From 2010 to 2014 Richard Cobbett wrote Crapshoot, a column about rolling the dice to bring random obscure games back into the light. This week, one of James Bond's PC adventures. More or less his, anyway...
The name's Glames. John Glames. At least, in Europe. It's not too hard to spot the... ah... inspiration for Delphine's hero in Operation Stealth, what with his tuxedo and face slightly squashed from being shoved into a photocopier. In the US, Interplay didn't even bother. What was originally a mere Bond rip-off was handed the official license to kill, and became James Bond: The Stealth Affair. Both games are identical, aside from five minutes worth of cut-and-paste on the script to swap round a few names, but did the pretender turn out to have what it took to finally be the Bond game the world deserved?
You may be surprised! If you're easily surprised by hearing the word 'no'.
As often happens with big licenses, it's hard to work out why James Bond games are usually so terrible. They are though, and while I'm told that Goldeneye on the N64 is an exception to that rule, five minutes with the torture device that Nintendo shipped as a controller for that thing was enough for me. The only more awkward Bond related thing I can imagine is the look on Tina Turner's face at the Goldeneye premiere when she realised she'd sung a love song to an orbital EMP satellite. That is quite a specific fetish, lady, and that's before we get to the bits about lace and leather.
(On the plus side, it's still a slightly less ridiculous song than The World Is Not Enough So With This Oil Pipeline You're Frankly Taking The Piss, or the way the singer of The Man With The Golden Gun seemed mindblown by the concept of an assassin for hire taking money to kill people.)
Operation Stealth at least manages to get vaguely close to being a 'proper' Bond adventure, simply by being interested enough to rip it off instead of handed the license and told to do something with it. It's not a perfect 1:1 though, and The Stealth Affair barely bothers covering that up. In the original, John Glames is a CIA agent. In The Stealth Affair, Bond is on loan to the CIA from MI5—apparently part of a game of Espionage Pass The Parcel, since he actually works for MI6. Just to clarify, MI5 is internal security, with MI6 handling international stuff. Actually, even that's not true. After what we have to assume was a lost bet, they're actually called SIS, and you just know other agencies have a field day over that!
Which is the better game name? It's tough, since they're both pretty boring, so instead of picking a winner, I'll call Operation Stealth the loser. Aside from being pretty tautological, there's no mystery there. A stealth jet goes missing. John Glames is sent to find it. He probably will.
Conversely, James Bond: The Stealth Affair smacks of something that might be interesting. Personally, I was hoping it would be the long-awaited reveal that Bond and Moneypenny have in fact been having a steamy, rock-and-roll office romance all this time, and cleverly covering it up with a co-ordinated mix of teasing, innuendo, and at one point, a conveniently short marriage. It might seem a little one-sided, with Bond travelling the world and repeatedly banging supermodels, while Moneypenny has to endure being seen as the naive, overlooked office girl. In reality, that's just to help cover the fact that she's into stuff so sick that Bond considered actually letting Goldfinger laser his balls off that one time.
Anyway, it's a theory. Not one that comes out in this game though.
That's enough blathering about differences though. For the rest of this, we're just going to look at The Stealth Affair on the grounds that even with both of the important licenses on his side, I keep expecting lawyers to swoop in and shoot "John Glames" in his rip-off face. Should you happen to... acquire ... a copy of this game however, it'll almost certainly be Operation Stealth instead. There are also a couple of different versions for EGA and VGA, but that's not remotely interesting, so let's just move on.
As The Stealth Affair is, if only by contractual marriage, an official James Bond game, it seems only fair to judge it as one. So, what should a Bond adventure feature? I've broken it down into the following categories: Guns, or at the very least fists, gadgets, witty back and forths, sexy adventures with ladies whose names are probably not the ones on their birth certificates, at least one toe-curlingly poor attempt at innuendo, and at least one villain worthy of Bond's time. I'd add a cool music video intro to that, but it's a little unfair to expect one of those in a game that first came out in 1990, when even the films can't always be bothered. Looking at you, Quantum of Solace. Looking at you.
To cut a long story short, it fails at pretty much all of them. They couldn't even be bothered to come up with an eye-rolling name for Bond's technical love-interest, who's just called "Julia Manigua". Tsk. You may as well shoot a snuff film with rubber bullets. Standards, people! Standards!
Things doesn't start out well. By lazily leaving the plot exactly the same, there's no snark with M, no flirting with Moneypenny in advance of a long night with three kebab skewers and a greased up guinea pig, and no trip to Q Branch for toys. Instead, the CIA Director just puts on a quick slideshow, which includes a few pixels of naked lady as a hilarious joke that is hilarious, and the following dialogue.
"Hello, Mr. Bond."
"Hello, Mr. Director. How can I be of service?"
"My government has asked Your Majesty's government for the cooperation of MI-5. Your superiors have loaned you to us until we can clear this situation up."
"If I can be direct, what is the situation?"
"Well, Bond, have you heard of the Stealth?"
"A little, though the standard channels. It's an advanced aircraft capable of penetrating through any current technology electronic detection screen. Invulnerable to radar. Heavy firepower."
