No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to play
He's got A View To A Kill, rakes the moon, has a spy who loves him and scares The Living Daylights out of us, and that's just Aaron Birch on a weekday! Lucky he's On Her Majesty's Secret Service then...
James Bond is one of the rare breeds of hero who's stood the test of time, and after many face changes, is still pulling in the crowds. He's a man's man and a woman's dream. Slick, debonair, sophisticated, intelligent, witty, fearless and as hard as nails. He's saved the world more times than we've had pints of stout, and he gets to play with the coolest gadgets and drive the best cars. It's no wonder that the video-game industry has time and time again given 007 the movie tie-in treatment. We've seen Bond on pretty much every format you can imagine, from the ancient Atari 2600 to the present day consoles and PCs. Over the next few pages, we're going to take a look back at the most memorable Bond games, as well as some other titles that pay homage to the greatest secret agent the world has ever known. Do pay attention then.
"Do you expect me to talk? No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to buy."
Bond games have had something of a turbulent history, and there have certainly been a fair few hits and misses in the past. Just like most movie tie-ins, really. Often, games would be based around one section of a movie or, in some cases, have nothing to do with the film bar the name. One thing has always remained true though - big licences make big money, and this was just as true in the past as it is now.
The first Bond game of note was the imaginatively titled James Bond by Parker Bros (1984), which appeared on the Atari 2600, 5200 and Commodore 64. Although it only bore the name James Bond on the box, the game itself was actually based (somewhat bizarrely) on Diamonds Are Forever, and took the form of a side-scrolling shooter, in which you had to drive a moon buggy-type vehicle (that looked oddly like the white Lotus from the later Moore flicks) across a landscape punctuated by fiery chasms and other obstacles. While shooting a range of strange flying enemies, you had to jump and collect huge floating diamonds, which, of course, is a scene we all remember from the film - don't we? It was also damned difficult, perhaps in a bid to disguise the lack of any genuine challenge.
[You can play the Atari James Bond 007 game online for free, right now here at The 007 Dossier!]
Around the same time, a couple of PC text adventures appeared from Mindscape. A View To A Kill (1984) and Goldfinger (1985) both cast you as Bond and recreated the events seen in the films. The better of the two games was Goldfinger, as this was closer to the original story (A View To A Kill always felt rushed, missing out parts of the movie entirely). The games both featured a string of action scenes in which you had to take the correct course of action in a specified number of moves before the time was up. The story telling was generally atmospheric and well written, but most people found the struggle with the recognised commands and grammar more threatening than any world-dominating megalomaniac.
Domark of the devil
A View To A Kill was better bought to life by Domark in 1985. Appearing on the Spectrum, C64, Amstrad, and MSX, this was a sure-fire sign of things to come, as it didn't focus on a single game type, and instead took the more exotic approach of throwing in several formats of play. Again, based directly on the film, the title was an attempt to recreate the spectacle of the silver screen. Play was spread over three sections: the Paris parachute chase; inside the burning city hall; and finally, the mine. Each section had a distinctly different form. Paris was a top-down driving game that had a rather nifty first-person view and saw you racing around the city, chasing down Mayday. In fact, this was perhaps the most remembered section, mainly due to the amazingly poor level of programming behind it. It was almost impossible to complete as it was riddled with collision-detection bugs that saw your car drive through buildings and across water. The city-hall section was an item-collecting affair in which you had to escape the building by using items to advance, all the time keeping an eye on the fire spreading through the structure. The final mine section was a side-on platform game that also had item-based puzzle elements. You had to run, jump and climb around the mine, grabbing items and avoiding pits. Comically though, you could actually fall down a huge 100-foot pit (while spinning off walls!), and Bond would simply shake his head and get up! Well, he is Bond, so who are we to argue?
