Games based on movies have never had it easy. They're a bit like politicians and journalists. Even before you know anything about them, you are suspicious of them, distrusting of their real purpose, wary of their intentions. What is their agenda? What do they really want? Do politicians just exist to make the country a greater place and to demonstrate the power of democracy? Of course not! Do journalists just want to report the news with impartiality and objectivity, and not push forward their own beliefs and motives? Don't be daft! Do video games based on films just happen to be developed because the movie's plotline makes a great idea for a highly enjoyable game, a game that will be treated with love and care to be the very best it can be? Nope, not at all! Movie tie-ins are just there either to cash in on the movie they're based on or promote it. Regardless of whether the game is good or bad, it'll sell anyway. And this explains why most are average at best. The most infamous movie-licensed game is E.T. for the Atari VCS/2600, and is a good example of why they get such a bad reputation. Atari invested heavily on rights and (over)-production of cartridges but neglected to ensure that the game on them was any good. They apparently ignored the ideas that the film's director, Steven Spielberg had for a game, gave its developer less than six weeks to put something together and skipped the playtesting. What they ended up with is what is often declared the worst game ever made. Although it truly is terrible, it definitely isn't the worst, but it's one of the most high profile bad games that exist. Even though the game didn't sell anywhere near as many copies as Atari expected, possibly the trigger that ignited the American Videogame Crash of 1982TM, the game still sold really well overall, shifting 1.5 million copies and being the fifth best-selling game for the console. These sales can only be attributed to fact that the game was based on a hit movie. It certainly wasn't because the game itself made people want to go out and buy it. And this fact alone is the reason why gamers have certain reservations about video games based on movies. “Lazy tie-in” was a phrase often used in reviews of movie-based video games. It's as if publishers and developers didn't feel they needed to put the effort into making a great game. It would sell anyway.
Sometimes the fault isn't just down to complacency on the part of the people making the game. Sometimes the source material was to blame. Some films just don't translate well as video games. Again with E.T., how the hell were you meant to turn the film into a videogame? Time and time again, films with inappropriate plots or themes were turned into games. Examples include A Nightmare on Elm Street, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Jaws, Home Alone, Home Alone 2, Last Action Hero, Cliffhanger, The Mask, the Back to the Future trilogy, Beethoven's 2nd, Days of Thunder, Bram Stoker's Dracula, Wayne's World, and countless others. A way of trying to adapt the film into a game was to base the game loosely on the film. Sometimes they were so loose that it seemed like the developers hadn't even watched the film. Maybe they'd stared at a promotional poster for five minutes and then began beavering away at a game based on what they saw. But, having the freedom not to have to stick so strictly to the film would mean that there's a good chance that the game might actually be playable. Wouldn't it? Sometimes, yes. But mostly, no. There was still a feeling that the developers weren't giving it their all and they just put out half-arsed attempts at games. Even so, there were some games that did turn out to be fairly good despite barely resembling the films on which they were based. Jurassic Park on the Mega Drive was one. The only thing it had in common with the movie was that it featured dinosaurs, but it was still quite playable nevertheless. Even better was the arcade version. Alien 3 for the Mega Drive, SNES and Amiga was not bad too, as were certain versions of Ghostbusters. And what about The Addams Family? All good fun.
But, of course, there were the rare occasions that a movie tie-in completely worked. Not only did the game stay faithful to the plot, but it also captured the tone, themes and style of the film too. Graphically it resembled what you could see on the big screen, and its soundtrack was either directly lifted from or heavily inspired by the film's score. It really was like playing an interactive version of the movie. Disney's Aladdin on a variety of consoles and computers is a good example. Spiderman 2 on the PlayStation 2, Xbox and Gamecube is another. But there is one movie to game, um, game that stands out as the pinnacle of movie to game games. It's so well-known, that it is somewhat a cliché to name it as the ultimate movie tie-in. But name it I will. It's none other than GoldenEye for the N64. Not only is it a great movie conversion, it's also one of the console's greatest games. Based on Pierce Brosnan's first outing as 007, the game allowed you to control the suave secret agent in a first person shooter that revolutionised first person shooters. Brilliant on its own, it was in multiplayer mode that the game really shined. Up to four players could play hide and seek and shoot the crap out of each other for hour after hour after hour. Even though time hasn't been kind to it and it looks quite dated now, once you get past the slightly awkward controls it's still a fantastic blast today.
