James Bond 007 Nightfire
After last month’s massive exclusive preview, we couldn't wait to get our hands on the latest playable code of the game everyone's been talking about. James Bond 007: Nightfire. And after fighting (almost to the death) among ourselves in order to get a go, we can officially proclaim that it's looking every bit as good as we hoped it would.
While we waited impatiently for our turn, we spoke to project director Landon Montgomery, and asked him a bit about the game's character.
"The player will interact with several characters throughout Nightfire - some helpful and some not so helpful. But as an MI6 agent. Bond generally acts as a lone wolf sent in to single-handedly take care of those messy situations that would normally require an entire covert team." So how about the villains? Anyone we'll recognise from the films? "Nightfire features an original storyline that has been developed in collaboration with MGM/Danjaq. so most villains and characters will feel fresh to fans of Bond."
Playing Nightfire proved to be an exhilarating experience, with many ways of approaching each level. During his go, Dave used stealth tactics (aided by a pair of night vision sunglasses) to negotiate his way round wandering patrol men, cunningly utilising a knock-out dart-firing fountain pen to silently immobilise his foes. Hill on the other hand, piled in with a customary lack of caution, unloading countless clips into walls, the floor and other random pieces of scenery from his SG5 Commando (Nightfire will feature over 20 weapons in all), before being gunned down like a rabid dog. A more coordinated man would have succeeded.
Landon promised us that in the finished product, you’ll get to travel to ten exotic locations around the world, in your quest to prevent evil criminal mastermind Rafael Drake from achieving world domination. He was also keen to stress how the PC version will differ from its console counterparts. "The PC version of Nightfire is focusing solely on providing a solid FPS experience. It's what Gearbox knows best and it’s what's been found lacking in the last few Bond titles on the consoles. Both versions (console and PC) are interpreting and executing the Nightfire storyline from two different angles and will offer people very different experiences. I think the PC version is most likely to appeal to fans of the FPS genre while the console versions are following in the footsteps of Agent Under Fire, and as such are incorporating driving missions into their mix."
Gearbox has one of the best records in the PC gaming world, and believe us, once Nightfire is finished, it looks like it's going to be one hell of a ride.
Download James Bond 007 Nightfire
These are trying times for Her Majesty’s Secret Servant. With xXx bringing the secret agent movie into the 21 st century and the lovely Cate Archer bringing back the ’60s charm in No One Lives Forever 2, the old boy is under some pressure to show he’s still the coolest action hero around.
Of course, the enduring misogynist has been in a tough spot once or twice before. I’m sure Pierce will wipe the floor with Vin Diesel in the forthcoming Die Another Day, and we had every confidence that Nightfire would deliver in the gaming contest. After all, it’s been developed by Gearbox, the team behind the fantastic Half-Life add-on Opposing Force, and features lush exotic locations and an array of gadgets. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, if you’re a Bond purist, like me, then quite a lot actually. Not that Nightfire is a bad game, it’s just that it isn’t nearly as good as it could have been. And you notice something is slightly awry straight away. Bond films always grab your attention with a spectacular opening full of amazing set pieces and breathtaking stunts but, in a preview of things to come, Nightfire kicks off with you infiltrating a castle straight out of Wolfenstein, pressing some switches to unlock some doors and shooting some guards. I think I’ve played that one before.
It tries to make up for this by allowing several routes into the castle (see the Walkthrough panel to see what they are) thus trying to trick you into thinking this is some open-ended, Deus Ex-style open-ended shooter. This taste of freedom, however, is both your first and your last. When you finally get into the castle proper you have to mingle in a high-society party and take some photographs of the women there with your hidden camera. Great, you think, now I’m really going to act out a proper Bond scene. Only you find the said party consists of a handful of people standing in a room looking at paintings and that, to take a proper picture of the classy women there, you have to stand in front of them like a bloody tourist. What’s the point of turning a lighter into a camera if you’re going to ask them to say cheese?
