What hero is more iconic, more internationally lauded as courage embodied in fine attire, than the MI6 man of action: Agent 007. Conceived over 50 years ago, with 22 films, several television appearances, and numerous comic book adaptations and videogames, James Bond stands alongside cowboys and knights as one of the most recognizable cultural creations of the western world. Despite his British origin, his success in the US and world wide is a testament to his easily consumable appeal.
I bring up the suave spy because I have just recently watched the Daniel Craig iterations of James Bond. Admittedly, I am a bit behind the curve on this modernized version - Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace were released in 2006 and 2008 respectively - but my timing is fortuitous. My viewings of the new bond coincide with my playthrough of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, whose protagonist, Nathan Drake, shares many characteristics with the British agent. It has become increasingly apparent that Bond's persona permeates the world of videogame characters with startling frequency, but never completely.
It might be helpful to isolate some of Bond's characteristics, not all of which are favorable. First, Bond is classy and dapper in appearance. He is always well dressed and seldom found in disarray, even during the most harrowing of stunts. His demeanor matches his attire - Bond is nothing if not a suave gentleman, a man who tips well, comports himself with dignity in every public venue, and is never rude.
Ladies flock to Bond like flies to a bug-zapper; his chauvinism is rewarded with sexual attention. Yet he does not forget himself in the company of women - his job comes first. Bond is emotionally distant. His violent acts are brutally efficient. As Vesper Lynd remarks about Bond in Casino Royale, "there is something cold and ruthless" about him. He is also incredibly knowledgeable, accomplishing most tasks with ease. These last characteristics in particular are common place amongst our catalog of videogame adventurers.
Uncharted 2 is my first stop on my search for the most James Bond like videogame protagonist. Nathan Drake's knowledge of geography and ancient languages rivals that of Indiana Jones. Drake's uncanny ability of all types of weapons and his amazing climbing skills would make 007 proud - Bond once saved himself from a cliff's edge with his shoe laces. He's also got a charming demeanor, a thirst for adventure, and a knack for killing. However similar, Drake still lacks the fastidious gentlemanly appearance and emotional distance of Bond.
Perhaps the delightful Professor Layton is most akin to our genius foreign agent. The Professor is every bit a gentleman, maintaining a well pressed suit and top hat for all occasions. He is always mindful of ladies and is kind towards strangers. Layton is also a mysterious fellow, surprisingly adept with swords for a puzzling Professor or Archaeology. However, Layton is no ladies-man, nor is he a trained killer with the emotions of an ice sculpture. Like Bond, Layton strives for good, but he does not commit evil to attain it.
We will have to go back to the 12th century for our next Bond hero. Altaïr, of Assassin's Creed, matches the profile fairly well. A skilled assassin with stunning climbing skills, Altaïr masters his surroundings with Bond-like precision. For the majority of the game, his profession is of the utmost importance. His is an unquestioning killer of men; a task he undertakes with frightening resolve. He's also got a sparkling white get-up that he seems never to sully. But Altaïr is just not as easy to like. He also lacks the charm and masculine wiles to pursue and abandon women with Bond's regularity.
We can go to The Witcher's Geralt for his cavalier approach to women, but even he will be found wanting. Master Chief, the Prince of Persia, Mattias Nillson, Solid Snake, Squall, Sam Fisher, and even Faith are all Bond-like in some way, without encapsulating all of his characteristics. There are, of course, plenty of actual James Bond games -Activision currently holds the rights. GoldenEye 007 is the most well known title, but even this N64 game doesn't master the Bond persona.
James Bond is at once unique and completely trite. In cinema, he represents the embodiment of success, a protector of western values imbued with the charisma and aplomb we wish we could muster. He is the quintessential hero for a masculine and violent world. In videogames, he is a collection of the pre-established heroic qualities from which creators often cherry-pick.
Whether Bond indirectly inspires game creators, or they happen to pick these characteristics freel,y does not really matter. Regardless, if we were to collect all our adventuring protagonists and mix them into one being, James Bond just might pop out. A fact remains true for countless games: There is never any doubt we are playing a hero, an individual incapable of loss, who faces inhuman risks, whom we are encouraged to admire, even envy, and is willing to do almost anything to achieve his goal.
On an individual basis, this is not necessarily a bad thing. It is when I look at a wider picture that I become nervous. Maybe it is because the movies are fresh in my mind, but I am seeing Bond everywhere in games. His cavalier approach to wanton slaughter, his emotionless attitude, his ravenous pursuit of a goal. These, among his other traits, are common place amongst game heroes. Unfortunately, I may be growing tired of this particular brand of heroics.