James Bond embodies the kind of rugged, confident male persona that deep down, every v-neck wearing couch potato dreams of becoming. You know the old sayingwomen want him, men want to be him. While the 007 movieswith their fervent action, tongue-in-cheek sexuality, and dry witare fine examples of B-movie iconography elevated to pop-culture idealism, Bonds unshakable mystique is equally well suited to video games. What red-blooded male wouldnt jump at the opportunity to step into his tailor-made shoes and save the worldand the girl? Since the resounding critical and financial success of 1997s Goldeneye 007 (published by then Nintendo second party Rare), developer/publisher Electronic Arts has taken advantage of the lucrative license and churned out a few shameless, franchise-milking yawners, including the latest James Bond first-person shooter, Agent Under Fire.
EA takes a clumsily derivative misstep by presuming that Bond is best represented in a first-person shooter (FPS). I imagine that Bond, with his use of stealth and wits, might also be well suited to a Metal Gear Solid-type third-person adventure. The use of Bond in a FPS reeks of predictability, particularly since the gameplay still follows the conventions set forth by Rares 1997 classic. EAs previous attempt at a Bond-themed FPS, The World Is Not Enough, met modest fanfare and a positive but ultimately uninspired critical reception. Their next game, the laughably lousy driving game 007 Racing, was a decent ideaexpand on Bond gameplay by focusing on the car chasinggone terribly awry. Agent Under Fire combines the two gameplay elements, but doesnt approach the seamless cohesiveness of my personal favorite FPS, Bungies epic Halo. Instead, Agent Under Fire is a rather conventional FPS with driving levels (very well done driving levels) thrown in somewhat arbitrarily. But this is EA, so I doubt that many gamers look on them expecting leaps of ingenuity. Given what is offered, Agent Under Fire is not terrible, and though a bit conceptually archaic is still a decent offering.
The FPS levels (which make up the majority of the game) are objective based, linear missions that require the player to put holes in small armies of clumsy enemies with a variety of deadly weapons while using various Bond gadgets to break into places, obtain vital clues, and avoid traps. The combat is painfully uninteresting due to mediocre artificial intelligence that runs on easily predictable and decidedly unconvincing routines. The enemies will duck for cover, but generally do not respond to the Bonds actions. This exercise in boring point-and-shoot triteness is made worse by the strangely slow bullet timebullets travel like theyre being shot into the wind, making some situations needlessly frustrating. For example, at one point, playing the game on the highest difficulty, I crept around a corner and carefully aimed at an unsuspecting enemys head for what I assumed would be a swift kill. In a bizarre twist of fate suggestive of The Matrix, the goon was able to run away while the bullet, apparently tired after a wild night out, took its time and enjoyed the scenery.
The game steps up the Bond gadgetry with an interesting and well-varied assortment of lasers, decoders, grappling hooks, and the like. While I was certainly pleased to see a greater emphasis on Bonds stealthier side (particularly in light of the below-average shooting sequences), the game often makes the use of the gadgets so obvious that youd think Bond hired a tour guide. Instead of needing brainpower, players are simply led by the hand and push the right buttons when theyre told.
However, all the mediocre FPS gameplay is belied by a solid presentation, with good voice acting, excellent sound effects, and good graphics running at a steady 60 frames per second. Various scripted events occur throughout the game (including a perfectly Bond-esq encounter with a scantily-clad damsel), and they do a fine job of establishing the appropriate mood. James Bond himself is also more fully realized in this title, with plenty of cheesy sexual innuendos fleshing out the B-movie dialogue.
But the shining stars in this otherwise barren sky are the driving levels. Although they are separated from the FPS levels, the combination of excellent driving physics, worthy of any solid arcade-style racer, and seamlessly intertwined scripted events elevate the driving levels much past the rest of the game. There are a variety of cool guns, divertive gadgets, and power-ups. As in the FPS levels, the driving levels are all objective-based and simply require that the player move from one point to the next, usually driving over an item of some kind. EA did a fine job of making the levels large enough and the objectives interesting enough to make the gameplay very accessible and enjoyable.
Unfortunately, despite some redeeming qualities, Agent Under Fire ultimately feels like yet another attempt to slap a lucrative license onto derivative gameplay in an attempt to fatten the bottom line. It lacks cohesiveness, refinement, and is devoid of anything that could be considered innovative. An enjoyable ride for a time, it is so drowned in conceptual and mechanical clichs that it fails to fully realize the potential of the endearing Bond franchise. Agent Under Fire is stirred, not shaken.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the Xbox version of the game.