At the time, A View To A Kill was mind-blowing stuff, and the mix of game types and recreation of scenes from the film was enough to make many fans happy. Special mention should go to the animation of Bond in the mine level - impressive work for games way back when. After the success of A View To A Kill, Domark had the touch of Goldfinger himself and set about sealing the 007 licence in its vaults. The company knew it had a veritable goldmine and did everything it could to increase its coffers using it. The stage was set for a barrage of Bond.
Timothy Dalton and The Living Daylights (1987; Spectrum, C64, Amstrad, Amiga, BBC) was the next Bond game to emerge from Domark's Q labs. Instead of the multiple game types of A View To A Kill, this was a singular affair that possessed a running, jumping and rolling Bond, with some seriously tough side-scrolling action. Enemies would pop-up, shooting-gallery style from behind rocks and trees, and you'd have to avoid their fire before switching to an aiming mode in order to take them out. This was perhaps the most enjoyable Bond game yet, and the graphics were a great improvement over the previous titles. But, let's face it, good ol' Timothy Dalton just wasn't Bond was he? The fans wanted Moore.
[Play the ZX Spectrum 128k version of The Living Daylights online]
Live And Let Die (1988; Spectrum, C64, Amstrad, Amiga, Atari ST) is one of the greatest examples of a cash-in you're ever likely to see. Developed by Elite and published by Domark, this tie-in was based wholly on the boat-racing antics of the film, and packed in plenty of racing, shooting and jumping off logs. It also included other memorable elements from the movie, such as the scorching chase through the pyramids of Egypt, the perilous battle in the Arctic and boats dropping huge mine fields in their wake... erm, hold on a minute, did we miss something? Overall, the game bore very little similarity to the film, aside from the boats of course. In fact, it turns out that Elite were working on a speedboat racing game called Aquablast when Domark came knocking, Bond licence in hand. You can guess what happened next. Those familiar with Buggy Boy, another Elite title, should recognise many elements. Simply bring in the boats, slap on a picture of that tobacco-spitting sheriff, and Bob's your uncle - instant movie tie-in!
Despite the blatant cash funnelling on the go, Live And Let Die was enjoyable enough, and even on the Spectrum, it had some impressive 3D trickery. In your boat, you had to surge up the ever-expanding rivers, blasting enemy boats and jumping over a collection of obstacles. Once again, the challenge was very stiff indeed, but this was perhaps the best Bond game yet.
Licence to sell
Mr Dalton wasn't out of the game just yet though, and the next installment of Bond was another shooter, this time based on Licence To Kill (1989; Spectrum, C64, Amstrad, Amiga, ST, PC). Taking control of Timothy, you piloted helicopters, drove cars, and shot bad guys in a vertically scrolling world. There was nothing new here, but the graphics were spot on. Some versions of this game were better than others though. In this regard, the Spectrum version springs to mind as being one of the worst. Enemy targets were lost amid the overly detailed levels, and you couldn't see what you were supposed to be shooting. You could also crash into buildings very easily, even though you were in a helicopter and could potentially fly higher. This smacked of hurried design -a blight that would continue to affect the movie tie-in world. The on-foot sections of the game differed from the vehicle levels and featured a very odd control system that involved aiming at enemies with a crosshair that you had to rotate in the right direction. This was an attempt to create something a little different, but it didn't really work, and was just overly difficult.
In 1990, Domark went old skool again and released The Spy Who Loved Me (Spectrum, C64, Amstrad, Amiga, ST, PC). As it seemed vertical scrolling was the thing to do in Bond games, you once again jumped into the ever present Bondmobile and burned rubber towards the top of the screen. This time though, the game was a little different, and shared more than a little similarity to Bond-a-like arcade classic Spyhunter (which was actually inspired by the chase scene from the The Spy Who Loved Me movie - crazy). In order to get to those lovely lasses and extra drys, you had to drive along an ever-winding road, avoiding enemies, oil slicks, rocks and the scenery in general. You also had to collect tokens and equipment for later levels. Despite a simple-sounding formula, this was a very addictive game, and although it was sometimes unfairly difficult (evil placement of oil slicks being a major killer), you couldn't help but play it over and over again, trying to get just that little bit further.
