The 1977 movie The Spy Who Loved Me was a big deal when it came out and since License to Kill ended up being a pretty dang good video game, it’s not unsurprising that publisher Domark was given the greenlight for another adaptation. However, neither development house nor lead designer would return, and The Spy Who Loved Me would be the last of its kind.
The game takes the shape of an ambitious vehicle action game viewed from a top-down perspective. As James Bond, you take to the highways and waters and literally race through the movie’s plot.
Storytelling is as sparse as one would expect and instead the game takes the shape of a series of driving sequences that eventually culminate into boss-fights. Bond will be controlling a car, a boat, and a “submarine”, and the goal of the game is to keep going forward to reach the end of the stages. On your way there you have to deal with obstacles and enemy vehicles, which you counter through clever steering and with mounted weapons that can be upgraded later down the line.
It’s functional, but the game feel is very off. The car and boat both control well enough and respond well to input, but the key problem is that the faster you go, the less screen space you have in front of you. This becomes most obvious in the first boat scene where, even at the slowest speed, you have little time to dodge out of the way of the haphazardly-placed docks. Enemy fire is already problematic enough, but the slightest bump against the scenery will explode your vehicle instantly and force you to replay the entire segment.
And these driving segments are surprisingly long and tiring. They are kind of exciting at first, but as you repeat them the enjoyment fades fast. The enemy AI is also particularly annoying, as they will keep lingering behind you where you can’t do much back. They then match your movements exactly, slowing down when you do and even coming to a full stop if you try to do so too. When they do finally appear in front of you, they tend to take off and leave you with no chance to get satisfying revenge.
Unlike License to Kill, you also can’t run them off the road when bumping into them. Enemy vehicles will often blatantly clip through walls or float in the sky if pushed, or just don’t have a collision box at all. When you jump off a ramp and land on top of a motorcycle, I want that motorist to at least crash, not merely continue along his path. The boss-fights with giant vehicles are a highlight, but one you need to spend a lot of lives and time to reach. This frustration is alleviated, somewhat, by the game’s generous checkpoints.
An interesting feature of The Spy Who Loved Me is its inventory. You can collect coins while driving around and use these to buy upgrades and ammo. However, the lack of screen space also makes it difficult to see these coming. If you want to dodge obstacles and collect coins, you need to either learn the layout of every stage or go so frustratingly slow that there is no fun or energy to the gameplay at all.
Gameplay score: 3.5/10
Never been this unhappy with explosions
Visually the game is quite impressive with a lot of sprites and terrain to decorate the long levels with. Enemies use various different vehicles and the game does get chaotic when motors, cars, and helicopters are all picking a fight with you, the road curves unexpectedly, and you launch the car off a ramp. Good stuff, until you run off the road and Bond goes up in flames.
An impressive effect is how seamlessly the game switches between some scenes, with especially the first level having an impressive finale. The bosses are also impressively-designed and feel like a proper reward when you finally reach them.
The game’s soundscape is limited by comparison, but it does have the Bond theme running through all of it. The loop is a little short and obvious, but it works out just fine for a game this short.
Presentation score: 7/10
The Spy Who Loved Me is merely alright. It’s a nice-looking game and it has its fair share of exciting moments, but a vehicle-oriented game in which it’s not fun to drive fast is a tough sell right from the get-go. It was fun to play through once, but License to Kill overcame its shortcomings through variety. By comparison, if I wanted to play a vehicle action game, there are many I could fire up instead that feel better to play.