Two years ago, we saw the release of the 24th James Bond film, Spectre. Something we did not see was a video game adaptation to follow—the James Bond universe has not been revisited in gaming since the release of the Skyfall expansion for 007 Legends in 2012.
Unable to replicate the success of the films on consoles, developers have retreated from the property, a sad state of affairs for what was once the gold standard of licensed video game adaptations.
Watch the trailer for the underwhelming 007 Legends:
The trajectory in quality of James Bond #VideoGames isn't quite a straight line downwards. Things got started a bit earlier than you'd expect—and it wasn't all that bad.
The Awkward Early Years
While playable #JamesBond history as we know it seems to start with Goldeneye, it actually found its footing in the 80s with Shaken But Not Stirred (1982)—a text-based adventure game exclusively released in the UK. Though the game's healing method involved unprecedented drug use, the approach was well-received and praised for its stylish faithfulness to both Ian Fleming's books and MGM's films.
Seven more games would be released throughout the '80s. Some of these were simple text adventures, others variations of the racing platformer genre loosely based on action sequences from the films.
Early '90s adaptations of Bond were generally confused and scatterbrained affairs. A total of five games were released before Rare hit the jackpot with Goldeneye.
The Golden Age Of 'Goldeneye' And 'Nightfire'
While it could be argued that our fond memories of Goldeneye (1997) carry the protection of good old '90s nostalgia, the fact remains that the game represented a high point for James Bond video games—one that subsequent releases have struggled to reach again.
The secret to Goldeneye's success remains somewhat elusive. The game itself had the benefit of being released during somewhat of a golden age for PlayStation and Nintendo 64. Its strong IP and tasteful spin on the first-person shooter only served to affirm its value as an effective adaptation. The real jewel in the crown, however, was most likely its well-designed local multiplayer mode.
Multiplayer modes would return to save the day in Nightfire (2002). This release managed to bring back some of the lost fervor, not with its (fairly original) story, but with a comprehensive multiplayer mode. The multiplayer gameplay featured characters from the title's short story as well as a number of playable characters from previous Bond films.
Nightfire's success may have been what allowed this element of the franchise to weather the storm during the 2000s when a few poorly rendered adaptations would quietly but effectively push these stories into oblivion.
Original Bond Stories Deliver The Killing Blow
Shortly after Nightfire things began to fall apart. As the games committed to their departure from canon content, their storylines became weaker.
Not even bold celebrity cameos from the likes of Willem Dafoe and Heidi Klum could save 007: Everything or Nothing (2003) and the playable reboot of From Russia with Love (2005) proved to be the greatest display of demographic ignorance in all of Electronic Arts' history with the IP. The latter game sold a depressing 277,000 copies in total.
Once Pierce Brosnan passed the torch to Daniel Craig, the adaptation schedule grew even more sparse. A Quantum of Solace game was released in 2008 and has been the last standalone direct adaptation for the last nine years. The year 2010 also saw a forgettable attempt to remake Goldeneye complete with an expansive but unimpressive multiplayer component.
It was 007 Legends (2012) that hammered 'the final nail in the coffin.' It's anthological take on the James Bond franchise was a well-intentioned but poorly executed gesture remembered only for its clunky gameplay and strangely dated graphics. It was also critically panned for the choice to replace former Bonds with Daniel Craig's likeness in chapters based on films before his time.
It's been five years and there's still no news on the horizon—what's next for James Bond video games?
Fanmade Content Keeps The Dream Alive
Both Goldeneye and Nightfire have received the fan treatment since Activision called it quits with licensed games. Using the Half Life engine, the multiplayer portion of Goldeneye was painstakingly recreated and released on Steam as Goldeneye: Source.
Nightfire: Source, though in development for over a year, is set for release in the near future. Updates can be found across the developers' pages on YouTube.
#TelltaleGames also has their eye on the prize. Co-founder and president, Ken Bruner, has said that the recent Bond adaptations have turned his character into something of a "serial killer". Bruner and team would love the opportunity to return elegance to espionage in an adaptation of their own, should the money and licenses line up.
So, while Bond games are resting in peace for the moment, there could be something better waiting for us in the future. The movies certainly aren't going anywhere—hopefully the games won't either.
What was your favorite digital James Bond adventure?