To celebrate 50 years of the cinematic James Bond, Activision decided to go back in time with their newest game adventure, 007 Legends. Except they went forward. But sort of back... Well, it’s a little confusing.
007 Legends consists of 6 mini-game “missions” instead of one large story arc. These 6 missions represent one film from each Bond actor, but not always in chronological order- Goldfinger, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Licence To Kill, Die Another Day, Moonraker, and finishing with Skyfall (which is free downloadable content released a few days ago on Xbox 360).
The intriguing concept gets muddied right off the bat by placing Daniel Craig in all the missions. More accurately, it’s Daniel Craig’s likeness, not his voice, as soundalike Timothy Watson subs in for the current 007. Watson is about 75 percent there, close enough for casual Bond fans to not notice the difference but grating to this die-hard’s ears. Sticking Craig in the classic missions leads to some rather bizarre sights, such as Craig’s Bond donning a spacesuit in Moonraker or grieving over the death of his wife in Majesty's.
Many other familiar faces and voices make a welcome return, such as Michael Londsdale as Moonraker’s Drax, Carrie Lowell as Pam in Licence To Kill, and Toby Stephens as Graves from Die Another Day. It’s a treat to hear and see these characters come back to life, but not all the classic characters are treated so reverently. It’s as if the voice and likeness budget ran out about halfway through the making of the game. Some characters look like they did in the films, but sound different (Auric Goldfinger has lost his creepily polite tone of voice in favor of an overly-sinister snarl, for example). Others look and sound completely wrong - Jinx, played by Halle Berry in Die Another Day, is suddenly caucasian in this adaptation. For Bond fans, the expectation of meeting an old friend in 007 Legends is too often a bit jarring.
The other major change is updating all the missions to present day. Because of this, the game designers took liberties in updating the classic sets and backdrops with a more modern edge. Some might find this a refreshing remix, others will be disappointed that they don’t get to literally walk through the same classic sets they saw on the silver screen growing up. And it certainly feels strange using your Sony smart phone against Goldfinger’s base of operations.
But let’s say you can stomach those changes, what’s it like to play? Essentially it’s the same gameplay as last year’s Goldeneye Reloaded, itself a modern day Craig-ified remake of a Pierce Brosnan classic. Like Goldeneye Reloaded, 007 Legends mostly consists of running about and shooting things, Call of Duty-style. You can attempt to sneak around in 007 Legends, silently picking off guards one by one. But it’s a pretty futile attempt, as the AI has been updated to the point that enemies will now see the bodies you’ve just laid waste to, tipping off the alarm and the inevitable downpour of baddies. It’s an annoying update because there’s no way to hide the bodies or to accurately see who’s looking where, making stealth virtually impossible. Eventually you’ll just give up and go in guns blazing from the get-go.
The shooting gameplay is given an occasional and welcome reprieve with “on rails” missions that find you skiing, driving, or motorcycling. These levels are short and simple, but be sure to pay attention to the controls on each one, as they change for each vehicle and aren’t always intuitive, especially for Majesty’s skiing level. There are also hand-to-hand fights that periodically crop up, but they’re dreadfully dull and repetitive push-button affairs. It’s a let down that the Majesty’s mission doesn’t end with the white-knuckle bobsled chase that caps the film, instead being replaced with boring fisticuffs with arch-villain Blofeld.
The most fun missions to play came from the most cartoonish films, namely Die Another Day and Moonraker. The end of the Moonraker mission is easily the highlight of the game. Once you’re aboard Drax’s space station and the gravity is turned off, you’ll find yourself flying around in zero G shooting lasers at bad guys. Priceless.
Watch our exclusive interview with 007 Legends' Associate Producer Dino Verano.
Goldeneye Reloaded was full of badly-designed, non-intuitive levels and objectives that were confusingly laid out. Thankfully a lot of those bugs have been fixed in 007 Legends, but I was struck with how difficult some of the shooting levels were. Even on the easiest setting, players not used to shooting games will have difficulty passing some tricky levels. Getting stuck could happen a lot to you in this game if you’re not a gaming veteran.
Kevin Kline returns to compose the music, and it’s perhaps the best part of the game. The score successfully updates classic themes and tunes with a brassy but modern flair that’s great fun to listen to. Unfortunately, the visuals can’t match the sonic experience. The graphics are a low-budget affair, full of jagged edges, simple textures, and extremely blocky shadows. It looks five years behind the times, and actually looks worse than Activision’s premiere Bond title that came out in 2008, 007: Quantum of Solace.
Along with the single-player campaign, there’s the option of online multiplayer and local split-screen. You can play as many classic characters in these, each with their own special abilities. For example, metal-toothed Jaws can deflect bullets with his teeth, and OddJob’s razor-rimmed hat is a one-hit kill every time he throws it. The multiplayer adds some much-needed value to the package.
Overall, 007 Legends is a great idea poorly executed. As a Bond fan I wanted to love it, but unfortunately it comes across as a cheap, half-baked reskin of Goldeneye Reloaded, which wasn’t that great to begin with. With a proper budget and attention to detail this could’ve been an Operation Grand Slam, but as it stands it’s the most disappointing James Bond game Activision has created thus far. If you’re looking for nostalgia in your 007 gaming, buy yourself an N64 and throw down on some original Goldeneye instead.
We received a review copy of 007 Legends for Xbox 360 from Activision. We waited to write the review until after the free Skyfall DLC was released on November 9, 2012.