Video games based on popular franchises are common place in the industry, providing an additional outlet to promote the latest films. Of course, as we all know most never really offer anything more than just a shameless cash in. No franchise has been used more in video games than James Bond. Gracing computers and consoles across 25 games since 1983, 007 has been a constant source of inspiration and has sold successfully, although it hasn’t always been plain sailing. However, with Activision choosing not to renew the licence in 2013, for the first time Bond’s future in video games is uncertain.
The first official game, James Bond 007 (1983) by Parker Brothers was released for several consoles including the Atari 2600 and Commodore 64. What followed were a series of mediocre games each taking inspiration from the latest film in the series; A View to a Kill (1985), The Living Daylights (1987), 007: Licence to Kill (1989), or harking back to classic films; James Bond 007: Goldfinger (1986), James Bond: Live and Let Die (1988) and James Bond: The Spy Who Loved Me (1990). In 1992 James Bond 007: The Duel was released for the Sega Mega Drive and would serve as Timothy Dalton’s final appearance as the spy.
It wasn’t until 1997 a Bond game made an impression on gamers and the industry in the form of GoldenEye 007, based on the film, for the N64. Developed by the, at the time, relatively unknown Rare in Leicestershire and published by Nintendo, nobody could have predicted the impact it would have and it put Bond firmly on the map in regards to video games. The bar had been set high, but Rare opted not to develop the next game to focus on original IP.
Electronic Arts, well aware of GoldenEye’s success and the mass appeal the franchise had, picked up the rights. Their first game would follow in it’s predecessors footsteps and be based on the next instalment Tomorrow Never Dies, released in 1999. With a more powerful console, the Playstation, and a design overhaul to third person, it failed to meet expectations and would go down as EA’s first misfire. An attempt to mimic GoldenEye for their second game The World is Not Enough (2000) was still lacking, followed by a dismal spin off, 007 Racing (2000). It wasn’t until Agent Under Fire (2001), they began to show the first signs of positivity. Another step in the right direction with Nightfire (2002) and EA were hitting their stride, blowing all expectations when they released Everything or Nothing (2003).
With voices and likeness from Bond veterans Pierce Brosnan and Judi Dench along with Willem Dafoe as villain Nikolai Diavolo, it felt like a true James Bond film, complete with opening credits and theme song. This success was to be short lived however and EA found themselves falling back into old ways. A twist on the genre, playing as the villain in GoldenEye: Rogue Agent (2004) failed to impress, followed by an adaptation of one of the best films in the series From Russia With Love, Sean Connery returned to play the character after more than 30 years. EA failed to match the success of Everything or Nothing and in 2006 abandoned the franchise.
Activision, who were finding success with the Call of Duty series picked up the licence and wasted no time revealing their first game, Quantum of Solace (2008), based on Casino Royale (2006) and it’s successor. Though boasting the voice and likeness of Daniel Craig and fellow cast members, and sticking closely to the films, the game received mixed reactions. It would be followed by a loose remake of GoldenEye 007 in 2010, before turning their attentions to an original story in Bloodstone (2010). As Bond’s cinematic 50th Anniversary neared, they released 007 Legends (2012) to coincide with Skyfall (2012), re-imagining key scenes from the classic films. All failed to graze the bar left by Rare’s masterpiece and Activision decided to step away from the franchise in 2013.
And so the year is 2015 and Bond has yet to find a home. Since the meteoric success of Skyfall and Spectre’s impending release, Bond has found an increase in popularity, so no doubt there’s an audience. So what’s the problem, why does James Bond struggle when it comes to video games and does he have a future in the medium? President of Telltale Games, Kevin Bruner seems to think it’s the way the character is treated.
“I’m always frustrated by games that make him a mass murderer,” he said in an interview in January 2014. “The films make him less of a mass murderer, and there’s not much killing in the books – more spying and intrigue.”
I’m inclined to agree with him. Granted GoldenEye 007 was a straight up first person shooter, but limitations at the time restricted what the developers could do. However, this continued a trend of Bond killing multiple enemies with the odd bit of spying shoved in. Especially Activision’s attempts that planted Bond into the Call of Duty mould they knew would sell. Nobody really seems to know how to tackle the character when it comes to interactivity. With advanced technologies and more creative game design, Bond could reflect the man we know from the books and films. With a stronger focus on spying and investigation along with choices that affect the story, there is so much potential. The problem now is, have publishers and developers become put off by the licence and the risk that comes with it? Two studios, Bizarre Creations and Eurocom suffered closures after the disappointing sales of their games. Is it a “licence to kill”? (Sorry, couldn’t resist)
Though it’s been a rough journey with the odd high point, I have faith that an ambitious studio will take on the franchise and excel it to new heights, exploring interesting avenues whilst retaining the elements that do work. After all, the character is a staple of cinema who many dream of being. How many of you have held your hands together, gripping an invisible gun and stealthed your way through a room pretending to be the super-spy? James Bond video games give us the means to play out that fantasy and it would be a shame to let that end now.