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Review: 007 Legends

Comfort food. That’s the best way to describe 007 Legends, at least in terms of gameplay. It won’t win any awards for innovation–it shamelessly rips off the ultra-linear, set piece-driven Call of Duty formula–but it’s simple and familiar enough to serve its purpose.

That purpose is to guide players through slightly condensed re-tellings of five of James Bond’s most famous adventures (one for each pre-Craig performer, though Craig is treated as the sole 007 here)–in commemoration, one assumes, of the fiftieth anniversary of the franchise’s big screen debut.

I qualify the above statement only because–initially, at least–the Mission Select screen left me questioning the developers’ cinematic tastes. Generally speaking, there’s a certain logic behind the material they chose to adapt. It’s hard to argue with Goldfinger, a perennial fan favorite and codifier of many of the series’ rules and conventions (I personally prefer From Russia with Love, but that already inspired a disappointing video game). What Lazenby’s turn as the suave super-spy may have lacked in quantity, it more than makes up for in quality; no tribute to Bond’s career would be complete without the tragic On Her Majesty’s Secret Service–if for nothing else, then for its inclusion of arch-nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld (evoking both Donald Pleasence and Telly Savalas in this incarnation) at his most diabolical. I even understand the reasoning behind Die Another Day: it’s the only Brosnan film that never made the leap to a home console (the beloved Goldeneye 64 was even recently remade for the current generation). But Moonraker? Why not The Spy Who Loved Me, which is widely considered Moore’s least obnoxious outing? Dr. No’s fiftieth anniversary only rolls around once; don’t waste this opportunity on a movie that’s only slightly more dignified than A View to a Kill! And Licence to Kill? I know Dalton’s sophomore effort has its supporters, but its limited budget makes it look like a Cannon Production; wouldn’t The Living Daylights better fit the interactive medium?

As the narrative began to unfold, however, the pieces gradually fell into place. The game opens with the recent Skyfall trailer’s most striking moment: Bond, accidentally shot by an ally, plunges into an icy blue abyss. As he slowly sinks, frigid water filling his lungs, his life flashes before his eyes–a life defined by trauma, regret, failure. The very first image players see upon gaining control is the gold-painted corpse of Jill Masterson, slain for her association with 007. As in the original version of the tale, this sets the tone for the ensuing action: “This time, it’s personal.” Following Goldfinger with the one-two punch of OHMSS (the death of Tracy) and Licence to Kill (the maiming of Felix Leiter) only reinforces the themes of loss and revenge. “So,” I said to myself, “they’re re-examining the mythos, finding the deeper emotional truths that make these stories resonate.”

And then the developers wrap up the experience with Die Another Day and Moonraker, two silly, embarrassing romps that feel no less silly or embarrassing when you’re the one steering the action. There is no greater significance to be discovered here, no hidden meaning that  will cause longtime Bond enthusiasts to view their hero in a new light. The previous character development is abandoned in favor of poorly-designed car chases and frustrating zero-gravity combat, leaving behind little more than yet another generic shooter liberally seasoned with nostalgia that will only appeal to the most diehard 007 fanatics.

Pure comfort food.

[Originally written October 17, 2012.]

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