Thoughts On Project 007

James Bond games used to be a major force in the licensed game industry.

Starting with Goldeneye in 1997, players were blessed with a fantastic new game every other year, featuring different play styles and genres as the years went on.

We had the excellent first-person shooter Nightfire, the superb third-person shooters Everything or Nothing and From Russia With Love, and even a remake of the classic Goldeneye, which updated the 1995 film to the modern day, complete with Daniel Craig instead of Pierce Brosnan as the iconic superspy.

But after a few years in the 2010s, with only the poor Quantum of Solace adaptation in 2008, the okay Blood Stone in 2010, and the abysmal 007: Legends in 2012, the series has been dark for nearly a decade. That all changed in the tail end of 2020.

Back in November 2020, IO Interactive, the Danish developer of Hitman, posted a tweet teasing their next game, with the working title Project 007.

The trailer, which is just under one minute in length, shows someone loading a bullet into a gun, before the camera sweeps around to show the iconic gunbarrel, accompanied by the James Bond theme. IO also posted a press release on their website, saying the that the story will be a “…wholly original Bond story…” where players will “…earn their 00 status in the very first James Bond origin story.”

While it is still early days, as a James Bond fan, I’m already hooked on a new game being on the horizon.

With nothing less known about the project, let’s do a bit of speculating, and create a wishlist of things that I would like to see in the game.

For Your Eyes Only – What Would I Like To See In Project 007

A New Bond

With IO’s phrase, a “wholly original Bond story” in their press release, and Daniel Craig stepping away from the role after the film No Time To Die, it seems like IO’s 007 will have nothing in connection with the most recent incarnation of Bond films.

I think this is a good thing. While the mid-2000s were the peak of licensed games, with Spiderman 2, The Chronicles of Riddick, and The Simpsons: Hit and Run, nowadays the market has shrunk to a mere fraction of what it once was.

Sure, every now and again you’ll get an Insomniac Spiderman, Telltale Walking Dead, or WB Shadow Of Mordor, but these are few and far between. However, these games smartly take their setting and characters, and create an alternate universe that stands apart from the more famous media. Project 007 should work on the same factor.

But with no cinematic Bond to base the main character on, what would he look like? In IO’s press release, it says “…players with earn THEIR 00 status”, could we take this to mean that some character customisation could be involved? To take the customisation point further, players could be awarded experience points to make Bond quicker, stealthier, tougher, better with gadgets or weapons, in essence, making their Bond entirely unique to them. I think this would be a fun angle for players, and would be cool to see the different variations that we could make.

However, even though the game is named Project 007, the name James Bond comes up many times in the press release, so sadly I don’t think we’ll be seeing any playable female agents in the main story.

A New (Old) Era

IO’s main series, Hitman, is a thoroughly modern game, always full of hi-tech gadgets and settings. While it would be easy for IO to slip in 007 to these locales, I think it might be fun for the developers to leap back in time. It would be something not just interesting and original for IO by setting it apart from the Hitman series, but would also be new for the Bond license. The majority of the games have been set around the Pierce Brosnan/Daniel Craig era, with one outlier, From Russia With Love, an adaptation of the 1963 film, complete with Sean Connery voicing 007.

Setting the game in the 1950s and 60s means the game would be full of tense East vs. West standoffs, with Bond going against his KGB contemporaries. Being hunted and hunting enemy spies or double agents is a perfect scenario for any spy media, and I hope Project 007 has at least one mission based on this idea.

The 1960s also gives us new weapons, unique architecture, and snazzy suits (we know how much IO likes their suits). Being set in the past, the game also deals with the ‘smart phone’ problem. In more recent 007 games, especially ones based on Daniel Craig’s interpretation of Bond, 007’s smartphone is his primary gadget. It’s a camera, a tracker, a communication device, a codebreaker, it does EVERYTHING. Having the setting be the early 60s means the game can be creative with a range of gadgets, like a laser watch, sonic cufflinks, and coins as grenades to name a few.

From Russia With Love has been the only James Bond game to be set in the past. Maybe Project 007 could be the same? (Source: denofgeek.com)

A Mash Of Genres

Many James Bond games are straight-up shooters, but I think that loses a lot of their character. It’s less 007 and more CoD. To alleviate this, I think a 007 game should have a mix of styles.

Just like the new Hitman games, 007 should be able to shoot his way through to his objectives, but stealth should also be a viable option. It would also be quite refreshing to have a few levels where killing is forbidden or highly discouraged, and we have to focus more on a simple Judo chop or our gadgets than our trusty silenced pistol.

