Friday, March 12, 2021
James Bond has never been given a video game adaptation that does full justice to Ian Fleming's creation. In a 007 video game, I've never had a vodka martini (shaken, stirred, or otherwise). I've never been able to sweet-talk my way into the arms of a femme fatale. And I've never been able to deliver a perfectly timed witticism, having stylishly dispatched an evil henchman. Rare's 1997 GoldenEye adaptation remains one of the high watermark moments for video game Bondage to this day, but it's high time that we expected more from England's greatest super spy. And if there's one developer that has the pedigree to do it, it's Hitman studio IO Interactive – Agent 47's recent outings have been to increasingly exotic and glamorous locales befitting 007, after all, and he looks increasingly comfortable in a meticulously pressed suit.
Bond has had his fair share of tie-in games, spanning the past few decades, but, with 007 Legends essentially driving the license off the edge of a big cliff, it's been more than eight years since we had a proper game. Indeed, spies and espionage as a whole have been given short shrift in recent years. Rockstar's Agent ended up being cancelled after years in development hell. The prospect of another Alpha Protocol from Obsidian is practically non-existent. Metal Gear Solid currently remains in limbo, after Hideo Kojima left Konami and ill-judged spin-off Metal Gear Survive failed to placate fans. That pretty much leaves IO's Project 007 as the spy game genre's great hope – the only game in town when it comes to inhabiting the role of a digital secret agent.
Aside from a dearth of spy games, the underuse of the James Bond license for digital entertainment seems to stem from developers not really knowing what to do with it, beyond creating an action-packed shooter experience of some form or other. Recent efforts have been solid at best, with EA Redwood Shores' From Russia With Love and Brosnan-starring Everything Or Nothing standing out as the best that 007 has had to offer since 1997's GoldenEye. Bond franchise producer Barbara Broccoli recently stated that, to date, 007 games have been a case of "violence for the sake of violence" and “not worthy enough,” which should serve as a call to arms for IO – that there's more to James Bond than a Walther PPK and a succession of goons to shoot dead with it.
From Russia With Love - EA Redwood Shores, 2005
An original story and a fresh digital Bond, not based on an existing actor, seems like a good start for IO, as do encouraging words from Studio Director Hakan Abrak, who, in January, remarked: “We are very keen to make a game of very high quality that young people all over the world fall in love with. And I'm sure we'll get to that." Hopefully, not only “young people” will be in IO's sights, however, as leaving behind hardened old Bond fans like myself and anyone misty-eyed for a new 007 game would surely be folly. Abrak's confidence doesn't seem all that misplaced, though – IO has proven its chops with the Hitman series, and, beyond popping a tux and a toupee on 47, there are the foundations for something really special to be derived from that sandbox formula, albeit perhaps with some more linear action sequences and window dressing thrown in for good measure.
And, in fairness, Broccoli's “violence for the sake of violence” argument does hold some water: while Bond is no stranger to strangling a baddie or gunning them down with impunity in the movies, that's essentially been the primary focus of pretty much every 007 video game. Given IO's extensive experience with sandboxes, there's scope for so much more with its own take on the suave super spy. Perhaps we'll be able to defuse a bomb while dressed as a clown, like in Octopussy, or “attempt re-entry” Moonraker-style. But then, I also want to drive the Aston Martin DB5 (not like the awkward trial-and-error chase sections in Blood Stone), find a way out of a deadly situation like a shark pool or a laser slowly moving towards Bond's testicles, engage in a speedboat chase (at least Blood Stone had a fair crack at these) or have a fight in the back of a cargo plane. I'm acutely aware that I may be asking too much.
James Bond 007: Blood Stone - Bizarre Creations, 2010
Yet it's these tropes that define Bond – the guns, gadgets, girls, ludicrous cars, death-defying stunts, pantomime villains, and elaborate underground lairs – and I sincerely hope that IO doesn't forget these signature elements when creating its own version of 007's escapades. An interesting touch would be to extract some of the RPG elements from Obsidian's Alpha Protocol playbook, which enabled you to put your own stamp on otherwise bland secret agent protagonist Michael Thorton through dialogue options and other interactions. While Treyarch's Quantum of Solace using the Call of Duty engine worked as a tie-in to a film in which Bond fittingly goes on a guns-blazing rampage, it seems only right to expect more from IO’s fresh start. The studio will no doubt be looking to buck the trend with something boasting more depth and nuance, but hopefully not to the detriment of being playful and fun.
Ultimately, there's a balance to be struck between what's expected from a Bond game and IO's desire to leave its own mark on a cinematic icon. No doubt, the Danish developer will be all too aware of the weight of that expectation, and, by giving itself carte blanche to do whatever it wants with 007 and the world that he inhabits, Project 007 has real potential to be a definitive Bond experience. Getting the spirit of the character right will be vital, of course, but also granting players the agency to shape their own version of 007 (suave, tongue-in-cheek Roger Moore type or no-nonsense Timothy Dalton sort, for instance) could make IO Interactive's digital James Bond a cut above. One thing we do know for sure is the world is not enough.
Friday, March 12, 2021 @ 02:10 PM
Friday, March 12, 2021 @ 03:14 PM
Friday, March 12, 2021 @ 07:06 PM
Friday, March 12, 2021 @ 11:04 PM
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Saturday, March 13, 2021 @ 09:09 AM
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Sunday, March 14, 2021 @ 12:41 AM
Sunday, March 14, 2021 @ 12:53 AM
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Monday, March 15, 2021 @ 03:17 AM