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Platform

Xbox

 

Genre

Shooter

 

Publisher

Electronic Arts

 

Developer

Electronic Arts

 

ESRB

T (Teen)

 

Released

Q2 2002

 

 

- Multi-player provides tons of great four-player FPS fun
- Vehicle driving levels are good change-of-pace from usual
FPS action
- Graphics take advantage of Xbox rendering power nicely

 

 

- Targeting control too skittish and unpredictable
- Not-very-difficult challenge, even on harder settings
- Although levels are expansive, single player game is relatively short

 

 

Review: Max Payne (XBox)

Review: Halo (XBox)

Review: James Bond (Die Another Day) Action Figure

 

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007: Agent Under Fire

Score: 8.2 / 10

 

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GoldenEye on the Nintendo 64 is unquestionably one of the best first-person shooter games to ever appear on a home console. Great gameplay and level design coupled with the James Bond license and its array of cool weapons and gadgets made for a incredible title that became one of the N64’s biggest selling games ever after its release in 1997. Quite simply, if you owned an N64, you probably owned GoldenEye. After GoldenEye, however, development house Rare decided to relinquish the expensive rights to the James Bond franchise. Instead of following up GoldenEye with another Bond title as gamers craved, they created a whole new

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story and heroine in the equally excellent first-person shooter they finally released in 2000, Perfect Dark. The Bond license meanwhile, was bought by mega-publisher Electronic Arts. But EA found out the hard way that following up a classic game is extremely hard to do. They have churned out a few Bond-based titles, most notably 007 Racing and another first-person shooter (FPS), The World Is Not Enough (TWINE), based on the

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1999 movie of the same name. Predictably, disappointing results followed, as they haven’t been able to capture even the slightest bit of the Rare essence that made GoldenEye a masterpiece. That is until now, with the latest entry in Bond gaming, the Xbox version of 007: Agent Under Fire (AUF).

Instead of duplicating the plot of the latest Bond flick, EA decided to use a new and original story for AUF’s single-player action. The world’s greatest secret agent, the debonair James Bond, is up to his familiar goings-on: saving the world while sparing a little quality romance time for all the gorgeous girls both good and evil he meets during his current mission. Bond must stop a devious plot hatched by the Identicon Corporation, a subsidiary of Malprave Industries controlled by the sinister and sexy Adrian Malprave, attempting to replace the globe’s leaders with clones. Along the way, Bond will run into clones on both sides of the conflict, including his appeared-to-be-killed ally who provides Bond with much-needed help throughout the game, Zoe Nightshade.

Visually the game takes advantage of the current generation’s consoles powers, especially the Xbox. The Xbox version’s graphics are noticeably better than the PS2 rendition and even top the GameCube, although by only a slim margin. Considering that there are many large areas to explore in the game, there aren’t any discernible draw-in or fog effects present. What are done exceptionally well are the 12 mapped out levels of the game. From speeding around busy city streets to visiting the depths of the secret ocean base, the levels are varied enough to avoid the dreaded “haven’t-I-already-did- -this-level-before?” problem that was present in the latter levels of Halo. The character models, including Bond himself, while not as impressive as the structures, vehicles, and buildings that comprise each level, nevertheless are rendered nicely. This game’s look is as smooth as Bond’s always-successful pick-up lines, much better than the hurt-to-look-at murkiness of the N64’s TWINE.

Of course the expected vast number of special Bond weapons are strewn throughout the game. A huge assortment of rifles, pistols, shotguns, rocket and grenade launchers, and machine guns are at your disposal. Also available in your fight against Malprave are the Q-lab gadgets (the Q-Jet, Q-Remote, Q-Laser, Q-Claw, and Q-Decryptor; practically everything short of the Q-Kitchen Sink) created by R under the leadership of M, which help get Bond out of tight spots and solve the game’s puzzles. Differing somewhat from GoldenEye, you are given a point goal for each level based on your shooting accuracy and discovering of the 007 bonuses contained on each level. If you attain a high enough point score, you will earn access to AUF’s hidden prizes, which take the shape of special weapons, items, and levels. It gives the incentive to replay single-player levels that you may not have scored well on initially to get the concealed goodies.

