If video games are the ultimate expression of male fantasy wish fulfillment, then it should be no surprise that ladies man/human weapon James Bond 007 has become one of the most popular video game characters of all time. At last count, there have been as many James Bond video games made since 1983 as there have been James Bond movies made since 1963. They have gone from beep boop Atari pixelfests to big budget productions starring real James Bond actors like Pierce Brosnan, Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Christopher Lee, John Cleese, and even Sean Connery himself. Some of these newer games have been pretty solid, but anyone who’s ever picked up a controller will tell you that the greatest James Bond game of all time is the Nintendo 64 shooter Goldeneye64. For years, Bond fans and gamers alike have been hollering for a re-release of this classic game. Some have even taken it upon themselves to create unofficial Goldeneye ports in other game engines, such as the Half-Life total conversion Goldeneye Source.
Since Rareware, the company that developed the original N64 game no longer has the license to release James Bond titles, the original game cannot be re-released. Activision, the game company that currently holds the license, has made a bold move to satisfy Goldeneye fever by announcing that they have re-imagined the game as a modern Daniel Craig James Bond adventure. At first blush this seemed a dream come true for fans of the original, but now many gamers and Bond fans are starting to express reservations. The 2004’s Goldeneye sequel Goldeneye: Rogue Agent was one of the most disappointing Bond games in years. Also, Activision’s track record with the James Bond license is iffy. They’ve only released one Bond game, Quantum of Solace, which displayed little panache or innovation. Plus, the new Goldeneye’s Wii exclusivity severely limits the game’s graphical potential. Early screenshots look dark and blocky. Of course, we can’t fairly judge whether the game lives up to its lofted name until we got some nunchucks in our hands and try it out. In the meantime let’s brush up on our James Bond video game history!
The 007 brand is one of the most coveted licenses in the industry. As such, the right to produce James Bond games has switched hands many times over the years. The first firm to hold the license was gaming powerhouse Parker Brothers. Parker Brothers gave 007 his video game debut in 1983’s James Bond 007, a sidescroller for early consoles and computers such as the Atari 2600 and Commodore 64. Domark continued with a line of action games based on James Bond movie titles throughout the rest of the 1980s. Many of these games featured a mix of shooting and driving levels, a tradition which would continue in many subsequent Bond games. Domark’s 007 swan song was the polished platformer James Bond the Duel, a challenging game with a rad soundtrack, a primitive cover system, and character animation that captured Bond’s style fairly well. In the early 90s, the point click graphic adventure Operation Stealth was adapted into the 007 game James Bond: The Stealth Affair. With the exception of some Eurocom James Bond Jr. platformers, 007 remained dormant as a video game character for much of the 90s.
The 90s were an even tougher time for Bond fans movie fans. For six years, moviegoers had gone without a James Bond movie adventure. But when James Bond made his cinematic comeback with 1995’s blockbuster Goldeneye, its video game counterpart changed the industry forever. Until Goldeneye 64‘s release in 1997, PCs were the primary platform for first person shooters. This precedent was established by the enormous, genre-defining success of iD software’s Doom in the early-nineties. Multiplayer was only possible over dial-up internet or a local area connection. The popularity of Goldeneye’s four-player split-screen local gameplay shifted that paradigm for a generation. Now the most popular first person shooters are console games such as the Halo and Gears of War titles.
Rareware went on to develop Perfect Dark, and handed the James Bond license off to Electronic Arts. For years, EA tried to recapture the success of the original Goldeneye with a slew of James Bond first person shooters. Like Star Trek flicks, these games were good every other time. Their first, The World is Not Enough, was a decent clone of Goldeneye 64. Their next, Agent Under Fire was the first game to take advantage of the Playstation 2, but failed to capture the Bond feel. Nightfire remedied that problem, and boasted the most fleshed out original Bond storyline of any game until that point. The PS2 version featured some solid driving missions, the levels were sprawling and detailed, and the weaponry was varied and realistic. It was also the first Bond game to feature a cinematic title sequence with an original song. Unfortunately, EA’s next and final foray into the FPS Bond game was the afore-mentioned Goldeneye: Rogue Agent disappointment. In the game you play a former M16 agent with a golden eye who teams up with Bond’s old foe Goldfinger. It was as stupid as it sounds.
After the Rogue Agent let-down, EA returned to the drawing board and crafted two of the most epic Bond games ever, Everything or Nothing and From Russia With Love. The engine used in both games was an innovative third-person cover system coupled with a smooth hand-to-hand combat system. For their time, the production values really shined. The games featured photorealistic recreations of James Bond, Pierce Brosnan in Everything or Nothing and Sean Connery in From Russia With Love. From then the torch was past to Activision, who released Quantum of Solace on XBox360 and Playstation and are currently working on a new game with an original storyline: Blood Stone. Will Activision reactivate the success of the original Goldeneye, or will it prove a disappointment? No matter how the new game turns out, one can only hope that the original version will one day see the light of day once more.