Review: James Bond: 007 Legends (Wii U)

Thunderbore

With the new James Bond film Skyfall currently rocking movie theaters across the globe, you might expect this year's 007 game to be all about the present. Instead, Eurocom's swansong digs into the franchise's rich 50-year legacy, updating some of Bond's more memorable moments for the modern era. With the successful re-imagining of GoldenEye and a history of reasonably good Bond games dating back to the N64, Eurocom has proven that they know their way around a Bond movie or two. But could they manage six of them at once in 007 Legends?

Not like this, no. By stripping these films of their era and charm, cramming them under Craig's gritty and glum interpretation of Bond and homogenizing them into a by-the-numbers Call of Duty clone, 007 Legends isn't so much kiss kiss, bang bang as it is ho-hum, rat-tat-tat.

007 Legends opens at the close of Skyfall's opening scene, with our curmudgeon hero locked in combat with a man on top of a speeding train. A sniper, under MI-6 boss M's urging, takes a shot and hits 007, sending him plummeting into a body of water. With death seeming imminent, some of Bond's prior missions flash before his eyes — Sean Connery's Goldfinger, George Lazenby's On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Roger Moore's Moonraker, Timothy Dalton's License to Kill, and Pierce Brosnan's Die Another Day. It's something of a forced setup for a strange pick of flicks — although we suppose the flashbacks do fulfil their narrative purpose — hampered by a seeming reluctance to revisit Bond films that already received a dedicated game.

Herein lies the core of 007 Legends' problems: its elements are forced and disjointed with none meshing particularly well into a cohesive whole. The flashback structure removes any real flow to the story, leaving the game up to an incoherent slog through odd "re-imaginings" that are ill-suited to string together. By going down the hard shooter path, Legends sometimes doesn't even get the memorable parts right — Bond's car in Die Another Day stays firmly visible, Goldfinger's Fort Knox is a war zone, and Moonraker goes absolutely batty with zero gravity. Gameplay is virtually indistinguishable from any other modern military shooter and rudimentary in execution, which puts Bond more often than not in the role of blunt soldier rather than super spy. Stealthy bits try to fill this gap but are done in the most basic way possible: nobody knows Bond is there until one sentry spots him, and then every single entity in the vicinity knows exactly where he is, even if away from their field of vision. The only way to take out an enemy and remain in stealth is to hope that nobody else sees the corpse, which can involve a lot of trial and error to learn the room's movement patterns. Unless explicitly forced to stay hidden, there is zero gameplay incentive to do so. Remaining hidden tends to frustrate more than anything and often falls back to shooting everything to bits anyway, the exact opposite of "stealth."

Shooting isn't very much fun either. 007 Legends follows the Call of Duty template but crucially lacks the same flow of combat. Aiming down the sights snaps in an exemplary rigid way to basically eliminate any human factor of combat — dealing with swarms of enemies quickly becomes a robotic left-trigger, right-trigger slog. Pointer controls are not supported, leaving players with either the Pro Controller or GamePad. Choosing the former brings the same experience as on other platforms, and the latter goes woefully underused, settling on placing a mini-map and quick-select buttons for weapons and equipment. The trouble is that these new buttons aren't necessarily more convenient; not only do players have to divert attention away from the screen to change weapons in a heated fire-fight, but the same action can be done with a quick tap on the controller. HUD elements can't be removed from the main screen and are instead only duplicated on the GamePad, rendering the second screen fairly useless. Off-screen play is not supported despite not needing the screen for anything else.

007 Legends does take a few stabs at innovation and honouring past Bond tropes, but to little fanfare. Extending the multiplayer's XP challenges into the campaign is perhaps Legends' most notable attempt at branching out but proves unnecessary — the core gameplay is resistant to superfluous weapon attachments (that can be found on weapons littered around anyway) and health boosts. And options like non-regenerating health and additional objectives on higher difficulties prove stubbornly throw-away — there is no penalty for failing a secondary objective other than going without the XP rewards, which were largely pointless to begin with.

That isn't to say everything is terrible — when 007 Legends comes together it can be impressive indeed, like in the zero-gravity space laser battle madness of Moonraker, but the problem is that the game so seldom hits these highs. And between all the memorable Bond moments the game depicts, Eurocom always yanks back the controller — instead of letting players square off against Oddjob in Fort Knox, trading blows and dodging hats, players get in a weird QTE fist-fight and then watch the second most memorable part of the movie pantomimed by digital puppets. Scenes like these feel discombobulated, and for a game that is essentially hinges upon memorable Bond moments, it's a dire thing indeed to have them feel so hollow.

Eurocom has managed to scrounge together likeness rights for nearly every notable character of these films — and the number of which shows a commendable attempt at remaining faithful to the franchise's legacy — but the ones who bear no resemblance to their on-screen actor shatter much of the greater illusion, standing out like a sore thumb. Felix Leiter looks disturbingly nothing like Jeffrey Wright, who has depicted the character in the Craig films, and Die Another Day's Jinx replaces Halle Berry with a dull white lady. Dropping characters from the franchise's early days into a modern-day setting has a weird time-warp effect, most bothersome during Goldfinger and Moonraker but less egregious as the films get younger.

Speaking of dull and out-of-place characters, the voice work is dreary through and through, with Craig's sound-alike putting in an incredibly flat performance that undermines any sort of narrative tension. You'd expect someone strapped to a table with a laser creeping toward their crouch to sound a little more alarmed than if they were reading a sign in a parking garage, but alas. At least Judi Dench puts in a serviceable performance as M.

GoldenEye's four-player split-screen and online multiplayer suite returns with a few extra modes but not enough to persuade anyone away from their shooter of choice. While plenty of fun can be had locally, running around flinging hats at friends as Oddjob, the maps aren't as fun as before and there is not much here to elevate Legends above 2010's outing. We had zero luck starting a Quick Match in any of the modes, so unless the audience picks up drastically we wouldn't expect much life out of this one online.

Conclusion

007 Legends' greatest failing is that it cherry picks moments from Bond's illustrious history but fails to capture their hearts, all the while lacking self-generated value as its own game. Die-hard Bond fans will feel underwhelmed — if not peeved — by the treatment of these films, and the lowest-common-denominator approach to gameplay is downright bland. Considering Eurocom's experience with the franchise we would have expected better from the studio, and it is with some sadness that the spy who loved them proved to be their undoing.

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