Saturday, November 25, 2017

EA Games' 'Tomorrow Never Dies': The Case for and Against it

Cover artwork for Electronic Arts' Tomorrow Never Dies. The images of Wai Lin and Paris Carver were replaced  from the video artwork by a MiG Plane and the BMW 750il, promising limitless amouts of action for the player. 

Tomorrow Never Dies will celebrate its 20th anniversary in December, but its video game adaptation has just turned 18 a few days ago. What can be said about a Bond game thrown to the dark cicles of oblivion by many? Okay, let's start admitting it's not a perfect game and can't even fulfill the half of what Rareware's GoldenEye 007 for Nintendo 64 was some years before. But... is Tomorrow Never Dies a bad game? Not quite.

In the first of their eight videogames based on the James Bond universe, Electronic Arts ignored the formula expected by the GoldenEye 007 fans and went for a third person perspective where we could see and control most of Bond's movements. It was also the first game where Bond -voiced by Adam Blackwood- could actually speak. And the first Bond game to provide us with the chance of skiing and not in an on-rails format as in The World Is Not Enough or 007 Legends
Pierce Brosnan digitalized as James Bond for the
Playstation console. The voice talent was in
charge of Adam Blackwood.

The "first time" section won't end there: Tomorrow Never Dies is the first game where the player gets the taste of controlling another character that is not James Bond on the single player campaign. One of the missions allow us to handle Wai Lin. Albeit the excuse for doing so is a bit silly (Bond being targeted by the Saigon police bribed by the villain Elliot Carver) and the Chinese agent has no particular ability than Bond in terms of playability, it was an interesting "out of the box" concept that made this videogame particular.

The original premise for the adaptation of Pierce Brosnan's second outing as James Bond into a game was even more interesting. Meant for Playstation and Windows PC, the adventure (originally titled Tomorrow Never Dies: The Mission Continues) followed the story after the ending of the film. Some footage seen in a trailer -which some people might have noticed on the film's VHS edition- showed a mixture of first and third person action and even scuba-diving stages.

"During the development, we realized this was quite a difficult task, and along with having sat through many focus groups where players wanted to see familiar scenes", commented Rob Alvey from MGM Interactive on an IGN Interview in 1999. 

In the end, the product was an adaptation of the 1997 film that closely followed Bruce Feirstein's script with some value added: the introductory mission, placed before the Arms Bazaar where the movie opens, has Bond infiltrating a military outpost near the Russian border, setting up the cordenates for an antenna and escaping in skis. In a nice touch to The Spy Who Loved Me, the secret agent jumps of a cliff and opens an Union Jack parachute.

Imaginative video game ad: "9 out of 10
people recognize him. 8 out of 9 do it
trough crosshairs."
The fifth level in the story, "Pressing Engagement", has Bond infiltrating Carver's newspaper offices in Hamburg just like in the film and players are allowed to eliminate some snipers, conveniently located in a platform avobe the printing press. When shot, the enemies will fall and will meet their end pressed in the machine. Even if it's something not complicated to do, it would be the first hint of the "Bond Moments" EA developed for their games starting with Agent Under Fire in 2001.

Some other welcome new additions to the story are the "Convoy" and "Ski Ridge" missions. In the first one Bond reunites with Q, gets his BMW 750il and vanquishes a few enemy vehicles across the Swiss Alps; in the other one he skies over the snowy mountains of Hokkaido to come face to face with Satoshi Isagura, a Japanese chemical terrorist linked to Carver who is only mentioned in the movie. 

Most reviewers will agree that the graphics where quite bad. And they were. Pixels can be seen everywhere and the graphic limitations of the Playstation console didn't help. The playability wasn't as thorough as in GoldenEye 007 , the AI of the villains being very much sloppy even when they can make you pass a bad time with their zigzagging sprints, and there were some plot holes in the game scipt (why is Bond shot to the CMGN Party aka mission three when he was an invited guest?) 

The exclusion of a multiplayer mode is also something that hurts the game playability. Inside the game's drive folders there are proofs that the mode was meant to be but scrapped out for unknown reasons, probably related to budget or the release deadline.

Electronic Arts' stand at the E3 in 1999, with atendees
getting a taste of Tomorrow Never Dies.
Nevertheless, one can never be too ungrateful with a team that broke the boundaries and added nice touches to the Bond franchise and expanded the role of some characters in from the movie. 

No piece on Tomorrow Never Dies the video game could omit Tommy Tallarico's fantastic soundtrack, closely inspired by David Arnold's soundtrack for the source film: all of the tracks are related to the stealthy and dynamic moments, same credit goes for the menu music (listed as "A New Beginning" in the soundtrack) that already makes you want to begin the game. Special mention goes for the unused romantic theme song by Elaine Paiva, strangely listed as "Letter to Paris" - one of the most beautiful tunes you have ever heard.

In a final reflection, the video game of Tomorrow Never Dies is a sad story. Sad because it feels cast aside and loathed in the world of Bond games. Probably the law of market wants results and everything else is an anecdote. Anyway, one can still wonder what a great game would it have been with better graphics and a more expanded, less linear playability.

Here's a toast (with a pixelated Martini glass) for Tomorrow Never Dies: the first James Bond video game where we could ski, drive a gadget-laden car and play with another character other than 007.

Mission complete.

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