I never played Goldeneye. This simple fact puts me in a sort of enviable position when judging any first person shooter, as I am not biased by what was apparently a great game. I did, however, play Perfect Dark, and a slew of PC first person shooters, and Timesplitters 2, so I believe I have come to understand a bit what makes a great FPS. Also, I never played any of EA's 007 games until I got Nightfire some weeks ago. As of now I have played a good portion of Agent under Fire and all of Nighfire a couple of times. Read on.
Remember that pile of crap that was Agent under Fire? Great graphics do not make a great game, and it is very true for that one. Althought the visual design was good, AUF lacked level design (cutscenes show pretty much everything, very straightforward), enemy AI, realistic physics (I mean, you can see the bullets and they look like Mega Man bullets), and most of all, AUF lacked Bond. Meaning, that man didn't look or feel at all like any Bond of the past or present.
Nightfire, on the other hand, has Pierce Brosnan. Well, the James Bond of Nightfire looks a little bit younger, but he moves and acts like the Brosnan Bond, and that is a definite plus for a game relying mainly on the main character. But it is not only the polygonal Brosnan, it is also the high production values that make the game fun to watch, as is apparent from the very, very Bond title song with added cool video of women dancing, guns, fire and rockets... Lots of cutscenes, some better in quality than others, tell a fairly interesting story about the usual madman that wants to rule/destroy the world. The Nightfire team (Eurocom) took the inspiration for the levels from several Bond movies, from Dr. No to Die Another Day, and it shows. Moreover, the graphics in the FPS levels are pretty good by most standards, smooth and show almost no jaggies (the usual wires, mainly). The driving levels sacrifice a little bit of detail, and a major gripe I have is that the cutscenes are nowhere near the quality of Metal Gear Solid 2, some of them look washed out at best and grainy at their worst. It is worth mentioning that there are some rather cool weather effects in some of the levels, especially the first FPS mission where you have to infiltrate a castle under the snow.
That very same level is a perfect example of how the FPS levels work, as you are not simply put on rails but actually have three different choices (go the long way round, use a shortcut, or burst in guns blazing), which also affect your starting position in the next section. Every FPS level is divided into sublevels with different objectives, which also act as checkpoints, so you don't have to start from the beginning. Still, especially in the last level, things can be pretty hard as you'll be trying to complete your missions, save health and ammunition, while still facing a high number of tough enemies. Enemies always appear in the same spot everytime you play, but they certainly pack quite a punch, especially the ones you cannot sneak up upon. It took me about 3 hours to complete the last level on normal difficulty, and I do not consider myself particularly dumb at FPSs. Your enemies will run, hide, cover one another, launch grenades and often come from two different directions, although that is most of the times a scripted event. Considering that your weapons take much longer to reload and shoot less bullets than you'd wish, it's good to either walk around unnoticed or practice with that manual aiming.
Fans of Timesplitters might notice that Bond moves and aims a lot slower than in that game. As a result, however, it is much easier to get precise hits, even on a moving targets, something that was quite difficult in TS. Most of this is probably because Nightfire uses an autotarget function that always targets the trunk, which is not very good, so manually tuning your aim is better if you have the time. Please note that you can choose from a number of control settings, but you cannot customize them - I used a Timesplitters scheme with free look on the C stick and move/strafe on the control stick, but there is a Goldeneye setting as well. There are a number of different weapons, from the PKK to the Phoenix Ronin (a laser gun), to a super cool automatic rifle with infrared visor, and most of them require knowledge of its way of working and reloading, so it never feels like you're using only one weapon. The FPS levels are a mixed offering, focusing sometime on stealth, sometimes on action, and sometimes on precise and quick sniping (take too long finding your enemy and you are a sitting duck), and you get to use the usual gadgetry, although not that much and not as creatively as I had wished. Still, it can be fun, especially when you get a "Bond Move" as a result.
Driving levels are more straightforward than the FPS levels but still manage to provide some high speed fun with rockets. One "driving" level is very peculiar as you will learn to know the Aston Martin Vanquish (yes, the one from Die Another Day) from a completely new perspective... One of the most frustrating levels, but one of my favorite ones. As for the "on rails shooting" levels, there are in fact only two, which require you shooting at approaching enemies while someone else drives. Overall, a nice change of pace, and it makes sense from a "fictional Bond movie" viewpoint, as this is what the game tries to achieve and, I believe, manages to.
And now, to the negative sides that haven't been considered yet. For one, Nightfire is a very short game. Secondly, Nightfire is a very short game. Thirdly, Nightfire has half the FPS and driving levels that should have been put into it. Quite simply, once you have all the missions available, you will notice you have 6 FPS levels, 1 introduction level with driving and sniping, one endgame (quite... unusual), one on rail shooting level, one partly driving partly on rails level, and one more level with the Vanquish, and that is all. FPS levels are rather long and offer multiple paths to explore, but that doesn't make them more, and, although you can replay any level at any difficulty setting to try and achieve the high score that is needed for the good medals (that unlock multiplayer stuff as well as weapon and gadget enhancements), activity that involves searching each area thoroughly, perform all Bond actions and be very fast and precise, it still is no big drive for playing it again considering that the varying difficulty levels do no add extra goals as in Goldeneye or Timesplitters 2 and that getting a platinum medal is hard as hell and most of the times not worth it, for the multiplayer mode.
Ah, yes, the multiplayer mode. If you already have Timesplitters 2 I trust you won't miss anything if you don't even try the Nightfire multiplayer. The slower pace (even slower than the single player game) might be a welcome change, but the dull level design, lack of any arcade challenge mode and overall bot stupidity (the basically run up to you shooting), make it a worthwhile experience only if there are other human players, although in that case you should still be playing Timesplitters.
One last paragraph will be dedicated to the sound. I cannot comment on the voice acting much, as I have a German only version that gets the job done pretty well, but I want to point out that the guns do very realistic noise and that the music is classically and sweetly Bond music, including the well known Bond theme. "Nearly Civilized" earns a prize for one of the best title songs ever, and the rest of the music fares pretty well, changing pace to follow the action and setting the mood very convincingly.
Summing up, for as long as it lasts, Nightfire has some of the most intense and engaging action this year in any one player action game. Sadly, it is going to be over very soon, even at the highest difficulty settings, and the lackluster and unrefined multiplayer mode doesn't help the game lasting any longer. If you are a Bond fan or have only a Cube or are out of FPS, then get this game, otherwise I would strongly recommend a couple of rentals, for that is what you're going to need to finish it. If you have other consoles or PC, there are better and longer action and stealth games around, like Splinter Cell, No One Lives Forever 2 and Unreal Tournament 2003. Kudos to Eurocom to creating a game that finally plays just right, but they should have gone the extra mile and give us a longer game. Maybe next time... (Bond will always return)