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Review

James Bond 007

Fanny magnet 007 goes gun crazy. Woman repellent Mark Hill is expected to review
Fanny magnet 007 goes gun crazy. Woman repellent Mark Hill is expected to review

These are trying times for Her Majesty's Secret Servant. With xXx bringing the secret agent movie into the 21st century and the lovely Cate Archer bringing back the '60s charm in No One Lives Forever 2, the old boy is under some pressure to show he's still the coolest action hero around.

Of course, the enduring misogynist has been in a tough spot once or twice before. I'm sure Pierce will wipe the floor with Vin Diesel in the forthcoming Die Another Day, and we had every confidence that Nightfire would deliver in the gaming contest. After all, it's been developed by Gearbox, the team behind the fantastic Half-Life add-on Opposing Force, and features lush exotic locations and an array of gadgets. What could possibly go wrong?

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SAY CHEESE
Well, if you're a Bond purist, like me, then quite a lot actually. Not that Nightfire is a bad game, it's just that it isn't nearly as good as it could have been. And you notice something is slightly awry straight away. Bond films always grab your attention with a spectacular opening full of amazing set pieces and breathtaking stunts but, in a preview of things to come, Nightfire kicks off with you infiltrating a castle straight out of Wolfenstein, pressing some switches to unlock some doors and shooting some guards. I think I've played that one before.

It tries to make up for this by allowing several routes into the castle (see the Walkthrough panel to see what they are) thus trying to trick you into thinking this is some open-ended, Deus Ex-style open-ended shooter. This taste of freedom, however, is both your first and your last. When you finally get into the castle proper you have to mingle in a high-society party and take some photographs of the women there with your hidden camera. Great, you think, now I'm really going to act out a proper Bond scene. Only you find the said party consists of a handful of people standing in a room looking at paintings and that, to take a proper picture of the classy women there, you have to stand in front of them like a bloody tourist. What's the point of turning a lighter into a camera if you're going to ask them to say cheese?

To be fair, there are plenty of other gadgets in your inventory, which certainly make you feel like you're involved in a spy-thriller. But some of them simply go to waste. For example, you'd think that the grapple hook would be great to let you move around big areas, attaching yourself to trees outside or rails and vents inside. Instead, you can only use it on special hooks that glow so you don't miss them and which the evil mastermind has kindly left behind for you (he must have, since they serve no other purpose). And even these hooks are few and far between.

SAVE THE WORLD, OR SOMETHING
However, possibly Nightfire's biggest let-down is its story. Bond films have never been known for their tight, original plots, but the story in Nightfire is so flimsy I couldn't even tell you what it is. And I've completed the damn game. There's some guy called Drake - a rather poor goateed villain who disappointingly fails to stroke white cats or keep pools of piranha - and some computer virus called Nightfire. Or is it an evil missile attack plan? Yes, I distinctly remember something about missiles. And an office tower. Oh, and some women in sexy lingerie. Or was that just the website I was looking at? Actually, the lingerie provides the most Bondish moments in gameplay, since all the other things (such as kissing beautiful women) are saved for the cut-scenes.

How it works is this. You have a pair of sunglasses that can be used to see in the dark or as x-rays to see through walls. Their other use is to see chicks in their underwear, like Brosnan does in The World is Not Enough. And, in a classic Sean Connery-era sexist move, it only applies to women. Use the x-ray glasses on men and you'll see their skeleton. Obviously the thinking is that all the heterosexuals who will play the game would find the sight of men's underwear disturbing and offensive, when it could have been used to great comical effect. NOLF2 certainly would have.

LICENCE TO KILL A LOT
Childish fantasies aside, there's little to differentiate this from any shooter of the last few years. And, as our esteemed editor Dave Woods said in his NOLF2 review last month, even adored titles like Medal Of Honor are starting to bore us with their unending streams of levels crammed with bodies to shoot down. When you've experienced the depth, freedom and originality of Deus Ex, it can be quite hard to go back to hacking down corridors like a frenzied automaton.

