Before being swallowed up by Eidos Interactive in 1996 Domark were one of the officially endorsed producers of games based on the hallowed James Bond franchise. Between their inception in 1984 and 1993 they released a total of double oh six titles inspired by Ian Fleming’s renowned spy-thriller novels, the final entry being the game under the spotlight today; The Spy Who Loved Me.
Oddly – for boring, quibbling licensing reasons – the only elements from the 10th Bond story the movie incorporates are the title and its starring MI6 super-sleuth, James Bond. Domark’s game being based on the 1977 Roger Moore movie rather than the novel, takes its cues from the silver screen, although as a straightforward multi-genre compilation affair its sufficiently generic to pass for a standalone action title.
Rather than Blofeld, the chief antagonist is the web-handed aquaphile Karl Stromberg. Very much underplayed by Curt Jurgens, he’s an unhinged megalomaniac hell-bent on incinerating the world above the sea-line, and starting afresh beneath it.
James Bond: Don’t you miss the outside world?
Stromberg: For me, this is all the world. There is beauty… there is ugliness… and there is death.
How shellfish! It’s alright for him, he lives on a floating, futuristic palace capable of submerging at will to stay out of harm’s way.
‘Atlantis’ is kept docked off the coast of Sardinia, while his home away from home is ‘Liparus’, a colossal super-tanker vessel equipped with its own red army. Handily, when not out pirating on the high-seas it’s kept nestled inside the fortress-like Atlantis.
Stromberg: I intend to change the face of history.
Major Anya Amasova: By destroying the world?
Stromberg: By creating a world – a new and beautiful world beneath the sea.
Stromberg: Today’s civilisation is known as corrupt, decedent. Inevitably, it will destroy itself. I’m merely – accelerating the process.
Major Anya Amasova: That does not justify mass murder.
Stromberg: For that, Major, I will accept the judgement of posterity.
Every Bond villain has a diabolical scheme up his or her sleeve, and Stromberg is no different, despite being one of the less convincing/menacing despots in the Bond pantheon. Well, except for that bit where he feeds a traitor to his pet great white shark. That was a bit harsh I thought.
(Stromberg has just dropped his mistress from his elevator into a water tank, the sole occupant of which is a large tiger shark. The shark moves in)
Stromberg: (on loudspeaker) It was you who betrayed me. You had access to all the information. Now you will pay the penalty.
(watches on a screen as the tiger shark moves into the attack)
Mostly though he gets other people to do his dirty work while he sits pretty on his Piscean throne poised over a metaphorical ‘big red button’.
Stromberg’s gameplan is to capture a British and Soviet nuclear submarine, sucking them in through the gaping ‘mouth’ of his seemingly impenetrable warhorse tanker. With each under his control, the intention is to launch their nuclear missiles at New York and Moscow, surmising that the US will blame Russia for the hostile action and retaliate, and vice versa. Cue an intractable arms race leading to the annihilation of civilisation as we know it, while Stromberg walks away Scott-free.
Stromberg: Observe, Mr Bond, the instruments of Armageddon.
It’s pretty much a thinly-veiled rehash of the nefarious rouse depicted in Moonraker, You Only Live Twice and Thunderball, only with a different setting and madman at the helm. And in the case of the latter two, an alternative, more pensive James Bond played by Sean Connery.
Stop it! You can debate which was the best Bond later. We’re just getting started.
M: (to Bond) Our respective governments have agreed to pool our resources to find out what happened to our submarines.
General Anatol Gogol: We have entered a new era of Anglo-Soviet cooperation and as a sign of Russian good faith…
General Anatol Gogol: I’m certain that two such perceptive talents will enjoy working together in Sardinia and that it will help to make Anglo-Soviet cooperation a reality.
Unfortunately for Stromberg, Bond, the British secret service and the Russian equivalent are on the case. Russia’s finest human weapon, Anya ‘Triple X’ Amasova and Bond are simultaneously on the trail of microfilm evidence that holds the key to the identity of the sub hijacking perpetrator.
Stromberg: Well gentlemen, now that the moment has come to bid you farewell, I congratulate both you, Doctor, and you, Professor, on your brilliant work in the development of the submarine tracking system. Thanks primarily to you, I am happy to say that the first phase of our operation has met with considerable success. I have instructed my assistant to have paid into your Swiss bank accounts the sum of ten million dollars each.
