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M: "007, did you confront the Jackal? What happened?"
James Bond: "She's fallen for me."
[after "Carla the Jackal", an assassin, falls into a giant fan vent]
Agent Under Fire (2001) - first game of the EA (Electronic Arts) 007 Trilogy. A trilogy of games that got closest to what is, in my opinion, a perfect Bond video game formula. Let's have a look at the game that started it and how it fits into Bond mythos.
The Story: Bond's Average Working Day
The sequels ("Nightfire" and "Everything or Nothing") improved on it quite a bit with either of the two usually considered the best that the series had to offer. But there is something that "Agent Under Fire" does the best.
In a way, it is the closest we have gotten to an average day in office for Bond. In fact, that aspect makes "Agent Under Fire" stand out from not only Bond video games, but most Bond movies as well.
Usually, a Bond story involves something of a very special set of circumstances. It either has high personal stakes for Bond or extremely high stakes in general (like destruction of the world and etc.). This one really has neither. And, ironically enough, it is not a negative thing, since we rarely get that approach. Let's have a quick look at the story that I call Bond's average working day and creators of the game call "Agent Under Fire".
The story kicks off in Hong Kong. CIA agent Zoe Nightshade, a mole in Identicon Corporation (led by a guy named Nigel Bloch), has been discovered and captured. Bond is tasked to infiltrate the Identicon facility in an attempt to rescue her. He is also taksed to retrieve a suspicious courier case in the same building.
After a lot of BMW sponsored action on the streets of Hong Kong, Bond claims two suitcases with nine vials of human blood samples of the G8 leaders and Reginald Griffin, a diplomat at the British embassy in Romania. This is where the main story really kicks off.
Little by little, Bond gets to the bottom of the plot, that is essentially a plan to capture and replace the G8 leaders with clones that obey to Adrian Malprave - owner and CEO of a multinational conglomerate called Malprave Industries.
The journey to discover and foil the plot takes Bond to Romania, Switzerland, South China Sea and Mediterranean. Bond retrieves information, shoots... one or two people along the way, gets tricked by a hologram of a lady taking a shower and destroys a secret cloning facility in South China Sea. Eventually, with some help from Nightshade, Bond finishes off Malprave and Bloch in Switzerland. He also finds time to rescue the G8 leaders.
The story ends with Bond literally jumping out of an exploding building. I guess you could say that... (puts on shades)... this really makes him an "agent under fire". YEEEEAAAHH!
Sorry about that....
To Sum the Story Up
Replacing world leaders with clones is pleasently outlandish scheme to create some of that classic Bond feel. But, at the same time, it is not too far out there. Cloning world leaders is quite a subtle way to seek world domination...by Bond villains standards at least. Basically Malprave and Bloch have sort of a business scam going on.
Other than that, the story follows most of the tropes that Brosnan's Bond movies have. Like Bond discovering a plot, reaching to the bottom of it, teaming up with an American "Bond Girl" and saving the day.
A simple and ultimately satisfying first attempt to tell an original Bond story in video game format.
The Gameplay: How does it compliment the story?
Continuing on the theme of "Bond's average working day", each mission starts with a briefing, that works as kind of a teaser for what is about to go down in the following mission. It is presented in a form that makes is look like an audio file sent to Bond's laptop. That really gives it this routine spy work feeling. But let's see what follows the briefing.
Setting Up the Perfect Bond Video Game Formula
Agent Under Fire sets up a Bond video game formula that the subsequent games improve upon. In my opinion, this formula is the best way to approach Bond in a video game.
The formula in question is simple:
- Make a linear game that feels as open as possible
- Make it feel Bond-esque
Making a Linear Game That Feels as Open as Possible
When creating a Bond game, there is a contradiction that needs to be dealt with.
On the one hand, you need to tell a specific and focused story. It is necessary in order to give a game that classic Bond feel and feature at least some key elements that one expects from a Bond story. That is why the game has to be a linear one.
On the other hand, Bond remains synonymous with globethrotting adventure. Furhtermore, Bond is always portrayed as this clever and professional guy, who always manages to use his smarts to get out of tricky situations. That requires a certain amount of openness to the game. A player should be able to be clever, think like Bond I suppose and not just go through motions.
In other words, a Bond game should give the player an impression of openness in a linear and focused story. Let's take a look at how the game achieves that through different gameplay elements.
The First Person Shooter
In many ways it is a pretty run of the mill first person shooter. Competent and fun enough, but nothing special either from the technical point of view. What makes it special though, can be divided into three categories.
1.) Multiple Options to Go About Your Objectives
This one is essential for a Bond game to get right, since that creates this aforementioned feeling of openness in a linear game experience. There are multiple ways of entering places, or approaching your enemies and reaching your objectives. Also, it is actually down to player's actions wheter Bond gets laid and starts the next mission as a free man, or gets captured and starts the next mission in a jail cell.
The missions themselves are varying enough as well. They offer everything from shooting through an entire mothership full of baddies, to being sneaky at British embassy in Romania. There are also a few so called "boss fights" including against the aforementioned Carla the Jackal and Nigel Bloch. They are challenging enough, but not too much.
In short, the game manages to give player a sense of freedom and variety in an otherwise linear experience.
2.) It Feels Bond-esque
The game introduces an element that is called "Bond moments". The game motivates you to always take the coolest or smartest approach to any given situation. And if you do, queue Bond theme music, and you have just earned a "Bond moment". A cheesy but surprisingly effective little touch. Add to that a bookload of cheesy one liners, easter eggs and references to Bond movies. A run of the mill first person shooter has suddenly become a Bond game ;).