To be fair, there are plenty of other gadgets in your inventory, which certainly make you feel like you’re involved in a spythriller. But some of them simply go to waste. For example, you’d think that the grapple hook would be great to let you move around big areas, attaching yourself to trees outside or rails and vents inside. Instead, you can only use it on special hooks that glow so you don’t miss them and which the evil mastermind has kindly left behind for you (he must have, since they serve no other purpose). And even these hooks are few and far between.
Save The World, Or Something
However, possibly Nightfire’s biggest let-down is its story. Bond films have never been known for their tight, original plots, but the story in Nightfire is so flimsy I couldn’t even tell you what it is. And I’ve completed the damn game. There's some guy called Drake - a rather poor goateed villain who disappointingly fails to stroke white cats or keep pools of piranha - and some computer virus called Nightfire. Or is it an evil missile attack plan? Yes, I distinctly remember something about missiles. And an office tower. Oh, and some women in sexy lingerie. Or was that just the website I was looking at? Actually, the lingerie provides the most Bondish moments in gameplay, since all the other things (such as kissing beautiful women) are saved for the cut-scenes.
How it works is this. You have a pair of sunglasses that can be used to see in the dark or as x-rays to see through walls. Their other use is to see chicks in their underwear, like Brosnan does in The World is Not Enough. And, in a classic Sean Connery-era sexist move, it only applies to women. Use the x-ray glasses on men and you’ll see their skeleton. Obviously the thinking is that all the heterosexuals who will play the game would find the sight of men’s underwear disturbing and offensive, when it could have been used to great comical effect. NOLF2 certainly would have.
Licence To Kill A Lot
Childish fantasies aside, there’s little to differentiate this from any shooter of the last few years. And, as our esteemed editor Dave Woods said in his NOLF2 review last month, even adored titles like Medal Of Honor are starting to bore us with their unending streams of levels crammed with bodies to shoot down. When you've experienced the depth, freedom and originality of Deus Ex, it can be quite hard to go back to hacking down corridors like a frenzied automaton.
However, if this is the type of action you like, you'll find that Nightfire's frenetic pace is up there with the best of them. There's certainly more variation and entertainment here than in, say, Return To Castle Wolfenstein, and the more trigger-happy among you will be in your element. You also get the occasional moment of stealth, when getting seen or killing a civilian guard spells the end of the level. However, like so many other shooters (Soldier Of Fortune II springs to mind), the sneaking aspect doesn’t measure up to the quality of the no-holds-barred action.
The engine is Gearbox’s own creation - using technology from both id and Valve - but it doesn’t really feel any different from all the recent Quake 3-powered shooters (which, let’s be honest, is hardly a failing). There are some stunning locations, and it looks every bit as good as Medal Of Honor and Soldier Of Fortune II.
There’s a gorgeous Japanese mansion with large gardens, but this is tempered by the following interminable mission set in a dreary office block. Later there’s an island level similar to the one Sean Connery sucked Ursula Andress’s foot on, which is so beautiful you’ll find yourself simply standing around admiring the scenery. It’s a bit inconsistent, but overall quite pleasing.
The Al is also excellent for the most part, with enemies running away when they’re taking a beating and charging towards you when they know they can overpower you. It’s also nice to see them hopping when shot in the leg or shaking a hand after it’s been stung by a bullet, and even getting hit by the stray bullets of fellow henchmen. The strange thing is that they’re nowhere near as challenging or satisfying as the soldiers in Opposing Force.
Early in the game the difficulty level is set low by letting you take a stupid amount of bullets before dying. The game can get away with this because your health isn’t represented by a number, just an ambiguous circle of decreasing segments, so you never know just how much health each bullet takes away. Needless to say, later in the game these segments disappear rather quickly. Conversely, enemies in the later levels are inhumanly tough, and you often need to empty a magazine into someone’s head before they’ll hit the floor. It can be annoying at times, but at least it stops you from just rushing into rooms spraying bullets. Instead, you need to peek round corners, taking them out from a covered position and then waiting for the braver elements to come and get you.
Going back to the health - it makes a pleasant change to have no ridiculous kits or potions miraculously healing mortal wounds. The only thing available is armour. It’s also worth mentioning that the rocket launcher features a fantastic first-person camera that lets you become the rocket and guide it just like you could with UTs redeemer. Other weapons aren’t quite as satisfying when compared to other shooters though.