It might also be good to take some inspiration from what previous games got right. The great granddaddy of James Bond games is Goldeneye for the Nintendo 64. While it is chock-full of baddies to blast away, Goldeneye tasks Bond with sending messages, escorting Soviet defectors, installing gadgets, and photographing evidence. These simple tasks made the game more ‘alive’ than some modern 007 games, as we are doing actual spy work.

Another staple from previous games that was always a joy were the driving sections. IO have never done a driving game, but they could take the same approach to vehicular gameplay as they did for Hitman, using the 2001 game Agent Under Fire as a reference.

In many James Bond games, the driving sections are little more than linear or even on-rails affairs, where players just have to maintain speed and not crash to continue. In Agent Under Fire, Bond is given an open world to drive around in and complete his tasks. These are everything from tracing a suspect vehicle, delivering codes to MI6, to shooting down enemy helicopters. The open approach gives the player so much freedom, where even if they crash or go a different way, they aren’t immediately thrown to the ‘Game Over’ screen. IO should really take inspiration from the past 007 games and recreate what made them fun.

Multiplayer?

Multiplayer deathmatches have become a staple of James Bond games ever since Goldeneye, with players being able to choose from a rogues gallery of prior Bond characters, in iconic locations, and blow each other to pieces.

While IO could implement a fun third-person shootout, I think they could also reuse their multiplayer aspect from Hitman, having two agents (say, MI6 and KGB) race to complete their missions, all the while trying to stop the other from completing theirs.

If we added the customisation aspect I mentioned previously, I think this could be a really fun way to see how different players work with their unique versions of Bond.

IO also have little modes in Hitman such as Contracts (players select a target and test others to kill them in a specific way) and the Sniper Challenge (players have to eliminate certain targets but only with their sniper) that with a little tweak could easily slot into the world of 007. These mini games don’t even have to be connected to the main game, but can be a fun offshoot for players to mess with. 

The Hitman Sniper Challenge from Absolution. Something like this in Project 007 would be cool. (Source: ioi.dk)

Conclusion

As I said in the opening, it’s been nearly a decade since we last had a James Bond game. Games have moved on, not just in terms of trends and graphics, but with new gameplay modes and interactivity.

Back in the day, James Bond used to help push the games industry forward, from experienced and lauded developers such as Rare, Eurocom, EA Redwood Shores (later known as Visceral) and Bizarre Creations.

With Goldeneye in 1997, it showed that an FPS could work on home consoles. Everything or Nothing and From Russia With Love are still marvels of artistry and design, with insanely detailed models of Sean Connery and Pierce Brosnan. With its new Hitman trilogy, IO have built upon their previous success and made something that is completely unique in the market.

If they can bring the same level of craftsmanship and detail that they bring to Agent 47, I think Project 007 would be well on its way to being not just one of the best games of its year, but the best James Bond game ever.

Banner Photo Source: bosshunting.com.au

007: Nightfire’s ‘The Exchange’ & Player Induction Through Level Design

I recently finished reading the first James Bond book, Casino Royale. Despite being a 007 fan for as long as I can remember, I had never actually gotten round to reading the classic stories by Ian Fleming.

While I was obviously introduced to the series with the films (every week I would head to Blockbuster and get a new one to watch), I think I truly became a fan when I was introduced to the games.

Picture the scene; it is 2003. I am seven years old. Our household console, the original PlayStation, ups and dies. We upgrade to the PlayStation 2 which is few years into its lifespan. We get three games with the PS2; FIFA, a Dave Mirra game, and James Bond 007: Nightfire.

The latter is the first FPS (first-person shooter) I play, and I become both a lifelong fan of the genre and the character.

There are no nostalgia goggles when I say Nightfire is one of the best games of the sixth generation. I have bought that game several times for different consoles, playing it well into my adult life. And I think that it all comes down to the excellent opening of the game, ‘The Exchange’.

This level features so many variations and little things to help a new player immerse themselves into the world of 007, so I thought I would take a look back and analyse how it creates and inducts the player into the gameplay.

Now, Pay Attention 007!” – How ‘The Exchange’ Teaches Players Mechanics Through The Level Design

‘The Exchange’ is the second level of 007 Nightfire. The first level, ‘Paris Prelude’, is strictly an on-rails/driving affair with ‘The Exchange’ being the game’s first proper FPS mission.

If a player has not played the game before, ‘Paris Prelude’ starts. Aiming is computer-controlled; the player just has to shoot using the R1 button (the button is helpfully flashed on-screen when it is needed).

Nightfire Paris
‘Paris Prelude’ acts as a tutorial to Nightfire, teaching driving mechanics as well. (Source: superadventuresingaming.blogspot.com).