Prof. Markovitz: Thank you, sir.
Dr. Bechmann: Thank you indeed.
Stromberg: And that, I think, concludes our business. Before you go however, I very much regret to inform you that a dangerous development has recently been brought to my notice. Someone has been attempting to sell the plans of our tracking project to competing world powers; someone intimately associated with the project.
James Bond: You have something I’m interested in buying.
Major Anya Amasova: Just a moment. I would like to bid for it too. You forgot your drink, Mr Bond.
James Bond: Thank you. Na zdorovje.
Max Kalba: It seems you have competition, Mr Bond. And from where I sit, I fancy you will find the lady’s figure – hard to match.
Anya learns that James – in the line of duty – is responsible for the death of her excessively hairy boyfriend, Sergi Barsov, yet is forced to put her contempt on hold while the pair work together to fulfil their mutual mission.
General Anatol Gogol: I regret to inform you, Major, that Agent Sergei Barsov has been killed. On a mission, at Berngarten in the Austrian Alps.
Major Anya Amasova: A tragic occurrence, Comrade General.
General Anatol Gogol: It had not escaped our notice that you had been more than friends for some time. I’m very sorry.
Major Anya Amasova: How did he die?
General Anatol Gogol: We haven’t all the details yet, but it appears he’d become involved in a British Secret Service operation.
Major Anya Amasova: Please keep me informed, Comrade General. I should very much like to meet whoever was responsible for his death.
Major Anya Amasova: The man I loved. He was in Austria 3 weeks ago. Did you kill him?
James Bond: When someone’s behind you on skis at 40 miles per hour trying to put a bullet in your back, you don’t always have time to remember a face. In our business, Anya, people get killed. We both know that. So did he. It was either him or me. The answer to the question is yes. I did kill him.
Major Anya Amasova: Then, when this mission is over, I will kill you.
Despite vowing to avenge Sergi’s demise, her resolve soon thaws under the influence of James’ tenacious womanising charm. Who could resist that twitching bewitching single eyebrow raise and cheesy smirk?
Major Anya Amasova: You don’t have to worry about me, Mr Bond. I went on a surviving course in Siberia.
James Bond: Yes, I believe a great number of your countrymen do. What did they teach you?
Major Anya Amasova: That it’s very important – to have a positive – mental – attitude.
James Bond: Nothing more practical than that?
Major Anya Amasova: Food is also very important.
James Bond: Mm-hmm. What else?
Major Anya Amasova: When necessary, shared – bodily – warmth.
James Bond: That’s the part I like.
(Kiss and embrace)
Sent in to investigate the mysterious disappearance of the British and Russian sailors and their WMD, Anya and James arrive on the scene travelling in an American sub. Having already aroused Stromberg’s suspicions it’s only a matter of time before they are apprehended and brought aboard the Liparus to join the ranks of Stromberg’s plentiful playthings. Who’s going to backup the cavalry now, Nemo? The Little Mermaid?
Nope, surprisingly. Aided by rival-turned-ally Russian agent xxx and Stromberg’s multinational prisoners, Bond sabotages the eccentric Playboy’s plot by reassigning the British and Soviet subs to take aim at one another. Unleashing their nuclear warheads according to plan, the imminent catastrophe is averted, leaving Atlantis at the mercy of the remaining sub’s lethal firepower.
Stromberg is shot via his own under-table covert bullet-guiding tube menagerie. Desperately clinging onto the last fronds of life he’s going to need a bit more persuasion to swim with the fishes. Bond obliges, filling Stromberg’s chest with lead just to be completely sure he’s thoroughly de-villained and out of the picture.
What could be more fitting than a burial at sea for the maniac mariner? His baby is unceremoniously demolished and sunk, whilst James and co. exit through a DIY escape hatch. Inevitably now a couple, Anya and James wash up on shore in an evacuation pod, their ‘reconciliation’ interrupted by his secret service superiors.
Little of which comes into play in Domark’s game since it focuses so heavily on arcade action, only correlating with the movie via a few static, black and white text mission briefings.
Actually, ‘The Kremlin’ were behind the game’s inception, although, operating as Domark’s in-house development team, that’s neither here nor there. Weighing in at over two hours, the movie unfolds at a lethargic pace by today’s standards, featuring several superfluous scenes that add little to the story. Domark’s antidote was to embrace the high-octane elements – the chases, races and shootouts – and ditch the rest. Unless there’s a throttle, accelerator or trigger involved it didn’t make the cut.
