Daniel Craig’s tenure as 007 has coincided with an industry-wide decline in movie tie-in games – here are the James Bond videogames that made it.

EON Productions has been very canny with the scheduling of the 25th James Bond movie, No Time To Die, twice moving the release date in anticipation of UK lockdown measures. That’s proven costly from a PR and marketing standpoint, as dribs and drabs of the film’s second major campaign keep appearing to promote a film that’s not going to actually arrive before audiences until April 2021 (barring further accidents).

Not so long ago, it wouldn’t have been hard to imagine the knock-on effect of delaying a major movie like this affecting the obligatory video-game tie-in either. This type of game has earned a bit of a reputation for being rushed into shops to match a film’s release date, especially since successive generations of consoles have required longer lead times for games in development.

As it stands, there hasn’t been a new James Bond videogame released for consoles since 2012. That’s as much because of the changing games industry as it is due to any critical or commercial misses associated with the 007 brand, but Craig has been the Bond of record long enough to have his likeness featured in an array of licenced games too.

From game-of-the-film adaptations to games-of-other-Bonds’ films, the videogame titles of the Craig era have been highly varied, to say nothing of the innate challenges of developing them in parallel with the big-screen adventures. For instance, it’s impressive that the Quantum Of Solace game came together at all, given the quick turnaround the film faced – we’ve previously covered this in an episode of the Film Stories podcast.

But while the subsequent Craig films – Skyfall, Spectre, and No Time To Die – have taken longer to reach our screens, you might think that games would be a way of keeping the franchise active. Let’s take a look at the 007 game franchise and explore why it might have slowed down…

 

Loading… (1982 – 2005)

While videogame adaptations of Bond had been around in one form or another since 1983 (when Parker Brothers published the side-scroller James Bond 007), it was Nintendo’s iconic 1997 game GoldenEye that raised the bar. The success of this massively popular, award-winning first-person shooter made the videogame franchise as viable as the films. What’s more, it set a tone by liberally borrowing characters and iconography from other films (Oddjob! Jaws! That bloody Golden Gun!) and bedding them into a modern Bond story.

Electronic Arts (EA) took over the licence in 1999 and console adaptations of Tomorrow Never Dies and The World Is Not Enough followed in fairly short order, along with a racing game that was imaginatively titled 007 Racing. While aspects of 2002’s movie Die Another Day came in for criticism for being too much like a video game, the film didn’t get a tie-in videogame simply because it would take too long to develop for the incoming sixth generation of games consoles.

With the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and GameCube heralding a shift in graphics and mechanics, lead times were extending, and it became trickier to get games on shelves at the same time as a film arrived in cinemas. Instead, EA developed the planned PS2 and PC port of The World Is Not Enough into an original game, titled Agent Under Fire. The same year, they released a sequel, Nightfire, this time featuring Brosnan’s likeness, which was captured with a laser digitiser between shooting scenes on Die Another Day.

Coming a long way from 007 Racing’s blocky Brosnan and dodgy soundalike, EA eventually coaxed the star and his regular co-stars Judi Dench and John Cleese to lend their voices to another original game. 2003’s Everything Or Nothing (entitled after the same acronym that gave EON Productions its name) is effectively the fifth and final official Brosnan Bond adventure, with a villain played by Willem Dafoe, an original theme song performed by Mýa, and a return appearance from Richard Kiel’s notoriously chatty Jaws.

EA had another Bond game featuring Brosnan on its slate up until it became clear the actor was departing the franchise, at which point they scored an even bigger coup by persuading the late, great Sean Connery to lend his likeness and vocals to a game version of From Russia With Love, which came out in 2005. Counting from his first to last performance, this makes Connery the longest-serving Bond by a margin of three decades.

 

The lost Casino Royale game (2005 – 2006)

But those pesky lead-times were only about to get longer with the incoming seventh-generation of games consoles. Nevertheless, when an adaptation of the then-forthcoming Casino Royale was announced, it was expected that the title would be ready for November 2006. That wasn’t just the release date of the film, it was also the launch date for Sony’s PlayStation 3 console, on which Casino Royale was originally expected to be a launch title in Europe.

