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 about six 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 will feel very familiar. The action is varied, but it's very basic, never allowing you to explore or stray far from the path that has been set for you - 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. The jetpack was a pretty cool addition to the console game, but the controls on the PSP are atrocious, so bad in fact that they had to change how you fight the helicopter. The boat and driving levels weren't much to write home about, but they were mildly entertaining. On the PSP, they're nowhere to be found - stripped completely from the game.
Even Bond's moves have been watered down to the point that levels have been changed, removing obstacles you would hurdle over in the PS2 version because you no longer can leap obstacles. While the game claims you can lean against walls and fire, this works about 10% of the time. You can still use Bond Focus to slow down time and aim with the analog stick. This is the game's only saving grace, or else it would be unplayable. A miserable auto-lock feature works only sporadically, and doesn't work at all unless you're facing the general direction of your attacker. You'll have to use the square and circle buttons to maneuver the camera left and right to slowly swing the camera towards the guy that's plugging you. Eventually you'll get locked on, but for some reason, your aim is still shoddy. You have to lock on, and then use Bond Focus to manually aim at the bad guy's head. If you don't do this you'll run out of bullets in no time at all (something which never happened on the PS2).
The AI, which wasn't super smart to begin with, is even worse now, standing and watching you as you walk by, sometimes just admiring you from the other side of a gate. 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.
There is ad-hoc play with bots included, but 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 on the PSP looks reasonably close to how it looked on the PS2. 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.
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. The big difference between the PSP and PS2 versions are that the PSP's audio is extremely compressed sounding. It's almost like someone recorded the dialog off of a TV - yeah, it's that bad. 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 a perfect example of how not to port a game from the PS2 to PSP. It does absolutely nothing new and a host of things much worse. Even if the port was dead-on, this isn't the type of game you're going to want to buy again if you beat it on the PlayStation 2. Do yourself a favor and stay away from this half-assed effort (though if you're curious about the game, it's worth a look on the PlayStation 2).
4/14/2006 Aaron Thomas