He’s Going In
Although most of the game is mindless massacring, you do get some variety in the form of spacesuit levels in low gravity and the occasional third-person action, such as climbing up a building or swinging on a cable. The idea is lifted straight out of Project IGI, and the level where you infiltrate an airbase has a blueprint which is also pure IGI. There are a couple of tense set pieces too, like getting stuck on a skyscraper's outside lift, with rockets and bullets coming at you from all sides. And then the elevator begins to slide down.
These breaks in the gameplay are all too rare though, and at times, things can get rather repetitive. Sometimes you have to wander round levels cleared of enemies trying to find that door you’ve failed to notice, or that window you didn’t realise you had to smash. There are even some infuriating end-of-level bosses that again make you feel you've seen this all before. Tough helicopters anyone? At least you do get to fight some cool ninjas, who somersault and flashbang their way around you with dazzling speed. But they, like several other good things in Nightfire, aren't nearly as plentiful as they could have been. I know what some of you are thinking, so I’ll nip it in the bud now. The fact that Nightfire is also being released on consoles is no excuse for its simple-mindedness and lack of depth. Both Half-Life and Deus Ex have been released on console. I rest my case.
Christmas Comes But Once A Year
The truth is that Nightfire feels slightly under par when compared to what it could have been. If this review has read slightly negatively, it’s not because Nightfire is a poor game (it wouldn’t have scored this well if it was), far from it. The problem is that it doesn’t do anything we haven’t seen a dozen times before from other shooters this year. Is that too much to ask?
You get the feeling there were some ambitious plans for this, (more gadgets, set pieces and interaction with other characters and more humorous quips) but they had to be shelved in order to get this out in time for Christmas. I have no doubt that if they’d had time, Gearbox would have used their Half-Life nous to make the James Bond game I wanted. One where you got to walk into M’s office after flirting with Moneypenny and before going down to Q’s lab. One where you get to fire a machine gun while skiing down a mountain backwards and diving among sharks. One where you get to sit in a casino and play cards or roulette. One with freedom and depth. Where you actually felt like James Bond and not some trigger-happy oaf. What you get instead is a very solid if predictable FPS, and if you're happy with that, then you won’t be disappointed.
When you're a kid you want to be Luke Skywalker. When you grow up you want to be James Bond. And it's easy to see why. Despite being forever associated with cold turkey, cheap tinsel and crap cracker jokes as the entire series is shown every damn Christmas. Bond is what every man wants to be: cool, well-dressed. a successful gambler, an action hero and a magnet for beautiful women. OK. so Luke may be a Jedi, but the only available female around him turns out to be his sister, while Bond need only breathe to seduce legions of Playboy centrefolds. He might not have a lightsabre, but that's about the only gadget he doesn't get to play with.
But. perhaps because it's such a massive licence, the least secret agent in the world has been absent from our PC monitors, preferring instead shallow but lush and profitable console outings. In fact, five years ago, GoldenEye was the toast of the console industry, wowing everyone on the N64 with FPS action that by rights should have been on the PC too.
Still, it's no use complaining about the past, especially now that we have NightFire to look forward to. And look forward to it you should, because it's being developed by none other than Gearbox, the makers of the wonderful Opposing Force add-on for Half-Life and the upcoming mouth-watering prospect that is Counter-Strike: Condition Zero. What's more, close links with Valve Software mean that the pedigree behind the title is second-to-none.
The Name Is Life, Half-Life
We spoke to EA producer Michael Condrey and Gearbox Director of Development Landon Montgomery to squeeze out every bit of info we possibly could. And being Half-Life freaks we couldn't help asking just how much like it NightFire will be. "This Bond game is a first-person action adventure," says Landon. "And as such, Bond will have to think and shoot - just as Gordon did. But, James Bond has a lot more resources at his disposal and as a result, the gadgetry in NightFire is unprecedented. Also, in classic 007 narrative style, Bond will go all over the world to exotic locales (and meet exotic women in exotic situations). I like to think of this game as the ultimate Bond story that could never be made into a movie. With all of the sets, special effects and specialised equipment this game has, a movie version would cost a billion dollars to produce."