Backed by early access to the production, including concept art and the shooting script, EA were able to start work in 2005, in parallel with development on From Russia With Love. We’re indebted to MI6-HQ for their feature about this lost Casino Royale game (which you can find here, along with 3D designs for the climactic Venice-set level) but by all accounts, the game had fallen behind schedule in 2006. When it was clear it wouldn’t meet its intended release date, MGM and EON were left out of pocket on a potentially lucrative tie-in, and EA agreed to relinquish the licence early.

The publisher had similar troubles delivering their open-world Superman Returns tie-in game on time the same year, and it committed to moving away from licensing movie franchises to concentrate on their own original properties. Activision picked up the licence in May 2006, and the first Bond game of the Daniel Craig era would indeed be an adaptation of a film story…

 

Quantum Of Solace (2008)

Named after one of Ian Fleming’s short stories, Quantum Of Solace is the only Bond film where nobody says the title of the film in either the finished film or its title song. They don’t say it in the game either.

Quantum Of Solace was released as a first-person shooter for Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii, and the PS3, and as a third-person shooter on the Nintendo DS and PS2. Bringing the Everything Or Nothing approach to a full-on tie-in, the game features the voices and likenesses of Craig, Dench, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Olga Kurylenko and Mathieu Amalric, all reprising their big-screen roles.

As well as adapting Craig’s second 007 outing, the game winds up adapting Casino Royale too, with the scene in which Bond and Camille crash in the Bolivian desert being used as a framing device for a flashback that takes in all of the major action sequences in the preceding film. The gameplay re-joins Quantum for the climactic hotel scene.

It’s a canny approach for an adaptation of the long-running film franchise’s first direct sequel. Departures from the cinematic source material include an alternate theme song, “When Nobody Loves You” by Kerli, and a mid-credits scene that doesn’t match the ending of the film.

More in keeping with Marc Forster’s film, the game received mixed reviews. That’s true of any Bond game post-GoldenEye, really, but true to that classic, Quantum’s multiplayer mode upholds the time-honoured tradition of the Golden Gun being an instant killer.

 

Blood Stone (2010)

After Quantum Of Solace, the next James Bond film found itself in one of the limbo states in which it has periodically lingered since the 1990s, this time due to MGM filing for bankruptcy in 2009. Without any obligation to match the next game to an imminent film release, Activision and the UK-based developers at Bizarre Creations effectively had creative control over a game that would fill in the extended gap between films.

Released on PS3, Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows, and Nintendo DS, Blood Stone has an original script by Bruce Feirstein, who wrote the film Tomorrow Never Dies and worked on many of the subsequent Bond videogames as well. The story sees 007 assigned to find a kidnapped Ministry of Defence researcher, only to discover a conspiracy to steal bio-research and sell the data onto international terrorists.

As well as featuring Craig, Dench, and Rory Kinnear, (who was introduced as Bill Tanner in Quantum Of Solace) the voice cast includes Joss Stone as MI6 agent Nicole Hunter. Stone also performs the game’s theme song “I’ll Take It All”, which she co-wrote with the Eurythmics’ Dave A. Stewart. The game’s globetrotting single-player campaign luxuriates in being able to travel further than the films were at that point (2012’s Skyfall would mostly be set in the UK) with levels spanning from Athens to Istanbul to Monaco to Siberia to Bangkok to Burma.

 

The story also offers a bit of the pulpy espionage that’s otherwise been lacking in Craig’s Bond cinematic outings, which are usually far more personally driven. As an in-between adventure for a long-lived but relatively seldom seen incarnation of the character, it’s more like a Fleming short story than an inter-connected epic.

From a gaming point of view, reviews criticised the game for its somewhat uninspired use of the 007 licence, where the only gadget is Bond’s souped-up smartphone, serving as the game’s HUD. A sequel was planned, with the Activision-owned Raven Software developing the follow-up even before Blood Stone was released, but poor sales led to the next title being cancelled.

 

The Craig remixes (2010 – 2012)

Faring a lot better commercially, a Nintendo Wii remake of the 1997 N64 GoldenEye game hit shelves on the same day as Blood Stone. Updating the look, tone, and casting for the Craig era and bringing the celebrated multiplayer mode into the online era, the game was a warmly received nostalgic hit. Its success prompted developers Eurocom to create an HD port for PS3 and Xbox 360 the following year, titled GoldenEye 007: Reloaded.

