As dedicated Spec-chums should know by now, Domark hold the licence to the entire run of James Bond films, and seem set to release a new one every year. This time round there's no new film, so it's raid-the-back-catalogue time again, and what have they come up with but The Spy Who Loved Me (possibly Roger Moore's best outing as 007). Good film, but will it translate into a stonker of a game? "Yes," say Domark confidently. "It's destined to be the best yet." Let's see, shall we?
Okay, so first off how does it all work? Well, it's pretty much an updated Spy Hunter realty or at least half of it is. There are seven levels of overhead-viewed action, some of them very much racing games with you zooming your Lotus Esprit around roads, over bridges and so on (and shooting or dodging other cars while you're at it) while the others (the water-based ones, where there are no roads or obstacles as such) play much more like your standard vertically-scrolling shoot-'em-up. Your task (as secret agent James Bond 007, of course) is to prevent arch-villain Stromberg's mad plan to provoke nuclear war and rule the resulting mess from his undersea base Atlantis. In levels very (very) loosely based on scenes from the film (for instance, the famous bit where Bond drives his car off the end of a pier and it turns into a submarine, as opposed to the wet bike shoot-'em-up and speedboat chase which have nothing whatever to do with the film) Bond must defeat Stromberg by, erm, simply driving along and shooting things (it would appear).
In this way, Spy isn't really a film conversion at all in the way that, say, Ocean do them - there's no real attempt to tell the plot of the film or explain how the levels connect. Instead this is more of a scrolling shoot-em-up 'inspired' by the movie. All very well, you might be saying, but is it actually any good?
Well, yes it is, in a funny sort of a way. The actual driving bits on the roads are excellent - though only monochrome, there's a rather pretty background to them, they scroll quite last and smoothly, and the difficulty build-up is quite well handled. There are lots of collectable items that add speed and weaponry to your car, a shop sequence set in Q's truck and so on - you can see how they've gone for an arcade game feel with all this stuff. They're also the bits that are most reminiscent of the film.
Less successful are most of the aquatic bits. The speedboat chase (Level Two) is okay, but spoilt by the fact it's got absolutely nothing to do with the movie, while the underwater Esprit bit, perhaps in a misguided attempt to reproduce the feeling of being in the deep, blue briney, is just too slow. There are some nice visual effects (the bubbles, how your car goes all wavey as if being viewed through water) but how on earth are you meant to dodge enemy subs or (badly-drawn) divers when your car's plodding along at such a snail's pace?
The final jet-ski fight is a disappointment too - a vertically-scrolling shoot-'em-up has to be something special to earn much of a vote these days, and this just isn't it. No background to speak of and some rather weedy little sprites shifting aimlessly round the screen - it could be set in space for all the difference it would make to the game (in fact some stray person wandering into the office actually thought it was!).
So not a bad Spy Hunter update overall, and certainly an improvement on recent(ish) attempts like Action Fighter, not to mention the vast bulk of past James Bond games. I enjoyed it - particularly the road-based sequences - but it's not a knock-out by any means.
I was going to start this review by singing the title song of the movie, but I couldn't remember the words, so think yourselves lucky. The Spy Who Loved Me, despite being one of the older James Bond films around, is actually the most recent computer game. Not that it really matters, because the gameplay is linked to the movie in only the most tenuous way, but there you go anyway. What you get, game-wise, is a multi-sectioned game featuring Spy Hunteresque driving action, scrolling speedboat antics in a Spy Hunter vein, and underwater shoot-'em-uppy bits strongly reminiscent of, er, Spy Hunter.
But hey - this is no straight Spy Hunter clone. Nope, it's nowhere near that good. For a start, despite being composed of simple vertically-scrolling sections with hardly ever more than two things moving at a time, it's almost completely monochrome, which makes for very dull and largely featureless landscapes. Then there's the sound. It starts off promisingly (in 128K mode, at least) with a moderately funky version of the James Bond theme, but as soon as the program has to produce any other sound effect at all, the music stops in mid-bar and doesn't come back again, ever. The gameplay itself is hideously dull, and amounts to nothing more than learning the road/river/baddie layout of each level and remembering it. Since the most complicated thing you ever have to remember is whether to go left or right, this isn't too tricky a task, and if you've got plenty of time on your hands you'll finish the game the day you buy it.
'But Stuart', I hear you all cry, 'If the game's so short and easy, why do we need plenty of time?' Ah well, my little Honey Nut Loops, the reason you need plenty of time is that whenever you lose all your lives (not a very hard thing to do), you have to rewind the tape back to the beginning and start the entire game all over again. Yes, even on 128K machines. Since loading a single section takes longer than your game will have lasted, this quickly gets very wearing indeed. And since there's nothing in the game to make it worth all the faffing about, you'll very probably give up inside about half-an-hour. Dismal stuff, and no mistake.
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