Summary: CalBear visited us at FiringSquad again and decided to write a short James Bond 007: Nightfire review. Besides some trademark CalBear humor (007 squared = 49! Ha, he kills us!), he rides Nightfire pretty hard, and the game cracks under pressure. Read on and find out why this Bond didn't survive the laser table.
Bond like Sean Connery? …
Games based on movie franchises have long been a running joke in the gaming community. All too often, they rely on the rabid nature of the property’s fanbase to sell units, as opposed to actually delivering quality gameplay. Think of all the Star Wars games that Lucas Arts botched before they got smart and started outsourcing games to Raven, Bioware, and Verant. Remember all the terrible Acclaim games based on TV or the movies? The trend has slowly turned around in recent times, with Raven producing competent Star Trek shooters in Elite Force, the critical acclaim received by The Thing, and the generally well-received Lord of the Rings: Two Towers game on console. Can 007: Nightfire continue the streak?
…or like George Lazenby
Strategically, EA did the right thing by separating the development of the console and PC versions of Nightfire. Whereas the console games have as much of a driving element as they do a shooter component, Gearbox and EA chose to make the PC version of Nightfire strictly a shooter. On paper it was a good idea, because PC gamers and console gamers have different tastes, and some types of levels translate better on console, while others work better on PC. In practice, the PC version of Nightfire feels more like a red-headed stepchild instead of a brother to the console games.
The story, as it were
Nightfire’s plot puts Bond on the trail of Rafael Drake, a businessman who runs a large multinational corporation known as Phoenix International. Phoenix’ primary business is dismantling nuclear missiles on behalf of governments looking to scale down their nuclear arsenals in order to comply with disarmament treaties. How this is such a profitable business that Phoenix can be spread out across continents and form its own space program is puzzling, but the real Bond movies have had bigger plot holes, so we’ll let this one slide. The point is that Drake is secretly skimming some of the nuclear materiel to make his own arsenal and plans to use those weapons to threaten the rest of the world. Bond’s pursuit of Drake will take him across many diverse locales, including an Austrian castle, a Japanese-style mansion, the obligatory super-dooper-secret island base, and an orbiting space station.
675MB HD space
32MB video card
DirectX 8.1, D3D
GeForce 3 class video
Nightfire comes with plenty of cutscenes to spice up the intermissions between levels and sometimes within a level. Unfortunately, these scenes, despite using the in-game engine, are based on AVIs set at 512x384. That means they come out grotesquely blocky and pixellated when you’re playing at any decent resolution. Saying they don’t even come close to a Square or Blizzard-produced sequence is more than an understatement. They’re actually a step or two backward when compared to other modern shooters.
Nightfire’s sound is atrocious. Weapon sound effects are tinny and cheap sounding for a game that should have much higher production values. Adding a silencer to the standard pistol reminds me of elementary school and shooting spitballs through a drinking straw. The spin-up for the minigun in the game sounds more like a cheap blender than the kind of weapon Jesse Ventura carried in Predator. It doesn’t end there though – the sound in the game, particularly in multiplayer, had a nasty habit of cutting out for brief periods of time. The game’s music was utterly forgettable as well. About the only good thing we can say is that it’s dynamic within the game, meaning that the pacing would change and fade in or out depending on how much danger you were getting into (or out of).
SIDEBAR: Athlon XP 1800+
256MB 333MHz DDR (Corsair)
Gainward Golden Sample GeForce 4 4200Ti (64MB)
SB Live Value
Bond, the game! Now with 25% real fun!
Nightfire tries to be a stealth-action game like No One Lives Forever, but fails miserably in its effort to mimic the formula. Yes, there are lots of weapons, including three kinds of pistols, a submachine gun, two assault rifles, an automatic shotgun, rocket and grenade launchers, and the obligatory sniper rifle. There’s even a minigun and a laser rifle to play with in the later levels. You’ll also be armed with an array of gadgets including a keychain stungun, a laser watch that you’ll be constantly using to burn padlocks off, a tranquilizer dart pen, and sunglasses that have IR, lowlight, and X-ray modes.
