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In a year that has consistently seemed like the death knell for Agent 007, the news that a new AAA James Bond videogame was on the way from a big name developer was like a torrent of sunshine cast down from the heavens, or a laser beaming brilliantly down from an Omega seamaster.
For many, the idea of another big-budget Bond game seemed like something of a pipe dream – the games industry has changed dramatically over the past generation (during which 007 has stayed conspicuously absent). Licensed games are serious business now, less likely to be farted out in a hurry to coincide with the release of a film and far more likely to stand on their own two feet as a distinct creative entity (most of them anyway). There’s also the sheer economy of it all – games cost so much to make that companies tend to favour nurturing their own IP and owning it forever, as opposed to exploiting a licence that they’re only going to own for a few years.
For a licensed game to be successful, it needs to be based on something so culturally ubiquitous that it guarantees interest in an increasingly crowded market. But most importantly, unlike twenty years ago when you could put out any auld shite in a hurry – games actually need to be good in order to make money. As we saw with the recent Avengers game (a hurried, micro-transactive mess that lost its studio tens of millions) – greed and laziness are possibly not the winning formula they once were.
With all of this in mind – chances of a new Bond game seemed about as likely as Bond trading in the Smirnoff for Kombucha. While Bond films still make enormous amounts of money, there has only been two of them in the past ten years (there’s been an entire Star Wars trilogy since the last one) and the kind of annual, fast-turnaround money-spinner mentality that went into EA and Activision’s litany of Bond games (some of which are very good) seems better suited to the modern freemium mobile game than a AAA blockbuster like Spider-Man.
What a wonderful pleasure it was then, to watch the teaser trailer for ‘Project 007’ on Thursday morning and be so spectacularly wrong. The entire trailer takes place inside a gun barrel as we watch through the deafening echo of subzero drafts as leather-gloved fingers place a hollow-point into a spiraling chamber. The bullet pounces toward us aggressively as the gun is cocked. The Bond theme growls to life. The camera crawls to the right as the words “Our next project” elegantly super-charge the trailer with confidence and occasion. Finally, the iconic gun barrel image we’ve seen in 25 films and we know the score. Bang. Blood dribbles down. James Bond is Back. Perfection.
I wrote before how the recent Hitman games were a near-perfect example of what a modern Bond game should be – hardly a hot take, the similarities to the Bond series are well-documented and oft-mentioned with both sets of fans hoping for some time that IO Interactive would be handed the keys to MI6. For a while they lack the high-flying action antics that many associate with the film series (and definitely the previous Bond games, even GoldenEye), they more than make up for it with their innovative, unique approach to deception and infiltration. While you won’t find Agent 47 mowing down hordes of enemies with rocket launchers, Hitman captures the imperceptible cool-factor of swaggering into a room full of similarly well-dressed people and being the only person who knows something they don’t.
It replicates the cut-throat tension of so many cat-and-mouse scenes from Bond films – Bond’s stealthy demolition of a heroin factory and iconic (if tongue-in-cheek) outfit change from scuba-suit to tuxedo in Goldfinger, the nail-biting race against the clock to steal secrets from a Swiss lawyer in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, posing as a valet to sneak into a security office in Casino Royale, even the infamous clown costume scene in Octopussy feels like it could be a mission in a Hitman game. Plenty of games make you feel like an action hero, Hitman makes you feel like a spy.
Nobody is asking for this game to merely be Agent 47 with a Bond wallpaper however (although even that is a pretty good worst-case scenario) – those games should merely provide the foundation. Action and derring-do is an inescapable part of the Bond formula and hopefully IO Interactive’s insistence that they are bringing a ‘new take’ on this legendary franchise doesn’t mean that they don’t know that. A blend of Agent 47’s master-planning and 007’s bull-in-a-china-shop approach to secret agenting is just what the doctor (no) ordered.
The other exciting aspect of this, is that IO are moving ahead with an entirely original story – this suggests that (similar to Arkham and Spider-Man) the world of this game will be wholly self-contained, not related to the movie series. Many Bond games of old lived and died by the film they were attempting to emulate with very mixed results – indeed the developers of the Quantum of Solace game had so little access to the ever-changing film script that they were forced to make their game into more of a Casino Royale flashback. The Bond games (GoldenEye notwithstanding) have always been most interesting when they’ve told their own unique narratives tailored to the virtual world. There are things you can do in a game that wouldn’t work in a film and vice versa – just ask Willem Dafoe and his bonkers nanotech invasion of the Kremlin in Everything or Nothing. Consequently, this suggests that IO are likely going to have their own in-house ‘Game Bond’ and won’t be enlisting the voice talent of Daniel Craig (or whoever his successor is). Again this is a wiser choice, as it gives the studio the chance to shape the character as they see fit, rather than having to tailor it to a particular actor’s interpretation.
All of that being said, the ultimate fan wishlist item for a Bond game has always been (and will always be) the option to play as former Bond actors. As great as some of EA’s Bond games are, it grows a bit tiresome being so tied to Pierce Brosnan’s interpretation of the character. Similarly, a lot of fans’ interest in the ‘007 Legends’ game evaporated when they learned that they’d have to play the whole game (even the daft Moonraker and Die Another Day levels) as the Daniel Craig Bond.
It makes sense why the pick-and-mix option has never been a reality – the old Bond games were designed to market the current movie series (From Russia with Love being the lone exception as it came out in the interim between Brosnan’s dismissal and Craig’s recruitment). That and the economics of it may have always been too unimaginably expensive for what is ostensibly a fun addition (and not a core game mechanic) – unlike an alternate costume in a Batman game, this is an actual human being’s likeness and it’s difficult to imagine the late Mr. Connery agreeing to something like this without fat stacks, nevermind the other five actors. It still seems far-fetched – but in the modern DLC climate, maybe it could work? After all, if it’s possible to get Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone and Peter Weller all to appear in a single Mortal Kombat game, it should be possible to win over Timothy Dalton.
If you had asked me on Wednesday if we’d ever see this, I would have dismissed the notion emphatically. Today, I know that anything is possible. IO Interactive’s CEO put it perfectly – “It’s true that once in a while, the stars do align in our industry.” Welcome back, Mr. Bond. We’ll be expecting you.