"Picture this scene, if you will: Bond is heroically fending off hordes of nameless henchmen as gunfire chatters noisily and bullets whiz through the air, pinging off of body-armour or plunging into flesh. Bond's auto-target seeks out a fresh target to gun down, but sadly, it fixes on the enemy in the far distance rather than the sod standing two feet away who's unleashing a torrent of bullets into you."
The 007 contract must feel much like the proverbial double-edged sword for Electronic Arts. Ever since they took on the Bond franchise, it seems like they've been doing little but trying to escape the shadow cast by Rare's Goldeneye and haven't been helped by the recent string of rather cookie-cutter titles such as Nightfire and The World is not Enough. Perhaps Everything or Nothing is an attempt to finally escape these unflattering comparisons; in this game, the series leaves the first-person shooter world and ventures into third person for the first time.
Well, when I say first time, I choose to forget that Tomorrow Never Dies for the PSX exists. Luckily, it seems the Everything or Nothing design team has chosen to do the same by ignoring the god-awful system that was implemented in the series’ previous incarnation.
Bond is granted new freedom to cause havoc in his new genre with the abilities it grants him, such as diving around like a loon, pressing his back against walls and peeking around corners to take pot-shots at various foes, and throwing his fists around in addition to blasting evildoers with firearms. When Bond isn't running about laying down a bullet-fed doom, he embarks on various vehicle based missions, which go a long way towards breaking up the monotony of busting caps in the arses of intercontinental villains and nameless henchmen.
Diving for cover, using ninja-esque techniques to quell hostiles, and peeking around pillars and doorways to unleash a stream of lead all sound great - and they might very well be if it weren't for the almost-obligitory bugs. As you can no doubt imagine, the game places an emphasis on shooting people, both on your part and that of the hordes of enemies. These gun-toting thugs come at you thick and fast, so it would’ve made sense to implement a system that allows you to mow them down. Unfortunately, the programmers dropped the ball here.
Picture this scene: Bond is heroically fending off hordes of underlings as gunfire chatters noisily and bullets whiz through the air, pinging off of body-armour or plunging into flesh. Bond's auto-target seeks out a fresh target to gun down, but sadly, it fixes on the enemy in the far distance rather than the sod standing two feet away who's unleashing a torrent of bullets into your side. Yes, you can cycle through your targets, but by the time you have your sights on the correct agressor, you're either a bloody pile on the floor or are comparable in health to a chronically depressed lemming.
Let’s assume you later find cover behind a pillar and are peeking around it between bursts of enemy gunfire to pick off those who lust for your demise. All is going well; your bullets find their mark, and theirs find nothing but stone as you duck back behind the pillar, your back pressed firmly against your makeshift shelter. Annoyingly, one of the bastards finds his way ‘round the pillar and stands right in front of you, blasting away. You stand there and watch him; you might as well bloody wave. You see, the only way to actually bring your firearm to bear on him is to detach yourself from the wall, allowing the free-roaming targeting icon to initialise. By the time this is done, you retain more lead than a number two pencil.
Despite these rather irksome flaws, some joy can be gleaned from the game’s dynamics. The vehicle missions unashamedly steal EA's Need for Speed engine, making them an entertaining break from the slog of running gunfights. Also, aiming issues aside, even Bond on foot has some nice touches that help you forget the various flaws, many of which come from the cornucopia of gadgets you have to play with.
The most commonly used of these is the rappel, a handy gadget that will having you running up and down walls so much you'll feel like Adam West in the old 70's Batman series. It's a great inclusion - which is used at every possible chance the designers could throw in, but it’s fun, so who cares? For instance, you can dangle from a building while sniping out unsuspecting targets as they mill around below you like the soon-to-die cannon fodder they are. If that isn't enough, you get a limited number of Q-Spiders. These metallic arachnids can scurry through gaps in walls or air vents to plague guards with sleep darts, or they can simply explode for the amusement of those not caught in the blast zone. Add to this vision-enhancing goggles, various ingenious ways to incapacitate unwary foes, and, in some levels, a rather cool cloaking effect that would make most hide 'n' seek fanatics wet themselves with joy, and you have an abundance of intriguing toys to fool about with. Things like this make the gameplay interesting, with the buggy flaws and good quirks almost battling for supremacy throughout the game. For example, in some levels the auto-aim behaves, and the enemy is nice enough not to flank you while peering round corners; in these levels you can mistakenly think it’s flawless. However, know that it will play up sooner rather than later.
Helping the game’s good side is the overall presentation of the game, which does look undeniably sleek and well-crafted. EA has obviously decided to try to blur the lines between game and film. An impressive cast of notable talent not only lends its voices to in-game characters, but also makes a graphical appearance. Pierce Brosnan predictably returns to serve avatar to Bond and is joined by names such as John Cleese, Willem Dafoe, Heidi Klum, Judi Dench, Shannon Elizabeth, Mya, and Richard Kiel. With this much recognisable talent to draw upon, you can rightly expect the voice acting to be above par, and the inclusion of familiar faces throughout the game adds an undeniable depth.
Things are only aided by the finely-crafted plot that has been drawn out with well-practised finesse. This isn’t surprising when you note that it flowed from the pen of Bruce Feirstein, the creator of the last handful of theatrical Bond films, himself. Not only will the nostalgic soundtrack drag your thoughts to the movies, but the constant stream of clever one-liners and cheeky innuendo will only deepen this effect. We all like familiarity in our games, after all; the software companies insist on this. Bond games have a history of Brosnan rattling off witticisms, and whereas EoN does deliver in this respect with the familiar competence we've come to expect, the same can't be said for everything about the game.
You expect multiplayer options and Bond games to go hand in hand, but EoN is sadly very much plagued by the same problems as everything else, fighting a constant battle to keep its head above the flaws. The co-op game is undeniably an interesting diversion, giving you and a chum the chance to take on a whole separate plot with a sparkling new cast to choose from. Yes, still you'll suffer from the poor aiming dynamics, but when you have a friend to watch your back and to set up dastardly crossfire with, such annoyances certainly lessen. In fact, the co-op campaign is almost another title in its own right, although it's devoid of the vehicle-based missions that help pace the single player. There's also a multiplayer death-match, but it's a horribly botched farce of an option, forcing you to do battle in a series of tiny rooms that hardly house the combatants. It all combines to make you wonder if the overall package was worth it or not.
Everything or Nothing is far from a bad game, but it is equally far from a great one. Perhaps EA can learn from this and produce something exceptional next time around, or perhaps they should just make themselves comfortable beneath Goldeneyes's shadow.
They could be there a long time.
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