That doesn't hide the fact that this will be Gearbox's first full game from scratch, but Landon isn't worried. "We've worked on quite a few FPS titles so we definitely have the experience to deliver a quality game As individuals, we re accustomed to building games from scratch And certainly, as a company, we're very accustomed to working with established properties - such as Half-Life, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater and now James Bond Our combined experience, technical expertise and passion for the subject matter made the NightFire project a nice fit for us."
This is James Bond for the new millennium, so don't expect to play a 1960s hairy-chested chauvinist who likes to slap his women about. Although Michael Condrey assures us they're aiming to capture the essence of Bond, no one wants to play a pigheaded harasser Instead. NightFire will concentrate on the cool and smooth action hero wl believe Bond is probably the most recognised superhero in the world." says Michael "With 40 years of nch history Bond encompasses a multitude of things: he's suave, sophisticated and smart. Our Bond will deliver just that" That doesn't mean 007's amorous nature has been put aside, though. As well as the stealth, the shooting, the puzzle-solving and the gadgets, you'll still have to keep the ladies happy. How this will be incorporated into the gameplay (dirty cut-scenes or save-the-girl missions) isn't quite clear. But we're definitely in a full-blown Bond adventure here.
It's not too hard to cook up the main ingredients of a James Bond plot (world domination, exotic scenery, a beautiful evil woman, a beautiful good woman and so on) but it's how it all comes together to create a thrilling visual spectacle that matters. And NightFire is shaping up very nicely indeed. Rather than taking some of the scenes and locations from an upcoming film - as so many lazy adaptations have done before - Gearbox is working on a totally original story, with plenty of intrigue and locations all over the world. "You'll see some key inspirations from the long list of exciting missions James Bond has been through on the silver screen," says Michael. "And staying true to Bond form, there will be a main enemy - evil mastermind Alexander Drake - who Bond must defeat in order to save the world... and get the girl."
What? You want more details? Well Michael's got plenty of 'em. "You will manoeuvre through a snow covered Austrian castle, infiltrate a Tokyo high rise, blast your way through a fortified jungle base, penetrate a hidden South Pacific island training facility, go through a zerogravity space station, and more, all in attempts to save the world from the nuclear arsenal of the most diabolical Bond villain yet." Well, the films have always been about a rollercoaster-ride, and NightFire is no different. And it's good to see that stealth is playing a big part in the game too - peeking round corners, slipping past guards and using gadgets every step of the way is encouraged as is the gung-ho approach.
But NightFire offers enough freedom to ensure you can complete missions either way. At least to a certain point. "Right from the start of the game, you see that the missions are far from linear, says Michael. "Instead, we encourage and reward players for their ingenuity. Take the stealth route, find the hidden passage, utilise a new gadget, run and gun straight through... Players will have the freedom and opportunity to customise their paths in many different and unique ways throughout NightFire. To maximise their score, they will need to find the best balance of all their Bond skills."
This being an FPS the question inevitably arises about the graphics and visual feel of the game. While nearly every big game scheduled for the next two years is using the new Unreal technology, thereby guaranteeing seemingly endless permutations of amazing graphics, NightFire makes a bold move by using an all-new engine developed especially for this title. "We have licensed technology created by id Software and by Valve Software that we're using for tools, data formats, entities and more," says Landon, "but the core rendering engine was written at Gearbox and is several steps ahead of what you've seen from us in the past. The game will take full advantage of the latest hardware from the leading vendors". You can judge for yourself from the screenshots what the general look of it will be, but Michael adds that the levels themselves are going to be pretty impressive. "Think amazing heights and depths. That's the direction for NightFire." So, from the sound of it, anyone who was afraid of the heights in Jedi Knight II (like me, for example) will be carrying their hearts in their mouths during most of these levels.