Photo: While it tried to emulate the movie poster, the intro to Octopussy was very strange indeed.
From Slovakia with Love
With the huge growth in console popularity and sales, the ‘90s were dominated by the likes of Sega and Nintendo. The Master System, NES, Megadrive and SNES took over from the home computers of yesteryear, and games moved on. This didn't mean the end of Bond games though. Oh no. Perhaps the most obscure Bond game of all was disembodied arms wrapping around James, trying to emulate the movie's poster. The game attempted to push the envelope in Bond games that bit further once again, but took inspiration from previous instalments. The game itself was very similar in style to the city-hall section * found in A View To A Kill and had the same item-finding gameplay. Graphically, it was an impressive title, and even though the intro scene was odd, it did look great and really tried to capture every element from the film in detail. Octopussy was never released in the UK (indeed, it was never translated into English), making it something of a rarity.
The last appearance of Timothy Dalton in the Bond-game universe was in James Bond: The Duel (1991; Master System, Megadrive). Very similar to the Rolling Thunder games, it took the form of a side-scrolling platform shooter in which you battled against a whole host of Bond's most notorious villains, including Jaws, the metal-toothed monster. In each level, while capping bad guys and ridding the world of scum, you also had to rescue hostages, usually tied-up women - well, it is Bond after all. The Duel wasn't a particularly well-received game, mainly due to a flawed control system.
NES and SNES owners got a little extra bit of Bondage a with title that could only appear on a Nintendo console. Based on a the animated TV series, THQ's James Bond Jr (1992) saw you travelling the world as a pre-pubescent Bond, seeking out and dealing with agents of the amusingly named S.C.U.M and villains such as Dr Deranged and Maximillian Cortex (where do they think up these names?). Metroid-style platform action was the theme of the day, and the graphics (especially for the NES) were quite impressive. Alas, 007 aged seven didn't really make it into people's hearts, and this became his first and last mission.
>The Man with the Golden Gunn
As far as retro classics go, there's one title that most people instantly recognise, even if they only hear it. With the Peter Gunn theme tune banging out in the background, Spyhunter (1983) had a definite identity, but this wasn't originally going to be the case.
The game was originally planned as a James Bond title, and was heavily influenced by chase scenes seen in the movies. The transforming car loaded up with weapons was also a major giveaway, as was the mixture of land and sea fighting. Unfortunately, licensing such a huge name as James Bond doesn’t come cheap. The simple truth is that after development costs, Midway didn’t have the cash to bag the licence and I had to drop the Bond theme and name. Instead, the game was entitled Spyhunter and the Peter Gunn theme tune became the backing track we all know and love.
Funnily enough, this was the best thing that could have happened to Midway, as instead of becoming just another Bond game consigned to the gaming history books, it became a legend in its own right and has spawned many clones over the years. Of course, Midway has also revived the name with two full 3D remakes on the PS2.
>The names Pond, Glames Pond
Bond has had a bigger impact in games than just official licences, and has spawned many clones and wannabes - some good, some bad. One of the best has to be James Pond by Millenium (1990; Amiga, Atari ST). Casting a goldfish as an undercover secret agent, the game didn't really have much to do with the Bond movies, aside from some names and references. But, it did spawn two sequels of its own, and controlling a secret agent goldfish is something you just have to do.
Another Bond-related title was that of TV 'comic' Russ Abbot's character, Basildon Bond. Oddly, this game that was surprisingly enjoyable (unlike the original TV performance). Taking control of the bungling spy, you had to platform and puzzle-solve your way to glory. It's still a mystery why Probe Software thought that Abbot's character deserved a game, though. The Adventures of Bond, Basildon Bond (1986) was advertised for the Spectrum, Amstrad, and C64, but the Spectrum version was never released.