The problem I had at the time was that I didn't own a N64. In fact, I only knew one person who did have one. Well, it wasn't his. It was his brother's, and we'd have to hope he wasn't in to get a go of it. This meant that I didn't get as much GoldenEye game time as I would have liked. So imagine my joy when I found out that the next James Bond movie, Tomorrow Never Dies, would appear on the PlayStation. If it was at least as good as GoldenEye, I'd be in for a treat. I assumed that the developers would simply take GoldenEye's winning formula and they'd have another hit on their hands. Nothing could go wrong.
But it did. For some reason, somebody somewhere must have thought that a good way to repeat the success of GoldenEye was to ignore what made it great and try something else. My initial reaction to playing Tomorrow Never Dies back in 1999 was one of disappointment. I can picture myself sitting there now, playing through the first level, and shouting “Why???!! Pierce Brosnan! How could you do this?” Still, I stuck with the game, and did actually begin to enjoy it. Or tolerate it maybe. Although it wasn't Mr Brosnan's fault, I still blamed him for being a bad James Bond in this game. “You were so good in GoldenEye. Why not in this? I'm disappointed in you. I never liked you in Mrs Doubtfire either.”
Other vehicles can be a bit of a nuisance. Some will just decide to make a random movement across the road purely to get in your way whereas others seem to have a habit of breaking down in tunnels, so it's important to try to avoid them.
Mr Bond's mission in Tomorrow Never Dies is to investigate and eventually take on media mogul, Elliot Carver, the owner of newspapers and television networks. Somehow, he is able to print the news of events before they happen. And it just so happens that these events appear to be causing tensions between China and the United Kingdom. Is Carver somehow involved in making these events happen, and if so, why? Perhaps he runs the Daily Express. They always appear to be trying to predict the news. Well, weather-based news, and how we're either going to have the hottest summer or the coldest winter since records began. They never get it right though. And I doubt that non-existent heatwaves or big freezes are going to cause us to get into some kind of war with China. Anyhow, Tomorrow Never Dies is one of my favourite James Bond films, but it's a while since I saw it last, so how the film actually goes is somewhat hazy. The game, released only on the PlayStation, is split into ten missions, each representing scenes from the film. It sticks fairly closely to the plot, I think, using a combination of full motion video footage from the movie and in-game computer animated scenes to tell the story. Before each mission, M gives a quick overview of Bond's task to come. Overall, the general presentation is quite good. It begins with the MGM lion roaring over its logo and then the franchise's famous gunbarrel opening sequence over the James Bond theme. This is all followed by a cinematic intro video featuring excerpts from the game and the film. It really does feel like you're about to be part of the movie. I'll look at how the game actually plays in a bit, but one of the highlights is the inclusion of the movie's opening credits after the completion of the second mission, featuring the obligatory nearly-naked women dancing all over the place over Sheryl Crow's fantastic Tomorrow Never Dies record. It comes to something when one of the best bits of a game is pre-filmed opening credits and a song. Pre-game and in-game menus are also well-presented, looking crisp and polished and well-suited to the game.
While presentation is good when you're not playing the game, things aren't quite as great when you are playing it. Graphics are very rough around the edges, blocky, dull and barely resemble the locations that they are meant to represent. The first level is probably the exception, which doesn't look too bad, but that's probably because it's mostly a snowy landscape and I don't suppose snow is too difficult to draw. But as you progress through the game, you really have to use your imagination to fill in the gaps in the locations as it looks like the graphics designers decided to give up half way and went home. One level, set in a hotel, sees our hero paying a visit to the bar to have a chat with a bartender. A bar that seems to be made up of one very long bar counter, a couple of chairs and not a lot else. Behind the bar is a large kitchen which is just a series of counters alongside a wall. The graphics just don't capture their settings, instead causing them to feel a bit empty. To me, they seem to create a strange atmosphere. In a way, they remind me of Atari VCS/2600 games. You know what the graphics are meant to be of, but you have to draw them in your mind to “see” them. Additionally, there is a lot of pop-up, choppy and jerky animation and framerate, wobbly backgrounds and, urgh, it's just not good.
