"James can fire a wide variety of weapons, rappel down the sides of buildings, skydive, pilot helicopters and cars and motorcycles. Some of these actions feel almost like separate games. The quality is that high. Yet everything is implemented in a nearly seamless fashion to form the type of quilt that can wrap you up and keep you warm all winter."
The coolest thing about Everything or Nothing, the latest multi-platform James Bond effort from publisher Electronic Arts, would have to be the fact that it's so much like a movie. Normally that's the kind of comment that will cause older gamers to bristle, but in this case it's the highest of compliments. With voice acting by William Dafoe (he played the Green Goblin in the movie Spider-Man, Shannon Elizabeth (Jim almost got lucky with the character she played in American Pie), Heidi Klum (she models bras) and the regular crew from the past few cinematic efforts, this is to be expected. However, their likenesses are also featured throughout the game, and there's a theme song by starlet Mya (who also appears in the game). In short, this is everything a movie with James Bond would be, only you get to play it.
From the introduction (which quite accurately says the game 'stars' the people I referenced above) to the sleek menus, to even tiny details such as the load screen, this feels like something you should be viewing in the theatre. And like any good James Bond flick, the story is quite intriguing. As things unfold (and drop you right in the action), you learn about a cool invention known as the nanobot that is intended to restore metal to its former glory. This is a peace-keeping invention for restoration of deteriorating cities. However, there lies in it the potential for some pretty serious destruction. This, of course, is where the villains come in. James Bond begins his quest by working to rescue the invention's primary creator, and from there the story will twist through numerous (somewhat) surprising revelations that will have James Bond climbing, shooting, driving, and flying to the shocking finale. As always, he'll visit several segments of the globe, each as authentic as you might hope.
So, the movie-like feel is definitely there, and it's definitely cool. But what about the most important aspect of any game, the gameplay?
I'm happy to report that the gameplay has almost never been better. Not since Rare famously turned Goldeneye into such a huge hit on the Nintendo 64 has England's most famous fictional agent frolicked through such a delightful adventure. His bag of tricks would make Felix the Cat turn green with envy. James can fire a wide variety of weapons, rappel down the sides of buildings, skydive, pilot helicopters and cars and motorcycles. Some of these actions feel almost like separate games. The quality is that high. Yet everything is implemented in a nearly seamless fashion to form the type of quilt that can wrap you up and keep you warm all winter.
Now, if you're having a hard time imagining the developers at Electronic Arts blending everything together so nicely, it's likely because you're used to controlling James Bond in a third-person perspective. As screenshots quickly make clear, though, this time around he's walking around like Solid Snake, Sam Fischer, or even Mario. The left analog stick moves him, while the 'C' stick allows you to shift the camera a bit. With such deviations from the norm, you might well expect him to get hung up in corners and wasted while you're wrestling with the camera. And though this can happen in some of the later areas, the viewpoint overall is very impressive. Even though you're looking at James from behind, it almost feels like the first-person view never left. Yet with the third-person perspective, you're able to smoothly do so much more.
Perhaps the most important benefactor of this new system is the hand-to-hand fighting mode. As James runs through each area, he can pick up guns and ammunition from fallen foes, just like normal. However, it seems that his bullet clips run out far too quickly when they're not put to their best use. Because of this, he'll often find himself relying on stealth and his fists to get through an area. The 'X' and 'Y' buttons come into play here, for left and right jabs. Using one or the other is not the way to beat down an opponent. Pressing them simultaneously is better, as it will throw a nasty fellow to the ground. This is the kind of interaction we've not seen before, and here it is pulled off with enough polish that you can't help but smile.
Along with better fist fights, the game takes a page from the book Solid Snake wrote and encourages stealth. Running around and firing at will is likely to get you felled in enemy crossfire. Creeping along walls is a better idea. Press against a wall and tap the 'Z' button and James will sidle along to an edge, where you can press the 'L' button to find targets and then shoot at them with bursts of gunfire. Once a target has been locked, you can then move your little red sensor within that target to make the all-important head shots that allow you to conserve ammunition. It's a truly intuitive system that reminds me a lot of Namco's recent title, Kill.Switch.
Though targeting is truly an easy process, it's not made so simple that trained chimps could navigate this title. By default, your target is likely to be a little off. If an enemy is hiding behind crates (a trick you'll use yourself on numerous occasions), the reticule likely will cause you to splinter wood and alert enemies to your presence. Slight tweaking is frequently necessary. More impatient gamers may on occasion simply make a mad dash for it, pressing the 'b' button to dive forward, then launch to their feet with guns blazing. The game doesn't really force any one technique upon you, but provides several paths to the same objective.
Speaking of objectives, each area has several depending on the difficulty level you chose. Even on the easiest of modes, though, there are frequently between three and five per stage. Other than little visual icons preceding each stage (and the dialogue voiced by Hollywood veterans Judi Dench and John Cleese), there's little indication of what will happen next until suddenly it's upon you and James Bond is skydiving off a cliff or riding a motorcycle along the rooftops of a Peruvian village or dropping in to say 'hello' at a guarded mansion in Louisiana. Though I found this aspect of the game quite exciting, some of the missions just feel like they're lasting too long. Most of the early stages give you nice checkpoints and the like, but in some cases the later stages will force you to redo five minutes' worth of play if you make even the tiniest of slips. This can grow quite frustrating on all-night marathons.