"The levels are larger than any previous Bond games," adds Michael, "and the non-linear pathways increase the replayability that much more. But really, it's not the size of the levels, but the depth and breadth of the gameplay you can experience, that really matters, right?" By way of example, he then goes on to talk us through a part of one of the missions, just so we can get a taste of what the action will be like.
"You halo dive down to an outer gatehouse on the rocky approach road. The Austrian castle looms above you. You must make your way past the perimeter guards and penetrate the outer walls, then through a series of courtyards inside the keep to get into the living quarters. Drake is hosting a formal party inside and guests and security are present throughout. Your main goal of the level is to infiltrate the castle, blend in with the party guests, retrieve a stolen data chip, rescue Zoe and escape. You have to overpower the guards transporting the chip, assist Zoe, and then escape in the castle gondola. But your escape is cut short when... well, you'll have to wait and see."
If it plays like it sounds, we're in for a riot. Another visual element has been borrowed from that great stealth shooter Project IGI. "The game is primarily a first-person POV title," says Michael, "but we've also introduced a new dynamic third-person camera system for playing interactive game mechanics that are best experienced in third-person and for highlighting key dramatic moments, like when Bond is climbing a wall. The game is still in development, which allows us to play around with the cameras to find the right balance of both."
It certainly sounds like Gearbox is leaving nothing out. But what about possibly the most important thing in a first-person shooter?
As far as I'm concerned, Half-Life still offers the best example of enemy Al in any game, especially the soldiers and the black ops. This is even truer in Opposing Force. Gearbox's expansion pack, where the intelligence of your human enemies reaches a peak in computer games. And, rest assured, this is an area that'll shine. "Because of the titles we've worked on and our emphasis on game-play engineering,'' explains Landon, "Gearbox has become quite good at Al programming over the years. In NightFire, you can just take for granted all of the Al behaviours you've seen in games such as Half-Life, but they'll be taken much further." That alone is a good enough reason to buy the game as far as I'm concerned. And don't be put off by the fact that it's also being developed for consoles. Following EA's successful approach to the Harry Potter games, each version of NightFire will be well suited to its platform. So, while the console releases will feature driving levels designed by the people who do the Need For Speed titles, Gearbox is concentrating on delivering a proper PC shooter (they're not really involved in the console versions) and adding the kind of multiplayer PC gamers want.
"Our goal is to create an enjoyable interactive Bond experience for the PC fans," assures Michael. "In this game you get the whole package: the girls, the gadgets, the brains, the brawn. NightFire has it all." If that's not enough, just think of all those women falling at your feet. 'Cos games make you sexy, right?
So What Cool Toys Can We Play With?
No One Lives Forever might have tried to do an 007 with their use of gadgets, but NightFire will leave it well behind. With MI6's Q-lab providing all sorts of new toys, you'll never have a dull moment in the whole game. There will even be briefings from the Q boys about how each one works, though we doubt John Cleese will be available to clown around.
Among the gadgets you'll get to play with are a multipurpose wrist watch, a pair of Q-Vision enhancement glasses (X-ray, Light Amplification, Infra-red), a lighter concealed Q-camera, a PDA data-hacker, a cartridge fired pen dart and a car key that conceals a stun gun. "Nothing is more satisfying than using the Q-lab watch stunner to temporarily disable an enemy, and then finishing him off with a classic Bond right cross to the jaw," enthuses Michael, although he later admits the X-ray glasses are even more satisfying when there are women around. And, of course, you'll have a full arsenal of weapons too, including sniper rifles, full automatic assault rifles, high damage rocket and grenade launchers, specially disguised ambush weapons such as the Sentry Suitcase Turret and remote activated Q-bombs. If nothing else, it makes a refreshing change from all that "very realistic weapons" rubbish we get every other day.
Our Names Are Bond, James Bond
Nightfire's Multiplayer Action Looks Every Bit As Hot As The Single Player Game
It wouldn't be a proper PC shooter if it wasn't going to do the business online, and NightFire's multiplayer is being taken very seriously indeed. You'll find all the usual modes, such as Elimination, Capture the Briefcase and King of the Hill, plus fully customisable weapons and "an innovative system of modifiers and base modes for hundreds of different multiplayer experiences", whatever the hell that means.
