Videogames like Project 007, not movies, are the future of James Bond

Ian Fleming's iconic secret agent is becoming an increasingly poor fit for movies, but he's perfect for games

Hitman developer IO Interactive has announced Project 007, a new James Bond videogame that aims to retell the origin story of Ian Fleming’s iconic secret agent. As someone who reckons Bond has basically had his day as a movie hero, perhaps what surprised me most about the announcement was the fact that it actually sounds like a fantastic idea – Bond as a videogame protagonist makes much more sense today.

By now, pointing out that Bond is a rather embarrassing fossil is pushing at a long-open door. The whole joke underpinning Mike Myers’ Austin Powers character was that Bond is an out-of-touch, naive creep who still acts as though it’s the freewheeling 1960s – and that movie came out more than two whole decades ago. While the modern Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig versions of Bond have updated the character, they’ve only managed to do so by turning Bond more into a Jason Bourne-style super-soldier and sanding off the goofier, sleazier aspects that don’t sit well with many audiences today.

Bond movies have a checklist. They need action set pieces, glamour and machismo, cars and high-tech gadgetry, and womanising, otherwise it’s not a ‘proper’ Bond movie. At the very least it’s an over-familiar formula, and with respect to the treatment of dozens of so-called ‘Bond girls’, frequently problematic by today’s standards. The most we can say about his modern incarnations is that they’re better, but even they have been unable to break a mould so concretely ossified.

My point here is only that I’ve had a pretty hard time getting excited about anything the series has done for a very long time. But Project 007 made my ears perk up immediately, because some of the very aspects of Bond that make him a dull and frankly embarrassing movie hero are perfectly suited for a game.

Take gadgets as a prime example. In 2020, audiences have had CGI magic beamed into their corneas for years – you can’t expect to impress them with corny stuff like tyre-slashing hubcaps or the anti-shark gun from Live and Let Die.

But those quaint gizmos could serve as wildly entertaining game mechanics in the kind of thing IO Interactive seems to like making: sandbox games full of fun systems to pick apart with a constantly expanding set of tools. All of a sudden, even Q’s dumbest gizmos are compelling: the radioactive pocket lint from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service would provide a narrative pretext for the kind of ‘detective vision’ we’ve seen in Batman: Arkham Asylum or The Witcher 3. I’d absolutely be up for tricking targets into sitting on a sofa that swallows people, like the one in The Living Daylights. The underwater jetpack from Thunderball? Show me where to pre-order.

A thornier issue would be handling the antediluvian notions of gender roles that are an indelible part of the classic Bond films. Unlike movies, however, games aren’t expected to always include a ‘romantic lead’, and thus Project 007 might just as well sidestep that issue altogether. Sure, IO Interactive might opt to include some BioWare-style romance plot, but since it’s making a Bond game rather than a Bond film, the possibility of failure must exist. That implies that Bond’s advances could be rejected, which is immediately more interesting than the coupling which you know is inevitable in the movies – not to mention giving the women more agency. But IO still has the option to just forget the whole idea and focus entirely on building a world where your secret agent gear can shine – expectations for a Bond game are not as fixed as for a Bond movie.

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I’m keen to hear more from IO Interactive about what it plans to do with the Bond licence. Again, there’s an opportunity here that has passed for the movies, which is to lean into the goofier aspects of 007 and turn them into interesting sandbox game systems. Where the Bond movies must constantly find ways to outdo themselves, almost visibly writhing within the straitjacket of their formula, a new Bond game has the chance to re-explore the origins of the character in a way that’s genuinely interesting, fresh, and free from a lot of the ’60s cultural baggage that’s well beyond its sell-by date.

Whether Project 007 successfully manages this is of course an open question. But this is an announcement that’s managed to make me interested in James Bond again, which is quite a feat in itself.