James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing
EA are on a roll, these days. Not content with several multi-million dollar sports franchises, the American giant has developed a number of other games that look set to spawn never-ending sequels. Medal of Honour, Lord of the Rings, the Command and Conquer series and Battlefield 1942, amongst others, all look set to be considerable earners for quite some time. EA games these days really are quality, polished affairs. The menus and interfaces are always honed, and seem to share a common development ancestry across all the EA brands. The motion capture and animation excellence that EA has developed primarily for its sports range has produced dividends across the wider product catalogue - the quality of animation in the LOTR tie-ins and this, EA's most recent licensed offering, is evidence of that. This professionalism and polish is evident throughout Everything or Nothing, and speaks volumes of the solid development process and regulated quality assurance through which EA filters its output. It is ironic, then, that this latest EA offering is so aptly named, since it demonstrates so precisely what is best and worst in the EA development process. Everything or Nothing, indeed.
As you probably already know, EA have decided to upstage Brocolli et al and produce their very own Bond adventure, hiring such acting luminaries as Willem Dafoe, Shannon Elizabeth and the usual Bond cast members John Cleese, Judi Dench and the main man himself. Bringing this little lot together is an original Bond plotline, full of the usual excess and drama, sexual tension and over the top action - everything you might expect from a Bond movie. The cutscenes are another example of the supreme polish EA bring to the field these days, being of the highest standard. It's a shame, therefore, that not one of the famous cast could bring themselves to give anything more than a perfunctory performance. Chief sinner on this front must be Pierce Brosnan, who manages to deliver every single line of (admittedly ropey) dialogue in an unconvincing manner.
The game itself follows the traditional structure of any Bond film. The pre-credits action sequence acts in this case as the game tutorial, introducing players nicely to Bond's moves, weapons and gadgets. On completion of this, gamers are treated to a pretty decent Bond song, with shadowy Shannon Elizabeth's gyrating around in the background somewhat satisfyingly. And then into the meat of the game itself. Levels take several forms. The most common are the third person action/stealth levels, which see Bond infiltrate bases, seedy New Orleans clubs and other appropriate environments in pursuit of Her Majesty's Royal Goals. As one might expect of MI-6's finest, Bond is capable of a variety of moves. He can roll and sneak along walls, peeking round corners to take potshots at enemies. He also has access to an impressive array of weapons and gadgets, including the remote controlled Q-spiders. Bond can also employ his 'Bond Sense' , during which time slows to a crawl and the player is free to examine the environment around for barrels to blow up, enemies to target and walls to scale. This allows the player to deal with what otherwise might be overwhelming odds, and usually there is an abundance of exploding scenery components to thin out the ranks before carrying on. Bond is also rather handy in combat of the unarmed variety, being able to employ a variety of impressive moves. He can take down enemies silently if they are approached unseen, or else quickly disarm and disable them if spotted.
One of Bond's most impressive and fun gadgets to use is the rappel gun. This is a pistol and grappling hook that can be used to scale appropriate smooth surfaces (the usual selective use gripes apply) or instantly rappel down cliffs or walls simply by diving off them. As Bond runs over the edge, the camera impressively flips over his shoulder to realign itself down the cliff face. Bond can then absail down or climb up at leisure, utilising any of his inventory weapons. This excellent addition serves up one of Everything or Nothing's most spectacular levels early on, where Bond rappels down the entire surface of an industrial site perched atop a dam, Universal Soldier style, stopping on ledges along the way to give some of Her Majesty's enemies a quick doing over. It is at moments like these that Everything or Nothing is most impressive - when it succeeds in giving the player eye-opening set pieces.
Other levels involve Bond in some vehicular based action. These, unfortunately, are a little more ropey, with EA falling prey to the usual multi-style game problems. Some offer spectacular fun, with the first car section seeing Bond tear along chasing a Soviet-era train. One motorbike section offers an intense minute long race to a nearby airport, culminating in a runway pursuit to get aboard a transport plane. Simply put, the vehicle sections succeed where they are short, set-piece filled and intense. They fail badly, however, when the game mechanic becomes more stolid. One level effectively plays as a car-bound stealth section, where Bond slowly drives around avoiding guards with the car's cloaking device. Likewise, the helicopter sections feel slower and tacked on, lacking the pace and excitement of the short motorbike and car chase sequences.
This dichotomy shows up throughout the entire game. Everything or Nothing gets it right when it involves short levels, punchy action and great set pieces - of which there are plenty. When it tries to be clever and more thought out, the game suffers because beneath it all the game play is frankly a bit unrefined. The foot sections suffer from a very poor and counter-intuitive targeting system, that has to be fought to progress on the harder difficulty levels. It can be overcome, but a game this polished needs to have a control system that does it justice - instead, targeting amidst multiple enemies becomes extremely difficult. The slower vehicle sections, however, are the real low point, being overlong and not particularly exciting when compared with the rest of what is on offer. One or two levels are also prohibitively difficult, even on medium or low difficulty - the limousine-ramming New Orleans level being a particular pain in the posterior. Indeed, progress was only achieved when the limousine crashed and flipped upside down on its own, allowing a leisurely despatching after catching it up.
It's a tough game to rate, though, because while there are many negative features to the game, when Everything or Nothing is firing on all cylinders nothing really comes close. It suffers the usual problems of games that try to pull off too many tricks - it's a jack of all trades, but master of none. The foot sections have been done better by Splinter Cell. The vehicle sections have been bettered by many other games. But no single game offers quite the same package, wrapped in the EA polish and featuring some of the best cut-scenes, animation and some of biggest names in showbiz. Ultimately, you'll know yourself if you're the type of gamer that will like this title - if licensed EA produce is anathema to you, steer clear, but if you find yourself hankering for some unadulterated fun without serious gaming pretensions, then Everything or Nothing could be for you.