Why Pierce Brosnan Will Always Be Gaming’s Greatest James Bond

Movie Bonds come and go, but Pierce Brosnan's video game legacy is forever.

Pierce Brosnan GoldenEye 007
Photo: Nintendo/Rare

The debate over which actor is the best James Bond is a mostly friendly argument that will (and should) go on. After all, it’s sad to think that there won’t be a future James Bond who will challenge the likes of Connery, Moore, Dalton, Brosnan, Craig, and yes, even Lazenby (a disrespected Bond if there ever was one) for that honor. Every Bond actor has brought their own spirit and style to the role, and that’s a trend that will hopefully continue for as long as we’re lucky enough to receive new Bond films.  

However, the debate over the best James Bond is typically limited to those films. When it comes to video games, nobody has done it better than Pierce Brosnan. 

Licensed Games to Kill

If you want to get technical, you could easily argue that Brosnan is the definitive video game Bond by virtue of the sheer number of Bond games he has been featured in compared to his companions. The exact numbers are a little strange given the shaky classification of “official” games and which ones were able to render actors at all, but Brosnan has appeared in about twice as many games as his closest competitors, Moore and Dalton. Every other Bond actor is seemingly eternally stuck at zero, one, or two video games that clearly feature their likeness. 

If you want to stay technical, you could certainly argue Brosnan’s Bond games benefited from the unique circumstances of the actor’s run as the character. Not only were licensed games becoming more popular (and better) by the time Brosnan played Bond, but emerging 3D technology made it easier than ever to make video game characters that looked somewhat like their real-life counterparts. Previous digital Bonds didn’t look as striking, and new Bond games became significantly rarer in the post-Brosnan era. Brosnan played Bond at a time when the enthusiasm to make and buy Bond games was at a Rita Cooclidge-appropriate all-time high.

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However, it would be cruel to reduce Brosnan’s video game Bond legacy to volume and circumstances. After all, if Pierce Brosnan had only ever appeared in 1997’s GoldenEye 007 for N64, there’s no doubt that he would always have a special place in gamer’s hearts. Such was the power of that revolutionary console first-person shooter that has achieved an almost mythical level of reverence.

Elements of GoldenEye 007 may have been just as popular even without the Bond license, but there was something extra special about it being a Bond game. Those who grew up dreaming of being James Bond were finally given the chance to do so in a game that felt like so much more than good enough. Everyone else got to enjoy a truly great game that happened to be amplified by its association with an incredibly popular (and fairly recent) blockbuster. That classic video game marketing promise of “See the movie, play the game” suddenly became a much more appealing proposition than ever before. 

But that’s the about Brosnan’s Bond games. Maybe you think GoldenEye was the impossible-to-top peak that kicked off the Brosnan Bond game era, and I can’t deny you that viewpoint. However, the most incredible thing about Brosnan’s Bond games is that they’re not just adaptations of Brosnan’s real Bond adventures; they’re an essential part of Brosnan’s Bond tenure.

For Gamers’ Eyes Only

It’s fair to say that 1999’s Tomorrow Never Dies wasn’t quite the GoldenEye 007 substitute that PS1 fans at the time were hoping for. What it was, though, was a solid third-person spy shooter that was perfect for the Syphon Filter crowd. 2000’s The World is Not Enough also didn’t live up to GoldenEye’s high FPS standard, but it gave PS1 gamers a much-needed notable entry in that genre. Actually, the N64 version of the game is significantly better than many people remember it being.

As for 2000’s 007 Racing…well, even Brosnan’s Bond games weren’t immune from the occasional cash-in. From there, though, Brosnan’s Bond game legacy became a bit more complicated and significantly more interesting. 

2001’s Agent Under Fire began development as a next-gen adaptation of The World is Not Enough. However, delays to the project inspired EA to turn it into a standalone title complete with an original storyline. Though that shift sadly meant that Brosnan and other Bond cast members didn’t appear in the game, there’s little doubt that Agent Under Fire’s in-game Bond was designed to resemble Brosnan as closely as possible. Many likely still remember this as a Brosnan Bond game for that reason. 

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While Agent Under Fire’s FPS gameplay certainly didn’t replicate GoldenEye’s impact, the game was a revelation in its own way. Free from the need to stretch established film scenes into full levels, Agent Under Fire’s team was able to construct unique missions that instead invoked the spirit of James Bond. They needed to recreate the sensation of playing through a Bond film, but they could treat the character as a video game protagonist first and a movie hero second.

The feather in their cap (or the olive in their martini) was the brilliant decision to put special “Bond Moves” in each level that rewarded experimental players with the chance to complete optional objectives designed to make them feel like Bond. In a truly inspired bit of game design, completing those Bond Moves triggered a small section of that classic Bond theme that punctuated the moment like only it can.

If that sounds simple…well, it kind of is. However, there’s always been a simple joy that borders on guilty pleasure to the entire Bond concept. For as good as previous Bond games were, they couldn’t quite match the visceral thrill of using one of Q’s gadgets at the perfect time, wiping out an incoming squadron of soldiers, and hearing a few key beats of that iconic theme. The mere memory of that experience is enough to send a chill down your spine. 

