Every time I see a Bond game, I hope against hope that it’s not as bad as the last one. Technically, I got my wish with 007 Legends. What has been a string of next-generation flops has finally led to a Bond game that can keep its head above the waters of mediocrity. However, that doesn’t mean it’s good.
Before I go any further, let me give a disclaimer: I’m not savvy with the realm of James Bond outside of the Daniel Craig era, so this opinion of 007 Legends is that of a man who is relatively unfamiliar with the character’s film history.
The opening sequence is one of intrigue. A woman stops an SUV on a hill overlooking a curving railroad. She jumps out, sniper rifle in hand, and aims at two men fighting atop the approaching train. One of the men in the struggle is James Bond himself. Agent M tells the woman to take the shot, regardless of the cost, and she hits Bond, sending him into the river below.
And all I could think about were the raunchy graphics.
Poor visual quality isn’t always the case, but the opening sequence shows off the worst parts of the game immediately. Even the SUV that the woman drives slides without natural friction or forces on the car itself. It’s a poor first impression, but as a shooter, 007 Legends is thankfully solid. Movement is responsive, no delay is to be found, and all mechanics are simple enough to pick up and play. Better yet, the framerate is butter-smooth. Weapons all look excellent, and the vast array at your disposal is glorious. A variety of upgrades are also available, for everything from ammo capacity to silencers and sights. Those upgrades are purchased by spending experience point (XP) earned by achieving kill counts and headshots with weapons and gadgets, and each weapon and gadget has its own kill counter.
This same XP system applies to Bond’s limited gadgets as well. The first is his cell phone, which also can be used to scan fingerprints, hack into terminals, and analyze substances. His pen shoots multiple types of darts, including lethal, sleep, and shock darts. His watch is a baffling piece of hardware. I can’t help but feel like an idiot running around with my watch in my face as I navigated a game that already has a mini-map. The watch radar at least makes it possible to see enemies who are unaware of Bond’s presence (something the mini-map can’t do). Though stealth is possible in 007 Legends by using Bond’s wrist watch, it often feels like a poorly-executed afterthought.
The story is similarly disappointing, with little more than five unrelated events in the life of Bond to tie things together. Weird hooks and twists with no emotional value attempt to weave a convincing continuity, but largely fail. Still, this doesn’t mean that Bond fans won’t enjoy the setup, though same may cringe at the fact that Daniel Craig stands in as the default Bond for all five scenarios. For those wondering, 007 Legends covers plot threads from Goldfinger, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, License to Kill, Die Another Day, and Moonraker, respectively. And while the wildly different time periods and scenarios might feel jarring, the stories are at least told well. I was even enraptured by the first-person setpiece moments where I had no control of the game. Watching through the eyes of Bond as he jumps from helicopters and elevated structures is really invigorating, thanks to a gameplay system with the functional capability to respond to normal human movement. Whether this believability was a happy accident or intentional, that part of 007 Legends works really well.
It’s too bad the same can’t be said about the enemy AI. Enemies are on constant, repetitious patterns where they run and slide—frictionless, I might add—into a hiding spot, and then stick their entire torso out to look for me. To make matter worse, unless you score a head shot, enemies take bullets like champions. There are a fair few times where I shoot a hefty barrage of bullets into one person, and that person doesn’t flinch or stagger. Instead, the goon keeps shooting at me, as if he’s facing a particularly ineffective gust of wind. Even attempts at realism fall short. Some enemies will flinch if shot in their shooting arm, but after a quick spell of grabbing their wound, they’ll proceed to shoot at me again. It’s a frequent oddity, and helps make for an overall wonky AI package. Generous auto-aim helps alleviate AI weirdness, but you’ll find that it also makes kills feel automatic and the game feel uneventful.
All that said, I warmed up to the game over time. Despite design inconsistencies and janky mechanics (like being able to absorb what seems like thousands of bullets while facing death at the hands of a single RPG), the familiar joys of polished shooter gameplay kept me going. Quick-time boss fights add healthy variety, though the folks who developed Fight Night might get a laugh out of the painfully simple mechanics. Punches are limited to four positions on the enemy, and the enemy’s openings are always indicated with an on-screen pointer. A few joystick directions cover all close-quarters attacks, but because these quick-time fist fights only show up five times throughout the game, the variety they add prevents repetition from setting in.
For an alternative gameplay experience, 007 Legends offers Spec Ops-style missions a la Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, but they’re nowhere near as entertaining. These can only be done solo, and since the shooting gameplay is fairly generic, there’s no real sense of urgency. As a result, these missions feel rather dull. Though they consist of escape, defense, infiltration, and assault missions, the variety doesn’t alleviate the lack of intrigue.
In terms of multiplayer, 007 Legends doesn’t really do anything special. There are modes that mimic the familiar team deathmatch, deathmatch, search and destroy, king of the hill, and bomb disposal modes, but 007 Legends tries to put its own spin on them with appropriate Bond-themed names and characters. Ultimately, the different modes are a shallow vehicle for allowing players to control memorable characters from the franchise’s history. There’s unfortunately no tangible benefit to playing as favorites like Oddjob, or anyone else, for that matter.
007 Legends has what I’d consider the bare-bone essentials to make a shooter enjoyably playable. And while this Bond title makes a hearty push towards something substantial, it spends a good amount of time detracting from the little things it actually does well. In some way or another a game should look as good as it feels, and 007 Legends frequently forgets that. With some work, the next James Bond game could give the gaming industry something to talk about. Until then, we’re stuck with a Bond that falls short of his recent cinematic prowess.