Soundwise though, things are much better. In addition to the original James Bond theme and Miss Crow singing her song, the game makes use of atmospheric remixes of the Bond theme and other secret agenty-sounding music. It all works rather well and is one definite positive of the game. Sound effects are good too, although the voice acting is rather average. In the game, James Bond is voiced by a Pierce Brosnan soundalike rather than the actor himself.
Tomorrow Never Dies uses a third-person viewpoint rather than the first-person view of its predecessor. This change seems to take something away from the feeling that you are James Bond. You're watching him rather than being him. The game does sometimes kind of switch to first person, but only when you're in a tight corner and the camera has to do it out of necessity so you can see where you are and where you're going. Once you're in a more open area, it's back to the standard third person view. Bond himself isn't the easiest person to control. His movement is rather rigid and awkward. Collecting weapons and ammo, usually dropped by enemies, requires you to walk over them. But quite often you'll find yourself walking to the left of them, or to the right, or around them in a circle. Basically anywhere but where you want to go. Sometimes you have to back up enough so you can line up your target collectible and walk in a straight line to it. It reminds me a little of a drunk person taking a walk up to their front door with their key pointing at it.
If you're able to get James Bond to go where you want him to go, he is able to pick up a variety of weapons during his missions. Firing these is a simple case of pressing the fire button. If you want, you can bring up a gigantic target thing to assist you with aiming. The problem with this is that you can only really target an enemy when you're close enough to them. And by the time you've got your enemy targeted, they've noticed you and begun shooting at you. You do get the opportunity to use a sniper rifle, but this still has the same problem. You can zoom in a bit and target an enemy from a distance, but shooting at them quite often does nothing. So, you creep a bit closer. Aim again and fire. Still nothing. By the time you're close enough to them for your bullets to have an effect, the tip of your rifle is probably touching your enemy's nose and you're standing right in front of them in clear view. It makes the sniper weapon almost pointless, and removes the element of stealth from the game. And for a game that's meant to be about a spy who goes about his business secretly, this isn't good. It's best to leave the game to auto-aim on your behalf, but even this is flawed. Although the auto-aim will lock on the closest enemy, as soon as another one appears, it'll flick to that enemy. Changing weapons, although it isn't difficult, pauses the action. And switching to your special weapons, things like cameras, gadgets, med kits and remote detonators, requires you to go to another menu within the weapon selection menu. Again, it's not difficult, but is needlessly fiddly. Surely there were other ways to make weapon and gadget selection more fluid and natural.
The enemies in the game do pretty much the same thing throughout. They aren't the brightest of baddies, although they can be quite annoying. From a distance, they are harmless. But, when you get closer to them and they spot you, they usually being walking towards you. Obviously, whoever is controlling them seems to have the same controller issues that you have, as they seem to walk in zig zags. While doing so, they'll be firing at you. As mentioned above, using the manual aiming system is useless here as the little bastards don't keep still. So, just auto aim at them and stop them in their tracks. You can strafe and roll about using the L2 and R2 buttons, but this can just make things more difficult for yourself as you'll probably find that your auto-aim has locked onto somebody else and the person you were originally aiming at is firing at you from elsewhere. Yes, this is another of the game's annoyances. It sometimes happens that an enemy that you can't see will begin firing at you from a random location. If you're on the move, turning around just isn't that easy. The only way to do it properly is to stop and then turn and spin around until you can spot whoever it is who's shooting at you. Sometimes, by the time you have, he's shot you that many times that you die. There are times as you're progressing through levels and clearing enemies from your path, that more just turn up behind you and begin firing. If the controls were better, this wouldn't feel as unfair as it does. And if the game was a stealth game, like it's meant to be, you wouldn't be wandering about it the open as much as you end up doing to leave yourself vulnerable to sneaky attacks from behind.
