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007: Agent Under Fire

Score: 95%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: EA Games
Developer: EA Games
Media: GCD/1
Players: 1 - 4
Genre: First Person Shooter


Graphics & Sound:

When I got my Gamecube, this was exactly the kind of game I wanted to play on it. Unfortunately, we had to wait some time, but the wait is over. 007: Agent Under Fire is really a title worth purchasing a console for, especially for fans of the classic Goldeneye who will find much to love in this new FPS from EA Games.

The graphics are top notch, with leading ladies that have a disconcerting level of detail in their faces, and some anatomical features that also look rather nice. As Bond says in one scene during the game when a pair of hot twins invite him to enjoy the mountain view while he waits in the enemy complex he just snuck into, he quips 'I already am.' Little touches in the characters' faces or bodies, like the guards who fall realistically clutching their side when you shoot them or duck and weave behind cover or the bottles and objects destroyed in rooms during big gunfights make the action jump off the screen. Everything is sharp, defined and there are minimal load times to hold up the action. The music includes the classic Bond theme, of course, but a very nice responsive effect makes the music swell and change according to events in real time. When you start shooting, the music becomes suitably dramatic, as if the roar of gunfire or breaking glass isn't already music to your ears, right? Great sound production lets you track not only the direction enemies are coming from, but also connect certain events to voice commands so you know soldiers are rushing you, flanking you or calling for reinforcements. The sound you probably least like to hear is the telltale clinking of a grenade as it hits the ground ready to explode. This game is a visual and aural feast, and if you think the story mode runs smoothly, wait until you get a load of Multiplayer.


Gameplay:

FPS is a genre that probably won't be diluted like the RPG, since convention of form demands that the perspective (hence the name) remain consistent. But, we do see games carrying either the style of freely flowing story or choppy mission-based gameplay. Although Agent Under Fire falls squarely into the latter category, it still isn't the kind of twitchy, frantic gameplay you associate with Quake or Unreal. Sure, the missions are timed and the Multiplayer modes will likely end up in the same kind of fragging madness you'd expect in any session of Quake, but the main story mode gives more than enough single player satisfaction. Well, maybe not 'more' than enough. It gives enough to get you excited about inviting a friend or 2 or 3 over and starting the Multiplayer modes. Since they end up being the bigger piece of why this game will keep you transfixed in front of your TV for weeks, I'll elaborate.

Multiplayer is made up of 12 arenas, and you have 5 different ways to play. Do the math, smart guy. Combat Training is a competitive training mode, just like it sounds. Protect the Flag means just what it says, so you'll have to play tough to keep my dirty mitts off your flag. Golden Gun is a 'one hit kill' competition, drawn from the Bond movie where Roger Moore was stalked by an assassin with 3 breasts and the little guy from Fantasy Island (the original) through a circus maze. It was the 70's, so we forgive everyone involved, and I'm sure Ian Fleming only rolled partially over in his grave. Anti-Terrorist Training mode has you defusing bombs as they appear in the map and Top Agent is a simple survival mode. Only Top Agent and Combat Training allow bots. Bots can be customized for appearance, difficulty and given a team affiliation. Options that affect how weapons will be disbursed, how players or items will respawn and what powerups will be available are part of preparing for a Multiplayer game. The range of choices is too extensive to run through as a laundry list, but trust me when I say that when you get bored in Multiplayer, on that day you have no soul.

And of course the missions. In the single-player mode, Agent Under Fire is no less wonderful. I found the AI sometimes lacking, but generally the game plays in a way that makes you feel immersed in the action. The missions are interesting, and the mix of driving, FPS and rail-shooting sections is excellent. Sometimes, a mission will begin in one mode (driving, FPS, rail-shooting) and switch mid-stream, but not in a way that seems arbitrary. I especially liked the rail-shooting section in the tank, and when you get the pair of thermal night goggles you'll pee yourself. The critical thing in the missions is completing objectives. Early on in the briefing, steps you need to take are outlined, but there are several ways to go about beating the level. And, if you can pull special moves, you'll earn extra points at level's end and earn special upgrades to weapons or open secret areas and characters. Other ways to earn extra points are conserving ammo, completing the mission quickly and playing at a more difficult setting. Bronze, Gold and Platinum medals are available to be earned, and even though one can say the single-player mission is too short overall, earning all the extras won't be an overnight thing. You'll have to work and sweat for it. The driving levels in this game came off very well, and the rail shooting where you shoot but don't have to worry about navigation is sweet. Nicest thing about the rail-shooting is that with less freedom to move around, the developers built events during the level to combine the best action of a driving level (frantic, traffic-weaving, crashing through buildings) and what we might think of as a FPS/Racer where you can shoot out the other guys' tires and pop him in the head through a window rather than try to just blow up the car. This game thrives on finesse, which a good player will exercise, but the greatest players will be those who combine finesse with the speed and aggression needed to beat some of the tougher levels.


