From Russia With Love Review
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 doesn't follow the exact plot of the movie, which is a shame, because the new stuff isn't that great, and there really wasn't anything wrong with the source material. For starters, for whatever reason, it's not even SPECTRE anymore - it's "Octopus". Two new Bond girls have been cast - Maria Menounos being one of them, but they really don't bring much to the table. Since the game's only eight hours long, you'd figure they had to expand the plot to make the game longer, but they did leave some parts of the movie out, so it's a little confusing as to why the changes were mad.
If you spent any time with Everything or Nothing, From Russia With Love's third-person shooting levels and car chases will feel very familiar. The action is varied, but it's very basic, never allowing you to explore or stray from the path that has been set for you. You can climb over some objects, but only if an icon appears, you can rappel the sides of buildings, but only if an icon appears. Driving, flying in a jetpack, or riding in a boat all have the same problem - everything is linear, and to be honest, it's pretty easy. The driving levels are plagued by horrendous physics and frankly some pretty boring action. No matter how many cars you take out, more are there to take their place, so what's the point in firing at all? You can generally shoot enough of them to keep your path clear and get to the end without taxing yourself. The jetpack is a pretty cool addition to the game, and the controls work surprisingly well here. The boat levels are like the driving levels; they're decent, but nothing to write home about. The on foot levels are strictly linear, and there's always a locked door in your way to remind you to keep moving forward. Even the gadgets aren't all that useful unless the puzzle or situation was specifically designed for them - there's no improvisation.
Bond's full complement of moves is available, but you rarely need them, and an overly-complex control scheme makes them difficult to perform should you actually need to. You can crouch, dive, and take cover, use Bond Focus to slow down time, throw grenades, and shoot while using cover. Unfortunately by the time you remember what buttons do what, the moment has passed. Since it's so easy to run up to a bad guy and blast them, there's never much use for these special moves anyways. Occasionally the AI will surprise you by tossing grenade in your direction or hiding and waiting for you to show yourself, but most of the time they're on a kamikaze path in your direction. As soon as you trigger an event they'll coming rushing out, guns blazing, with no regards to their well-being. You can backtrack to a cleared room and simply wait for them to enter - mowing them down one by one as they walk through the doorway.
As usual, the game features a ton of weapons and gadgets to choose from, all of which can be upgraded with research points you earn by finding things in the levels. You can add ammo, increase the clip size, and rate of fire - which is a must since the default weapons are a bit on the wimpy side. The game employs an auto-aim mechanic that is activated by pressing the L1 button to lock-on to a target. This certainly makes it easy to find the bad guys and shoot them, but it really just points out how flawed shooting would be if you were left to your own devices to aim. On one hand it's good, because it's less frustrating than futilely trying to aim on your own, but on the other hand, it takes all the skill out of shooting.
There's no online multi-player, which isn't really a big deal because quite frankly, it would have been lousy. The game's auto-aim mechanics don't lend themselves to interesting deathmatch play, a fact that's pretty obvious just a few minutes into the split-screen multiplayer. Perhaps if there were some objectives similar to what we've seen in Splinter Cell things might have been different.
From Russia With Love appears to be using the same engine as Everything or Nothing, but that's not the case. Regardless, the games look quite similar, which is a good thing. The game has nice graphics, a decent camera, and handles the wide variety of gameplay styles well. The levels are a mixed bag, with some of them looking pretty bland, but others really looking nice. It's weird the attention to detail you'll see in some areas, like stained glass windows or a fully decorated house, while other areas are drab and uninteresting. Another thing that's inconsistent from one minute to the next is the game's framerate. It's not always horrible, but if there's any amount of action on screen, or you're panning the camera, it struggles mightily. HDTV owners will be disappointed to know that there's no widescreen support, nor is there support for 480p.
EA has always been at the forefront of facial scanning technology; one of the few bright spots of Rogue Agent were 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. All of the other main characters look great as well. It's pretty amazing what EA has been able to do in this area.
From Russia With Love's audio has some strong points and some weak ones as well. It's great to have Sean Connery back as Bond, but he doesn't really sound a heck of a lot like he used to, and it's noticeable to anyone who has watched his old films. The character on-screen is supposed to be a young, British agent (though he didn't really have a British accent in the movies), but the voice we're hearing is that of an old Scottish man. Don't get me wrong - any true Bond fan will get chills when they hear the "Vodka Martini. Shaken, not stirred." line. The script is also pretty hit or miss, which leads to some of the lines sticking out like a sore thumb. I don't think it was any disinterest on any of the actors' parts, but some of the one-liners are less than convincing. The game's score is quite good, and seamlessly mixes familiar Bond themes with new compositions. The rest of the sound effects are decent, but not amazing.
From Russia With Love is an entertaining, albeit unoriginal eight hour action game. Anyone nostalgic for the glory days of the Bond film franchise will love the inclusion of a classic film as well as the return of Sean Connery. However, it doesn't try anything new, multi-player stinks, it's too linear, and it's too easy, so it's not worth more than a rental.
12/13/2005 Aaron Thomas