Although the game is mostly a third-person shooter, it does attempt to include some Bond-ish malarky. Place a bomb here, take photographs there, locate something in a filing cabinet here, find somebody and get information from them there, and so on. The problem is, there isn't enough of it. It just doesn't feel secret agenty enough. Just walk around, shoot people, walk a bit more, shoot more people, watch a snippet from the film, and repeat. Even a couple of levels included for variety, a skiing level and a driving level, do little to shake and stir things up enough. The skiing level is nice enough, but just requires you to ski down a mountain. You can attempt to knock some baddies off their skis, but attempting to do so usually leaves you worse off, so it's best just to focus on the skiing which isn't really that exciting or difficult. Similarly, the driving level is just as uninspiring. You just drive around, swerving all over the road like a drunk, firing at cars in order to kill them. Yep, that's how it's described. You get told how many cars you have left to kill. It just isn't fun. These two levels could have been so much more.
Playing through this game just gives you more and more reasons to be annoyed. You'll set off alarms, sometimes by destroying certain objects, killing certain enemies or entering certain locations. But, the alarms don't seem to do anything apart from make an annoying noise. And, bizarrely, they stop after a short period of not alerting anybody to anything. The two modes of play, Agent mode and 007 mode are identical, except that enemies in 007 mode are harder to kill. Why not change things up a bit for the harder mode? You'll find that, just when you need a med kit to replenish your energy, your secondary item is something else, and by the time you've figured out which button you're meant to press to get into the menu for the item selections, you've died anyway. But worst of all, where the hell is the multiplayer mode?! I mean, multiplayer is what made GoldenEye the N64 must-have game. It was a no-brainer not to include it in Tomorrow Never Dies. It's a bit like releasing a new Call of Duty game today but deciding to leave out the multiplayer element. It just wouldn't happen. Okay, so you could only realistically use two controllers on the PlayStation, but even this would be acceptable. Two is better than just one.
Despite the criticism above, Tomorrow Never Dies isn't completely awful. It isn't that great either, It's just totally average. It is fairly playable for a while once you get used to the controls, and the way that it tells the story makes you want to progress through it. The main problem with Tomorrow Never Dies is actually GoldenEye. On its own, Tomorrow Never Dies is just your typical lazy movie tie-in. The developers put a lot of effort into using the movie license, making good use of footage from the movie and the soundtrack. But, like countless other games based on films, the game itself is lacking and uninspiring. Now, had GoldenEye not existed, this wouldn't have been too much of a problem. Tomorrow Never Dies would have been just what was expected. Nobody would have got their hopes up too much for the game and nobody would have been surprised with what they ended up with. However, GoldenEye set a benchmark. It proved that, with the right source material and given the right treatment, some films can be turned into great games. And it looked like James Bond movies might just contain some of the right ingredients - a suitable plot line, characters, enemies, settings and scenarios. It's just a shame that the care and attention that went into developing GoldenEye didn't get put into Tomorrow Never Dies too. Was this down to the fact that the two games were released by different publishers and produced by different developers? Rare developed GoldenEye for Nintendo, whereas Black Ops Entertainment developed Tomorrow Never Dies for Electronic Arts. We all know the reputation that Electronic Arts had for relying on big-name franchises and licenses to sell games, rather than the games themselves. After the success of GoldenEye, Electronic Arts won the video game rights to the James Bond franchise, and it looked they were all too eager to abuse, sorry, use it to its full potential. Tomorrow Never Dies just feels like it was an attempt to cash-in on the movie. Perhaps it was even an attempt to cash-in on the success of the GoldenEye video game. I'm sure I wasn't the only one who owned the game expecting it to be similar to GoldenEye. And I'm sure I wasn't the only person to be disappointed with Tomorrow Never Dies, and shocked to find that it didn't even contain anything resembling a multiplayer mode. Maybe it would reappear for the next Bond game, The World is Not Enough. Hmmmm.... nope, apparently it doesn't. Oh well.