So long as they're framed as action adventures, there's never going to be a game that captures the spirit of the James Bond franchise. Mostly this is because when it comes right down to it, a Bond movie isn't about the action or the explosions, or the cars (well, it's a little about the cars)—it's about the way all of those elements combine to create a very specific feel. James Bond is effortlessly cool. Methodically gunning down hundreds of repetitive enemies? Less so.
That doesn't make From Russia With Love bad, mind you. It's actually quite good, and a worthy successor to 2004's Everything or Nothing (EON), although it suffers from not having that title's thrilling car chases or fantastic co-op multiplayer mode. As 3rd-person action with a few flying and driving sequences, From Russia is at the top of its genre. As for recreating the feel of watching a 60's Bond film, it falls a little short.
It's not for a lack of trying, though. The weapons, costumes, vehicles, and locations have all been painstakingly recreated here, and all of the work paid off wonderfully. The game is full of stunning environments, and the characters that populate them are, to a man, fantastic. With one rather glaring omission, the game certainly manages to recreate the film's setting, even if it doesn't always feel like it.
Of course, the developers' biggest coup was obtaining Sean Connery's agreement to lend his voice. Without a doubt, this game couldn't have worked without him. Listening to some voice actor attempting to do Sean Connery would have been distracting and cringe-inducing, as the voice acting in Indiana Jones games always manages to be. At the beginning, there's a strange disconnect that comes from looking at young Connery and hearing old Connery, but that quickly fades away, leaving the player to be entertained by a vocal performance that, shockingly, Connery didn't just phone in.
However, while all of the trappings are right, the setting just isn't served by the gameplay. Running down corridors and blasting hordes of enemies isn't the sort of thing that should be happening in a Sean Connery Bond film. Game developers have been well served by Goldeneye and the rest of the Pierce Brosnan Bond films. His Bond was as likely to have an assault rifle in his hand as he is a Martini, more believable in body armor than a tuxedo, and he never once paused for a tense game of Baccarat with the super-villain he was after. They were modern action films, with the rather cavalier attitude towards bloodshed that suggests—and it's hard to find two media with more crossover potential than action movies and violent games. Heck, the franchise had gone so far down this road by 2004 that EON managed to be a better Bond "movie" than the last two actual films. This sort of attitude just doesn't fit with the film version of From Russia With Love, and since it does such an excellent job of recreating that film's environments and situations, it's impossible not to make the comparison. And the game is the worse for it.
Apparently due to ongoing legal disputes with Kevin McClory the game doesn't feature the evil criminal organization SPECTER. They've been replaced by the slightly more preposterous cabal known as OCTOPUS, which doesn't seem to be an acronym of any kind. The game also doesn't feature what is arguably the film's most famous (certainly most ripped-off and lampooned) scene: the boardroom sequence in which Blofeld demonstrates why failing SPECTER isn't a great career move. Even though he didn't get a face until You Only Live Twice, Blofeld was always a very real presence in the Bond films, and his absence here undercuts the villains quite badly.
At least the action is good. It features almost the exact same control set up as EON did, differing only in the places where it has been improved on. Now the awkwardly-titled "Bond Vision" allows players to see and aim at special critical locations on their enemies' bodies. Grenades can be shot and detonated, rockets blown up while still in the launcher. This is the kind of gimmick that seems like it would get old, but it really doesn't. The hand-to-hand combat system has also been massively improved. Now, whenever the player is too close to an opponent to shoot them, he gets the opportunity to, by pressing a button that flashes onscreen, incapacitate his opponent with a satisfyingly brutal 'Takedown'. This move is accompanied by one of the game's cleverer notes: While Bond is busy punching one thug, the others will exclaim "I haven't got a clear shot!" It's a small detail, but it's nice to see this behavior finally acknowledged and explained.
The driving and flying sequences aren't nearly as satisfying this time around. The driving levels seem oddly limited, as they mostly restrict the player to narrow winding streets that don't allow for many opportunities to speed or pull any interesting stunts. In a surprising turn, the game's jetpack sequences are even worse. The simple controls and unlimited ammo the player is provided with combine to make it far too easy to dodge out of the way of enemy fire while using auto-aim to constantly blast them with a barrage of machinegun fire. This weird difficulty valley makes the jetpack boss fight something of a joke.
From Russia With Love is a great film. From Russia With Love is not a great adaptation of that film, as it seems to believe that what the source material really needed was a few more rocket launchers and gatling guns. Despite all of my problems with the game conceptually, though, I can't fault its design or playability. It's a great action game, just not a great James Bond game.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the Gamecube version of the game.