When the Xbox 360 was the latest and greatest console on the market, that meant the original Xbox was only last-gen, which didn’t make it all that old. But now that the Xbox One has ushered in a new generation, it finally makes sense to slap the retro label on those classic Xbox games. That’s where Pure Retro comes in. From here on out, we’re going to try to deliver coverage of older games that you might not remember so well or may have missed out on, and it’ll be accompanied by that snazzy article prefix.
To kick things off, our US Editor Dave Letcavage revisits one of the few James Bond games that wasn’t based on a movie, most specifically its split-screen multiplayer component. Join him as he tells a tale of the tactical ski lifts, accidental espionage, and explosive shootouts that can be found in 007: Nightfire.
Back in 2002, my friends and I were just out of high school and focusing on our band that we started a few years prior. That meant we practiced quite a bit. On Friday nights, instead of going our own ways after making obnoxiously loud music, we’d stay holed up in my buddy’s basement, playing video games and watching movies. It was a tradition for a long while: practice, go get Chinese dinner, and stop in the Blockbuster right next door to scope out entertainment for the evening. One Friday in particular, we rented James Bond 007: Nightfire for the original Xbox, hoping that the multiplayer would be half as good as Goldeneye or The World Is Not Enough on the Nintendo 64. Our expectations were very, very low, but luckily they didn’t need to be; Nightfire delivered compelling multiplayer and did enough to distinguish itself from its predecessors. We were immediately hooked.
I don’t remember which one of us purchased the game first, but I do recall that we played Nightfire many nights a week after practice for a while to come (that and Red Faction II). We had our preferred maps, our own rules, and we made our own fun. Instead of going with a standard free-for-all style of play, we always banded together in Team Arena mode and went up against a squad of AI players. Just like Perfect Dark before it, you could add bots and customize their personalities, levels of aggression and other attributes. When it came to choice of battleground, we usually gravitated toward Skyrail, an arena with two ski resort-like buildings connected by a lot of snow and ski lifts. Our recurring strategy was to take over the rooftop of the bottom building and keep the opposition at bay with guided missiles and sniper rifles. It was an absolute blast, and most of my fuzzy Nightfall memories revolve around that map in particular.
This past Friday, my wife and I were sitting around, trying to decide how we’d spend our evening. After poking through the parts of my game room that weren’t packed up (we’re moving soon), I noticed Nightfire and wondered whether or not it would work on the Xbox 360; for the record, it does, but it’s not without some performance issues (slowdown, mostly). It’s always scary to revisit games that you have fond memories of, because if they don’t hold up, well, that can really douse those once-fuzzy memories with a bitter coating sure to induce a cringe next time they resurface. But, due to the fact that I wanted to write about a retro game anyway, I took a chance and introduced my wife to one of my old Xbox favorites.
Although Nightfire hasn’t aged quite as gloriously as some games from the same timeframe, it holds up pretty well, actually. The default control setting posed issues right out the gate, but switching over to the “Nightfire” option put the button mapping in line with modern shooters. Because this was back before sprint was commonplace in the genre, the hardest thing to adjust to at first was the movement speed, which is definitely a bit sluggish in contrast to what we’ve become used to these days. Nevertheless, it only takes a few minutes to come to terms with, and by then you’ll be lighting up Snow Guard and Yakuza bots like nobody’s business. And it wasn't far into our first round that I realized: Nightfire’s multiplayer offering is still as amusing as I remembered it to be.
The split-screen action kind of feels like a natural extension of The World Is Not Enough, except here, the battlefields are more dynamic. This is thanks to optional gun turrets, mini remote-controlled tanks and helicopters, gadgets, and alternate firing methods for familiar Bond weapons. Additionally, things like the aforementioned ski lifts allow players to develop interesting strategies to get an advantage on the competition; they can also leave you exposed and vulnerable, so there's a sense of risk/reward too. Don't worry though, if you just want classic run-and-gun shootouts with silenced pistols and assault rifles aimed at your closest friends, all of the previously-mentioned mods are optional. Personally, I think the game is much spicier with the mods active, even if that means slightly unbalanced and sometimes overwhelmingly chaotic circumstances.
My wife, who generally doesn't like shooters unless they have the word "Halo" in the title, really took to Nightfire right from the get-go. This is likely because we played on the same team, and I was always around to cover her back, keeping things from being too difficult. Plus, even though the AI can send blood flowing down the screen within seconds of a confrontation, the bots can occasionally be pretty idiotic when it comes to environmental navigation. That means it's not too tough to avoid them on certain levels if you need to regroup and devise new tactics. My wife and I only meant to sign up for a few rounds with Bond and company, but we ended up sticking with Nightfire for a few hours. It was refreshing to play an offline shooter with the presence of non-human competition, and to have so many options available while doing so.
If you have a dusty ol’ Xbox (or even a 360) sitting around, a few controllers, and the room for a couple friends beside you on your couch, you should consider setting your crosshairs on this satisfying shooter. I can't speak to the quality of the single-player campaign since I didn't get around to refamiliarizing myself with it over the weekend, but I do think that it's worth investing in Nightfire for the multiplayer alone, especially when realizing that Price Charting suggests complete copies sell for under $6. It's not revolutionary, nor is it without flaws, but the value that it brings to the table on a social level is substantial enough to outweigh any criticisms I might have. Next time you're at your local retro shop, you should think about pulling the trigger on Nightfire.
Do you have any memories of Nightfire? If so, are they as positive as Dave's, or as negative as Dr. No? Furthermore, how do you feel this game stacks up to the other James Bond games from the same era? Let your thoughts infiltrate the comments below.