Teaming up with Anya, the goal is to reach the Hotel Cala di Volpe in Porto Cervo where Q awaits with a speedboat to take Bond to his incognito meeting with Stromberg.
James Bond: You have a reservation for me. The name is Sterling.
Hotel Receptionist: Ah, yes. Mr and Mrs Sterling, booked from Cairo.
James Bond: That’s right.
Hotel Receptionist: We have Suite A5 for you. A sitting room – and two bedrooms.
James Bond: (to Anya) Moneypenny being a little over efficient.
In the movie, James and Anya pose as married marine biologists fascinated by Stromberg’s unorthodox space-age aquarium. They’ve even done their ichthyological homework in case their authenticity is put to the test. In a bizarre feign of ignorance Bond hesitates when asked to identify a tropical fish, then suddenly confounds our expectations by reeling off a biography of facts, impressing Stromberg and leaving the audience wondering why he’d risk introducing any doubt by looking so shifty. Suspense heightened. Tick. Nevermind coming so close to ‘breaking the fourth wall’.
Our journey is funnelled through a narrow passageway, hemmed in by bodywork-piercing scenery. Obstacles such as traffic cones, oil slicks and puddles further limit our manoeuvrability, forcing us to slow to a crawl if we ever intend to reach our destination.
Pesky traffic and pedestrians also obstruct our path, threatening to weaken the Lotus’ armour unless we sidle past them at a snail’s pace. Kill a civilian and we lose precious ‘Q-points’. Even when the suicidal pests are later found wandering about on the motorway, pleading to be mown down. Frenetic high-velocity heroics it’s not! Don’t believe the ‘pedal to the metal’ self-driving intro.
While it’s possible to drive on two wheels (typically the ones on the same side!), mobilised by a conveniently positioned ramp, it’s not recommended. Neither is landing from a jump at an odd angle, for the same reason; you’re likely to go veering off the road uncontrollably. Hang around in the track’s periphery too long and our armour takes a battering faster than you can say “mine’s a Martini, shaken, not stirred”.
Q-points are collected en-route substituting for currency used to buy weaponry and upgrades from Q’s Q-truck (are you starting to see a pattern forming here?). This appears periodically in the middle of the road, hindering our journey as much as it helps. To enter this artillery on wheels and make the exchange it must be boarded from the drop-down ramp at the rear whilst still in motion, a la Knight Rider or Spy Hunter.
Amongst the wares on offer are a rear-projected paint-spraying dispenser…
…smoke screens, missiles, and lasers.
Note that not all items seemingly on offer are available for use during every stage of the game. For instance, the helicopter-destroying missiles will only function underwater, as in the movie.
James Bond: It’s time we said goodbye to an uninvited guest.
Other weapons are so expensive you’ll begin to wonder if they’re merely red herring teases.
We’ll also need to keep in mind that we must complete the level in possession of 150 Q-points in order to progress to the next. Otherwise we’re obliged to loop the circuit indefinitely, and that’s no fun. Every time we die we’re forced to start again from scratch, so if you don’t take it easy you’ll see far more of this inaugural stage (sorry, scene) than is recommended for your sanity’s sake.
Drive into the wooden shelter at the edge of the dock and we emerge from the other side, seamlessly transitioning into the water-skimming speedboat section. Once onboard we must make our way to Stromberg’s floating city hideaway, Atlantis. Annoying pedestrians are now annoying swimmers and are also to be avoided, along with wooden piers, moored boats and Stromberg’s waterborne pursuing goons. Force-feeding them missile projectiles and disorientating smoke cloaks should help to keep them at bay.
You won’t find a sailing equivalent of the Q-truck on this level, although help is at hand in the form of red dot way-points to guide us towards the exit. Fail to follow these, or keep an eye on our location on the map, and we’ll soon smash into a jetty dead end and have to restart the mission. Once we see a shadow cast over the watery playfield we know we’re home free. Slow down before hitting the dock and the director shouts “Cuuuuuut! That’s a wrap.” Well, not really. Lewis Gilbert is nowhere to be seen.
