They say you're not supposed to judge something by its cover, but screw it: 007 Legends' awful cover gives the game away.
The second giveaway of the title's quality also revealed itself early on: in the middle of the first level, Pussy Galore asks who our intrepid secret agent is. His response? The most monotone, dry delivery of "James Bond" I've ever heard. Not "Bond, James Bond." James Bond. I cringed, though my loyalties don't typically align with following tradition if there's a better alternative: but the line was delivered so terribly, I wanted the game to hark back to cliche.
Thinking about it, perhaps this delivery is appropriate given that few 007 titles succeed in showcasing Bond as a gallant gentleman with a license to kill. As my friend put it to me recently, "007 is a very social creature. He's cool and suave, he gets in close, woos the ladies—but in the games, all you do is shoot and sometimes stealth/drive. He feels less like a "secret agent" and more like Navy SEAL in a suit."
The oversight feels more egregious than it usually does in the Bond series, because 007 Legends is supposed to be a celebration of fifty years of James Bond movies. One would think that by extension this means we should expect an exploration of the man himself, given that that's who we're paying homage to, right? Instead the game features specific moments from six different movies, each one hailing from the different actors who have played Bond over the years. Eurocom, who also developed the (much better) GoldenEye remake, chose an "eclectic" mix of films: Goldfinger, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Moonraker, Licensce to Kill and Die Another Day.
But the iconic landmarks and people mean little on their own without context, build-up or narrative. "Why are we here and why should I care?" was a question I asked myself constantly as the game does a poor job of setting things up or explaining how to do anything. The gadget minigames, for example, are often shoddily explained and missions often start in the middle of things. Those looking for a shooter to pass the time are likely to look elsewhere before turning to 007, and fans looking for a tribute will be offended by how much 007 Legends feels like a shameless cash-in. The game's lack of an ending doesn't help—that's supposed to come later as free DLC as a level from Skyfall. Or maybe Legends is the type of tribute as imagined by the gold-obsessed Auric Goldfinger?
The game tries to vaguely justify the cohesion of the levels by setting it all up as life-flashing-in-front-of-your-eyes-right-before-death. It opens with a sniper accidentally taking a shot at Daniel Craig's Bond (who is not voiced by Daniel Craig!), and as he falls off the moving train, he starts having flashbacks of his previous missions. You know, even though Craig is supposed to be a reimagining of Bond and there's no way he's actually lived through all of what we get to play?
The settings have been "modernized," but not in a good way. The most jarring thing about this is Bond's usage of his smartphone. Nevermind that the minigames are uninteresting. Since a regular person—who isn't as cool as Bond, or as suave as Bond—is so familiar with smartphones, the fact that James Bond relies on one instead of an assortment of gadgetry makes the experience feel less sophisticated. It turns out that while "there's an app for that" is useful for us, having that be the case for Bond strips away the novel feeling that comes with new, previously unknown gadgetry. We can all use smartphones, but we're not all James Bond. So we can't be as sophisticated as Bond, and we can't be as cool as Bond...what's left?
Killing, of course. Nothing noteworthy here either. Moving forward in the game feels like a chore. Still, I found myself making things mildly interesting by going Rambo. You're invincible during the cinematic close-up that happens on a subduction or melee, and most enemies go down with one hit. There are also quick-time fist-fights that tend to happen with special enemies, like bosses. These are absurdly easy: you're supposed to tilt the right or left stick up and down depending on the given prompt. It doesn't capture the feeling of hand-to-hand combat at all. The game features challenges, but they're largely uninspired. We're talking challenges along the lines of, "Eliminate X enemies with Y gun." Then again, if the base game is no good, superimposing challenges on top of that isn't likely to help things.
There's stealth, but it's not implemented well. You can crouch and hide or go behind cover, and you can take out enemies silently. As is typical of most games that include it, stealth seems to be the option for masochists who are looking for a "challenge. And by "challenge" I mean "here, have a system that's not fleshed out and levels that aren't designed for stealth. Have fun." While it's possible to traverse some levels without being noticed, there's nothing fulfilling about it: it feels like you've lucked out and managed to not get seen rather than feeling that you've been crafty about your movement or traversal of the shadows. And since you can't hide bodies, it's more likely that you won't be able to pull off a furtive playthrough anyway.
The clincher for me came while I was playing a level that featured what was supposed to be Mayan ruins. Instead what stood before me was the knowledge of what geometry these worn relics were made of, not an understanding of the marvel of human ingenuity they represent. Most levels had something unnaturally off about them like this, reproducing things that are supposed to mean something to us...but don't. At least not in the way they're represented in the game. It's not just the levels, but the parts we play, too: the setpieces that clearly wanted to lift successful elements off Call of Duty, but even bombastic explosions have an art to them.
Eventually what 007 Legends offered me wasn't homage or tribute, but rather existential horror. As I stood high on my sniper perch above my enemies-which all looked the same (they were always the same, endless horde of similar faces)—I noticed something unsettling. Enemies would scatter like ants to the exact spots as those before them, eventually creating large mountains of human flesh that, bafflingly, more people braved. Could they not see what was happening around them? Or did the game's code bind them to a destiny they could not prevent? One by one I saw my enemies practically line up for their turn, acting like modern sacrifices—not to a Mayan god, but to corporate greed.
It was like they begged, "Free me from my mortal coil!" And I did, for if I lived in this meaningless world, I'd want to die too.