"Correct, Mr. Bond. However, the version you're talking about is obsolete. Up until now, we had a far superior model of the Stealth."
"'Up until now?' What happened?"
"The Stealth was being tested at NAS Miramar, home of the finest pilots in the world, when one of the pilots was killed and the plane stolen."
"The Pentagon thinks so, but evidence has surfaced leading us to believe that they were not involved directly."
"Where should I start?"
"Fortunately, we had a live sighting of the Stealth. One of our agents in a small, Latin-American country called Santa Paragua has report of the Stealth landing there."
"Santa Paragua. That's where I'll start."
THINGS WE LEARNED: It is in fact possible to transcribe dialogue so boring that merely reading it is more effective than most sleep medications.
Yes. We're dealing with a James Bond game about a missing stealth fighter that's tracked down because somebody saw the damn thing, in which the CIA isn't so much desperate as totally disinterested in their job, and where even silent game characters can't say "The fate of the free world may depend on you!" without rolling their one-pixel eyes. You can't see it, but they have to be doing it.
Arriving in Santa Paragua, Bond encounters one of his most fiendish enemies to date—a customs official who won't let him pass the border until he hands over his passport. For some reason, this is a puzzle. If you open your briefcase you find that you have an American passport, because as before, exactly zero shits were given about making this an actual James Bond game.
Be silly enough to show this to the customs agent though, and this happens:
"Senior Bond? AMERICANOS! I am happy to welcome you in our beautiful country. I just spoke with my buddy Pablo. He says that there are less and less Americanos who come here lately. And less Americanos means less hostages, right? The government offers a bounty of 1000 cruseros!! My family and I thank you for this stroke of good luck!"
Yeah. The Stealth Affair is one of those adventures. Delphine made three—Future Wars, which was spiteful, this, which is awful, and Cruise For A Corpse, which... well, we'll probably get to that one week.
You'd think the CIA might have mentioned that they were sending Bond to the most corrupt island in the universe, but no. Luckily, Bond's briefcase contains a magic passport generator on the grounds that even a knock-off Q is still psychic, and raiding a nearby newspaper stand (with a coin from the coin return slot, because the idea of Bond carrying money is just crazy!) tells you of a country that's more popular with the Santa Paraguans. In this game, that turned out to be.... the UK. Yes, all this could have been avoided if James Bond, international super-spy, had simply brought his own passport.
Meeting up with a contact on the island, whose life expectancy is impressively short even by the standards of Bond's allies, it doesn't take long to track down an envelope full of information about the Stealth. It's a trap though, and two KGB agents called Karpov and Ostrovitch (whose names you know thanks to dialogue like "NO NAMES, COMRADE OSTROVITCH!" incidentally) show up to be The Spies Who Mugged You. Instead of just using a gun, they capture Bond—
Bond Capture Count: 1
—and you'll see why that's there soon enough, and go to a silly amount of work marching him into a cave, tying him up, and blowing the entrance shut. This kind of nonsense is silly when it comes to supervillains, never mind other agents who should damn well know better.
Bond being Bond, it takes about five picoseconds to escape this Bondage and escape with the help of a pickaxe. Not through the rockfall, mind. No, through the rock wall. Because that makes sense. About as much sense as the interface, anyway, which offers both "USE" and "OPERATE" as verbs, and is really picky about which one you employ at any given time.
This was one of the many reasons that Delphine's adventure games are mostly remembered with fondness by people who didn't have access to good ones, and that their most famous games were a couple of platformers—Another World, and Flashback—that could show off their impressive-for-the-time cinematic skills. Anything more complicated, and things quickly went wrong. Case in point, Flashback's deservedly forgotten sequel, Fade To Black.
A phenomenally pointless arcade bit follows, bringing with it a sinking feeling that it won't be the last of its kind. It will not. Operation Stealth is an incredibly short adventure, stretched out mostly by things like mazes and silly minigames that hate you as much as you quickly learn to hate them.
Returning to town, Bond wastes no time finding his way into a woman's bedroom—though not for sexy time. Julia, for that is her name instead of something more Bond-appropriate like Prissy von Pantyshöt or Flaps McKuchie, immediately pulls a gun on him and... does this count as banter?
"You have a funny idea of hospitality, lady."
"AND IT'S YOU WHO'S TALKING ABOUT HOSPITALITY, YOU BLOODTHIRSTY BRUTE!"
Thought not. Anyway, this turns out to be a bit of a mix-up, when Bond's identical clone—a villain called Otto—walks in, along with two Rambo types apparently engineered to have Trogdor arms.
Bond Capture Count: 2
Weren't expecting another one so quickly, were you?
Otto takes the two out to sea, for more witty banter. Quick sample:
OTTO: "You don't really think, you imbecile, that you can get rid of me so easily. DO YOU?"
JULIA: "You'll pay for your crimes, OTTO, one day when the justice of the people has its say!"
OTTO: "Ha! Ha! What you call justice around here, IT'S ME!"