However, if this is the type of action you like, you'll find that Nightfire's frenetic pace is up there with the best of them. There's certainly more variation and entertainment here than in, say, Return To Castle Wolfenstein, and the more trigger-happy among you will be in your element. You also get the occasional moment of stealth, when getting seen or killing a civilian guard spells the end of the level. However, like so many other shooters (Soldier Of Fortune II springs to mind), the sneaking aspect doesn't measure up to the quality of the no-holds-barred action.

The engine is Gearbox's own creation - using technology from both id and Valve - but it doesn't really feel any different from all the recent Quake III-powered shooters (which, let's be honest, is hardly a failing). There are some stunning locations, and it looks every bit as good as Medal Of Honor and Soldier Of Fortune II.

There's a gorgeous Japanese mansion with large gardens, but this is tempered by the following interminable mission set in a dreary office block. Later there's an island level similar to the one Sean Connery sucked Ursula Andress's foot on, which is so beautiful you'll find yourself simply standing around admiring the scenery. It's a bit inconsistent, but overall quite pleasing.

DR MAYBE
The AI is also excellent for the most part, with enemies running away when they're taking a beating and charging towards you when they know they can overpower you. It's also nice to see them hopping when shot in the leg or shaking a hand after it's been stung by a bullet, and even getting hit by the stray bullets of fellow henchmen. The strange thing is that they're nowhere near as challenging or satisfying as the soldiers in Opposing Force.

Early in the game the difficulty level is set low by letting you take a stupid amount of bullets before dying. The game can get away with this because your health isn't represented by a number, just an ambiguous circle of decreasing segments, so you never know just how much health each bullet takes away. Needless to say, later in the game these segments disappear rather quickly. Conversely, enemies in the later levels are inhumanly tough, and you often need to empty a magazine into someone's head before they'll hit the floor. It can be annoying at times, but at least it stops you from just rushing into rooms spraying bullets. Instead, you need to peek round corners, taking them out from a covered position and then waiting for the braver elements to come and get you.

Going back to the health - it makes a pleasant change to have no ridiculous kits or potions miraculously healing mortal wounds. The only thing available is armour. It's also worth mentioning that the rocket launcher features a fantastic first-person camera that lets you become the rocket and guide it just like you could with UT's redeemer. Other weapons aren't quite as satisfying when compared to other shooters though.

HE'S GOING IN
Although most of the game is mindless massacring, you do get some variety in the form of spacesuit levels in low gravity and the occasional third-person action, such as climbing up a building or swinging on a cable. The idea is lifted straight out of Project IGI, and the level where you infiltrate an airbase has a blueprint which is also pure IGI. There are a couple of tense set pieces too, like getting stuck on a skyscraper's outside lift, with rockets and bullets coming at you from all sides. And then the elevator begins to slide down.

These breaks in the gameplay are all too rare though, and at times, things can get rather repetitive. Sometimes you have to wander round levels cleared of enemies trying to find that door you've failed to notice, or that window you didn't realise you had to smash. There are even some infuriating end-of-level bosses that again make you feel you've seen this all before. Tough helicopters anyone? At least you do get to fight some cool ninjas, who somersault and flashbang their way around you with dazzling speed. But they, like several other good things in Nightfire, aren't nearly as plentiful as they could have been.

I know what some of you are thinking, so I'll nip it in the bud now. The fact that Nightfire is also being released on consoles is no excuse for its simple-mindedness and lack of depth. Both Half-Life and Deus Ex have been released on console. I rest my case.

CHRISTMAS comes but ONCE A YEAR
The truth is that Nightfire feels slightly under par when compared to what it could have been. If this review has read slightly negatively, it's not because Nightfire is a poor game (it wouldn't have scored this well if it was), far from it. The problem is that it doesn't do anything we haven't seen a dozen times before from other shooters this year. Is that too much to ask?

