The Strange History of James Bond 007 Games

Den of Geek looks back at the James Bond 007 video game franchise and picks some of the best and worst titles.

James Bond is the world’s least secret agent, and he’s even worse at video games than he is at keeping a low profile. Even though “having fun with gadgets” is half his job description. 

It’s really no wonder that Bond latest cinematic adventure, Spectre, has arrived with no video game to accompany it. The last few years haven’t been kind to 007 games.

His games have a lower strike rate than a henchman with a machine gun. Even a non-secret civil servant would have to undergo a performance review after so many public failures. Which is why we’ve given Bond’s video game timeline a performance evaluation, and asked each of his co-workers to give an award:

The M’s Office Award for Awful Expository Dialogue

WINNER: James Bond 007: The Stealth Affair (Amiga, Atari ST, DOS, 1990)

Runners Up: James Bond 007: A View to a Kill (DOS and others, 1985), James Bond 007: Goldfinger (PC and other, 1987)

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“007, what the hell are you doing?” – M

Every Bond movie needs a scene where professionals who can go five minutes without killing can explain the mission. Otherwise Bond would just be an unjustifiable psychopath who’s worked out how to sublimate his caveman urges into civilized society. By blowing it up. Unfortunately, some games thought this “talk a lot” aspect to be worth an entire game.

James Bond 007: The Stealth Affair is the name you get when a developer hears that James Bond is a secret agent and can’t be bothered to do any further work. Which is almost exactly true of developers Delphine, as their “James Bond” is really John Glames, CIA star of Operation Stealth, a game they hastily retitled to try and extort cash from the Bond license. Which shows just how badly they matched the game to the story: hurriedly putting a false face on an American secret agent is how you make a Mission: Impossible game, not a Bond title. And any attempt to extort cash involving Bond always ends in disaster.

The game is mainly point and click, and they punish you for complaining about that being the wrong game style for an action-packed secret agent by adding the worst possible action sequences: an underwater section where Bond is trapped and running out of oxygen, and another where he must escape a maze. The only successful piece of espionage the game managed was a message that self-destructed: if you played it with the primitive speech synthesis enabled, a single incorrect click would cause the game to crash and force a reboot.

The Insurance Damage Waiver Award For Dangerous Driving

Winner: Live and Let Die (Amiga and others, 1988)

Runners Up: James Bond 007 (Atari 2600 and others, 1983), The Spy Who Loved Me (Amiga and others, 1990), 007 Racing (PlayStation, 2000)

“Need I remind you, 007, that you have a license to kill, not to break traffic laws.” – Q.

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Bond’s cars are the stuff of legends. They’d be the stuff of myth if we thought Odin knew how to work a stick-shift, and Bond’s gear lever usually contains buttons which unleash at least as much explosive doom as Mjolnir. And much more horsepower. Several developers abused Q-branch’s custom cars as an excuse to license a driving game as a 007 adventure. But which was the worst?

Domark didn’t design a Bond game, they retitled a random speedboat game they had lying around fifteen years after Live and Let Die. Because that’s just how fast the people involved in this mess think. Which isn’t a great sign for a racing game. It misses the point of a Bond license in every possible way. The star of the cover art is the shit-kicking comic relief sheriff character. The boat’s speedometer says “007” at all times, otherwise you’d forget the game had anything to do with him at all.

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Reducing Bond to a racing game is bad enough, but choosing a boat instead of a car? Water has never been a fun thing in video games. Going back to the water is such a bad idea, it literally reverses evolution. We can only be grateful that they didn’t go for the Moonraker turbo-boosted gondola. Though we will admit that any game which lets a speedboat jump to shoot down a helicopter is at least an honorary Bond. But only for that exact moment.

The Anti-Q Award For Worst Use of Technology

Winner: Nightfire (multiple, 2002)

Runner Up: The Living Daylights (Amiga and others, 1987)

“Don’t touch that!” – Q

Q has always been the heart and soul of the franchise, which only makes it worse that the latest movies turned him into a smug IT jerk who doesn’t even know what a Trojan is. But the games were ruining Bond technology long before the movies.

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“Nightfire” sounds like a sophisticated computer virus designed to cripple hardware, and for many PC users that’s exactly what it was. A glitch-ridden mess designed to de-inspire anyone who ever imagined themselves as a 00 agent. The cutscenes and introduction are extremely smooth, casting the player as the star of their very own Bond movie, but those players almost immediately suffered supremely un-suave snags like “bouncing off cliffs” or “getting stuck clinging to a rope.” Even Bond couldn’t make those sound like sex moves instead of embarrassing medical problems.

The game’s only saving grace is making us appreciate the carefully-balanced stupidity of armed guards in the movies. Just enough nous to notice something is up and start a spectacular chase scene, but not enough to end the movie by actually hitting the person they’re aiming at. This game’s guards have no such restraint. They’ll snipe you through an air vent halfway across the map if you’ve triggered them, and cheerfully ignore the explosion of every other guard in the room if you haven’t. They’re a version of Russian roulette where everyone else is aiming the guns.

