Monday, 21 November 2011

Game On #3. Tomorrow Never Dies

On the run... Pierce Brosnan and Michelle Yeoh in Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

You'll need to don your spy hats for this week's Game On, in which I take a gander at the PS1's long-forgotten tie-in to Tomorrow Never Dies (Spottiswoode, 1997), one of Bond's most underrated outings...

A corrupt media baron igniting war. Camp Austrian doctors with a degree in chakra torture. Michelle Yeoh duel-wielding machine guns. How the hell is Tomorrow Never Dies so underrated? This action-packed spy thriller (Bond's 18th outing) boasts some of the series' most impressive set-pieces and outrageous villains, but it's also notable for engaging with present-tense political issues and stepping up the Bond girl stakes to make 007's eye candy an even bigger badass than him (Yeoh gained stardom in 1992's Supercop, the third of Jackie Chan's Police Story adventures). Yep, this one was a real game changer, but was largely ignored upon release, receiving a mixed critical reaction and opening second at the box office next to James Cameron's behemoth romance, Titanic (1997). Those who still need convincing should check out the film's most famous sequence - a thrilling motorbike chase through the streets of China, which ends on a stunt so silly it'd make Roger Moore blush. It's also worth nothing just how good Brosnan is in this film, clearly having found his feet in the role of Bond. Here he's cocky, suave and smoldering, but clearly capable of doing some serious damage. So, does this PS1 tie-in do the film justice? Let's find out...

The cover art for EA's terrific PS1 shooter, Tomorrow Never Dies...

Surprisingly, Tomorrow Never Dies might be just as good a game as it is a movie. Indeed, this muscular shooter is one of the most purely enjoyable on the PS1, and I was amazed to discover that it holds up way beyond my nostalgic expectations. Released in November of 1999, EA's terrific spy tie-in was one of my favorite games as a kid, and I wiled away many Christmas hours blasting through its 10 varied missions. Looking back, it's easy to see what attracted me. Each level carries a genuine sense of Boy's Own adventure; a feeling of being stuck behind enemy lines and constantly facing danger. And, of course, 007's impressive arsenal made for some really hard-boiled gameplay. Yes, it's much easier than I had remembered (it was teeth-grindingly tough aged 9), and the entire story can be whisked through in around two hours, but Tomorrow Never Dies is still an essential purchase for Bond fans.

Firstly, let's get technical. This game was obviously destined to live (unfairly) in the shadow of the much-revered GoldenEye, a revolutionary FPS for the N64. Tomorrow Never Dies makes the move to 3rd person shooting, stripping the game of its multiplayer option and focusing strictly on campaign missions. This makes for a much more robust single player experience, and one I actually prefer to the solid but overrated GoldenEye (recently given a makeover for the PS3, with Daniel Craig replacing Pierce Brosnan). Graphically the game is fantastic, with linear but detailed level design and highly developed character models - for example, Bond will begin to limp and carry his shoulder when he becomes injured (be sure to pick up that armour!), noticeably changing the way he controls. In fact, if you study his face during cutscenes, Bond actually looks a lot like Brosnan here, and it's clear that most of the pixels went into his handsome mug. There are some obvious ghosting issues, which are inescapable on the PS1, but this is an aesthetically pleasing effort, and each thoughtfully conceived level presents something new for the player...

This is ultimately where the game wins out over its competitors. The simple controls (hey, a non-analogue system that works!) allow for easy access into the games' multiple tasks, including shooting, skiing and stealth. The first mission, for example, sees Bond sneakily infiltrating a Russian radar base, falling into a full-blown firefight and escaping down the snowy hills, finally parachuting into an arms base where he decimates control towers from the cockpit of a heavily-armed MIG jet. And this is just the first twenty minutes of play! The game guides Bond through various set-pieces taken from the film (even the costumes are recognizable, such as that blue shirt in the top image) and even imagines some more original tasks, such as disarming a Russian convoy from the comfort of a rocket-enabled BMW 7. There's even a brilliant mission where you get to play as Wai Lin (Yeoh) as she takes down a Saigon police HQ with a rocket launcher. I urge everyone interested in gaming to track down a copy of this underrated shooter - believe it or not, it's one of the very best on the PS1!


Next week's Game On will conclude the 007 Double Bill with PS1 tie-in The World Is Not Enough...

2 comments:

  1. I was glad to read this. I never played the game because I only had a Nintendo 64 when it was released, but I did love GoldenEye and now plan on giving this a go at some point.

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