Game: James Bond 007 – The Stealth Affair / Operation Stealth (1990)
Developer: Delphine Software International
Publisher: Interplay Entertainment, U.S. Gold
Originally Released on: Amiga, Atari ST, MS-DOS
Currently Available on: Second-hand only: eBay, etc.
With Activision taking the James Bond franchise back to its roots for 007 Legends, where the game will be made up of missions based on classic Bond movies, it seems the perfect time to reflect back on one of the forgotten entries in the super-spy series. This game is often forgotten because it was never intended to be a James Bond game in the first place.
That title was Operation Stealth, a game produced by French-based Delphine Software International, and more notably co-designed by Paul Cuisset. Cuisset was big news in European game development in the early nineties, with his biggest hit being the much-lauded Flashback. He may have tarnished his record a little recently, with the rather less well-received Amy (following the creation of his own studio VectorCell), but his titles are still fondly remembered by gamers.
Operation Stealth was the second in a series of impressive adventure games released by Delphine at the time, the first being Future Wars and the last Cruise for a Corpse. They all made use of variations upon Delphine’s own proprietary Cinematique game engine, which was similar to the famous SCUMM interface used by LucasArts for their most popular adventure titles in the eighties and nineties. However, rather than be similar to a LucasArts title, Stealth remains closer to the constant threat of death and unforgiving mechanics that were made famous by Sierra titles.
The title was an obviously Ian Fleming-inspired yarn, starring secret agent John Glames as he took on a new mission for the CIA. A Stealth Fighter plane has gone missing during testing, and although the authorities don’t know who is responsible, they know that it is a dangerous situation and that their top men need to be on the case. The fighter has been tracked to somewhere in Latin America, so our agent heads out to the fictional Santa Paragua to begin his investigations, armed only with his briefcase and plane ticket, and met by some far-from-welcoming locals.
Now “how did this title end up being a James Bond game?”, I hear you ask. Well the American arm of Interplay acquired the Bond license around the same time that the game was being made, and rather than produce a completely new game, they agreed a deal to publish the title for Delphine in North America, but only under the condition that the title be changed to James Bond 007 – The Stealth Affair, and all references to John Glames be changed to James Bond. Most North American gamers never even suspected this wasn’t a pure Bond title, however the game did commit a famous faux pas, as the CIA was not re-named to MI5, which left James Bond taking directions from the wrong government. A minor fact that most gamers would gloss over, but it caused some real consternation with hardcore Bond fans. The game is otherwise faithful, and very dry; as the Fleming books always were. This does sadly mean that the one-liners and silliness of the later Bond films is lost, but that isn’t an altogether bad thing.
The game itself is a very traditional point and click graphic adventure in many senses, as you have all of the regular interaction verbs to select from, such as; take, examine, use and speak, amongst others. Then you have your inventory full of items with which to interact and apply to other items or objects in the game world. Puzzles are more logical than many games of the time, as the game maintains more of a serious tone than many of its Sierra and LucasArts contemporaries.
This serious edge is emphasised even more by the several action elements that are thrown into the mix. What would a good Bond adventure be without action? You have a huge number of gadgets at your disposal, and you will have to use your brawn as well as your brains. There are a few unforgiving maze sequences, and also – one of the banes of classic adventure games – some time-reliant ones. For instance, there is one where you have to act fast to escape an underwater cavern before your oxygen runs out. These can become a little frustrating, and are rather fiddly, and the old adage of save early, save often certainly applies here; you will need to reload and try again many times. In a normal adventure game, these would surely be an annoyance to fans of puzzles and reasoned thinking, but in a James Bond spy game, action sequences such as these, where nerves are jangling and the player is tense, help set the spy atmosphere well.
Delphine’s previous effort in the Cinematique engine was much-derided for having super-small hotspots, that gamers really had to hunt for, and make sure they clicked their interactions in exactly the right spots in order to be successful. Thankfully this has been refined and the hotspots are far more forgiving in Stealth. The whole experience is therefore a little easier; but not stupidly so. It is only easier because it was far too sensitive before. One area in which it takes a step back from the previous game, Future Wars, is the fact that the multiplane camera effects used for having several layers of background art acting independently (as pioneered by early Walt Disney films) has been dropped. Now background art is flat and more simple, although still high-quality.
The game was very well-animated for the time, with a high-quality opening and detailed cutscenes to carry out the action. The opening features many camera angles and is shot like a film, which immediately sets the right tone for the game. These are also dotted throughout the game in order to move the story forward, or develop characters. In-game, however, some of the animation cycles seem a little exaggerated and comic, which does clash with the serious style of the game, but these can be largely overlooked as the game still maintains a strong artistic vision of place and atmosphere.
The sound was a little behind the curve however, and although a strong film style score was composed for the game, the sound effects are rather basic and, at times, unconvincing. James Bond-style voices would have been very entertaining to hear, but full talkie games weren’t commonplace at the time this game was developed, so the game remains largely a quiet affair.
The game might lack some of the graphical flair that other games at the time displayed, and it doesn’t exactly leap off the screen and excel in one particular area more than other games, as a whole The Stealth Affair conveys a strong atmosphere of distrust and uncertainty, and makes the player feel like they could be a real spy, taking part in their own espionage adventure. Despite the James Bond license only being an afterthought, and a quick patch-up job, the game suits the famous series very well. It may be too hard or frustrating for some, but it is a great choice for the adventurer who wants a serious challenge, rather than another comedy point and clicker. Be it James Bond or John Glames, both heroes take part in an exciting title which will intrigue players and draw them into the life of an undercover agent. Just don’t expect any Martinis here.
James Bond 007 – The Stealth Affair / Operation Stealth has yet to be released digitally. You can find this game on Second-hand sites such as eBay. 007 Legends will be released on October 19th for Windows PC, PlayStation 3, Wii and Xbox 360. See previous entries into the GodisaGeek Retro Corner by clicking here.