The Blofeld Award for Worst Failure Across Multiple Movies

Winner: 007 Legends (PS3, Xbox 360)

Runners Up: GoldenEye: Rogue Agent (PlayStation 2 and others, 2004), James Bond 007 (Game Boy, 1998)

“No, no, no, Mr Bond.” – Blofeld

Bond is the brand, but it’s the villains who make the movies. They’re unique, they’re exciting, and they’re the reason Bond’s story isn’t a never-ending series of sexual harassment suits. Blofeld is the most famous villain to span multiple movies. Though he did fail in every single one of them. And he did end up unceremoniously dumped down a smokestack in the most embarrassing failure on cinematic record. Which is why he represents the failure of games which try the same multi-movie trick.

GoldenEye: Rogue Agent was a strong contender for this title, going so far as to use the espionage technique of stealing a much better games name, but it couldn’t compete with the sheer wasted opportunity of 007 Legends. Or, to reveal its secret codename, “Call of Duty in a Tuxedo.” They didn’t celebrate the series’ rich cinematic story, they just copy-and-pasted pieces of it because they couldn’t be bothered to write their own. They reduced the 00-agent qualifications to “run around with a gun” and “worse stealth than a tap-dancing elephant—but without the same sense of fun or originality.”

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Gadgets and interactivity were reduced to the simplest possible “Press A button to do everything” prompts, which might be Q division’s dream for creating the ultimate tool but isn’t much fun to actually play. As a result, 007 Legends developer Eurocom ended up firing 150 of its 200 staff. This game was so bad James Bond ended up destroying his own computer facility.

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The Moneypenny Award for Screwing Bond

Winner: James Bond Jr (NES and Super NES, 1991)

Runners Up: James Bond 007: The Duel (SEGA, 1992), 007: License to Kill (DOS and others, 1989), Tomorrow Never Dies (PlayStation, 1999), The World is Not Enough (PlayStation version, 2000), Nightfire (PC Version, 2002), 007: Quantum of Solace (Xbox 360 and others, 2008)

“Someday, you’ll have to make good on your innuendos.” – Moneypenny

James Bond’s entire deal is causing chaos and then escaping it. He couldn’t be better designed for video game success if Q fitted him with a joystick, and even that would only make his sexual puns stronger. Unfortunately, most of his game developers have operated like Miss Moneypenny: sitting around in offices thinking of ways to screw Bond, but never actually doing anything fun.

James Bond Jr. is the worst secret operative in existence. He insists that he’s only James Bond’s nephew, which nobody believes for a second, and then calls himself James Bond Jr. anyway. He’s insulting you while lying to your face and is counting on nobody caring enough about him to kick his ass. His “uncle” certainly didn’t care enough to give him the least bit of training in sophistication. He drags the Bond name through platform levels, which look like they’ve been made from Duplo blocks and would have been more challenging to step on if they had. Not to mention that the vehicle sections are less challenging than a garden path.

The 00 Qualification

Winner: GoldenEye 007 (N64, 1997)

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Runners Up: James Bond 007: From Russia with Love (Xbox and others, 2005), Everything or Nothing (various, 2003), The World is Not Enough (N64 version, 2000), Agent Under Fire (Playstation 2 and others, 2001), Nightfire (console versions, 2002), James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing (Playstation 2 and others, 2003), GoldenEye 007 (Xbox 360 and others, 2010), 007: Blood Stone (PC and console, 2010)

“The name’s Bond. James Bond.” – James Bond (who’s apparently a poet and doesn’t know it)

Against all the odds and every evidence of failure, James Bond succeeds. That’s what he does. And when he does, it’s some of the greatest action you’ve ever enjoyed.

When you’re talking about the best Bond game there can only be one. GoldenEye is the Highlander of Bonds, and kicks even more ass than that idea. GoldenEye was the perfect electronic agent incarnation in more ways than one. It wasn’t just an extremely slick shooter, but it was a huge leap forward in technology from a completely unexpected direction to defeat armies of other idiots equipped with regular guns. In 1997, Nintendo were about as famous for shooters as they were for selling shoes, and suddenly they swooped out of nowhere to become kings of ass-kicking.

It also embodies the ephemeral action technology. Many of Bond’s cutting edge gadgets are now obsolete. Goldfinger‘s gigantic car-mounted GPS system is now included in every phone, and Thunderball‘s waterproof camera is a standard option.

Likewise, by modern game control standards, this N64 masterwork is about as elegant as a drunken dinosaur. But it’s also that much fun. And a T-rex in a tuxedo swigging a vodka martini is the perfect representation of this golden game: glorious, imaginative, and modern evolution simply hasn’t crafted anything quite so cool.

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