[Play the C64 version of Basildon Bond online now]
However, the strangest of all Bond wannabes was a gem of a title called Operation Stealth by Delphine Software (1990; Amiga, Atari ST, PC). This was a point and click adventure in the style of Monkey Island, which placed you in the role of John Glames - a secret agent on the trail of a missing stealth fighter. Just like Bond, he had gadgets, a nice suit and a weakness for women. Throughout the adventure, you had to solve devious puzzles, tackle some difficult action scenes and make use of your Bond-like charm. It also had a very cool intro that was amazingly cinematic at the time. "But, hold on!" We hear you cry, "this was a Bond game wasn't it?" Well, yes, and no. It depends on where you live. In the US, Operation Stealth appeared as James Bond: The Stealth Affair, but here in good ol' Blighty, we knew it as Operation Stealth. This was mainly for licencing reasons. Oeration Stealth was released here, but Interplay, the gam's publisher, managed to bad the James Bond licence for the US release. This caused a few problems for the story, as it saw Bond ditching Her Majesty's Secret Service in favour of the CIA! Good one James! The big name didn't improve that game's sales though, and it remains an unappreciated classic.
Every Spy has a secret identity and Operation Stealth's star was no exception. In the UK, he was Glames, and in the US, he was Bond.
Well done Rare
Things then went rather quiet for Bond during the first half of the 90s, and we didn't see any new arrivals for quite some time. This applied to both the games and the films, but it wasn't to last too long. The Megadrive and SNES had a full and fruitful existence, giving us classic after classic, but eventually, they were both consigned to the gaming graveyard. A new breed emerged from the East, and the Nintendo 64 brought with it new power and new promise. The machine itself was something of a letdown, and didn't have enough good games to keep it going for long, but the good games it did have were all 24-carat, solid-gold classics, especially in the case of a certain secret agent...
The arrival of Pierce Brosnan as 007 heralded a new age for Bond, and Goldeneye, the first film after the series' break, brought with it one of the best games of all time. The game's developer, Rare, immediately rose to fame after releasing GoldenEye (1997) on the Nintendo 64, and was quickly heralded as a coding giant again, 10 years on from Ultimate Play the Game. Goldeneye was the first FPS title that actually worked on console and was enough to finally give the PC a run for its money. The ultra-slick controls, superb graphics and unparalleled design were quite simply awesome.
Beginning with Bond jumping from the top of a dam, you took control of our hero from his point of view, and had full access to his trusty Walther PPK, multifunctional watch and all manner of other weapons and items. The game was huge, and involved levels set in such places as embassies, Arctic research stations, moving trains, chemical plants and secret underground bases - all trademark Bond. You even got the chance to drive a tank! Things didn't stop at the single player either, as multiplayer was also on the menu. If you plugged in four controllers, you could have a four-way deathmatch with your mates, all with the same slick play as the main game.
A surprising appearance on the GameBoy around the same time as Goldeneye, was the simply titled James Bond 007 (1997). This was a strangely Zelda-esque title that had you running around the screen talking to NPCs, helping with often mundane problems (fixing people's bikes for example, just like any good secret agent...) and fighting evil doers. We suspect that the game was originally planned as a stand-alone RPG affair, but was blessed with the James Bond licence late in development and the graphics were made to fit in with this deal, as the game just doesn't feel like a Bond title.
So, at the end of our Bond tour, it's the arrival of GoldenEye that really set the standard for future 007 games, and more licences featuring the same FPS formula (although none quite as good) have since followed. Generic titles, such as Agent Under Fire, NightFire and Everything or Nothing, all PS2, Xbox and GameCube blockbusters, have been published by sequel-mongers Electronic Arts. In addition, EA has snapped up the licence to all 20 Bond movies, so expect many more tie-ins to appear in the future. James Bond will return.
[Source: Retro Magazine, Issue 2, 2004 P.52-57]