The James Bond movies series has certainly been one of ups and downs, even within the tenure of certain stars that mark its eras. From Russia with Love has generally been considered one of the best. Depending on whether or not you think Bond is better with or without gadgets, you’ll probably like either From Russia with Love or Goldfinger the best from the Sean Connery era.
EA had some success with 007 Everything or Nothing, and decided to follow it up by adapting a classic Connery film to the interactive medium. It’s the aforementioned From Russia with Love, and it begs two questions: Why haven’t we done this before and why did we choose this movie?
RED WINE WITH FISH. WELL, THAT SHOULD HAVE TOLD ME SOMETHING
I don’t know why the 007 video games have stuck to whatever modern era bond has been in so firmly. Advertising through licensing, I guess? I ask the same thing about Spider-man, why is it always set during modern times when ‘80s Spider-man was so much more interesting?
With that said, From Russia with Love is a weird choice. It was the film that introduced Q, but gadgets weren’t really a big part of it yet. It was a lot more grounded than its follow-up, Goldfinger. It wasn’t as action-packed and the script was more cerebral, sticking closely to the novels as inspiration. It wasn’t the action flick later movies in the series would become.
So a healthy dose of stupidity is injected, and I say that with both scorn and fondness. The first mission, for example, has Bond strap into a jetpack and take down a helicopter. He did use a jetpack once, it was in 1965’s Thunderball, and it was dumb then, too. I think the idea was sort of to mash all the Connery movies into a best of played over From Russia with Love’s plot. So, he has his Aston Martin from Goldfinger, his remote control helicopter from… wait, that was For Your Eyes Only, and a laser watch from… Goldeneye!?
I don’t know… just… I don’t know.
TRY TO RETURN IT IN ONE PIECE
Gameplay is similar to Everything or Nothing but tweaked a great deal. It’s still a third-person shooter with lots of vehicle moments, but changes were made to the aiming and melee system. Melee is kind of the strangest. Everything or Nothing had a sort of elaborate system that was kind of wasted in a shooter. Here, if you’re close enough to an enemy and press the fire button, you’ll be given a prompt to press a button and knock them out immediately. It’s helpful for saving ammo.
As for aiming, previously you locked on and then made fine adjustments. Locking on here just has Bond shoot at center mass, but if you press the B button, enemy weaknesses will be highlighted. You can shoot the pin off their grenade, unfasten their body armour or… shoot at center mass. Strangely, it doesn’t highlight the face, despite the fact that it’s the weakest of spots.
The “Bond Moments” that have been part of the series since Agent Under Fire are here but in a really token way. Each level has one and at least half the time, they’re just “find the secret room.” Except the secret room has a habit of being really mundane, so it’s like “Find a way into the kitchen,” and “Enter the Gift Shop.” You know, moments that really make you feel like you’re James Bond.
It’s really not bad, as a game. It has the goofiness of the era. The controls are kind of clumsy and it uses a pre-Gears of War cover system. You pick up new weapons as you proceed through the game, and none of them are really exciting. You’ll probably find yourself just using the assault rifle until it runs out of ammo. The shotgun is only really useful at close range, but then you also have insta-kill melee.
It’s just kind of run-of-the-mill. Most of From Russia with Love takes place in Istanbul, and while that’s a perfectly fine city, you kind of get tired of its architecture after it drags on for most of the game. Even the action setpieces used to pad out the movie adaptations are drab and routine. I guess they used what they had available, but why From Russia with Love in the first place?
The missions involve a lot of bad guy shooting. Sometimes you have to defuse bombs or set bombs, and then there are times when you drive a car or jetpack. It really makes the mission design in Goldeneye 007 seem genius in contrast. It’s just so lifeless, linear, and mundane. The combat is decent, but you really have to turn off your brain for this one.
I’LL LET YOU KNOW IN THE MORNING
If there’s one major score for From Russia with Love, it’s that it uses the likeness of a lot of the actors from the movie. Not only that, Sean Connery took time away from advocating for slapping your wife in her smart mouth and voiced himself. And by himself, I mean Sean Connery. He really does nothing to hide his Scottish accent here, but otherwise, it’s not the worst performance I’ve heard.
I think it just would have benefitted from an original plot. You have exactly one briefing at MI6 and a single chance to see Q-Branch, and then it’s off to a bunch of samey missions. The adaptation obviously has some aspirations to be more, but it ties its action to a plot that is anything but bombastic.
It’s even weird to see Sean Connery mowing people down in a drab suit. He was better as charismatic Bond, not Rambo Bond, and it doesn’t really come across that way here. The story is still kind of grounded, with Bond mainly pursuing a Russian decoding device, but then to make it more bombastic, they amp up Octopus (the non-licensed S.P.E.C.T.E.R.) as a big evil organization. To be fair, that’s what it would become by You Only Live Twice, but it’s a bit ridiculous against From Russia with Love’s more subdued elements.
You gain points to upgrade your weapons and gadgets, but it’s not very exciting. More ammo (9 rounds in a magnum revolver?), faster shooting, more ammo in a different way, more special ammo. It’s more exciting to find the extra costumes hidden around in the environments, but even then, none of them are all that interesting. White tux, black tux, white infiltration suit, black infiltration suit. Why not the bathing suit from Dr. No?
But, I mean, that’s From Russia with Love in a nutshell. Beyond the ‘80s Bond aesthetic is a wasteland. It’s not poorly designed, it’s not boring to play, it’s just drab and uninteresting. It really feels like something that came from mid-’00s EA, which probably sounds like harsher criticism than I intend it to be.
Listen, what I’m saying is that there’s a reason you don’t hear much clamour for an HD compilation of EA-era Bond games. Not only because that’s not going to happen due to a mess of licensing issues, but also because they contributed nothing to the video game landscape.
This review was conducted on a Gamecube using a disc-based version of the game. It was paid for by the author.