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From Russia With Love
Score: 86%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: EA Games
Developer: EA Games
Media: UMD/1
Players: 1 - 6
Genre: Action/ Adventure/ Third Person Shooter

Graphics & Sound:
007: From Russia With Love is a movie that thinks it's a game, the game that plays like a movie. Games inspired by movies usually end up with a few cut-scenes and some action that takes place in locales from the film. From Russia With Love takes an entire movie - with scenes intact - and shows you most of it, but lets you play the other the parts. The thrill of being in the movie is recreated here more purely than in any game I can remember. Even the beginning sequence is pure Bond, and not like a typical game intro. The theme song and the movie music are excellent, and the voices are superb. Where it was possible, EA took dialogue from the film, and Sean Connery did some new dubbing for the game, which really lends the stamp of approval.

During the game, movie scenes are generally done in CG, rather than inserted from the actual film. Some footage is mixed into the intro, but it's interesting that EA chose to recreate the film in CG rather than just splice in footage. To me, it shows there is a distinct strategy behind From Russia With Love, but more on that later... The point is, there's a completely fluid transition between an abundance of CG and the action scenes where you control Bond. Even with all the cut-scenes, there is still plenty of game to explore, and it all looks great. Unlike many shooters, third or first person, From Russia With Love packs in some diverse locations that come right out of the film, and the only thing missing was any racing or vehicle combat action. No endless gray corridors here...

The average stealth combat game these days (think Syphon Filter or Splinter Cell) is not exactly a "pick up and play" affair for casual gamers. In fact, as the gamer demographic widens, gamers become more sophisticated, and system hardware becomes more advanced, developers are going for broke in their design. As someone who hopefully ranks above "casual" in my gaming habits, I like these trends. But, a broad segment of the gaming public tends to feel left out when games take hours to master and many tens of hours to conquer. The answer is a game like From Russia With Love, which might just point to a future trend in the making.

From Russia With Love is a very forgiving single-player experience. There are times when Bond will bite the dust, and challenges that will take some patience to master. But on the whole, this game plays smooth. Nothing in the general course of the game will set you back for long, and for a shooter there is little "twitch" reflex required to stay alive. Enemy A.I. is pretty much like a Bond film, where the bad guys take one punch from Connery and hit the ground. And while this may detract from the enjoyment of a hardcore gamer, I'd say that this title is aiming for a different audience. From the outset, working through the story feels more like watching the movie than playing a game. At certain points in the movie, the game will break off and you'll have some mission goal to accomplish. There is only mild coaching, but a mission log keeps you on track. Each level is completely on rails, so that there isn't ever more than one objective to complete at any one time. The linear nature of the game makes it a weak replay candidate, but there's multiplayer for that purpose.

After completing the main game, there are special challenges attached to each section that are much more difficult than the main story. Casual players may not bother, but the gamer looking for more will find a lot of fun here. Most are drawn from some part of the main game, and winning is a function of specific goals for timed completion or score. The multiplayer is excellent, and puts you in the shoes of a Bond character for a wireless frag-fest. There are four styles of play, and two are "flying" styles featuring the jetpack. I like that the environments have unique hazards or pickups, which change depending on the level where you choose to host your battle. If you find replay lacking in the main story - to be fair, you can go back to improve your score, which earns you bonuses in multiplayer mode - there's no doubt that multiplayer in From Russia With Love is fodder for more dedicated gamers.

As mentioned above, the difficulty of the main game is minimal, unless you choose to dial it up from "Operative" setting to "00 Agent." The problem is that the A.I. just isn't very deep to begin with, so making it more difficult just seemed to increase the amount of damage that shots do to Bond, or the amount of damage required to take down enemies. There really isn't "stealth" gaming in the pure sense, but Bond can do some sniping of characters. There is armor scattered through the game, and ammo as well. All the weapons are available to begin with, but not all of them have ammo available in the same frequency. The sum total of From Russia With Love is about the same as its parts; with no great highs or lows, experienced gamers may not find enough meat on the bone. On the other hand, more casual gamers will appreciate a game with a 10-page manual that only takes a couple hours to knock out.

Game Mechanics:
In keeping with my pet theory that From Russia With Love is "Stealth Lite" gaming, the controls are amazingly simple. Hints on special moves or disarms are scattered through the game, and information on using each weapon is almost unnecessary when all but a few weapons have exactly the same controls. I like the Bond Focus feature, where with any weapon, you can hit a button and zoom in on the enemy. Each enemy shows up with at least one target circle. For enemies with two target circles, one is the basic kill zone and the other may be to disarm an enemy. The points you earn for these special moves are accumulated and can be cashed in to upgrade weapons. Upgrading will improve performance, and can only be done a limited amount for each weapon.

There are some great choices in weaponry, as you might expect. The obligatory Q scene has Bond fitted out with a laser watch, a "Q Copter" and a few other goodies. Bond's movement is pretty static, and special moves like climbing or rappeling are done with the push of a button at special points throughout each level. In this way, Bond reminds us of the original Solid Snake, whose feet never left the ground in the original Metal Gear Solid.

From Russia With Love is really blending media, from where I'm sitting. It would hold up as a game, if it weren't tied to a license, which means a lot. There's more than enough put into the design and the gameplay to keep all gamers happy in the end. The movie isn't followed as strictly in some parts as purists might like, but if you want to watch the movie, go rent it... Fans of more intense Bond FPS titles are probably not the market here, and it isn't just licensed hype. From Russia With Love is a great film and this title pays homage to that while introducing some very respectable action gaming for PSP. If you want a deep, stealth game this isn't your ticket, but From Russia With Love will probably be something we see more of, as gaming becomes more about entertaining the masses.

-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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