Scene two opens with a clack of the clapperboard (in my head anyway) and we’re back in the morphing Lotus on a return visit to the hotel in Sardinia. Stromberg is informed of our true intentions and identity by Jaws having just dusted himself off after losing an incredibly wooden, stilted wrestling bout with Bond.
(after structure falls on Jaws)
James Bond: Egyptian builders.
In possibly the most preposterous scene in the movie, Jaws rips off the roof of his van to get to Anya and Bond who are attempting to make a getaway having recovered the microfilm, sponsored by Minolta (ka-ching!). Jaws makes short work of turning the van into a convertible and with a big gaping hole in the roof he’s free to reach in and grab the fleeing spies. He could easily have “dropped in for a quick bite”.
Instead, Jaws jumps down and starts tearing away at the van’s front wing bodywork and fruitlessly kicking the door, giving them plenty of time to escape. I’ve seen more believable Tom and Jerry chase escapades.
Stromberg already suspected subterfuge was afoot. Now confirmed by his silent henchman he issues orders to have us killed.
Stromberg: Were they the two on the train?
Stromberg: James Bond. And the woman is Major Amasova, a Russian agent. Let them get to shore… and then kill them.
Cue the movie’s illustrious, frantic road chase sequence; an Esprit dealers dream! Following the movie’s choreography, we should psych ourselves up to be harassed by Stromberg’s lackeys riding in a medley of vehicles ranging from a rocket-mounted motorbike and sidecar…
…to Jaws’ more traditional motorcar…
…and a helicopter piloted by the delectable Naomi. Fresh from filming a Carry On movie it would seem!
(the motorcycle henchmen flies off a cliff in a cloud of feathers)
James Bond: All those feathers and he still can’t fly!
After repairing the Lotus in Q’s Q-truck (appropriately enough), it must be equipped with his high-tech submarine conversion kit in preparation for an underwater rendezvous with Atlantis.
If we stick to the less obstructed left-hand route we’ll have an easier ride, eventually reaching a road marked ‘jetty’. Keep the windows wound-up tight, drive off the edge and we’ve completed the level. Take the wrong path and the Groundhog Day principle applies; we must repeat the level from the beginning.
Beneath the Ocean’s waves ‘Wet Nellie’ is stocked to the gills with 4-way explosive bolts, 8-way torpedoes and a laser gun. Assuming we purchased them beforehand from the Q-truck that is. They’re hard to come by once underwater, and without these upgrades, we’re pretty much up the creek without a paddle. This level’s boss is so hard to hit with the default short-range weapon that it easily makes fish food of us before we can knock out its side turrets.
In the Q-truck’s absence, power-ups must be harvested from the underwater landscape. With this in mind, be on the lookout for bubbles marked with letters representing various enhancements. A for armour, T for torpedoes, L for lasers and so on. We’ll certainly need all the help we can get for the final reckoning.
As we transition into scene 3 Bond sends in the cavalry in the form of an American sub, yet is soon apprehended by Stromberg who had prior knowledge of their arrival… he’d been expecting Mr Bond shall we say. To die, not so much to talk.
Regardless, Bond and Anya manage to escape and free the captives onboard the Russian, British and American sub. Raiding Stromberg’s ammunitions cache together they form a heavily armed resistance force of their own to suppress the red army.
Meanwhile, their supreme leader’s belly turns a lovely shade of yellow as he retreats to the control room, letting his cannon fodder bear the brunt of the rebel’s attack. Safely ensconced behind armour-plated steel, Bond will need more than bullets to take him out of the equation.
(a camera globe moves through the holding bay, examining the USS Wayne crew)
James Bond: (to Anya) Don’t look up. You’re on Candid Camera.
Serendipitous then that he has a cunning plan; extract the detonator from a nuclear warhead, travel over to the control room riding on a ceiling-mounted close circuit TV camera and plant the makeshift bomb in order to break through its defensive shielding like a heavy-duty can opener.
Captain Carter: That armour plating must be inches thick. We’ll never get through it!
James Bond: Come on, let’s go to the armoury.
Captain Carter: The armoury? What do you expect to find there?
James Bond: A nuclear missile!
Captain Carter: (as James is removing the warhead to a nuclear missile) James, are you sure you know what you’re doing?
James Bond: Well, there has to be a first time for everything.
In an Operation Wolf style segment, now playing as Anya we must quell an onslaught of red army guards on foot patrol as well as divers surfacing from beneath the water of the submarine docking bay.
