Any long time sports gamer can tell you about the odd-year jinx that seemed to plague EA's NHL series. Seemingly every even year game was great, while every odd-numbered year was disappointing. The Bond franchise has had a similar fate, although it doesn't quite follow a year to year pattern. 2001's Agent Under fire was a letdown, however, it was followed by the solid NightFire, and the even better Everything or Nothing. Just when the franchise seemed to be on the right track, the extremely underwhelming Goldeneye: Rogue Agent again cast doubt on the series' direction. Electronics Arts knew Rogue Agent was bad, so they called in the big guns, or more appropriately, one big gun – Sean Connery. That's right, the original (and best) Bond is back to reprise his role as 007 in From Russia With Love.
From Russia With Love is based on the 1960's Bond film of the same name. Bond is sent to Istanbul to recover an encryption machine from a Russian agent who is defecting. It turns out that this is a trap set by the crime organization SPECTRE, who wants to avenge the death of Dr. No. The game won't follow the plot exactly, as it will have a new intro, as well as new twists, and a new ending. There's even a new Bond girl; Maria Menounos will play the role of Eva, a character not in the original movie.
Most of the game will take place as familiar third-person shooting levels, but there will be car chases, jetpacks, sniping, and some stealth mixed in as well. The level I played starts off outside, at a party, that's suddenly crashed by kidnappers. The classic Bond soundtrack kicks in, and all hell breaks loose. After shooting your way through a courtyard, the action moves inside, where you have to make your way to the roof. Bond's full complement of moves is available, as crouching, diving, and using walls as cover can all be performed with single buttons. It's amazing how many moves you've got at your disposal, and how easy they are to perform. New this year is "Bond Focus" which will allow you to slow down time and using pinpoint accuracy, pull of some amazing shots. Using this feature, I was able to take out rappelling bad guys buy simply shooting out their cables, sending them crashing to the ground.
Once I made it to the rooftop, I saw the girl I was trying to rescue being flown off in a helicopter. I knocked out an enemy and swiped his jetpack, taking to the skies. After capping a few baddies that were hanging off the face of the clock tower, I switched to my rocket launcher, and after a short game of chicken, took out the helicopter, swooping in at the last second to save the girl. The level wraps up with the woman inquiring as to her savior's identity, followed by the classic "The name's Bond. James Bond" line that Connery delivers so well.
As usual, the game will feature a ton of weapons, cars, and gadgets to choose from. While the developers are trying to stay true to the film, not all of your items are from the movie, but they're all from the Bond universe. It's a little difficult to switch weapons at this time, as you can't do it on the fly, but the rest of the controls feel so good, it's a minor complaint.
There won't be any online play this time around, but there is split-screen multiplayer available. The action's not bad, but it doesn't look like it's going to be eating into any of your Halo 2 or World of Warcraft online time.
From Russia With Love appears to be using the same engine as Everything or Nothing. That's a good thing as it provides a good mixture of nice graphics, a decent camera, and a wide variety of gameplay. EA has always been at the forefront of facial scanning technology – one of the few bright spots of Rogue Agent was the realistic recreations of Pussy Galore and Goldfinger. It should come as no surprise that the character model for Sean Connery is fantastic. He looks just like he did in the original film, right down to his facial expressions. Unfortunately, none of the other main characters were in the demo, so I didn't get to check them out. The framerate is pretty smooth, and other than some occasional issues, the camera is just fine. It's a little tough to get a good viewing angle coming into a room out of a stair case, which is a problem because there always seems to be someone waiting to shoot you, but it's a minor gripe.
Any concerns you may have about From Russia With Love being another dud like Rogue Agent can be tossed out the window. Anyone nostalgic for the glory days of the Bond film franchise will love the inclusion of a classic film as well as Sean Connery. The game has returned to the enjoyable style of play that made Everything or Nothing so popular. It doesn't look to be bringing a whole lot of innovation to the table, but the formula's pretty good so that's not a big deal.