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James Bond 007: Nightfire Review

publisher: EA
developer: Gearbox Software
genre: Shooters

PIII 500, 128MB RAM, 32MB Video Card, 675MB HD
ESRB rating: T

release date: Nov 28, 02
» All About James Bond 007: Nightfire on ActionTrip

The name is Bond, James Bond - Agent 007 of Her Majesty's Secret Service. I have a license to kill. I am armed and dangerous. I know 34 different styles of martial arts and I speak 13 different languages. No woman alive (except for my mother) can resist my charms. I am stealthy, crafty, cunning and intelligent.

Oh and I often get stuck on doors...

Such is the story of Gearbox's attempt to produce a cinematic single player shooter based on the famous James Bond movie license, and such is the story of yet another failed effort to port a silver screen blockbuster to the PC. Gearbox has over the years earned quite a reputation for themselves, ever since they did a pretty good job on the Half Life expansion pack, Opposing Force. They've gained a reputation for being the Half Life engine experts, which opened the doors for them to develop games like Counter-Strike: Condition Zero, and of course James Bond 007: Nightfire.

So right off the bat we have a bit of a controversial issue here. EA has already had quite a bit of success by utilizing the Quake 3 engine license (MoH:AA anyone?), so why opt for the ailing and aging Half-Life engine, which (believe it or not) still has remnants of Quake code in it. Quake was released in '96 if I'm not much mistaken, and Half-Life came out in '98. Granted, Gearbox has done one heck of a job on modifying the original Half-Life code and they're definitely experienced in this field, but I still can't understand why EA would favor the Half-Life license over the vastly superior and highly successful Quake 3 license?

Ironically, it turns out this is possibly the games biggest upside, if you can believe that - its visuals are rather pleasing to the eye. Though the graphics look pretty dated in terms of low-poly environments and some of the background textures, the in-game models are excellently animated and the polycount is substantial given the engine's limitations. Their faces look believable and the particle effects, along with the explosions and the pixel-shaded water look really nice. So what could easily have been the games biggest downside turns out to be one of its biggest upsides, at least in terms of how it all looks.

Sure, the game looks great, but how it plays? That, my friends, is a whole different matter. There are two main reasons why this game goes from slightly irritating to bad, and finally to worst. It all begins with the extremely silly way your character will move in the game. It won't bother you so much in the later missions, but at the beginning of the game you'll have a feeling like James is floating or sliding rather than walking. I don't know if this has to do with the messed up physics model or something else, but it is clear that the very basic element of any FPS game - moving around - feels a bit awkward at first. But, after a while you get used to it. And just about as you begin to immerse yourself in the game world, the true nature of this code begins to surface. James has a problem with doors. He often gets stuck on doors, and for some reason when he's near a door the keyboard controls become extremely unresponsive. But wait, there's more: James will often get stuck in one place for no apparent reason. And when he does, you won't be able to move an inch, so better hit that Quick Load button and start over. James will sometimes constantly run forward, even though you aren't holding the forward key. James is like that sometimes - I guess... James' guns usually have a crosshair, but yet...sometimes that crosshair would disappear. Maybe when he's panicking - oh wait! James Bond never panics! That's right!

Lastly, there is the question of annoying loading times between the rather small segments of a level. Not only are they annoying, but they can be quite disorientating as well. These annoying bugs may seem trivial at first, but they'll begin to piss the living shit out of ya in the later stages of the game.

And even that wouldn't be so tragic if it weren't for the incredibly silly AI routines. I believe that Half-Life boasted some of the best AI routines around, but that was almost five years ago.

What can I tell you about the AI? It's UNBELIEVABLY scripted. It's so scripted it's not even funny. The gameplay in James Bond is based around two sorts of missions: stealthy and action-based. The former ones require sophisticated AI routines, which Nightfire most definitely lacks. At times, the enemy soldiers will be able to spot you from a mile away, while having their backs turned to ya, and other times they'll casually stand there while you annihilate their friends one by one. It's quite funny really. I'll give you an example: my goal in one mission was to infiltrate a control tower at an airport, climb up to the control room, waste the guards and smash the radar systems. So I climb up there and walk into a tiny control room. There are three guards in there. One is facing west and the other two are facing north (they have their backs turned to me). So, with my very loud handgun I waste the first two facing north, but surprisingly enough, the one facing west wouldn't even so much as turn around to see what the hell is going on. Fair enough, maybe he is def, but whom in the hell hires def personnel at a high-security top-secret facility?!