In the background Bond can be seen making the hazardous journey through the tanker’s rafters clasping the detonator, riding the camera like a space hopper. To succeed we need to hold off the enemy long enough for him to travel the length of the screen. If the guards on the walkway are allowed to get close enough to Bond they’ll knife him and it’s goodnight Vienna.
Strangely he can absorb bullets with less dramatic repercussions. If a surfacing diver or the soldier who periodically pokes his head out of the submarine hatch manage to fire a shot before you can take them down Bond loses energy. When it’s fully depleted he keels over and the mission is a failure.
For this scene, control is shared between the mouse and joystick. We operate the crosshair reticle with the mouse, whilst our joystick button serves as fire. It works surprisingly well once you get used to the odd arrangement. Removing the extra movement caused by constantly hammering the fire button allows you to aim that much more accurately I’ve found. Well, ‘hammering’ isn’t really a possibility to be honest, as I’ll explain.
Targeting and shooting the baddies is actually really easy. What makes this level the most difficult in the game is managing Anya’s meagre ammo rations. This soon runs out leaving Bond defenceless so has to be used prudently, firing one shot at a time.
Every so often killing one of the adversaries causes an ammo clip to be cast into the air – if we can shoot it fast enough it replenishes our supplies. Easier said than done! They fall at the speed of light, are fiddly little things and the collision detection often seems unfair. Even when you score a direct hit it’s not immediately obvious that you’ve successfully caught one without taking your eyes off the enemy to check the ammo bar.
Unfortunately, this also applies to the running guards. You can be certain you’ve hit one square in the chest, yet they don’t drop to the metal platform as you’d expect. Instead, you waste multiple shots on a single stooge when you haven’t got ammo to spare.
This very gradually replenishes of its own accord, though not quick enough alone to ensure Bond’s survival. If you wait a few extra seconds before taking aim it’s sometimes sufficient to regain a single shot, and if its delivery is timed perfectly this can tide you over until the next ammo pick-up. Even so, it’s a tricky balancing act requiring dozens of retries and a wig to replace all the hair you’ll pull out in frustration in the process!
A tidbit of interesting trivia for you. This is the only level in which we don’t play as James, in this game as well as any of the other retro Bond titles in the series. As far as the Spy Who Loved Me goes it’s also the only one that’s insanely difficult. Were Domark trying to tell us something here? Nobody does it better? Makes me feel sad for the rest. 😉
Once inside the control room, scene four gets underway. Stromberg has escaped taking Anya as a hostage bartering chip, having re-programmed the subs to fire upon New York and Moscow.
Major Anya Amasova: Goodbye, Mr Bond.
James Bond: Well, let’s say “au revoir”. I have the oddest feeling we’ll be meeting again sometime.
Not in the mood for cliff-hangers? Let me fast-forward.
It’s our task to cancel Stromberg’s malevolent sub deploying instructions by re-re-programming the computer using coordinates taken from the game’s manual (a rudimentary and not very subtle copyright protection system!). This will realign the subs to fire at one another, thereby eliminating the threat. Notice that they’re no longer Russian and British subs having been renamed Stromberg 1 and 2. Control freak!
Our first task is to enter a five-digit ‘entry override’ code to grant us access to modify the sub’s coordinates. This is revealed by working out which numbers have been assigned to each symbol and then reproducing the symbol series numerically.
So if you enter all 3s and the symbols on one row all change to diamonds (they’re forever you know) you can be certain that 3 = diamond. Repeat this for the remaining digits including zero and write down the resulting ‘key’. Now the symbols in the locked/held row can be converted to numbers and entered into the pad.
Fail to do this quick enough and the two subs proceed along their original trajectory. With Moscow and New York devoured by nukes the world is doomed, and so naturally it’s curtains for Bond. To try again you must start again from the very beginning!
It appears that the entry override code is calculated randomly, while the sub’s coordinates remain identical from one game to the next. These you’ll find written in the manual, although if you don’t have that to hand you could simply watch the movie instead seeing as they were plucked right off the screen. Clever!
As you do be sure to clock the Sony badge on the computer monitor and buy plenty of electronic devices you don’t really need. The Spy Who Loved Me is chock-full of product placement, and this was way back in 1977. Don’t be fooled into believing this is a modern phenomenon.