Difficulty:

And there ARE some tough areas! Not that you won't be able to sit down on Easy and burn through this without serious opposition, but even the regular FPS gamer will find herself in a crossfire or backed up to a pile of explosive barrels now and then. Plenty of environmental obstacles lie in wait for you to use against an enemy or be a victim of yourself. Some of the cooler ones are the steam pipes that cook opponents unlucky enough to be near them when you put a well placed shot on a valve and others that can be triggered by remote. One of the neater gadgets Bond can use is a remote that lets you record a bit of data to use at some later point or points, usually to unload a special attack on the enemy. Good stuff. Things like this, which will take out large groups of enemies quickly, help a gamer who doesn't want to play Rambo. But, some places are loaded with enemies and you'll just have to fight it out. An example of a place where creeping and being strategic won't work is a small, open stairwell with a soldier at the top tossing grenades and another 1 or 2 along the way shouldering guns. And, a sniper covering the doorway at the top of the stairs. So, you charge. Not having a save feature during levels means you can't leverage the creep-and-save technique, but at the easier settings, enemies in 007: Agent Under Fire basically stand around and let you shoot them. Notch up the difficulty, and they'll hunt you down like a dog. And Multiplayer is just as hard as you make it, of course.

Game Mechanics:

Is the Gamecube controller well suited to FPS gaming? The choice for multiple control schemes helps to combat frustration, and even though my preferred setup wasn't the default, I found what I needed. It is surprising that the company able to put 4 controller ports on the front of their console couldn't or didn't put 4 shoulder buttons on the front of their controllers! Really, the best control for a FPS is to have commands capable of being used in conjunction with others (crouch, jump, lean, etc.) mapped to the shoulder buttons or keys and have their opposite numbers (action, shoot, cycle weapons/items) connected to the top buttons or D-Pad. Or the reverse. GC controllers can do most of this, except they only have the 2 shoulder buttons. What this means for you is that crouching and moving isn't easy. Or, if you set it up to be easy, you'll sacrifice something else. And, I missed having the ability, as in Red Faction, to move while aiming in a scope. Strafing is essential, but being able to adjust a scope and pop out from behind cover is a nice feature. The strangest thing I noticed about the controller was that my third party controller wouldn't work with 007: Agent Under Fire. Maybe just a one-off problem, but when I switched to the Nintendo controller everything was fine.

Controls during rail-shooting levels are fixed, and inverted movement doesn't control the guns as most people like to use for FPS games. So, it can be confusing at first when you switch to rail shooting mode and pushing down makes the gun's sights go down instead of up as you'd expect. Driving the cars is simple, and an item pick-up system helps to discourage followers with oil slicks and smoke or heat things up ahead of you with rockets, missiles, or machine gun fire. All the power-ups are very cool, and no mention of them would be complete without some rundown on Bond's gadgets. He has the Q-Laser for burning locks, the Q-Claw for grappling to otherwise inaccessible areas, the Q-Specs for viewing hidden passages, the Q-Jet for doing super jumps and various Q equipment for picking locks and breaking into computerized systems. Using these is essential to clearing several areas, and it's nice that sheer firepower won't always get you through, since this is very true to what Bond is all about. The game's engine literally purrs along and lets the missions feel very much like the movies Agent Under Fire drew inspiration from. Even with 4-Player Multiplayer going at full steam, this baby keeps its cool.

And cool is the word for this one, fans! Nobody can say that Gamecube doesn't have its awesome game at this point. Sure, FPS may not be everyone's cup of tea, but you'll not see any criticism after showcasing your Gamecube's power with Agent Under Fire. In fact, you might even hear some self-professed FPS opponents saying 'Gimme that controller, buddy.' The temptation to take on the role of Bond is just too strong for most people to resist. Coming into this game, my expectations were high, and 007: Agent Under Fire met and exceeded almost every one. Being a fan of more story driven FPS games like Half-Life and Deus Ex, I'd love to have seen a more developed and lengthy set of missions, but with this console and this franchise, we takes what we gets. And with Agent Under Fire, we gets cream-of-the-crop FPS action, no bones about it.


-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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