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James Bond has been a staple in pop culture for decades. He started in books and then dominated the big screen. Whenever a new movie is coming out, there’s always speculation as to who will be recording the theme song. And he has starred in several video games. Across all mediums, James Bond is an icon.
However, that last point has had the most noticeable decrease in the conversation surrounding the franchise. It would be fair to say that the video games based on the character peaked in 1997 with the release of GoldenEye for the N64. EA owned the license from 1999 to 2005 and released several titles. Most were received positively by fans and critics alike, but none quite reached the extreme heights of GoldenEye. After 2005, Activision held the license, but the reception to their games became more mixed as time went on. There have been no releases since 007 Legends in 2012, and there are no active plans to create any new entries in the series. So, with no new games to talk about and the delay of No Time to Die, I thought now would be as good a time as any to take a look back at my favourite games in the series.
I never owned a Nintendo 64. The console – and GoldenEye by extension – was a bit before my time. My brothers and I grew up with the GameCube. We all had different tastes in games; I was more partial to cartoon-ish action platformers like Sonic Adventure 2 and Tarzan Untamed, while my older brothers were playing games like Soul Caliber 2 and Baten Kaitos. When it came to multiplayer titles, we couldn’t always agree on what to play. Maybe two of us would enjoy Mario Kart Double Dash or Super Smash Bros Melee, and the other wouldn’t quite as much. But there were two games that all three of us loved to play: Agent Under Fire and Nightfire.
A Truly Unique FPS Experience
My love for shooters pretty much begins and ends with these two games. I have tried to get into games like Doom in recent years, and while I have a lot of respect for that game, it wasn’t something that I could get into. But the GameCube era 007 games? These were some of the best times I have ever had with any FPS. There was inherent ridiculousness in these games that were unmatched in my eyes. In what other shooter could you perform a double jump by firing a bazooka below you and not sustain any damage? Or take control of a miniature helicopter and fly across the entire map to take out your opponents? None that I can name. The silliness was reflective of the state of the franchise at the time; Daniel Craig’s more grounded take on the character hadn’t come out yet, so the current image people had of James Bond was Pierce Brosnan windsurfing away from a tsunami in the arctic. So why not let players jump around wildly with a rocket launcher and play capture the flag?
Both Agent Under Fire and Nightfire featured original stories and characters, with the latter even having an original theme song and opening credits sequence. Both of their single-player campaigns contained exactly what you would want from a 007 game: a wide variety of missions and locals, infiltration of enemy bases with unique gadgets, intense shoot outs, and fast-paced driving sections in tricked out cars. But while I did have fun with each game’s single-player mode, that was not where the bulk of my playtime was spent.
Each game was playable in four-player split-screen, with the option of additional AI bots (depending on the game mode). Matches could be played with up to six bots, which made playing on larger maps more fun. We used this feature constantly; there were usually only three of us, so the ability to add more opponents added a lot to the experience. Their skill level could be adjusted which made it easier for me, the youngest, to feel like I was accomplishing something by killing a bot that posed virtually no threat. Some of the game modes included the standard team deathmatch and free-for-all, king of the hill, top agent (the last man standing mode with limited lives) and, my favourite, capture the flag. Trying to sneak into the other team’s base to steal their flag and frantically running back to your side of the map was always a blast.
Freedom and Ridiculousness
Generally speaking, Agent Under Fire is the weaker game of the two. There are fewer weapons, the maps were less unique, and the gameplay wasn’t as polished. But it did offer a bit more freedom with regards to game customization. The two gadgets in the multiplayer, the Q-Claw and Q-Jet (a grappling hook and jet pack), could individually be turned on or off, you could customize exactly what weapons would appear on the map, and even gravity levels could be adjusted. This, of course, led to some of the ridiculous moments I alluded to before. My brothers and I would create matches with low gravity, Q-Jets and rocket launchers, resulting in us flinging ourselves all over the map and basically playing the whole game without touching the ground. Overpowered weapons like the photon cannon could be thrown into the mix, which when aimed right, would get you a one-shot kill. And to further add to the chaos, we might also turn on the Q-Claw giving us the ability to zip around the map like Spider-Man.
Nightfire was the game we went back to the most though. While it took away a lot of the customization that Agent Under Fire had, it was an overall more balanced experience. Sure, you couldn’t adjust the gravity anymore, the jetpacks were gone and the grappling hook could now only attach to specific places. But Nightfire included more guns, a suitcase turret, a crossbow, a rocket launcher with guided missiles, a laser gun, frag grenades, flashbangs, remotely detonated grenades, trip mines, mini-vehicles and if you played as him, Oddjob’s razor-sharp hat. Weapons came in pre-sets, themed around specific styles of play or weapon types, such as pistols or machine guns. Another example is the “explosives” pre-set which included a variety of grenades, a grenade launcher the sentinel, a rocket launcher capable of firing missiles that the player can fully control. While this did take away the full control over the available weapons players had in Agent Under Fire, it led to more unique matches and forced you to learn how to best use all of your options. And if you knew the layouts of the maps well enough, you would know exactly where to go to find the most powerful weapon of whatever pre-set you were using.
The maps in Agent Under Fire were fairly generic. They were based on simple areas like a castle, a town, or the docks. Most of them were pretty small, which allowed for the chaos I described earlier to happen very easily. Nightfire had more unique maps, with some even being based on previous films, like Fort Knox from Goldfinger. They were bigger, asymmetrical and had interesting layouts. One standout was called Skyrail. It’s located on a snowy mountain, with a ski chalet at one end, and a castle at the other. The two buildings are connected by a cable car that does a big loop around the map. Underneath is a large area with boulders and hills for cover. This map was the best for capture the flag because the bases were completely different from one another and they were quite far apart with many paths to get to them. You could go along the ground, hiding behind boulders along the way. You could try to hide inside the cable car. Or, my personal favourite, you could jump on top of the cable connecting the two buildings and try to run across them. This way was faster, though you had very little room to walk, and it left you wide open. But the risk was always fun to take.
A Return to Camp
I will acknowledge that a lot of my love for these games comes from nostalgia. They were a great way for my brothers and me to bond (pun intended), and we all have a lot of great memories of both of them. Even despite my nostalgic feelings, I do think that that they hold up really well, especially Nightfire. There’s a lot of gameplay variety, it doesn’t take itself overly seriously, and it puts player enjoyment first. And if you don’t think playing capture the flag on a ski hill while being shot at by mini helicopters, suitcase turrets and heat-seeking missiles sounds fun, then I think you need to re-evaluate why you are playing video games.
Activision tried to continue this franchise during the Daniel Craig era, and the games ended up taking a much more serious tone. But, because of that, they ended up losing their identity and just looking like every other shooter on the market. The last game that was released, 007 Bloodstone, was a third-person cover-based shooter because that was what was popular at the time. It focused on realism rather than fun. In my opinion, the best way to bring back a sense of identity with the series is to return to the campiness of the earlier games. Bring back the crazy guns and gadgets. Bring back the unique maps and fun game modes. Or just remaster Nightfire. I know both options are unlikely, given the current direction of the film series and the lack of any news of a new game in the past 8 years, but hey, I can dream.