Even if the player has not got to grips with all the controls (by reading the game manual) then they know at least one button and what it does.

‘The Exchange’ begins with 007 on a mission to infiltrate an enemy castle in Austria. Bond starts a few hundred metres away from the front door on top of a guardhouse. This starting placement is important.

This guardhouse allows the player that has never played a game before to get used to the movement controls. This is a safe space. There are no enemies patrolling, nothing shooting at you, it is nice and calm. The game even allows you to fire your weapon once just to try the controls out. If you fire a second shot then a guard will investigate the sound (a good way to discipline the player for forgetting what the button does).

Bond’s placement on top of the guardhouse also helps player navigation. The end of the opening cutscene and the player starting position draw the eyes forward to the large castle, pointing the way forward. The player can venture backwards on the road, but will find the path blocked by a locked door, forcing them to have to move towards the castle.

Exchange Opening
The opening section of ‘The Exchange’. Notice how we are guided towards the castle. (Source: infinitemirai.wordpress.com).

This is such a small thing, but it helps aid movement. Imagine if the player started inside the guardhouse. It would be a more claustrophobic start instead of the freedom of the open environment. It would be counter-intuitive to player guidance by not showing us the way forward.

Once the player has got the hang of the controls there are three main ways to get into the castle; one aggressive, two stealthy. We will go with aggressive first.

Aggressive

The player makes their way down the stairs of the guardhouse and sees a bad guy stationed just outside the door. This is the first enemy of the game. This set-up allows us to be ushered into combat without being overwhelmed. The guard is facing away, allowing the player to play at their pace.

This is where knowledge of shooting comes back. Guns and bullets are player interaction at its purest. The guard must be dealt with to proceed, but since he is unaware of the player, the player can take their time to line up a shot. If the player has tinkered around on the roof, they may have found Bond can punch or use a stunning gadget. If the player accidentally wanders out of the guardhouse, Bond will make the guard surrender, a safety net for those still struggling with the controls.

And to top it all off, this guard is a singular entity. Unless the player completely messes up and doesn’t deal with him, he cannot alert other guards.

Nightfire First Enemy
The first enemy of the game, allowing the player to get to grips with the game before entering combat. (Source: oocities.org).

Subduing this guard will net us a new weapon, a sniper. The other enemies at the beginning of this level are visible in the distance (white outfits against a black/grey backgrounds), and so the sniper can be used to pick enemies off. Again, the player knows the shoot button and will use it to interact with the world.

The guards further up the road are stationery and will not notice the player until they get close. This allows the player to find an unobstructed viewpoint (the middle of the road) to survey the bad guys. The sniper is also silenced, allowing for players to take down bad guys without alerting others.

As the player moves up and dispatches the bad guys, they may acquire another new gun, a machine gun. This brings Nightfire’s weapon matrix into play. Now we have three distinct weapons. They each have their own strengths and weaknesses in regards to damage and range. After the player takes the machine gun, there are two more enemies in this starting area that it can be used against, allowing the player to familiarise themselves with the new weapon.

From there, the player heads to the main door and once they have found the action button, they continue to the next section.

Stealth 1: The Wine Truck

If the player waits on the roof, they can use the wine truck method. When the truck passes through the guardhouse, it will stall for a period of time. This allows the player to hop into the back from the roof and get inside the castle without killing any guards.

Nightfire Truck
It is such a classic Bond moment, one that isn’t signposted and just requires the player to mess around to find. (Source: superadventuresingaming.blogspot.com).

This is one of those moments that reward the player’s imagination. If the player thinks they can do it, then they quite possibly can in Nightfire. It is such a long way from the funneled systems of many big budget games of this generation where a mission will fail if you step an inch outside of the creator’s vision.

Stealth 2: The Castle Wall

Continuing the jumping aspect, if the player jumps from the roof to the rocky cliff face (the same way if they were to head backwards) they will find a footpath that leads to a ravine.

Nigthfire ravine
The ravine is another stealthy way into the castle and gets the player closer to the next objective. (Source: cheatcodesgalore.com).

If they continue, a pop-up in the corner of the screen indicates there is a grappling station nearby. If the player looks around with their grapple equipped they can see a white target reticle. Focussing in on the reticle with the grapple turns it green (the universal colour of ‘go’). Once the player has used the grapple they have to make their way around the outside of the castle, sneaking past other guards.

Nightfire Stealth
You have to monitor enemy movement to sneak past the windows. If you don’t, several bad guys will spawn in. (Source: cheatcodesgalore.com).

