Remember those scenes in License to Kill where James Bond hacked an office PC using mini-games on his Sony smartphone, massacred 100 henchmen with his custom-configured assault shotgun, bounced his car off some invisible walls, then had a Punch-Out!!-style QTE fist fight with villain Franz Sanchez? Neither do I – but that's how 007 Legends remembers things.
Admittedly, such inaccurate adaptations are not entirely to blame for 007 Legends' failings; certain concessions need to be made to create an engaging video game. But the degree to which developer Eurocom and publisher Activision fail to successfully capitalize on any of the crazy action sequences or exotic settings of the five films featured in Legends is astounding. Bond's most memorable moments have been mutated almost beyond recognition to fit the mold of a safe first-person shooter, and the result is a bland, boring mess.%Gallery-162442%
Take the opening sequence of the mission Goldfinger, for example. One of the first spoken lines is from an MI-6 handler telling Bond to "stay undercover" as you overlook an airfield outside Auric Enterprises. Bond then sets off an EMP with his phone, a jet drops out of the sky (setting the entire area on fire), and I'm forced into a massive firefight with an army of idiotic henchmen.
Five minutes later, 007 Legends remembers that the player is, after all, assuming the role of spy, and should therefore be stealthy sometimes. Clueless guards, apparently unaware of the warzone that just erupted out in the parking lot, need to be taken out either with surpise melee attacks or headshots from a silenced pistol. Just make sure their corpses aren't left in the vicinity of any patrols or cameras, since Bond can't be bothered to lug those bothersome things away (even if you want him to).
Such primitive mechanics might be passable in cleverly designed levels, but 007 Legends has none. As a result, stealth sections come off as inconvenient, transparent attempts at creating variety between tiresome shooting sequences and short, awkward vehicle segments. Having an N64 game on which to loosely base level design actually helped in the creation of Goldeneye: Reloaded. In 007 Legends, there's no such tangible inspiration to draw from, and Eurocom fails to show enough creativity or originality to even meet the mediocrity of its previous game.
Gunplay is solid enough, though, since 007 Legends uses that same Activision-approved FPS engine present in Goldeneye: Reloaded. But unlike Call of Duty (and to some degree, even Reloaded) the set pieces laid out here are rarely exciting. Every so often you'll have to contend with a sniper or foes with body armor, but the majority of time is spent mowing down soldiers in rooms full of crates.
There's not much to be found in the form of gadgets, either. Bond has the same underwhelming set in all five missions: a smartphone to take pictures of evidence and hack meaningless objects, a wristwatch that offers motion tracking, and a pen – accessible only in the second half of the game – that shoots three kinds of darts. The repetitive manner in which these gadgets are used ultimately defeats their purpose as a fun game device, while simultaneously making obvious the formulaic design of each mission.
That formula usually involves breaking into a facility through a mixture of shooting and rarely-mandatory stealthiness, meeting up with a Bond girl, investigating the big bad's office for clues, then blasting your way out. Sometimes driving is necessary to catch an escaping villain, who, when caught, will engage you in an anti-climactic QTE fist fight.
At first, I found the idea of using the thumb sticks to strike vulnerable parts on an opponent's body mildly entertaining and a welcome change from the shooting. But when I realized it's actually a crutch for all boss battles and an identical end to most of the story lines, I was slightly less enchanted. Why does Daniel Craig's Bond find a bout of fisticuffs with the middle-aged Blofeld equally as challenging as an encounter with the physically intimidating, lightning-spewing Gustav Graves?
That wasn't a mistake, by the way – Craig's Bond plays the protagonist in all five of the film adaptations present in the game. As justification for this, you're initially shown the Skyfall trailer sequence of Bond being shot off a moving train and falling into the water far below. Missions then play out in the form of flashbacks as Bond sinks into the depths. If it seemed odd to see Craig instead of Brosnan in Goldeneye: Reloaded, it's far worse here, as he replaces four more actors. And it's not even authentic Craig this time; Bond is voiced by unenthusiastic impostor Timothy Watson.
One final painful slap in the face comes when you reach the end of 007 Legends' last mission, Moonraker. Instead of Bond escaping the exploding space station after defeating Hugo Drax (spoilers?), he simply loses consciousness and the credits roll. I'm assuming this offensive oddity will be remedied once the free Skyfall DLC mission is released in November, since the missions are loosely tied together by some narrative nonsense. At least I hope that's the plan, because there's no explanation for why a 20-second cutscene showing what actually happened at the end of Moonraker is missing. It's a weird and unsatisfying end to the five-hour campaign.
Multiplayer, thankfully, redeems Legends to some degree. As in Goldeneye: Reloaded, players can choose from a variety of established characters, each with their own special ability or attributes (yes, you can still throw Oddjob's hat), and compete in one of 12 modes. These modes – such as Golden Gun, where said weapon earns five times the score for each kill – offer huge variety; the problem is finding enough opponents in any given lobby. If that's a deterrent during launch week, I can't imagine how difficult online matchmaking will be in a month or two (though perhaps the theatrical release of Skyfall will perk things up).
Simply put, 007 Legends is a trap: a poor, uninspired game touting the 007 license hoping nostalgic fans will shell out $60 expecting to relive some of their favorite franchise moments. Bond-lovers will be offended by story inaccuracies and barely recognizable action sequences, while shooter fans will grow bored of the lame level design, lack of variety, and out-of-context story lines. With the promising film Skyfall just around the corner, 007 Legends is one piece of the Bond legacy best overlooked and quickly forgotten.
This review is based on a retail copy of the Xbox 360 version of 007 Legends, provided by Activision.
Matt Hughes is a freelancer based out of chilly/balmy/apocalypse-hot Michigan. He's written for GamesRadar, Official Xbox Magazine, GameFront, IGN, and more. You can follow him on Twitter (@MottHoos) if you haven't already done so by mistake, thinking he was the famous MMA fighter.
Joystiq's review scores are based on a scale of whether the game in question is worth your time -- a five-star being a definitive "yes," and a one-star being a definitive "no." Read here for more information on our ratings guidelines.