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From Russia with Love (PSP) artwork

From Russia with Love (PSP) review

"You hold the “L” button and watch as the auto-aim hairs pinpoint him. Once they do, you can hold the ‘square’ button, which lets you use the analogue stick to aim with more precision. You can use this cool trick to score head shots or to fire around crates, pillars and shields your adversaries might use to aid in their defense. It conserves ammunition, but there’s a more important reason to aim manually: it’s fun!"

There are times when it would be nice to be James Bond, England’s most famous and debonair adventurer. When he’s socializing with the world’s most beautiful women, when he’s sipping a martini (shaken, not stirred) and when he’s driving luxurious sports cars through the most spectacular environments known to man, it would be pretty nice to fill his polished shoes. There’s a downside to all that fun, though: most people with the means to make a person’s life difficult seem to want him dead. From Russia With Love, the latest Bond romp from Electronic Arts, takes its cues from the movie and places 007 right in the middle of all of that drama.

James Bond has been all over the world. If you’ve admired a beautiful beach on a postcard, he’s seen it firsthand. He’s skied through stands of fir while ducking gunfire and he’s ridden arctic waves. In short, he’s led the life that even the nerdiest among us secretly envy. Here, though, he forgets about that variety and visits precisely two locations: England and Russia. That could have easily resulted in just another generic trip through a bunch of goon-ridden corridors, but it didn’t.

From Russia With Love is saved from mediocrity by a few key features. The first is Sean Connery’s suave dialogue. He may be old, but his aging vocal chords give the game the sophistication it needs to tell the story properly. When he asks for his beverage of choice, it’s like there’s a choir singing “fan service” somewhere in the background. If you’re like me, you’ll love every consonant. Other actors lend their talents, too, so that this game sounds exactly like a Bond movie. When villains speak, their voices crackle with malice and venom. Everyone who handled audio deserves a plate of congratulatory brownies.

I wish I could say the same of the people who handled the environments. Each locale feels much like the one before it. You’ll wander through laboratories and compounds, all full of boring walls with only the occasional elevator and catwalk for variety. Though it’s true that each polygon serves a purpose, the flair you might expect from a Bond game is missing. At least the draw distance is good, though, which is nice when you’re riding a moving platform down a shaft and soldiers are pouring in from the side as shrapnel fills the air (that moment was one of my favorite in the game, and one of its most unique).

It probably sounds right now like I didn’t love much of anything important about the game, but that’s simply not true. Sean Connery isn’t the only reason to play, not by a long shot. There’s also the general gameplay itself, which manages to rise above the boring locations you visit. While it’s true that From Russia With Love is only the latest in a long line of action shooters, it plays its role well. As you run through each of the expansive environments, you’ll find plenty of ammunition boxes lying all over the place. There are also a slew of soldiers that pour out of side corridors and ooze around the edge of garden hedges at the worst possible moments. You’ll love to hate them for it.

Fire fights here are handled with welcome proficiency. As seems now to be standard of this sort of game on the PSP, the analogue stick lets you trot about the screen while the face and trigger buttons let you aim and fire. If you’ve played many games like this at all, you’ll find the schematic quite natural within seconds. From Russia With Love adds a twist, though. Let’s say you’re creeping through an area and ahead, there’s a guard on the catwalk. He’s seen you, so a few bullets are finding their way toward you. In seconds, he’ll get in a shot that drains a bit of your life (or armor) meter. What do you do? You hold the “L” button and watch as the auto-aim hairs pinpoint him. Once they do, you can hold the ‘square’ button, which lets you use the analogue stick to aim with more precision. You can use this cool trick to score head shots or to fire around crates, pillars and shields your adversaries might use to aid in their defense. It conserves ammunition, but there’s a more important reason to aim manually: it’s fun!

Naturally, the feature doesn’t work perfectly. By now, though, I’m willing to accept that as the norm. When you’re in a crowded room and there are four or five soldiers to defeat, you might find at first that your shots don’t target your most immediate threat. That’s particularly true if you’ve just rounded a corner and walked into an ambush. However, such moments are infrequent enough that they never really grow tiresome. Besides that, most soldiers fall fairly quickly, with only the more clever ones giving you much trouble. The system works well enough.

You’re not only firing your trusty pistol, either. Bond is proficient with a bazooka and plenty of automatic weapons, not to mention a variety of gadgets. One example of this is the Q-Coptor, which you’ll sometimes have to pilot in order to flip switches you otherwise wouldn’t be able to access remotely. It’s easy to switch between firepower on the fly, but I generally didn’t need to. I just kept running around, grabbing ammunition and firing with whatever pistol or rifle happened to be at my disposal. It’s nice that From Russia With Love is willing to keep things simple. That makes it easier to just kick back and have some fun blasting thugs.

Some people will likely argue that if the game lacks depth, it can’t be worth playing. Those folks should look elsewhere. If you’re more interested in some good old-fashioned mayhem, though, From Russia With Love fits the bill nicely. It won’t win any awards, but it’s still three or four solid hours of portable fun. Sometimes that’s all a game needs.

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Staff review by Jason Venter (April 15, 2006)

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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