Reaching the fifth, penultimate scene we discover to our horror that the US Commander has ordered the destruction of Atlantis with Anya still held hostage onboard. We have just one hour to penetrate its outer defences, making our approach via a Wetbike (a forerunner to the modern jet-ski unveiled to the world in Spy Who Loved Me). Luckily Q has dropped some useful floating goodie packages in the sea to aid the cause seeing as his Q-truck won’t be putting in another appearance.
This stage plays much like the earlier boating interlude, only controlling a different sprite. Packing slightly more of a punch than your average tourist’s jet-ski, this specially Q-adapted model wields a 4-way machine gun, micro missiles and a laser gun.
We’ll need them too, faced with all manner of nautical opposition from speedboats, to dinghies and even colossal frigates that fire triplicate projectiles. That is, mines, missiles and ballistics. If we strafe at all times to evade their barrage of firepower and are equipped with the laser gun they don’t pose much of a threat. As in the speedboat level we should glide to a gentle halt in the shaded area to conclude the exercise, or else risk wasting our time getting to this point. It’s a punishing game if you’re not careful!
Finally, scene 6 entails sniping our way through the metallic corridors of Atlantis in search of Anya, who by this stage has become James’ latest love interest, rather than merely a colleague. I know, who’d have guessed?!?
Back behind the crosshair, this little excursion is reminiscent of the camera-riding incident we endured earlier, only with Bond in charge of the gun rather than Anya. It’s child’s play in comparison.
We shoot a few red army muppets as they emerge from doors at either side of the corridor before coming face to face with Stromberg’s 7 foot tall, steel-toothed, chain-chewing chief henchman, Jaws. Scientific logical prevailing, he can’t be injured unless you shoot him in the teeth! Just like Samson with his superhero’s flowing locks! Once you realise this he’s a pussycat.
Jaws is ‘dealt’ with a little differently in the movie. He doesn’t die for a start… despite wrestling with a shark. Fill in your own ‘Jaws eats Jaws’ joke here.
With Jaws down and out only Stromberg stands in our way. Emerging clutching Anya for protection he must be gingerly shot in the bonce if we’re to experience the proper finale. Oh, and also to save Anya from being accidentally exterminated by stray gunfire, that’s important too. So I’m told. Even if she is a terribly wooden actress and too delicate and pretty to be a convincing hardcore international spy extraordinaire, as we’re led to believe.
I’m sure the real Barbara has more depth to her personality and exists for reasons other than to be a smug misogynist’s toy. You can thank Ian Fleming for the narrow-minded, stereotypical, sexist portrayal of women in his novels and consequently their movie translations.
Major Anya Amasova: It’s getting cold.
James Bond: I say, anything I can do to warm you up?
James Bond: In my country, Major, the condemned man is usually allowed a final request.
Major Anya Amasova: Granted.
James Bond: Let’s get out of these wet things.
Sheikh Hoseim: Can I persuade you to accept a bed for the night?
(Claps his hands once)
James Bond: That’s kind of you Hoseim, but I really feel like –
(turns and notices a harem girl walking towards him)
Sheikh Hoseim: Are you, eh, quite sure I can’t persuade you to stay the night?
James Bond: When one is in Egypt, one should delve deeply into its treasures.
If we do happen to kill Anya it’s still possible to complete the game, however, we’ll only be rewarded with a static congratulations message for our trouble, before the game resets. Take away Stromberg’s human shield and he suddenly springs into action, shimmying from side to side several times faster than before. Despite being more erratic he’s actually easier to kill in this state seeing as we no longer need to be so meticulous with our aim.
Assuming we manage to put a bullet through his temple without harming Anya, we finish the game in unison, treated to a static reproduction of the concluding shot in the movie.
Marginally escaping an erupting Atlantis, Anya and James evacuate in an escape pod. Putting their differences aside (you know, the whole James assassinating the love of her life thing), the pair close in to get better acquainted.
Major Anya Amasova: But James, what will our superiors say?
James Bond: They’re never going to know.
Then we cut to the comic relief; Bond’s secret service superiors have recovered the floating sanctuary and are peering in through the window in bemusement at the couple’s totally predictable intimacy. Even the closing, smutty one-liner is replicated for the game. You have to wonder how many kids at the time had an inkling into the relevance of that double entendre.
General Anatol Gogol: XXX!
