Q’s invented me a gun that fires jelly

007agent under fire

James Bond 007: Agent Under Fire (2001)

Where have all the Bond games gone? Where indeed. Twenty years after Goldeneye 007 for N64, we’re still waiting on some developer out there to recapture lightning in a bottle and come out with the ultimate system-selling, multiplayer extravaganza, with a beautiful Single Player campaign and replay value from unlockable cheat codes to boot. Of course, to do this, they’d have to root the Bond game license out from underneath a load of cobweb-ridden boxes.

Then they’ll need to find a way that they could make the multiplayer a loot-box ridden nightmare, where it’s either 900 hours or $4.99 to unlock some Bond no-mark like the baddie from For Your Eyes Only, and if you don’t like it then Goldfinger will come round your house and laser your ghoulies off. And finally, they’ll have to give the whole game the same old moribund Call of Duty gameplay that plagued Goldeneye Wii.

It sounds like a dastardly EA trick, but fortunately for us they’ve already had their crack at the Bond license, and brought us multiple 007 games during that now long-gone era of the GameCube, PS2 and X-Box. Somewhere in EA’s conglomerate headquarters, which I imagine to be roughly the size of Iowa, there are some viciously evil suits still choking and spluttering over the missed opportunity. A lucrative licence to churn out games with, but they only held onto it during an era when online price gouging wasn’t a thing. It could have been $1.99 a Bond tux, maybe $3.99 per forgettable henchman.

As I write, the youngest, evillest Patrick Bateman in EA begins running through these numbers in his head. Mulling over the millions of dollars lost in potential earnings, he parades around his 2-acre office, tweaking his suspenders, crying and having a tantrum over it. Until an older, though much less senior Sensible Suit approaches him. “Don’t worry, My Lord,” the Sensible Suit will say, proffering his hand on his liege’s shoulder, “we’ll get it back soon enough.”

Through tear-soaked hands, but with his slicked back, jet black hair intact, the young hotshot will look at him with the faintest sign of hope in his otherwise deadened, vicious eyes.

“With…microtransactions and everything…?”

The Sensible Suit smiled warmly, with a glint in his eye.
“Microtransactions and cosmetic DLC.”

“Oh, thank you, thank you!” cried the young master, and hugged the Sensible Suit tightly, all the while thinking that he must remember to check that Suit’s salary, see if they couldn’t get rid of him somewhere down the line. Offer him a settlement. Perhaps threaten his family and coerce him into early retirement.

These thoughts swirled around his head for a few moments, before he dismissed the Sensible Suit from his dark, tightly air-conditioned  office, sat back into his luxury chair (upholstered with endangered tiger skin) and begin to assess the microtransaction profit sweet spots for the upcoming, not at all anticipated Command and Conquer mobile game. Somewhere deep down inside you, the 90s child is screaming for their lives.

Back to 2001, and a time when games were games and the Internet didn’t even have women, let alone people with money. Given that it came out right at the start of that ugly, still-blocky PS2 era and given that the far better remembered Nightfire and Everything or Nothing came out after this game, you’d be forgiven for thinking that 007: Agent Under Fire is, at best, painfully average.

Everything about it screams average, or worse, naff. First of all, Bond neither looks like Pierce Brosnan (and I’m talking pre-gut Brosnan, as in before Die Another Day) nor does he sound like him. They could have at least made an attempt to put on Pierce’s strained BBC-Navan accent, but they elected not to bother.

I won’t even get into how un-Judi Dench-like M is portrayed to be here, but you’ll get a good laugh out of R’s ridiculous look. Remember that awkward period of Bond between Desmond Llewellyn’s retirement and the Casino Royale reboot, when John Cleese was the quartermaster? Wasn’t that a strange one?

The graphics aren’t exceptional either, even on the more powerful GameCube, and the story is pretty far-fetched even taking into account the wider context of crazy Bondian tales. Here, I’m talking about when evil druglords would turn into balloons and pop, their intestines nowhere to be found. Or when Grace Jones was put forward as a Bond Girl and preyed on a 73-year-old Roger Moore, God rest him.

Agent Under Fire is some nonsense about clones, and probably energy or something, and really you shouldn’t take too much notice of what’s being said in the cutscenes at too low a volume. That is, until a shapely woman comes on screen and Bond delivers his usual one-liners. In that essence, actually it is quite like watching the films.

The most important facet, of course, is the gameplay. Or rather, the gunplay. Well, here’s where AUF makes you go “Auf, bloody hell”. I have often been a vocal critic of those games that purport to be shooters but stack the odds against you, in that the enemies fire ultrahigh velocity, armour-piercing bullets whereas you’re left firing jelly. Medal of Honour did it. Daikatana did it. The Uncharted series still does it. But nowhere is it more apparent than in Agent Under Fire.

The enemies barely react to getting shot, either – they sort of do a spasm, or maybe it’s a shrug, as if they’ve caught your bullet on the shoulder and are about to volley it away on their left foot. Sometimes they get into scripted animations, like trying to activate an alarm, and you can put six hundred bullets up their mush – nothing. They’ll feel nothing, and you’ll feel nothing but impotent rage.

And this is all worth noting, because Goldeneye 007 had all of these features and more. Of course, the enemy AI in that game is pretty poultice nowadays but it was fun to mess around with them. In AUF, you sometimes feel as if you’d be better off feeding the guns to the enemies.

And my God are the automatic weapons inaccurate. Bust off one or two rounds, and you might hit your target. Keep the trigger planted, and your machine gun will snarl back at you and claim that it’s a shotgun instead, or it wouldn’t be dispersing your shots all over the room if you fire at enemies from more than six feet away. And of course, those rare golden bullets that do hit the enemies are harmless anyway.

I will say this though, the driving sections can be fun, and there’s a part where you have to commandeer a tank and go after a train. The Goldeneye parallels continue, although you can’t crush civilians beneath your treads, which is a shame. Agent Under Fire is an odd case – a shooting game that’s at its best when you’re not shooting. That’s not even faint praise really, but the game wasn’t as painful an experience as I was setting myself up for.

And there’s a multiplayer mode with bot capabilities too. It’s pretty threadbare, of course, not a patch on Perfect Dark’s, or the infinitely superior Nightfire’s for that matter, but it’s there. But none of this is enough to save AUF from obscurity. Go back and fool around with its younger sisters instead – it’s what Bond would do.

19 October 2018

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