James Bond returns to battle evil on an international level in this follow-up to the best-selling Agent Under Fire. Developed by the same company responsible for The World Is Not Enough on the Nintendo 64, NightFire features extensive first-person shooting action and multiplayer modes allowing 32 players to compete over LAN's and the Internet.
Like Agent Under Fire, NightFire includes an original storyline as Bond embarks on missions taking place in the Austrian Alps, underneath the South Pacific, and even the depths of outer space to stop a megalomaniac named Rafael Drake. Taking key elements from Bond's 40-year history in film and books, NightFire includes familiar enemies from 007's storied past as well as new characters created specifically for the game.
Bond will once again make use of a variety of gadgets including X-ray goggles, PDA-hackers, a Dart-Pen, and Q's Camera. Missions range from stealth assignments to all-out search and destroy affairs. Making a return from Agent Under Fire are Bond "heroics," where players have the opportunity to pull off dramatic moves the suave spy is known for. Top achievements during each mission earn players various cheats for use in both single and multiplayer modes.
Developed by Gearbox Software (best known for their work on various Half-Life Half-Life expansions), NightFire rightly sticks with the proven Bond story formula. Once again, 007 needs to save the world from a grandiose evil plot. This time someone has stolen a missile guidance system for a U.S. orbital defense platform, with potentially grave results for the world.
The chief suspect is stamped right out of the classic Bond villain mold. Rafael Drake is an extremely wealthy industrialist fond of throwing lavish parties and hiring lots of disposable goons. The public admires Drake for his "green" initiatives and his company's role in dismantling nuclear weapons that have been banned by international treaties. Naturally, this work masks Drake's real business: world domination.
As Bond, you'll try to recover the guidance system and put a stop to Drake's machinations. Along the way, you'll travel the globe and employ all sorts of guns and gadgets. You'll also meet up with a bunch of improbably sexy female agents like Zoe Nightshade, who appeared in the last Bond console game, Agent Under Fire.
In NightFire, you'll progress through nine missions, fewer than the 12 of the console versions of the game. Unfortunately, none of the driving levels found in those versions is present in this PC iteration. Those missions would have made the PC version more diverse, not to mention closer to the spirit of the Bond films, where a wild vehicular chase is never more than a few moments away. In its place, you do get some straight-ahead first-person shooter segments not found in the console versions, but they're some of the weakest material in the game. You also get online multiplayer, though it's just plain old capture the flag and deathmatch.
In the films, 007 does everything with style and precision, but it's clear that Bond's cool subtlety didn't rub off on developer Gearbox, as NightFire tends to be too obvious and obtrusive. Instead of guessing that you should hop down from a walkway onto a passing truck in the first mission, M simply tells you to. Throughout the game, M, your fellow agents, and the lamely linear levels themselves all tend to lead you by the hand. You'd expect more opportunities for clever improvisation in a game about a spy known for that very quality. The first level introduces you to another aspect of NightFire's frequent clumsiness. You're awkwardly shuttled from one segment of the level to the next via a fadeout and lengthy loading screen, even if you're in the middle of a firefight.
Interruptions or not, the outrageously dumb enemy AI won't offer much of a challenge. Henchmen overlook the obvious, fail to warn others of your intrusion, run right into your line of fire one after the other, or just stand there firing at walls or crates. Worse still, they commit the cardinal sin of game villains: they often ignore unconscious bodies or stand around as grenades explode and their buddies get blasted.
The fact that you have to shoot a man numerous times to knock him down also detracts from any sense of plausibility or immersion. The game's laughably bad boss battles emphasize this problem, like the scene where you have to empty dozens of rounds into a ridiculously fast ninja, one of NightFire's numerous bits lifted from Half-Life. Other physics silliness hurts the game, such as a rocket launcher's inability to blow up a simple office door or window, a grenade's inability to kill men standing right next to the blast, and Bond's inability to climb over a low counter.
In addition to blasting thugs with a wide arsenal of weapons, however feeble at times, you'll get to employ lots of clever spy gadgets. You'll take pictures with a camera hidden in a lighter, shoot tranquilizer darts from a fountain pen, and burn through padlocks with a laser housed in wristwatch. In theory, it's fun to have all these clever gizmos at your disposal, but the game doesn't make as much of them as it should. You can only use most gadgets in certain obvious situations. Your cell phone grappling line launcher, for instance, will only work when there's a conveniently and unrealistically placed eyebolt hanging from a ceiling.
NightFire doesn't handle stealth too well, either. Sometimes you can succeed either by using it or by simply gunning down everyone in sight with no consequences for the mission. Other times, you're required to use stealth, but when enemies can sometimes spot you from far away, and other times utterly ignore you from close by, it's hard to know how to remain hidden.
Despite its frequent mediocrity, NightFire does do some things quite well. For starters, it features a credible likeness of current Bond star Pierce Brosnan in the cutscenes. The voiceovers for Bond and M sound close enough to Brosnan and actress Judi Dench to get the job done. The game also offers up the traditional Bond double entendres that will make you both grin and groan. Some of John Barry's classic Bond soundtrack motifs also enliven the action.
As in the films, you'll also visit all kinds of exotic locales. You'll scale the steel and glass walls of a massive Tokyo skyscraper while avoiding the eyes of henchmen inside. You'll infiltrate the obligatory tropical island base, and then fight it out in a space station.
Unfortunately, the mission designs often feel downright amateurish, and the levels tend to be poorly paced and tediously linear -- not to mention unoriginal. There's a scene early on, for example, in which you're escaping in a cable car. It mysteriously stops, and you're suddenly assaulted by a succession of helicopters. You then need to blast the door gunners in each helicopter to escape. This scene feels like it was lifted directly out of the much superior spy game, No One Lives Forever, and other scenes seem inspired by it.
On top of that, NightFire relies on loads of lame shooter clichés. You'll need to protect a fellow agent from afar by sniping an endless string of enemies trying to attack her. Or, you'll be temporarily held in an area until you can fight off waves of stupid enemies yourself. Or, when you trip a hidden trigger in a level, you'll suddenly -- yet all too predictably -- encounter countless thugs in an area you just cleared out.
As for its presentation, NightFire tends to fare fairly well. The first-person weapon, gadget models, and animations look superb. Character models often look quite nice, though their animations usually look clumsy and fake. Clipping problems and the tendency of enemy corpses to sink through the floor or literally float up through the ceiling don't help matters. On the other hand, the very attractive locales you visit include loads of convincing details, whether you're looking at a fax machine on an office worker's desk, chandeliers gracing a grand hall, or wooden sandals in the closet of an elegant Japanese manor. NightFire's audio features effective voiceovers for the main characters, but generally poor ones for the rest. Some audio problems, like static-marred dialogue and skipping music tracks, can intrude at times.
007: NightFire is frustratingly inconsistent. You get some of the atmosphere from the films, but mainly in the cutscenes. You get a mix of guns, gadgets, gorgeous women, and glamorous locales, just as you'd expect from anything with "James Bond" in the title. Those things alone can make the game enjoyable part of the time. Despite its strengths, though, NightFire too often feels like a dated, generic shooter.
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