Sir Frederick Gray, Minister of Defence: Bond! What do you think you’re doing?
James Bond: Keeping the British end up, sir.
Phew! Saving the world from utter, devastating annihilation and winning the affections of a beauty queen all in the same day is tiring work. Repeating the process in pixels doubly oh… I mean so.
Ignoring the license connection for a moment, as a multi-vehicle top-down racing/fixed perspective first person shooter gig, the Spy Who Loved Me is an above average title, hampered by a number of critical gameplay annoyances.
When token collection is so crucial to making progress we’re never going to be tearing through the terrain like an international super-spy being tailed by a steel-toothed goon suffering from gigantism (just to pluck a random metaphor out of thin air). Which of course will limit the enjoyment of any fans seeking a hyper-sonic parody of the movie featuring numerous quintessential high-velocity action sequences. See how long I managed to forget the silver screen association?
Its weapon upgrade procedure also leaves a fair bit to be desired. Boarding the Q-truck while being shunted aside by Stromberg’s gophers takes practice. Requiring pixel perfect precision you’re more likely to end up teetering over the edge of the pier than going shopping for high-tech toys and gadgetry.
Q: Right. Now pay attention, 007. I want you to take great care of this equipment. There are one or two rather special accessories…
James Bond: Q, have I ever let you down?
Beyond the first level, the challenge escalates abruptly, making lightning-quick reflexes a necessity. Given the short draw distance of the screen during the top-down sections this is nigh on impossible if you intend to race through the levels as Bond himself certainly would.
Nevertheless, the vehicles all handle responsively and any game-ending deaths are generally justified. Collision detection isn’t quite as impressive for the first-person shooter segments, yet this doesn’t prevent them from being addictive, ‘one more go’ challenges, bolstered by efficient controls.
There aren’t that many exceedingly frustrating games I’m prepared to keep plugging away at until that momentous sense of satisfaction dawns upon completion… this then was one of the exceptions to the rule I’m pleased to report.
Disclaimer: The only way I had a hope in hell of achieving this was to cheat every step of the way, enabling infinite money and lives via a trainer. Believe it or not, that doesn’t automatically mean it’s a pushover! You still have to worry about your dwindling ammo supplies and deteriorating armour. The ‘Miss Moneypenny’ cheat so many retro gaming sites repeat without trying it doesn’t actually work so it’s not possible to skip levels to get a flavour without beating them entirely.
James pulls off Michael Jackson’s anti-gravity lean for the C64’s title screen.
Watching the movie and playing the game back to back it’s easy to see how hard Domark worked to weave the set pieces, vehicles and baddies into the proceedings. Much of what was ignored actually deserved to be! All that tedious preamble in Egypt springs to mind.
Without the time constraints imposed by an obligation to synchronise the game’s release date with that of the movie, Domark would have been free to spend a bit more time on producing a competent translation. This is apparent in a number of vital areas; the coding – courtesy of Paul D. Margrave – is solid, the graphics by Anthony West and Lloyd Baker are excellent throughout without being breathtaking in a Shadow of the Beast sense, and the music – what little there is of it – is superb.
As a remixed, typically ’90s dance interpretation of Monty Norman’s strikingly idiosyncratic Bond theme the latter is not exactly what you’d call authentic. Then again, when it’s as inventive as Matt Furniss’ zany original composition it hardly matters. Any purists can mute the volume until the game begins.
Most important of all perhaps, it evokes welcome flashbacks of the fun-in-places movie we all remember for one reason. The sporty transformer car kids and adults of the ’70s likely craved as much as ’80s movie-goers daydreamed about owning their own hoverboard. Failing Mattel lining the shelves of Toys R Us with working replicas, even a digital one might have sated our appetite…
…there’s no doubt The Spy Who Loved Me is 300% better than the rushed Back to the Future II cash-in that made us blubber with despair in the same year.
James Bond: Mr Kalba, my name is Bond, James Bond.
Max Kalba: What of it?
Of course, The Spy Who Loved Me is a shamelessly derivative hodgepodge of arcade classics that were already beginning to look a bit long in the tooth by 1990. To its credit, it doesn’t suffer from these developmental shortcuts. Thanks to the venerated, timeless license and compulsive mechanics, ironically the game levitates over the competition.
Q: Good morning 007.
James Bond: Morning Q.
Q: Mission successful?
James Bond: On and off.