Agent Under Fire (GameCube) review
"At nearly every point, the visuals are superb. Bond women are here, character models that somehow manage to look almost as good as FMV. And polygons aren't reserved strictly for the Bond girls, either; the villains benefit from the same attention to detail."
When it erupted onto the Nintendo 64 scene several years back, Rare's project based on the movie GoldenEye bore the same name but arguably had more impact than the movie that inspired it. A first-person shooter finally done right on consoles, the title proved that James Bond made for some seriously cool gameplay if the right people were twisting the strings. Rare was 'the right people', but when it declined an offer to make the direct sequel and instead went to work on Perfect Dark, the fate of James Bond ended up in the hands of prolific publisher Electronic Arts, perhaps best known in the console world for its long line of sports titles. Since that time, there have been multiple releases based on the James Bond license, the most recent of which is Agent Under Fire, a title released on all three of the major consoles currently available.
On the GameCube, at least, the project is worth experiencing. While Electronic Arts could easily have wound up publishing a pointless addition to a gamer's collection, it instead presents consumers with a solid entry into the GameCube library. Agent Under Fire is easily one of the best titles available for the system, a game that does nothing expertly but everything well enough that one can't help but enjoy the overall package.
From the moment the game boots up, it's clear pride went into the work. Past the Electronic Arts logo is the MGM Interactive one, almost enough to make one feel that he is in a theatre. From there, the typical copyright stuff follows, but somehow it manages to look sleek and refined. Menus throughout are animated, at times subtly, at others more vividly. Always, the design is tasteful and true to the license. Sloppier developers--of which there seem to be an endless supply--would do well to take notes, if only in this aspect.
Of course, presentation extends past menus and such, to the areas of graphics and sound. Here again, Agent Under Fire has no reason to hide. At nearly every point, the visuals are superb. Bond women are here, character models that somehow manage to look almost as good as FMV. And polygons aren't reserved strictly for the Bond girls, either; the villains benefit from the same attention to detail. Though some facial animations look slightly off from time to time, nothing feels like it exists because of rushed development or a lazy programmer. As was the case with the menus, polish is evident at every juncture.
Sound, however, isn't quite so good. On the one hand you have the digitized voices. Really, they are done well. Each character sounds distinct and there's good banter. Some lines might make you laugh aloud. All the dialogue sounds as if it was ripped from a movie. However, the sound effects manage to sound precisely like something you've heard a million times before, and the same is true of the music. While there's plenty of noise if you're in the middle of a gunfight, the times between are unmemorable at best, annoying at worst. Sound, therefore, is one of the game's low points.
If its weakness lies in the sound department, the game's strengths are in gameplay variety and multi-player battles. The former is something you won't be able to ignore. After the first level, a standard Bond level infused with a few half-hearted attempts to interject something new (you blow up barrels and such to kill off your opponent in unique ways), things switch around and suddenly you're riding in the back of a speeding car, using your guns to take out enemy helicopters and vehicles. The next level puts you in the driver's seat, chasing after a vehicle containing something you want. The changes in gameplay keep you guessing, which is as it should be. In this aspect, the game almost feels better than GoldenEye.
One problem is that the driving modes simply aren't as much fun as you might hope. The first time you're behind the wheel of the car, for example, you'll quite likely end up missing a turn or two. Every mistake you might make in the game is easily enough remedied in time for a second trip through, but it seems like a smidge more attention to detail would have made those mistakes more difficult to make. Some have said this title leads you through by the hand, and for the most part that's true (it's really not all that difficult throughout its majority), but there are some points that stand apart from that generalization. Perhaps because they're so infrequent, they annoy one more than they otherwise might.
Something you might also find annoying is the game's length. There really aren't that many missions. A talented player can probably get through in under 2 hours on his first attempt. It's that short. Fortunately, there are some factors that extend the time you'll want to spend. Each level contains hidden medals you must acquire to unlock additional multi-player features, as well as requirements in terms of points. This extends the game a little, though not so much as you might like. Obviously, you want to enjoy the multi-player mode as much as possible, which means more time playing alone to make everything available.
Speaking of that multi-player mode, it's quite enjoyable. Up to four can compete with one another simultaneously, though even so few as two is enough to provide some thrills. Arenas are quite open in places, sheltered in others, which means all play styles are accomodated. Weapons reappear often enough that unless all players involved are of the type that like to camp in corners, action can remain ever-present. Being able to jump from ledges and such also adds new strategy to the experience. Better yet, there are numerous modes in which you can play.
When all is said and done, however, Agent Under Fire remains a game too short for its own good. The multi-player portion can only sustain a title for so long, and this simply isn't GoldenEye despite technical improvements. It's fun to play, certainly, but not a title that will last most hardcore fans more than a quick rental. The obvious conclusion, then, is that Agent Under Fire is absolutely worth experiencing, but something few will wish to own. A pity. Maybe the inevitible successor will make the small necessary improvements that will set itself apart from the crowd. Until then, it's probably just best to wait and leave your wallet in your pocket.
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Staff review by Jason Venter (July 01, 2002)
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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