!
If there's one thing that shouldn't disappoint anyone, it's the variety of locations in the game and the amount of detail that seems to be lavished on them. The Austrian castle has an amazing amount of detail, from paintings on the wall to perfectly ruffled curtains and ornate columns. Reflective floors and fighting add even greater ambiance to this level.
In addition to the castle, players will infiltrate a Tokyo high-rise, rescue beautiful geisha held hostage in a Japanese country estate, blast their way through a fortified jungle base, penetrate an underwater South Pacific training facility, and maneuver through a zero-gravity space station. In the space station, Bond and his enemies float and glide through the air, which offers a completely different challenge from the rest of the game.
We're not sure if the game ends there, but as it's assured that Bond gets the girl in the end, we hope it does, if only for the opportunity to hear one more time:
British minister: “My God, what's Bond doing?!”
Q: “I think he's attempting re-entry, sir.”
PHOTO (COLOR): Getting past the guards at the Austrian castle won't be easy—and this is only the first mission.
PHOTOS (COLOR): Q's gadgets are Integral to each mission. In addition to a spy camera, you'll get a PDA that decrypts codes to open locked doors.
PHOTO (COLOR): You can play each mission differently, but sometimes you'll have to shoot it out—hence the whole “Licence To Kill” concept.
PHOTO (COLOR): In one of the team-based levels, Bond has to help his partner stay alive by picking off guards with the sniper rifle.
PHOTO (COLOR): The lobby of this Tokyo high-rise is representative of the level of interior detail throughout the game.
PHOTO (COLOR): “James, is that a pistol in your pocket, or…?” There'll be plenty of babes for Bond to cavort with.
PHOTO (COLOR): How on earth can this geisha thank Bond for rescuing her?
PHOTO (COLOR): Bond's high-rise climb is an example of the third-person action sequences.
PHOTO (COLOR): The Japanese estate is a beautiful place, complete with koi ponds.
By Ken Brown
[source: Computer Gaming World, Nov 2002, Issue 220, p88]