Having starred in 29 titles, James Bond is more prolific in the gaming realm than he is in the movies.
As is the case with 007’s film credits, some of these outings have been extremely good while others…not so much.
In the lead up to the long-delayed release of No Time To Die, we have prepared this guide breaking down which classic Bond games are essential for fans and which ones will leave you saying “never again”.
The Worst- ‘007 Legends’
The Daniel Craig era has not produced any stellar video games, with most of them chasing whatever trends were hot at the time. As pointed out by IGN, The Quantum of Solace tie-in was a middling Call of Duty imitator, while Blood Stone was desperately trying to emulate the success of other cover-based shooters like Gears of War.
Of this pitiful bunch, 007 Legends is undoubtedly the worst. The game has a truly bizarre premise that sees Craig’s Bond recalling his previous adventures during the moment in which he falls off the train at the beginning of Skyfall.
Essentially, it is like his whole life is flashing before his eyes, but the weird thing is that he is remembering events from films that he was not a part of. Namely Goldfinger, Licence to Kill, Moonraker, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Die Another Day.
The hook was presumably meant to be that we would get to experience Bond’s greatest hits (although that raises the question of why Die Another Day was included) in video game form, but the execution just feels awkward. Craig’s version of the MI6 super spy does not gel with Moonraker’s campy setting, and he feels utterly anachronistic in the Swinging Sixties of Goldfinger.
Worse still, 007 Legends is just not a well-made product (with a 41 score on Metacritic) having clearly been rushed out the door to coincide with the release of Skyfall. It’s visually ugly, poorly structured and over reliant on quick-time events that substitute for proper gameplay. Plus, the driving sequences (which should be the highlights of any Bond adaptation) are entirely on rails, making them feel like those endless runner titles you get on mobile phones.
Worst – ‘Live and Let Die: The Computer Game’
In its mild defense, Live and Let Die: The Computer Game was not intended to be a movie tie-in at first. It originally started out as a nondescript racing game, before the publisher decided to reconfigure it as an adaption of one specific moment from Roger Moore’s debut outing.
In the Commodore 64 game, you steer a boat’s horizontal movement and fire projectiles in a simulation of the New Orleans bayou chase from Live and Let Die. That’s all there really is to it, and it doesn’t take long for the repetition to becomes tedious (even though the whole thing is only about 20 minutes long).
According to Watch Mojo, the most glaring issue is the ear-piercing sound design, as low-res music, cacophonous explosions and the incessant noise of a speedboat revving its engine will all combine to give you a throbbing headache.
Worst – ‘007 Racing’
Making a driving game set in the James Bond universe ought to be a no-brainer, given all the iconic rides that have been featured throughout the series. Not only that, but 007 Racing has a surprisingly intriguing narrative too, in which you embark on a series of vehicular missions to investigate the theft of Q-branch cars.
Unfortunately, as many contemporary reviews pointed out, the game is hampered by its sluggish action and poor handling. Contrary to its title, this is not even a racing game and most of the levels put you in decidedly low-velocity scenarios. Rather than chasing after bad guys at breakneck speeds, you will spend most of your time clumsily setting mines, tailing slow-moving targets, and shutting down generators using EMP charges. It’s hardly the exhilarating thrill ride you would expect, seeing as most of these things require you to move at a snail’s pace.
In addition to this, the core appeal of getting to hop behind the wheel of classic Bond vehicles is not done justice at all. The cars are all functionality identical to one another – with the exact same gadgets – so none of them feel remotely special. This is particularly evident in the game’s multiplayer mode, where you get to square off against friends. Whether you pick the Lotus Esprit, the BMW Z3 or the Aston Martin DB5, you will soon realize that it doesn’t make one iota of difference what vehicle you are driving.
Worst – ‘James Bond Jr.’
James Bond Jr. is an intellectual property (with its own dense lore) concerning the adventures of 007’s hitherto unmentioned nephew. It spawned a number of novels, a Marvel comic book series, a Saturday morning cartoon and, yes, a couple of video game spin-offs.
The NES iteration is one of those side-scrolling platformers that were a dime a dozen on the vintage system. With you exploring ancient ruins and sci-fi fortresses, it doesn’t feel appreciably Bond in the slightest, and you get the feeling that they just slapped the name on to shift a few more units.
In that sense, it is comparable to the equally cynical Wayne’s World and Nightmare on Elm Street tie-ins of the early ’90s. Back then, it was just normal for companies to produce these cookie-cutter titles and then attach a recognizable brand later for the sake of making a quick buck.
While it is hard to track down many reviews of James Bond Jr. (as it has been mostly forgotten) a writer for SNES hub was so critical that they awarded the game a 1 star rating.