By this point, EON had Skyfall on its way to the big screen for the franchise’s 50th-anniversary year, and Activision took an unusual approach to the game-of-the-film. Plot details for Sam Mendes’ barnstorming actioner were closely guarded in the run-up to the film’s release, and so Eurocom and returning scriptwriter Feirstein devised a unique solution for the game-of-the-film.

Judging by the other characters’ reactions to him, Bond has been through a lot in that four-year gap between films – no longer freshly minted, he’s seemingly regarded as being past it. Cheekily elongating that gap and positing that all of the pre-Casino Royale adventures could have taken place since Quantum Of Solace, the tie-in game 007 Legends runs with the GoldenEye 007 approach and inserts Craig into levels based on each of the previous Bond actors’ adventures.

Similar to how the Quantum game used an event in the film as a framing device, this uses the unfortunate incident in the pre-title sequence of Skyfall as an umbrella narrative for James Bond’s cinematic lifespan flashing before his eyes. He must be dreaming, because we don’t remember Craig’s Bond going through the events of Goldfinger, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Die Another Day, Licence To Kill, and finally, Moonraker(!)

To be fair, Craig would be right at home in an On Her Majesty’s Secret Service or a Licence To Kill – both films are way ahead of their time, each anticipating the more character-driven approach of the current era. Meanwhile, Goldfinger has plenty of iconic set-pieces and villains to enjoy, but it’s bananas to parachute Craig’s Bond into adventures with invisible cars and space rockets, yet frankly, we’re here for it. Still, as the image above shows, there’s no getting around the incongruity of Craig being newly wed to a circa-1969 Diana Rigg either.

In terms of gameplay, this title replicated the GoldenEye remake’s popular MI6 Ops Missions mode with assorted characters from all of the films included. To stop any spoilers getting out, a bonus Skyfall mission that sees Bond regain consciousness and eliminate Patrice was kept back and then released as free downloadable content on the day the film arrived in cinemas.

Unfortunately, the oft-repeated criticism of Activision’s Bond games being little more than Call Of Duty clones came to a head with this one. As well as being critically lambasted, the game failed to match the commercial success of previous titles. The selling point of seeing Craig in these adventures is also undercut by the first-person shooter POV.

007 Legends remains the last released Bond console game to date, but we’re strongly in favour of doing further games for other Daniel Craig characters. We’d definitely play Knives Out Legends, which would feature Benoit Blanc in a variety of other whodunnits starring previous Bond actors, like Murder On The Orient Express, Curse Of The Pink Panther, or Hot Fuzz – does anyone hold the videogame rights to those? Call us!

 

James Bond Will Continue? (10… 9… 8… )

The commercial failure of 007 Legends coincided with an end to the latest wave of movie franchise tie-in games. The difficulty of coordinating game development with tentpole movie productions led to corners being cut and a string of high-profile failures. Like EA before it, Activision announced it was moving away from licensed games and allowed its stake in Bond to lapse in 2014.

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In the last decade or two, games publishers have instead developed their own ongoing franchises, leading to fewer titles that feel like branded, reskinned versions of original games. The prohibitive lead-times on a well-made game are no longer compatible with film development schedules. As it stands, prospects like LEGO No Time To Die, or Jaws turning up as a guest character in a Mortal Kombat game, are far more likely the type of Bond-inspired game that came out at the peak of the Brosnan era’s popularity.

But with games like Insomniac’s Spider-Man veering off the contemporary cinematic versions, it can only be a matter of time before some enterprising developer figures out a way of giving 007 a similar treatment, without needing specific likeness rights and production access for added authenticity. Even among developers, there’s an appetite for a more innovative approach.

“I’m a giant James Bond fan and I’m always frustrated by games that make him a mass murderer,” Telltale Games co-founder Kevin Bruner told IGN in 2014. “He’s a super-spy, and that’s a different skillset. The films make him less of a mass murderer, and there’s not much killing in the books – more spying and intrigue.”

Compared to its gaming heyday, the James Bond franchise looks like a bit of a slouch in the ever-expanding world of multimedia properties. With speculation rife about where EON will take the character next after Craig’s long-delayed final film, we shouldn’t rule out someone picking up the licence and reinventing it beyond the big-screen iconography.

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