 

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Borrowing from the gameplay of the PS2’s Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, missions both requiring and encouraging stealth tactics add a sometimes-frustrating change of pace from the usual bust-in-the-room-shooting-everything-in-sight fare that you’ll find in most FPS titles. One neat feature that comes in most handy on the Bad Diplomacy mission is the impressive sound of the footsteps of the British Embassy’s guards. Since the assignment is deemed a failure if even one guard sets off an alarm, discretionary stealth tactics are a necessity. To take out the guards, you’ll need to hide around corners until they draw near enough to take them out. How do you know if a guard is approaching without being able to see him? You can hear his footsteps. The louder they get, the closer he is. This is a big help to completing the mission without tripping any alerts. The other aspects of the AUF’s sound effects including weapon fire are nothing above the ordinary, and the voice acting of the cut-scenes is done at an acceptable level too. And stating the obvious here, the instantaneously recognizable James Bond theme you would expect to hear pervades throughout your missions.

Included in AUF is a feature that became popular in another Xbox FPS, Halo: the ability to drive vehicles through various levels as part of the single-player gaming experience. There are five Bond-world vehicles you can take to the road of which two, the Aston Martin DB5 and BMW Z8, you directly control what path you follow. And three, the Romanian Army Tank, BMW 750iL, and the Underwater Tram, which are essentially driven as part of a rail shooter level that sends you on a predetermined path, leaving you only to worry about shooting the enemies you encounter. The driving levels and cars (Precious Cargo with the BMW 750iL, Dangerous Pursuit with the BMW Z8, and Streets of Bucharest with the Aston Martin DB5) feature sweet-looking car and locale visuals that would feel cozy nestled in as part of the Xbox driving game Project Gotham Racing.

There are two sides to AUF’s control, one good and the other bad. On the good side, the game is smartly mapped to the Xbox controller much the same way as Halo, and any veterans of that game will have no trouble at all getting instantly comfortable with maneuvering your Bond characters in both single and multi-player modes using both of the Xbox controller’s analog sticks. On the bad side, the weapons targeting schematics are extremely skittish at best and unpredictable at worst. It can become a real loathsome crux when facing off against multiple enemies. Instead of your weapon staying locked on the intended target until either they or you are killed, the targeting tends to randomly swinging back and forth locking on other closely situated enemies in the middle of a gunfire exchange. This gives the enemy (who has no trouble staying locked on to you with their targeting) a definite advantage. This is the one area of the AUF’s makeup that could have used some more development time. Also a nice touch that could have been explored in the development process would be Bond control options as seen in Max Payne, like shooting while diving sideways or forwards. But this would mean that the game would most likely have to be done in a third-person perspective, taking away from the gratifying trademark Bond FPS action.

Another disappointing feature of AUF is the low challenge presented in the single-player game, even on the highest difficulty level. The only noticeable difference is the rapidity of the enemy gunfire. Many if not all of AUF’s opposing forces follow an always-the-same pattern of movement. Play a level a few times and you’ll know when and where an enemy will appear. The game could have used a lot more randomness in its enemy placement to raise the difficulty bar a few notches closer to what players desire in a FPS game. The straightforwardness of the game makes things a little too easy. There’s never a moment in the game that challenges you mentally as to what your next move should be. Don’t worry about missing any required items or activities either. Even a blind Bond couldn’t miss with all the heavy-handed hinting done by your allies (and sometimes your enemies) in the game.

Despite having some decent-sized and well-structured levels, the single-player game goes by too quickly, although admittedly it is enjoyable while it lasts. Most players could likely complete all three difficulty levels of AUF all the way through the complete single-player game in about 15-20 hours. But what makes up for the relatively short single-player game is the best Bond multiplayer action since GoldenEye. The maps are well constructed and have a wider array of weapons. Five multiplayer gaming options (Combat Training, Protect the Flag, Golden Gun, Top Agent, and Anti-terrorist Training) as well as the multitude of multiplayer setup choices makes AUF a Bond blast to play the way you feel most comfortable and challenged. This particularly holds true if you can get three other human competitors to battle it out on one of the 12 multiplayer maps. If you can’t get three other people to play, you can always make use of the game-controlled bots made familiar in Perfect Dark that put up a good fight if you raise their respective skill and aggression attributes high.

EA redeems itself and the James Bond video-game line nicely with 007: Agent Under Fire, a good FPS game, notably in the extraordinary multi-player mode, that finally makes up for the mediocre-at-best duo of 007 Racing and TWINE. While it comes nowhere near the overall incredible excellence of the classic GoldenEye, AUF shows that EA is on the right track when it comes to Bond’s first-person shooting exploits, especially considering that another original story title, 007: NightFire (Night Fire), is already scheduled for a multi-platform fall release. If NF improves on AUF’s rough spots while retaining what AUF did well, Bond gaming may indeed finally be getting back to its GoldenEye greatness.

- Lee Cieniawa
(May 26, 2002)

 

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