Worst – ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’
Tomorrow Never Dies suffers from being the immediate successor to the inimitable GoldenEye. As pointed out by IGN, when taken on its own terms, it is just a lacklustre third-person shooter with somewhat finicky controls and generic missions. Yet the fact that it came hot on the heels of one of the most influential video games of all-time just makes it look far worse.
The adaptation was developed by Black Ops Entertainment, a team that once specialized in licensed cash grabs like this (they also made a Jurassic Park fighting game, as well as an X-Files-themed Resident Evil knockoff). To the studio’s credit, the direction for Tomorrow Never Dies was altered late in the day, as it was originally meant to serve as a kind of epilogue for the movie, but that idea was rejected by focus groups.
As such, the developers had to change course at the eleventh hour to make something that regurgitated the events of the film instead. This explains why certain parts feel so rushed, with set-pieces that barely require any interaction on the part of the player and entire swathes of the narrative communicated via recycled footage from the movie. It’s not the worst James Bond game by any means, but it does feel like it was cobbled together at the last minute.
Best – ‘The World Is Not Enough’
Conversely, 007’s next foray into video games was actually pretty good. Despite being based on one of the weaker Pierce Brosnan instalments, The World Is Not Enough emerged as a tightly constructed first-person shooter (FPS) that capitalized on what worked before in GoldenEye.
It does not do anything especially revolutionary, but it nails the fundamentals and that was more than you could reasonably expect at the time. The visuals were strong, the gunplay felt precise, and you got to experiment with a lot of fun gadgets.
Fans even debate whether it holds up better than GoldenEye – thanks to its various technical improvements and the refined graphics – but that seems like a bit of a stretch. If nothing else, it has definitely not had the same level of cultural impact as Rare’s trailblazer.
Best – ‘James Bond 007: Agent Under Fire’
Developed by the team responsible for the original Dead Space, Agent Under Fire is a highlight from the 007 catalog. Its story was devised completely from the ground up but felt worthy of a summer blockbuster and the environments were authentically Bond, recalling the classic production design of Ken Adam.
The levels were also designed in a way that allowed players to experiment. Rather than being forced down a linear path, you were often given a choice in terms of how you wanted to complete your objectives, whether that meant leaning into the covert side of operations or running in guns blazing. It was clearly not a fully-fledged immerse sim like Dishonored or Deus Ex, but this did give you an incentive to replay missions and try them out again in different ways.
Of course, Agent Under Fire is most fondly remembered for its exceptional driving sequences which, to this day, remain the best car chases you will find in any Bond game.
Best- ‘James Bond 007: Nightfire’
Nightfire takes the solid foundations of Agent Under Fire and builds upon them to tremendous effect.
The levels are even more open-ended this time around, with one early highlight letting you infiltrate an exclusive party by whatever means you deem necessary. You can simply walk up to the front door after dispatching all the guards, use your gadgets to find an alternative route in, or even stow away inside a delivery truck and – depending on what you choose – the rest of the level will play out differently.
Nightfire also benefits from having the official likeness of Pierce Brosnan (although he does not lend his voice to the character), polished shooting mechanics and a cinematic flair to the cutscenes. The only downside is that the car chases feel a little watered down when compared to those from Agent Under Fire. Otherwise, fans agree that it has got everything you could possibly want from a Bond adventure.
Best – ‘James Bond 007: Everything Or Nothing’
Where most of the decent 007 games are first-person shooters, Everything Or Nothing is played from a third-person perspective and (unlike Tomorrow Never Dies) it works really well.
The game has a unique feel because of this, resembling a prototype of action-adventure titles like Uncharted. As with Naughty Dog’s signature franchise, the game is packed to the brim with outstanding set pieces that look like they have been ripped straight from a tentpole movie, only you get to participate in them here. For instance, there’s a pulse-pounding section in which you control Bond as he rappels down the side of an exploding building.
In between those show-stopping moments, the regular shootouts are still highly enjoyable and even the hand-to-hand combat (which is usually a weak spot in these games) is responsive. This was last game of the Brosnan era and it certainly went out with a bang, with a positive Metacritic score of 84.
The Best – ‘GoldenEye 007’
The gold standard for Bond games (pun not intended), GoldenEye‘s popularity endures to this day. It is the best-selling release on the Nintendo 64 console to not feature Mario and it often places in countdowns of the greatest video games of all-time.
The influence that GoldenEye had on the FPS genre cannot be overstated, with it introducing many of the features that are still commonplace today. The shooting mechanics have aged like fine wine, and the sniper rifle is still incredibly satisfying to use.
From a technical standpoint, it also pushed the boundaries of what the N64 was capable of, thanks to its astonishingly detailed environments, long draw distances, and expressive animations.
Of course, you cannot forget the exemplary multiplayer mode as well, which became a staple of late-night gaming sessions with friends and was reason enough on its own to buy Nintendo’s console in the late ’90s. In short, GoldenEye is the touchstone against which all other Bond games should be measured. Nobody does it better.