So what does any of that have to do with Brosnan? Well, 2002’s James Bond 007: Nightfire was not just a direct spiritual follow-up to Agent Under Fire but just so happened to feature Brosnan’s likeness (though Maxwell Caulfield provided Bond’s voice for the game). While not the first Bond game to feature an original story and a Bond actor’s likeness (that honor would go to 1992’s Dalton-led James Bond 007: The Duel), Nightfire was the first such game that felt worthy of being a Bond movie on its own. Maybe not the best Bond movie, but something remarkably close to a Bond movie nonetheless.

This was a crucial turning point in Brosnan’s legacy as the definitive gaming Bond. Previous notable Bond games may have been based on Brosnan Bond movies, but here was a Brosnan Bond adventure that belonged to gamers. If you wanted to see the full scope of Brosnan’s Bond work, you needed to play Nightfire. The fact that the game was actually quite good (or certainly enjoyable) only solidified a generation of gamers’ connection to Brosnan. 

That connection culminated with the release of 2004’s James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing. Like Agent Under Fire and Nightfire, Everything or Nothing told an original Bond story. This time, though, Brosnan not only lent his likeness to the game but his voice as well. Joining him on the cast were notable Bond alumni Judi Dench and John Cleese as well as appropriately cast newcomers Willem Dafoe, Heidi Klum, and Shannon Elizabeth. 

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Due respect to GoldenEye 007, but Everything or Nothing will always be my ultimate Bond gaming experience. Its third-person gameplay has aged much better than early first-person fare, and its cinematic nature is unrivaled among Bond games. Bond Moves return, the cast is truly stacked (how did Willem Dafoe never appear as a Bond villain in the movies?), and the game even features a banger of an original Bond song performed by Mya. It’s the most impressively elaborate blend of Bond films and Bond games we’ll likely ever see, and Pierce Brosnan was at the center of it all.

To some, though, the most notable thing about Everything or Nothing may be the fact it was the last original Bond story Brosnan ever starred in. That may seem like relegation for the actor that helped bring Bond roaring back to the big screen, but I’ve never seen it like that. I’ve always seen it as more of a testament to the ways that Brosnan was uniquely qualified to be gaming’s greatest James Bond.

The Man With The Golden Controller

The only thing more intense than the best Bond actor is the debate over the best Bond movie. We’ve shared our opinions on that topic on numerous occasions. However, with the exception of 1995’s GoldenEye, it must be said that Brosnan’s films tend to fall towards the middle or bottom of such rankings. 

It’s a curious legacy for an actor whose Bond tenure started off with such a massive hit. For that matter, it’s a curious legacy for an actor who people had long said was pretty much the perfect person to play James Bond. What should have been a dream run of Bond movies was partially undone by an overall lack of creative vision, a questionable desire to keep up with certain trends, and perhaps even a failure to understand what, exactly, it was that Brosnan brought to the table. Brosnan’s Bond movies are enjoyable, to say the least, but there was always the feeling that they could have been more.

It’s not that Brosnan’s Bond games were strictly better than the movies but rather that they often felt like a more natural home for Brosnan’s era of Bond. Brosnan’s impossible good looks stood out during the early days of 3D graphics when chiseled features were practically a necessity when trying to render things that looked remotely human. His distinctive voice carried a lot of weight at a time when video game voiceovers were rare and often limited to a relatively small amount of dialog. He had a presence in those games as both a celebrity and the ideal version of what Bond may look, act, and sound like if he was originally created to be a video game protagonist.

Even the growing absurdity of Brosnan’s Bond movies felt more at home in an era of gaming that often demanded as many absurd set pieces from its source materials/inspirations in order to justify a campaign. Many have pointed out that Brosnan’s Bond movies suffered from some rough CGI (even for their time), but it must be said that some of those rough CGI film sequences often inspired some fantastic video game levels.

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But really, it always comes back to Brosnan. From GoldenEye 007 to Everything or Nothing, the Brosnan era of Bond games was defined by that aforementioned promise that a new generation of gaming would finally allow you to properly experience was it was like to be Bond. What better avatar for that sensation than the man who sometimes felt like he was created in a lab to be James Bond?

Post-Brosnan games like the Connery-led From Russia With Love and the Craig-led Blood Stone provided compelling arguments that Bond games died off (relatively speaking) sooner than they should have. Unfortunately, diminishing sales and fading critical reception have put us in a prolonged Bond game drought that Hitman developer IO Interactive hopes to break with Project 007. Hopes are justifiably high for that game, but it’s hard to imagine that the original Bond they will need to create for that title who will ever top Brosnan in the minds of many gamers.

Some say your favorite Bond is the one you grew up with. As a Connery/Dalton fan, I’d have to disagree with that statement at least somewhat. Yet, I know there is some truth to it in the case of Pierce Brosnan and those incredible games I grew up with that let me play through his adventures, new adventures, and, to an extent, the adventures of a character I’d always wanted to see in a truly great game.

Brosnan was a Bond who had the unique honor of contributing to the legacy of the franchise and his own legacy via experiences that sometimes seemed to be a better fit for our split-screen CRT TVs than the biggest screen possible. Bond almost always relies on a collection of gadgets, but Brosnan was the only Bond who used the N64, Playstation, and Xbox to reach a new generation of fans in ways that no Bond before could and no Bond after likely will.