Q, you’re such a useless bastard
The problem is that the use of gadgets in Nightfire feels clunky, as though it was an afterthought slapped on to fill out a feature list. Unlike No One Lives Forever, where the use of gadgets was thoughtfully integrated into the gameplay, having to whip out a gadget in Nightfire means you’re just being slowed down from advancing the game. Oh wouldn’t you know it, there’s another computer keypad/padlock. I better whip out my decryption PDA/laser wristwatch to get by it. Some of it is even juvenile. When you use the X-Ray sunglasses to look at a man, you see his skeleton. Point them at a woman and you’ll see her dressed in lingerie out of a Fredericks catalog. Touches like these all but scream out, “yes, they really are that useless!”
Stealth? What stealth?
Nightfire’s stealth aspects are overrated and in some cases, broken. You’re supposed to be able to sneak up behind guards, shove a gun in his back and make him surrender. Everytime I tried this, he put his hands up for a second before turning around and shooting me. You can’t pick up and move bodies either, but this doesn’t matter anyway because bodies are not persistent (they melt into the ground, or in some buggy cases, float up and away into outer space) and the AI is too stupid to hear gunshots in many cases, let alone notice a dead body.
Bugs, questionable design decisions
If the poorly implemented gadgets and lack of distinct “feel” aren’t enough for you, we can point out the questionable design decisions made by the developers. A lot of the levels include several loading zones which take just long enough to annoy. While most of the time it doesn’t matter, due to the linearity of the levels, the mission set in the Japanese mansion was incredibly annoying, because you’ll probably spend a good deal of time exploring around, looking for hostages. Going back and forth through the rather small house was incredibly annoying, and I often asked myself why such a small level required so many loading zones. To add insult to injury, sometimes I’d find myself entering a brand new loading zone with enemies already shooting at me without giving any chance to react or get out of the way.
Two of the levels have you fighting helicopter gunships. Too bad the bounding box for the helicopter is smaller than the visual model. That rocket you shot at it that should have hit squarely in the nose of the chopper? Yes you missed. Honest! Not to worry, we’ll use the secondary fire of the rocket launcher, which allows you to steer the missile via missile cam. Too bad you’re only given about two seconds worth of steering time, which means you have to place yourself way out in harm’s way to get a reasonable chance of steering into the target. You died, huh – that’s ok, we’ll just reload from the quick save. Too bad the crosshair and ammo counters only reappear after a load SOME of the time. And if the ammo counter does come back it’s just as apt to incorrectly display how much ammo you REALLY have left.
Well at least we can have fun admiring how the AI soldiers advance to attack and retreat to cover, right? Too bad they look like the Keystone Cops, bumbling into each other and into walls and sometimes shooting each other in the back as they try to advance or retreat. Well let’s just shoot glass windows and break things. Too bad some of the glass is breakable and some isn’t – and while every game has this issue, is there any real reason why a windowed wall in an office is breakable, but the window in the door to that office will not break? And is there a reason why I can’t hit an enemy standing behind that windowed door, but he has no problem cutting me to pieces while shooting through that very same door? Is there a real reason why the AI soldiers can sometimes see me through walls, and attempt to shoot at me through opaque walls? And will someone tell me why I get still get stuck in walls in a shooter released in 2002?
Multiplayer in Nightfire isn’t much better than single player. Once again adhering to the game’s mania for giving the player as little information as possible, the server browser in the game does not display the ping times for servers in the server list. Instead you are given a little graphical display that looks like a car stereo’s volume indicator – a small red triangle for servers with bad ping, slowly extending out to a larger, yellow triangle for better ping, and a large green triangle for servers with good ping. The lack of distinct feel and any visual indicator that you’re taking damage makes deathmatching a comical exercise in futility. The only other mode is CTF, which many other games already do a lot better.
It’s short: Just like a bad sexual encounter, you’ll be saying at the end of it, “well at least it didn’t last too long.”
Bad design: OK our engine forces us to split our maps into several loading zones. Let’s include a level that may have the player exploring back and forth through these zones several times. Oh and when he does, we’ll have an enemy waiting for him, guns blazing the second he loads the new zone. And we can’t let the player know he’s taking damage. And we won’t have any blood spray or any indication the player is on target with his shots. And then we’ll have cameras that spot dead bodies, but the bodies will disappear automatically and we won’t let the player move bodies…
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