3.) The Gadgets:
This is a place where a video game can really thriwe. In the movies, there is a certain line of believeability with the gadgets that is not the best idea to cross. In games you can have more fun with them. Agent Under Fire certainly has a good selection of classic Bond gadgets like laser to open locks, grappel, X ray glasses, decoding machine and so on. Only... a watch seems to be missing.
Driving levels continue to make a linear game feel like an open one with multiple options for going about your mission. It manifests in two driving missions, where you drive two famous Bond cars - BMW Z8 and the classic, Aston Martin DB5. The creators of the game have actually created small open world maps of Bucharest and Hong Kong - just for these two missions. Pretty awesome that they went for it.
It gives the driving mission this wonderful feeling of openness, while still remaining a part of a fast paced story. Bond moments and cool gadgets continue into them as well in an exellent manner.
The On Rails Shooter
On rails shooter missions are solid and inventive enough to combat their inherent onesidedness. Oh yeah, among them is Bond, a secret agent, riding a tank through the city of Bucharest (I suppose if it worked once in Saint-Petersburg, why not try it again). As subtle as ever, James.
To Sum the Gameplay Up
All in all, this game creates a solid base for a formula that was improved in the future games. However, as said before, it remains the best representation of Bond's average working day.
James Bond — An Interesting Look at the Essence of Bond
Who is James Bond? With recent rumors of Daniel Craig quitting the role, this subject (that never really leaves the fans discussions) has once again shifted into a bigger focus. Bond is an enigma that is in constant limbo of going along with times while also keeping certain traits that define the character. Of course, each on screen incarnation of Bond also reflects the personality and energy of the actor portraying him.
Theoretically, to better understand the true essence of Bond, one should remove a factor like an actor portraying him. What is left, should be how one sees the essence of Bond (in this case EA game developers). "Agent Under Fire" provides a very interesting commentary on that.
An Original Bond
The creators of the game couldn't get Brosnan's voice and likeness and a plan to have Roger Moore in the role also dropped off. Therefore, they had to create a new Bond from the scratch. The result should reflect the essence James Bond's character according to the creators of the game.
What we got was a mixture between Pierce Brosnan, Sean Connery and to biggest extent, Roger Moore. The main focus on this incarnation of Bond seems his coolness and smoothness. The guy basically just grins and puns his way thorugh the story. Yet, he doesn't look like a grinnig idiot while doing so.
The character has enough credibility, comes across as a professional and goes about his actions with this effortless cool and likeability. We don't really get any emotional moment's with him, but that goes along with this whole average working day theme.
In the end, he is just another addition to many different incarnations Bond has had. His main function is to be Bond-esque enough to carry the game. Nevertheless, he does provide an interesting commentary on an impossible to answer question that Bond fans can't help but to ask again and again.
Other Bond Elements
"Agent Under Fire" does not feature a pre-credit sequence, gun barrel, and a title song (it does, however, rely heavily on the classic 007 theme music). These are elements, that the following games improved upon drastically. Again, the lack of these elements does go along with Bond's average working day feel that the game has.
The cut scenes work into gameplay fairly seemlessly and actually provide some nice moments.
Her voice more or less resembles dame Judi Dench. Basically she provides mission briefings and, sometimes, live commentary to Bond during missions.
Q is also present in the game. Although his name is R. This game was made after "The World is Not Enough", when no one was sure whether succsessor to Desmond Llewelyn's Q (played by John Cleese) was going to be named Q or R. Anyways Q... I mean R fullfills his purpose as a gadgetmaster, has a pretty cool look and is voiced decently (unfortunately not by John Cleese). A bit of that classic dry banter with Bond is also there.
The two "Bond Girls" in "Agent Under Fire" are Zoe Nightshade and Zoe Nightshade. Yes, this is where the cloning part of the story has it's effect. Nightshade, whom Bond originally rescues, is killed shortly after and is later revealed to have been a clone by the real Nightshade. Bond, of course, needs to make sure that she is the "genuine article" by sleeing with her.
Nightshade, as a character, is actually a pretty good one. In fact, good enough that she deserves her own spin-off video game, in my opinion. She is not too three dimensional, but comes across likeable enough and has some witty banter with Bond. All in all, a competent Bond allie, who apparently turned out so well, that she is even featured in the sequel "Nightfire".
Villains and Hench(wo)men
They are pretty original in their own way and serve their purpose well. A tiny bit underused though.
Owner and CEO of a multinational conglomerate Malprave Industries. As said before, Malprave's plan is to take over the world with her company by capturing the G8 leaders and replace them with clones that follow her orders. She is a bit too passive to become a memorable villain, but she does have a certain creepy aura to her. So, not bad.
Bloch is a partner of Malprave and is either a co-villian or a glorified henchman. Although there is not much to him, he is menacing enough and makes for an active and formidable antagonist.
Carla the Jackal
Carla the Jackal is the Boba Fett of Bond. An assassin/bountyhunter, who doesn't say or do much and gets killed in a stupid way by being thrown into something deadly. And yet, she manages to look formidable and just plain cool with the little screen time given. Thus, actually making her a memorable character, whose vagueness works for her advantage.
To Sum Up
"Agent Under Fire" is a solid first entry into the EA Bond Trilogy. It lays the groundwork for and establishes the perfect Bond video game formula in terms story, characters and gameplay. It has just enough of Bond elements in it to give the game a Bond-esque atmosphere. Also, it is an interesting commentary on Bond's character.
Most importantly, it is a good action-adventure game, that is a fine addition to Bond mythos by inviting you to agent 007's average working day... under fire.