For 50 years, Ian Fleming's James Bond has been more than a novelized character—he's been a commercialized property. As a film icon, the persona has been suave, nimble-minded, and even vulnerable. Through the decades, the Bond productions have run the gamut: from cheesy to thoughtful, bombastic to tense. The Eon series has had its ups and downs, but the movies have nonetheless supplanted Bond's place in pop culture.
His videogames, on the other hand, seem to always be playing catch-up, piggy-back, or nice-try. With few exceptions, the Bond games often pale in relevance and border on necessity. Usually licensed for a quick tie-in buck, the Bond likeness of both film and novel ends at the barrel of a digitally rendered Walther pistol when it comes time to virtually play the part, and unfortunately, Eurocom's 007 Legends doesn't do much to deride the trend. It isn't just another Bond-game letdown, it's a pretty shallow shooter as well.
Set up as a recollection and retelling of the Bond's past missions (substituting Daniel Craig in place of each respective actor), Legends cherry picks scenarios (using elements of On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Goldfinger, Moonraker, Die Another Day, and License to Kill) to loosely tie into the newest Skyfall movie. It's a logical move, but it's done with such little storytelling tact or gameplay, it unfolds as a series of meaningless events. What would have made more sense as an episodic, smaller-scale lead-in to the upcoming film is instead a haphazard 'complete' game—the ending of which can't actually be played until Skyfall's release.
Playing through highlights of Bond's past might have been acceptable, had they been built with a greater goal in mind than funneling the player along from one firefight to another, against enemies who literally pop up out of nowhere. With an array of handguns, rifles, and submachine guns to be picked up and upgraded (for no other reason than because that's what shooters do these days), there's plenty of armaments at your disposal and never a shortage of sentries to take out, but there's never a sense of progression or specialized ability from a character that's supposed to be a quick-witted spy. Disappointingly, Legends' 007 comes off as more of a foot soldier.
Poorly designed crouch-sneak gameplay and unlockable perks (think Call of Duty) try to paint Legends as a game with options and subversive stealth; but armed with only a watch radar that gives vague positions of red-dotted enemies, who can easily spot you even in the supposed safety of shadows, it's easier to just tear through levels with abandon. Subduing enemies with either tranquilizer darts or submissions doesn't carry any sneaky advantage over headshots, since any downed guard spotted by another magically unveils your position no matter their position in relation to Bond. Missions where staying undetected is a critical parameter illustrate how unsuccessful the formula is, as guards stay to short, set paths and keep their backs to one another, assuring the afterthought design can't completely interfere.
Whenever you're not shooting into or out of whatever objective, Legends becomes a straightforward brawler or prompted investigation. For the former, scripted encounters pit your reaction time against on-screen icons, while the latter directs you how to uncover clues in limited-range areas with the help of an Xperia smartphone. In either case, there's just as little challenge or difference between each interaction as the stealth-only and shootout sections of levels. Fistfights become repetitive roadblocks, while investigations serve as extended, interactive advertisements.
On the whole, there isn't much to find endearing or engaging. Environments are built from templates, flipped, rotated, or rearranged and seem sterile as you walk their corridors; the art may exceed at tricking the eye into thinking there's depth to textures, but there actually isn't; and audio can miss, repeat, or drop looped queues. Similiar competitive multiplayer and single-player challenge scenarios of the acceptable GoldenEye 007: Reloded are even a mess with laggy deathmatches (and a camera affect that's likely to induce motion sickness) online and gameplay beholden to the same poor design of the single-player story, respectively.
With both success and camp, the Hollywood side of the Bond character has had an iconic and influential history creating the perception of an “International Man of Mystery”. Unfortunately, assuming that role in videogames has always been more about reckless licensed cash-ins, that may or may not be entertaining, instead of a way to further develop the character—and 007 Legends is content in staying true to that differentiation.
What kind of James Bond game do you want to play? Are you okay with tie-ins, or are you more of a fan of independent, universe stories? Let us know over Twitter @Gamers_Hell