And yes, all-night marathons are possible with Everything or Nothing. It's only about a ten-hour game if you blow through for the sake of story (always a temptation). However, there are little treats to make you try harder for medals. Any given stage has a score objective if you want to win the gold. You are measured up on several areas, including time, the accuracy of your shots, objectives completed, and so forth. When this is tallied at the end, you may even get lucky and unlock special treats, such as conceptual artwork.
Something else that might keep you up for awhile is the multi-player mode. I played with my wife, unfortunately, and she's not that great. The main mode the game pushes upon you is its cooperative mode (even though you can unlock the standard, multi-player arenas you might expect from a game of this nature). While I found that it was quite fun to sneak around areas with my wife in tow (each gets to pick from several characters), the enemies also found it was quite useful to fire rocket launchers at my wife so they could catch me up in the blast. She had a tendency to follow along, completely out in the open, while I hid behind the various structures but still felt the effects of the rocket launcher shells aimed at my wife. Not a pretty picture. Two fairly competent players working together can easily have a blast with this, though.
Another area of the game that I really enjoyed was the racing mode. It's borrowed straight from the Need for Speed franchise. For the most part, things work very, very nicely. There are a good variety of locales in the game, and you get to race through many of them. The streets of Louisiana in particular look simply fantastic, like something pulled directly out of Need for Speed Underground. There are puddles with the same reflective surfaces that were so cool from that other title. Color schemes are similar, too. Other places include a race course in Peru (it looks fantastic), and also a forest or three. Each environment is detailed with amazing texture work and lighting, so that someone passing through the room at the right moment might very well think you're playing the latest, greatest racing title.
Sometimes, you're not even driving a car. The motorcycle controls completely differently, and you can even slide under low surfaces or weave between freeway traffic. Other times, you're piloting a helicopter or rolling through the streets of Moscow in a tank. You're not necessarily limited to just the driving, either. Most of your vehicles are equipped with various weapons you must use if you want to succeed, such as missiles to take out the enemy cars that are often racing all around you. There are moments where the game feels a great deal like SpyHunter. That's a good thing.
Finally, there are two other high points to the game that simply must be mentioned. The first of these is the sound category. I've already mentioned that there's the authentic voice acting throughout. And though I feel the impact that has on the game can't be stressed enough, there are other areas where audio also excels. Sound effects add a lot to any environment. Thunder rumbles outside the crematorium with such force that you might even look out your own window to see if it's storming. Bullets ricochet. Bricks crumble. Because the game also has surround sound, you can hear guards coming and grumbling to one another, or hear Mya singing in a hotel lounge as you work toward that room. There's not an area in the game where sound falters, and the effect is extraordinary.
As are the game's visuals. When I first played, I was amazed by how good everything looked. Then I was caught up in the flow of things and most of the way through the game before suddenly, I snapped out of my haze. James Bond was creeping around outside the crematorium while lightning flashed overhead. A drizzle of rain fell around him, spattering off bricks and his coat. Each breath he took sent out vapor. Someone took a shot at him from a balcony overhead, and bricks crumbled away from the force. As James looked around, the red light from a distant scope flickered across a wall, and he dove out of the way just as a bullet whizzed by. From there, he fled to the shelter of a nearby building, where the lights were so dim that only gunfire provided any relief until he activated his night vision. All of this in one level, and there are examples of a similar nature all throughout the game.
But if the game were all that perfect, I wouldn't be writing a review. I'd be telling you to run out and buy the game immediately, no questions asked.
So, what's the first problem? Well, it's the sense of confusion that sometimes descends as you're playing. Your superiors might tell you that it's time to go infiltrate a certain building. First you have to drive there. So once you figure out where the building is, you arrive. Only the visual cues weren't enough, and you're having a hard time deciding what to do. So you start to doubt that you understood things properly, and you start driving around the city some more, dodging enemy gunfire as your life meter slowly drops. Eventually, you come back to the building and you see a little patch of light-colored soil. You park on it, and suddenly things are clear once more. Fortunately, there aren't too many cases where this sort of situation arises, but when it does it leads to a great deal of frustration.
At times, as you're getting the feel for a level, you're also going to fall victim to deaths that feel somewhat cheap. Enemies re-spawn at a somewhat regular rate, so you want to work quickly or you'll run out of ammunition before you know where you were to go. Sometimes, you've got your back to a wall and you're looking forward to try and get rid of the guards in the next archway. Suddenly, a rocket launches from behind you and James Bond is crumpling to the ground in slow-motion. Game over.
These are two fairly minor flaws in the face of all the things the game does so perfectly, but they are still irritants that detract from the overall feel. When they work in tandem, you can find yourself playing for 10 or 15 minute stretches and just wishing something would hurry up and happen. Then the moment is past and you're sucked up in the world Electronic Arts created all over again.
That's what it really comes down to. The game is so absolutely absorbing that it's hard to stop playing once you start. There's a great amount of variety the further in you progress, there are numerous difficulty levels and some really cool unlockables, and the multi-player mode is definitely a cut above the norm (even if it can't match Goldeneye). As a rental, this game is a dream. You might even find yourself with overdue fees just because you don't want to send it back to the video store so quickly. And as a purchase? Well, this game easily provides the same fun you'd have with two James Bond movies. If you like England's best, there's a good chance you'll love this title. Or you could always wait for next year's release. Electronic Arts hasn't yet announced a follow-up. But when an experiment such as this one goes so right, you just know a sequel is imminent. I'll certainly be watching for it.
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Staff review by Jason Venter (February 26, 2004)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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