There was this one time where the bad guys would turn on each other. I'm not kidding. I REALLY wasn't expecting to see that. It could've been because one of them threw a smoke grenade, but I'm not sure really. Maybe this is a neat script by Gearbox, but it sure as hell makes the game look ridiculous, especially because the baddies kept on shooting at each other well after the smoke from the smoke grenade has cleared. Fair enough, enemy soldiers will run for cover at times; they'll even have the good sense to run for cover before reloading, but unfortunately they would always leave a part of their body sticking out from the cover, thus becoming sitting ducks pretty much. If we were to compare the AI in Nightfire to that of Splinter Cell or No One Lives Forever 2, it would almost appear as if the former was stuck in '98 or something. There is no way to justify such lackluster AI routines in a game that came out at the end of 2002. No way.

Still, the usage of the Half-Life code isn't without its advantages. Obviously, Gearbox had used some of their experience from making a single-player Counter-Strike game to make the weapon models appear really really believable and fun to fire from in Nightfire. The weapon recoil is very realistic, which in combination with the excellent model animation makes the fire fights fairly intense. There are plenty of fun guns at your disposal: Walter PPK, rocket launchers, Semi-automatic rifles, AWM-like snipers, etc. All this is good and well, and as I said fun to use, but it somehow doesn't seem fitting for James Bond. But that's my subjective opinion, so don't take it at face value.

As for the famous Q's gadgets, I must say that they've been completely unexploited in Nightfire. The gameplay as such doesn't offer any freedom whatsoever. Everything is pretty much linear and scripted, so you'll rarely get to use your cell phone / grappling hook, or your kick ass welder/watch (except for opening "treasure chests"). I'm not saying that this has been done much better in No One Lives Forever 2, but it certainly is more important to the gameplay than in Nightfire. This is a shame really, as James Bond is probably most famous for Q's crazy gadgets.

From what I've written so far, you'd think that there wasn't a single thing I liked about this game. This is not true. In later mission, the action will get more intense as the story unfolds and the game might remind you of the movie in certain aspects - with spectacularly unbelievable yet very fun action sequences. The plot is standard 007 stuff: win over the cute honeys and save the world, so there are no surprises there. Still, this is definitely the more charming segment of the gameplay. The babe models look cute, and certain levels manage to convey some of the debonair style from the movies, but this rarely happens really. Nightfire is desperately trying to match the charm of Bond movies, but it falls somewhat short, looking tacky rather than charming. At one point James Bond turns to a sexy female bodyguard and says something along the lines of: "anything can be penetrated with the proper tool." Heh, I know James (Pierce Brosnan) is charming and all but try walking up to a chick and saying something like that to her face. She'll look at you like you're Butthead's older brother. I'm sorry, that's not charming - that's just stupid.

The voice acting along with the musical soundtrack and the sound effects are all topnotch and I have absolutely no complaints there. I just wish the rest of the game was on the same level of quality.

As it stands, Nightfire is a lightly entertaining Bondesque shooter that falls way short of my expectations for all the reasons mentioned here in the review. Personally, I'd never buy this game. Then again, it is my job too be nitpicky, so those of you who have money to spend, love James Bond (in a non-sexual kind of way), and don't mind being frustrated over stupid game design decisions, may enjoy this one. And just for the record, I don't have an axe to grind with EA. It's not my fault that two of their latest games for the PC (MOHHA: Spearhead and Nightfire) were poorly designed. I call it as I see it.


5.5   Okay

On a few occasions Nightifre actually shows some of that Bond charm. Character models look great as well as their animation, and it's amazing what you can still do with the aging HL code. Weapons are fun to use;

The game is full of very annoying bugs. Lackluster AI (way too scripted and sometimes downright silly). Some of the levels are poorly designed. Q's gadgets too unexploited. Some really questionable game design decisions.



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