This path introduces the (optional) contextual movement aspect where the player can traverse a wall or zipline by shimmying along. These are some serious stealth strategies though and failure will lead to heavily armed goons coming to take you down. This is for a player that has mastered the controls and locates the opportunity.

However…

There is another contextual movement section before the one previously mentioned.

After the player has got through the first wave of bad guys but before the main door, there is a little path leading off to the left.

Nightfire Pathway
Notice the pathway to the left, highlighted by the wooden handrail. (Source: xTimelessGaming, YouTube).

Heading down there allows the player to scale around the wall. During the cutscene Bond moves through some crunchy snow (5:28). The guards at the door (if they are alive) will come and investigate, but soon head back to their post. This introduces sound into a larger gameplay loop.

If the player has gunned their way to this section, they already know about sound and its role in alerting guards. This gameplay section highlights that quick movements can give you away and that slow movements (such as when the player is crouching) can make you silent and less easy to detect.

Each one of these variations on infiltrating the castle starts you in a different place during the next section. If you came in with the wine truck you start near the wine cellars. If you walked through the main door you are a few corridors away. And if you took the ‘Stealth 2’ route you start in a guard tower.

Nightfire Castle
The different play styles net different rewards and new locations, making each style feel unique. (Source: infinitemirai.wordpress.com).

Even better, all these other places are available to visit. If you came in via the castle wall you can find the truck and where it ends up. It’s almost like reverse engineering, seeing where certain gameplay decisions spawn you.

Conclusion

I am going to finish this piece here because I don’t want this article to run long, but I will give a few bullet points as to what the next gameplay sections deliver.

  • A non-violent social stealth element where the player must work their way through the environment (useful in later levels like ‘Night Shift’).
  • Bond uses his micro-camera in two cutscenes. Its appearance shows it can be used for surveillance and to complete objectives (like in ‘Chain Reaction’).
  • We are barred from following the bad guys, so we go another way to rendezvous with another agent. On the way back, the barred section is open. As it is now unlocked, we can follow it. This is a perfect way to guide players in a non-linear fashion.

Nightfire Interior
The player is familiarised through non-violent gameplay sections before the level opens up. This allows for the game to guide the player without needing waypoints. (Source: infinitemirai.wordpress.com).

  • After some shooting we get another weapon (an unsilenced machine pistol, another element added to the weapon matrix).
  • We head back outside and encounter a contextual zipline. Like the guardhouse there are no enemies shooting at us, so we can find the button that makes the zipline work without the worry that we will die.
  • Alternatively, the player can stay inside and get to the next objective quicker.
  • Alternatively, if we did go outside we would be awarded with another weapon (a machine gun with a silencer) and a stun grenade. These weapons make quick work of the guards at the objective, as they use cover and have machine pistols.
  • When the player completes the objective by retrieving a suitcase, they also pick up a rocket launcher. It is impossible to pick up the suitcase without also getting the launcher.
  • Once the player has got to the cable car station (which they would have visited if they went outside, but is also in a straight line if they stayed inside), a helicopter shows up. What do we have that can take down a helicopter? The rocket launcher.

Nightfire Helicopter
Bond in combat against the helicopter. (Source: superadventuresingaming.blogspot.com).

  • The cable car has several windows. These can be shot out with regular ammo, allowing an almost perfect 360 degrees view.
  • The rocket is automatically on guided rockets, so when a player first shoots one they control its destination. While this may seem confusing on the first shot, the player’s previous movement controls come back into play and they can deliver several follow up shots on the helicopter.
  • The rocket launcher has full ammo capacity so even if the player misses a few shots, they will have enough to finish the mission.

Each following level takes one of the aspects from the ‘The Exchange’ and expands it, whether that is close quarters combat (‘Double Cross’), stealth (‘Night Shift’) sniping (‘Chain Reaction’) or all-out action (‘Phoenix Fire’).

While there might be some stealth in ‘Phoenix Fire’ or action at the end of ‘Night Shift’, these are only very small elements. This allows the levels to have their own distinct tones and themes. But that is why ‘The Exchange’ is a perfect opening. It allows for that difference in playstyle but also player freedom, educating them on how to play the game.

Newer 007 games like Blood Stone and Goldeneye Reloaded also have this balance of stealth and action in their opening levels, but none of them give the freedom of Nightfire, instead they railroad you through a directed experience.

That is not to say that strict linear games are bad. On the contrary, I love Blood Stone. But I think that freedom gives ‘The Exchange’ and Nightfire an excellent sense of character and gameplay. And that is why it is so fondly remembered.

And it doesn’t hurt that they absolutely killed it with the multiplayer. ‘Skyrail’ anyone?

Banner Photo Source: techraptor.net.