We're hoping multiplayer games will feature as much stealth and gadget-use as the single-player game, and not become just a standard slaughterhouse that just happens to feature the skins of many familiar characters. The only problem, of course, is that everyone will want to be Pussy Galore. Well, I know I will.
The most unforgivable thing about playing Nightfire online, is that because Gearbox apparently wrote the engine for the game, the multiplayer experience could, in theory, have taken any form it liked.
We could have seen a barrel of Bondian originality - intricate co-op modes with teams of 00 agents infiltrating enemy strongholds a la the opening sequences of GoldenEye and The Living Daylights, or intense objective matches with good guys vs bad, both struggling to save/take over the world. Things that live up to Bond's reputation.
Instead, much like the singleplayer game, Gearbox and EA have failed to realise the essence of all things Bond and have presented us with basic deathmatch and capture the flag sessions with Bond-style skins. It simply won't do.
Aside from the fact that technologically your latest Unreals and Quakes are better at that particular job, there's just nothing about Nightfire online that appeals to the Bond fan. The lack of thought is evident the first time you see an ancient 'Q' bombing about with the same speed as a US Marine. Even the inclusion of gadgets is pointless, as the fast-paced nature of deathmatch means you never have any time to use them. Forgive me for going all Alan Partridge on you here, but Stop Getting Bond Wrong! These are Things That Matter.
From a zero-gravity space station to deep beneath the South Pacific, NightFire runs the gamut in its 10 levels. Similar to Agent Under Fire, clever spy gadgets, stealth sniping and car chases are the cornerstones of this Bond experience. The story and most characters are original, but Zoe Nightshade and a few others from Agent are back once again. In addition, Eurocom (the game's developer) has taken pains to make the animation --particularly the stealthy movements--more lifelike and believable.
Scope the scantily clad temptresses, dry martinis, car chases and ingenious spy gadgetry--James Bond is back. EA follows up the success of last year's Agent Under Fire with an all-new adventure to coincide with the launch of the latest 007 flick, Die Another Day. The simultaneous releases aren't directly related, though, as NightFire is a completely new production, not a movie tie-in. "With an original game, you're able to craft your story around interesting game experiences instead of a script that was written with only the silver screen in mind," explains producer joel Wade. "This allows us to create fantastic game experiences without being restricted to the exact fiction of the movie, and to let the story and game design play off each other."
Even though NightFire's not based on a movie, the stylin' production values of the blockbusters remain intact. For example, the game opens with a breakneck shooting level in which you're sniping cars from a helicopter. Just like in the films, that over-the-top action scene segues into a traditional credits sequence, complete with sultry, undulating vixens and that unforgettable Bond music. After that, the pace never lets up as Bond explores over 10 exotic locales to uncover the diabolical plans of master-mind Rafael Drake.
You'll soon discover that international intrigue involves more than just first-person shooting. Missions run the gamut between shooting, stealth, driving, flying and underwater combat. Unlike in some games (cough Dead to Rights), these additional gameplay modes aren't mere afterthoughts--they're packed with depth. In fact, the driving bits (in Bond's oh-so-sexy Aston Martin V-12 Vanquish) use the amazing Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit 2 engine to offer serious thrills.
The GoldenEye-inspired shooter levels remain the central gameplay draw, but how you tackle these stages is largely up to you. "Action fans can attack the majority of the levels with guns blazing, and we've provided a huge arsenal for them," says Wade. "However, the players who think like Bond -- using their wits instead of their guns--will score the highest." Solving missions and giving goons the slip requires complete mastery of Q's spy gadgets.
Of course, a Bond game just wouldn't be the same without a stellar multiplayer experience. NightFire's unfriendly firefights offer a ton of options, memorable characters and locations ripped from classic Bond films. It's a fast, solid good time that should keep you and your buds glued to the couch for days. While there wasn't time to include online play, Wade hints that Bond's next outing (probably in 2003) might make that jump.
Snapshots and Media
Playstation 2 Screenshots
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