You get the feeling there were some ambitious plans for this, (more gadgets, set pieces and interaction with other characters and more humorous quips) but they had to be shelved in order to get this out in time for Christmas. I have no doubt that if they'd had time, Gearbox would have used their Half-Life nous to make the James Bond game I wanted. One where you got to walk into M's office after flirting with Moneypenny and before going down to Q's lab. One where you get to fire a machine gun while skiing down a mountain backwards and diving among sharks. One where you get to sit in a casino and play cards or roulette. One with freedom and depth. Where you actually felt like James Bond and not some trigger-happy oaf. What you get instead is a very solid if predictable FPS, and if you're happy with that, then you won't be disappointed.

PC Zone Magazine

Overview

Verdict
An excellent shooter, if not a Golden Buy
Uppers
  Stirring music
  Solid AI
  Some variety
  Beautiful graphics and settings
Downers
  Doesn't always feel Bond enough
  Lacks immersion

Screenshots

Interactive

Coming Soon!
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Screenshots

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Bond on Bond

You can all be Bond online
After the nice surprise that was NOLF 2's co-operative mode, Nighfire returns to the same old Capture The Flag and Deathmatch modes we all know and tolerate. It's similar to the multiplayer in Jedi Knight II or Elite Force, in that you can choose the skins of familiar characters that aren't in the single-player game. So Oddjob, Jaws and Pussy Galore are all there to be shot. One of the maps is set in the Fort Knox seen in Goldfinger, although you can't throw your hat about or electrocute your foes. The biggest disappointment though is that you can't look like Sean, Roger, George or Timothy, only Pierce, at least until the modders get to work.
Play as your favourite baddies in the multiplayer games.

Missed Opportunity

Got an extra three pages?
Nightfire is a game of missed opportunities, so it's hard to single out one thing that should have been done. The gadgets are massively underused and the stealth levels don't work particularly well. But the biggest missed opportunity is simply the failure to make you feel like you're in a Bond movie. Despite the music and the Brosnan likeness, it never feels quite right. Ironically, in my Soldier Of Fortune II review I said the missed opportunity was having a redneck for a main character when a James Bond would have worked so much better. There's no pleasing me, is there?

Second Opinion

Martin Korda:
I have to agree with Mark that this is far from the ultimate James Bond game. However, this was never meant to be a Deus Ex clone, but rather an entertaining shooter based on the world's favourite special agent, and on that front, it has succeeded admirably. The AI is some of the best I've seen this year, the backdrops, graphics and animations are all of
a high standard, and the atmosphere gripping. Sure, it has some highly repetitive periods, but then again, I'd be hard pressed to think of a shooter that doesn't. I was also initially worried that with a simultaneous console release, it'd prove to be little more than a disappointing conversion. Thankfully, Gearbox (which has worked exclusively on Nightfire for the PC) has made a superb job of making 'Our Version' perfectly suited to the mouse and keyboard setup.

Bondage Gear

Forget the leather underpants, try the mobile phone whip instead
Not only does it accurately tell the time, it emits a piercing laser beam. Use it to open padlocks � handy. Seen in Never Say Never Again.
No texting Bond girls, I�m afraid, but you can grapple your way to otherwise inaccessible areas, which are lit up for you so you don�t miss them.
If you can�t get close enough to use the keyring, this dartgun pen will also send the little mites to sleep. Also useful for writing cheques and signing autographs.
Pretty self-explanatory. It�s a PDA. You use it to hack into things. Seen in The World is Not Enough. And no, you can�t buy one of them at Dixons.
Health-conscious James doesn�t smoke anymore, but he can use it to take pictures. Sadly though, you only get to do this twice in the whole game.
For the stealthy missions it�s useful to sneak up on guards and give them a nasty shock. You�ll know they�re out cold because they�ll snore. Bless.
This disc is used to plant worms in the enemy�s computers. Why it has to be hidden in a credit card is beyond me. At least it looks nice and swish.