It's with some sense of relief when he finally shuts up and does the merciful thing - tying rocks around both Bond and Julia's legs and throwing them into the water. See if you can guess how Bond escapes this fiendish trap.
A: Some kind of laser pen
B: Wristwatch with a saw instead of a windy thing
C: Having previously bought an inflatable bracelet from a vendor that he quietly inflates while Otto is talking, then deflates at the bottom of the sea to loosen his ropes sufficiently to escape.
D: Regenerating into Matt Smith.
The answer, of course, is C. Anything else would be Silly.
One achingly awful action sequence follows, after which the duo are rescued by a sailor who seems... a little flamboyant? That's the tactful way to put it, I think.
The sailor and Julia explain that they're part of a Santa Paraguan revolution, and that OTTO, so important that his name must BE IN CAPITALS, has somehow been preventing the Presidente from doing the right thing on assorted civil rights. I have no idea what civil rights this guy could be referring to.
Luckily, they have a plan to infiltrate his Palace and do a little snooping—taking advantage of a party. Bond's part is... wait for it... to take part in a magic show.
This is the actual plan. He steps into a box and disappears, and having done so, just slips away. This is a bad plan, not least because when Julia tries it, she's immediately kidnapped by the clone Trogdor Rambos, and when Bond tries it, he ends up in a high stakes game of Pac-Man.
This minigame is unbelievably awful. The only thing that could make it worse is finally finishing it and being thrust into another, harder version. So guess what happens! This is followed by almost, but not quite recovering the documents, and being thrust into another awful minigame about chasing a couple of thieves down on a jet ski.
Then, at last, the plot is ready to advance. If by 'advance' you mean 'M and Q show up with a submarine for no reason', which The Stealth Affair does, and by 'plot' you mean 'random collection of scenes that probably looked good on the back of the official design napkin'.
It's at this point that the game completely goes off the rails. M uses the documents to confirm that the Stealth is in Santa Paragua, as if there was any doubt about that, and its exact location—on a runway... direct quote here... "300 FEET BELOW SEA LEVEL!!!" Hearing this news, Bond replies, deploying his trademark wit: "!!!!!!!!!!" Truly, he is a Legend.
Even goofier news follows when it turns out that the Stealth was stolen by an insidious terror group called "Spyder", and they have a demand so stupid, it needs to be copied verbatim:
"They are asking for a ransom of 1000 pounds of plutonium to be assembled within the next 24 hours. Otherwise, the Stealth will make nuclear attacks on the world's main capitals - Washington, Moscow, Tokyo, London, Paris and more. Obviously, the government is taking this very seriously."
Yeah, right. As seriously as when Dr. Evil asked for "One miiiilllion dollars!" That's our enemy here, folks. A terrorist organisation whose demands are "Give us what we need to nuke the world, or we'll nuke the world." What else are these morons working on, a piranha pool to dump people in?
And while I'm at it...
Bond Capture Count: 3
Spyder's Gloater In Chief finally reveals himself as... wait for it... "Dr. Why." Honestly, The Stealth Affair isn't even trying any more. Everyone involved is trapped in the kind of story that a 14-year-old would get bad marks for in a creative writing homework assignment, and even the villain himself can't possibly be feeling dialogue like this:
"Your government is quite naive to believe that they or you will stop me, Mr. Bond. I control a weapon that will totally dominate any force. The ultimate instrument of destiny is in my power, and thanks to it, all the rampant and stupid vermin that infests this earth will be exterminated!"
Let's break this down, shall we?
1. I doubt very much that the Stealth is that powerful, especially since everyone knows where it is now and can presumably have a good go at shooting it down the old-fashioned way.
2. Your plan hinges on the stupid vermin giving you the nuclear materials to do it, making this the easiest called bluff in the history of idiocy.
3. YOU ARE STUPID.
Being a Bond villain, Dr. Why then casually buggers off to leave Bond to his fate—which is silly, but also in the contract, so whatever. One inevitable escape and incredibly tedious fight around the base follows, and then an ending that's so unbelievably goofy, I don't think mere words can do it justice.
Here it is in video form then. Skip to 1hr 16.
It's hard to think of a way this could get any sillier, but having the Presidente declare a national holiday to publicly thank a covert agent somehow pulls it off. So does the last shot, which looks disturbingly like him celebrating his victory with a blow-up doll. I'm just saying. This is creepy.
And that's The Stealth Affair/Operation Stealth. Urrrrrrrrrrgh. It's a dreadful adventure game, with puzzles that were unfortunately pretty typical for Delphine, and a plot that barely tries to hide being a hybrid of Thunderball and Dr. No. The adventure bits are crap. The arcade bits border on physical torment. Overall, it's about as much fun as having your toenails plucked out by the KGB.
It is however still sadly one of the better attempts at recreating the classic James Bond adventure style. It does it exceptionally badly of course, but at least tries to bring the twists, turns, gadgets and dangerous situations rather than just handing you a Walther PPK and pointing you at mooks. In a fair world, it would get some credit for that, even with the script and story and design and characters and half-arsed attempts to make this into a Bond game. But we don't live in one, so screw it.