I’ve insisted for years that as capable as Pierce Brosnan was, Sean Connery was the true James Bond. You just couldn’t escape Connery’s debonair, his grace, his ability to be believable both as a world-saving super spy and a dream-dashing womanizer. Connery was Bond, plain and simple. So when the latest 007 game was announced, and Sean Connery was providing both his voice and his Bond-era likeness to the game, let’s just say I was a tad more excited than I was about the previous 007 games.
From Russia With Love takes place in a classic Bond film, in classic Bond environments, with classic Bond characters and flaunts classic Bond gadgets. It’s a recipe for shaken, not stirred success. Be that as it may, at some point you have to get over the nostalgia and hunker down with the actual gameplay. And that’s where this version of Bond, James Bond, starts to falter.
From Russia With Love certainly includes cool little gadgets, but at its core it’s a third-person shooter, complete with weapon upgrades, bazookas, grenades and various classes of machine gun. With this focus on gunplay, it’s no surprise that blasting enemies is the name of the game. What is surprising is just how unique the mechanics of doing so is accomplished. And I mean that in both the good and bad sense of the word.
Unlike many third-person shooters, From Russia With Love doesn’t include a targeting reticule in the center of the screen. Instead, players target enemies by pulling the left trigger, and they can flip between them by moving the thumbstick in the direction of the next enemy. As players select different enemies and unload their guns, a body-surrounding “reticule” appears around the enemy that goes from green to yellow to red to indicate the foe’s health. To earn more style points, which are used to unlock various items in the game, players can enter Bond Focus mode once the enemy is targeted by pressing the X button.
Rather than result in a slow-motion mode, Bond Focus indicates each enemy’s weak point(s). If an enemy has rappelled through a dome window, for example, Bond Focus mode will reveal that players can either can shoot him in the stomach or aim for his rope to make him fall to his death. Enemies who are carrying grenades or walkie talkies also have special weak points, as players can earn extra points by shooting the enemy’s grenades to make them explode or disabling their radio so they can’t call for backup. Killing an enemy by hitting these spots results in style points, much like the 007 points seen in previous Bond games.
Unfortunately, much of what’s fun about this targeting and Bond Focus mode is undone by the fact that it’s hard to aim in the first place. In many third-person shooters, targeting enemies is a quick way to cycle through foes if you’re in a bind. But From Russia With Love, targeting enemies is a necessity, because Connery apparently can’t hit the broadside of a barn without targeting a foe. This can make firefights a bit complex, as players continually release and re-pull the trigger and/or switch targets repeatedly when all they really want to worry about is making sure their bullets hit the mark.
The shooting action is broken up frequently during the game’s 14 levels (18, if you earn enough awards to unlock four bonus missions). For most of the game, players will use guns and grenades, but they also have access to Bond’s laser watch, the remote-controlled (and exploding) Q Copter and other gadgets from or inspired by the classic Bond universe. Aside from the armory, From Russia With Love also includes several car-driving sequences, jetpack-flying areas and on-rails shooting segments. Previous Bond games have mixed things up like this with great effect, but in From Russia With Love, they just don’t have the same polish. The car’s handling, for example, is more squirrelly than Central Park, and using the A and X buttons to accelerate and brake goes against everything gamers have learned in the past five years of gaming. Likewise, the on-rails sequences are so slow-paced that it’s not uncommon to notice your eyes straying from the TV. These sequences certainly break up the gunplay, but they’re not always the most pleasant of breaks.
When players aren’t shooting, they’re running around levels doing various and sundry context-based activities. Like Conker’s Bad Fur Day, virtually everything in this game is context sensitive, from rappelling to climbing over retaining walls to opening doors. In fact, Bond can only jump when the game says he’s able to. By most of today’s third-person-shooter standards, the overly context-based actions in From Russia With Love are a bit elementary, even if they are implemented well.
Most gamers will want to play on the “00 Agent” difficulty, as the normal “Agent” mode is laughably easy, and the easy “Operative” mode is an exercise in sleepwalking. That’s not to say the “00 Agent” setting provides much more challenge, but the enemies wear bullet-proof vests, which compels you to keep a closer eye on your ammunition.
From Russia With Love was the first current-gen game I played after a month and a half on the Xbox 360, so I was expecting a bit of a letdown in terms of graphics. What greeted me was a very pleasant surprise. Not only are the animations and character models very smooth and refined, but the environments are highly detailed and surprisingly large. A few textures look comparatively low-resolution, and there’s occasional tearing at the seams in some environments, but the graphics are generally great, even by Xbox standards. The most notable graphical snafu is the camera, which for some reason takes time to build-up enough momentum to move, almost like it’s heavy. It doesn’t move fast at first, but once it gets going, it swings very quickly. This is fine in most instances, but when you’re in a big firefight and need to move quickly, it’s a chore to have to wait that extra half second.
The voice acting is superb, but you wouldn’t expect any less considering Sean Connery provided the dialogue. The score is also great, as are the sound effects. Interestingly, the debonair and egotistical Bond jokes that had gotten oh-so-old in the previous 007 games somehow work in this one, perhaps because the game is set in the old-school Bond universe, or perhaps because Connery can deliver them in a way that makes you think he’s cool, not conceited.
As in previous Bond games, From Russia With Love includes various awards for completing each level in a certain amount of time, on a certain difficulty, while killing a certain number or for pulling off special “Bond moves.” Technically you can replay missions to earn all these awards, but in all honesty, you probably won’t. The gameplay and nostalgia are just enough to entertain you for a weekend, but not so compelling that you’ll replay most missions. A couple levels are worth the additional play-through, but the entire game certainly isn’t. Multiplayer might save the day for some, but since it’s only available via split-screen and doesn’t include bots, the chances are high that you already have several other third-person shooters to consume your fragging time.
What makes From Russia With Love so intriguing isn’t its gameplay or its length (short) or its weapons, but the fact that Sean Connery has reprised a defining Bond role. Take the nostalgia out of the equation, and this game is just an average shooter. Good in parts, bad in parts but generally just middle of the road, From Russia With Love is best left going from rental service to console, not from unopened copy to permanent home.
- Gameplay: 7.6
- Sufficiently entertaining, but a bit too easy and needs some help in the targeting and driving departments.
- Graphics: 8.9
- This looks like a few of the mediocre-looking games on the Xbox 360. A slow camera is its biggest hiccup.
- Sound: 8.4
- It’s Sean Connery, of course it’s good. Oh, and the music is nice, too.
- Replay: 7
- There’s stuff do do once the game is done, but the chances of doing it are pretty slim.
- Overall: 7.9
- Solid entertainment for a weekend or Connery junkies, but people looking for the next great third-person shooter shouldn’t stop their search.