Review by MaxH
"I sure hope SOMEBODY does it better"
Agent Under Fire represents everything that is stale with the FPS genre. Admittedly, it represents it with decent polish and an admirable atmosphere, but that doesn’t stop it being drearily recognisable and horribly simplistic. If you’re after a perfectly playable workaday shooter, then I’m sure you won’t be disappointed (AUF isn’t terrible by any means). But (inevitable) comparisons to the classic Goldeneye really highlight just how clunky these game mechanics are.
One thing that deserves credit is the story. While it isn’t exactly a gripping tale that will have Valve or Ion Storm glancing nervously over their shoulders, it succeeds in creating that cheesy Bond atmosphere. Each level is preceded by an exceptionally presented mission screen with some terrific voice acting (Well, Bond-like anyway). All manner of spy jargon and gadget speak is thrown out here, and it all sounds mightily impressive. Many levels also begin with a short cut scene showing the ugly characters going about their pleasingly cliched ways (“How can I ever thank you?” gushes agent Zoe nightshade after you save her “Oh, I’m sure we’ll think of something” replies bond in his smarmy Sean Connery impression). The subject matter of the story is irrelevant (As with all Bond movies), but if you really must know it involves clones, shady corporations and evil lairs built, conveniently enough, in exotic locations.
As well as the obligatory pistols, machine guns and rifles, Bond also wields some (admittedly fun to use) Q gadgets. Most of these are generic little decoders or hackers of some sort that activate computers or unlock doors, you know the type. The best gadgets are the tacky espionage trinkets such as a jet-pack, a metal cutting laser and – yes! – X-ray specs. You are also equipped with a camera to take pictures of important things like maps, and a ‘Q-claw’ which is like the grappling hook that batman has, and will pull you up to certain grates on higher levels (A cool idea in theory, but this sudden movement looks a bit ridiculous in first person view). These are initially brilliant little toys to mess about with, but with very few creative ways made out to use them, the sheen soon fades. And it becomes very difficult to figure out with of the little hacking devices is used for which machine, as they all look the same (and the boring decoders are the gadgets that are used the most).
Other than that, there’s nothing to raise an eyebrow about. Simple get from A to B tasks are implemented with little panache in each level, occasionally throwing in a small but insignificant twist (like ‘get from A to B in a time limit’ or something dull like that). The most entertaining levels are spectacularly shallow, but bring a welcome change of style to the action, and these are the driving and on rails levels. The driving levels give you the simple task of tracking things down in you shiny car and shooting it a lot of times (Unless, of course, it is carrying precious cargo, then you just stop it dead). The on rails shooting levels are just that, you are placed in, say, a car and the screen moves without your consent as you blast away at passing enemies. Neither are particularly well designed but they are reasonably enjoyable in a dumb arcade kind of way and they do add some much needed variety into the proceedings.
Unfortunately these coffee break levels only show themselves a few times in the game, so you are forced to grunt along in the basic FPS levels. And how very basic they are. Occasionally creating the illusion of freedom with one or two pointless dead end corridors (complete with pointless doors that say ‘this door is locked’), AUF is linear to the extreme. The ‘stealth’ that the game purports to offer is really just looking round corners to see if someone is there, standing still until they freeze, and then shooting them (although, I did have to duck behind an oven or two). The puzzles are of the tedious ‘Find inconspicuous key card to unlock door’ variety. So for the bulk of the game, you are on extremely familiar territory.
The only chances to use your intelligence are usually ruined. The game has a variety of ‘Bond moves’ you can perform such as shooting a furnace to have it explode and kill all nearby minions, and yet it spoils just about every one of them. Nearly every bond move situation or gadget circumstances are interrupted by spoon-feeding messages from M or R (Your boss, and gadget maker respectively). “Why don’t you try this bond….” They’ll say, making you feel a bit coddled. EA has implemented one or two clever moments that require a little thinking (And it’s outlandish, bond-style thinking, making it even more appropriate) but it makes it impossible to take advantage of them with the walkthrough guide they give you through spoken messages.
The AI (The thing on which most FPS are judged these days, seeing as the genre has reached something of a plateaux innovation-wise) is severely unimpressive. Some enemies run into your line of fire and then start shooting in very sporadic bursts, while others will occasionally obscure themselves from view by ducking behind crates (Yes, there are lots of crates) before exposing themselves again for no discernible reason. The more intelligent enemies may strafe while shooting you or even hide, but this is really as good as it gets.
But however typical and shallow the game is, it can never be said that it isn’t at least somewhat enjoyable. Yes, the imbecility of it all can become wearing, but the well laid out and smooth control system makes navigating the levels easy and frustration-free. Shooting people has always been satisfying and there’s nothing to make it otherwise here. It’s a totally playable and fairly slick game, it just lacks any imagination. The multiplayer mode is very entertaining and contains some well designed arenas and a wide variety of impressive weapons (Although neither are as effective as in Goldeneye, or even The World is not Enough). But, if like me, you don’t own a multi-tap and don’t plan to either, don’t expect AUF’s deathmatch to be one you come back to all that often.
For the most part, AUF is a visually pleasing (if never stunning) experience. Character animation is quite detailed, but a bit ugly and glitchy. But some of the levels (Such as the one set in Switzerland) include some impressively glamorous visual set pieces and make the game seem a cut above everything else. It’s a shame these occurrences are rare, the game instead forcing you through bland corridors and computer labs. The framerate suffers in large areas when several enemies are on screen, which shouldn’t really happening considering the relatively small amount of detail the engine has to render. Overall though, this is a solid and stylish looking game.
Music is often missing from segments of AUF, leaving you to listen to bond’s jaunty footstep effects. When it is there it seems like elevator music, hardly the ‘mood setting’ score the developers seemed to have tried for. But at least it can’t be called intrusive. The voice acting is stellar for the most part, it’s not good acting but the cheesy over acting and dramatic dialogue couldn’t be more in place.
The game has only twelve missions, many of which are criminally short (not including the on rails and driving levels, which only last about five minutes each) so experienced FPS fans will have the game licked in a couple of weeks. But the multiplayer should have some people entertained for longer and beating your times and performing bond Moves to earn medals and unlock special options is a nice addition (albeit one lifted entirely from Goldeneye). So it’s not the longest game in the world, but it has replay value.
I was, essentially, satisfied with AUF. I knew what was coming (This being an EA developed game after all) and I wasn’t disappointed. So for people looking for a decent enough Bond game or shooter, then this is fine. But it gives me no actual reason to recommend it to anyone. It is simply a very average shooter polished to the nth degree with a couple of entertaining additions to hold your attention, so in the end it turns out to be above average, but only just. Let’s just hope that this November’s 007 Nightfire (Developed by Eurocom, responsible for the impressive World is Not Enough) rediscovers that old Goldeneye magic.
Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 06/15/02, Updated 06/15/02
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