The Living Daylights & Licence To Kill - C64 Games
C64 emulators are easy to use now and you can find a treasure trove of vintage games to explore. Best of all, there are a smattering of James Bond games to play. In 1987, Domark produced a Living Daylights computer game for the Commodore 64 based on the new Bond film. The game was supposed to coincide with the film but it was too late in the end and came out about three months later. The Daylights game received goodish to mediocre reviews and also appeared on the Spectrum, BBC Micro, and even the Amiga in the end. Domark had released an atrocious C64 game for A View To A Kill a few years before but their Living Daylights game was at least a slight improvement over that hopeless effort. Nothing could ever hope to be as bad as Domark's A View To A Kill game. The Daylights game was more playable but it still left something to be desired.
Licenced movie games for the C64 were a lucky dip at best. Games companies loved having the rights to a game based on a film or television series because they could slap the movie or television poster art on the box and lure people this way. Gamers in a shop would see a new game based on something popular like Rambo or Airwolf and be naturally curious and tempted. A licenced game was no guarantee of quality though. Some shamelessly naff and wonky games based on films and television shows were released during the C64 era. Games based on Big Trouble in Little China and Knight Rider are among the worst C64 games of all time. Caveat emptor was the best advice. There were plenty of C64 magazines to separate the wheat from the chaff before anyone parted with any money.
The official promotional text for the Daylights went like this - 'Brad Whitaker international arms dealer and megalomaniac. Necros - his ruthless sidekick. Koskov, double dealing KGB General and the beautiful Kara, the sophisticated Czech cellist who wins the hero's heart. Match them against James Bond, renowned British Secret Agent (for whom love and death is a way of life) and you have all the ingredients for a super spy story and a great gripping games! This game is closely based on the all action film and coin-op Arcade game from Arcadia, but puts you into the action as you control James Bond through eight fast and furious levels. Moving from Gibraltar to Afghanistan, you encounter the SAS (friendly) and the KGB (not so friendly) enemy helicopters (very unfriendly!) and even a milkman with exploding bottles!Now go ahead and join James Bond - living on the edge!'
As the text above implies, a Living Daylights arcade machine was supposedly planned at the same time as this C64 game but I couldn't find any information about this mysterious Daylights arcade machine. The Daylights C64 game is a side scrolling third-person shooter in the style of famous games of the era like Green Beret. Don't get too excited because Green Beret (though annoyingly tough) is vastly superior. In the Daylights game you wander across the screen from left to right and move a cursor around to shoot people who appear not only in front of you but also to the side at the top of the screen. This is the sort of mechanic that games like Operation Wolf would later use (only without the side scrolling).
The main problem in the Daylights game is that the mix of this cursor shooting mechanic with side scrolling is awkward. This mashing of different mechanics (including using the cursor to choose which direction to go) sounds quite ambitious for the time but the execution is fiddly. No other C64 game tried to copy the eccentric convoluted mechanics of the Daylights game and that tells you all you need to know about how successful it was. This game is also difficult at times. Reading around about the Daylights game I noticed a surprisingly large number of people say that they never got past the first level.
Side-scrolling games were all the rage back then because although there were 3-D games the technology to make 3-D games smooth, detailed, and fast was still something that largely needed to be invented. The breakthrough for 3D games came with Wolfenstein and then there was a giant quantum leap with Doom in the early 1990s. Doom was Wolfenstein times a million. Nineties games like Doom and Quake are the touchstones and trailblazers of the first-person shooter genre which still dominates gaming today.
As a white shirted pixel Timothy Dalton in the Daylights C64 game, you fight your way through eight levels (Gibraltar, The Lenin People's Music Conservatory, The Pipeline, The Mansion House, The Fairground, Tangiers, The Military Complex, Whitaker’s House) to complete your mission. Bond can run, duck, jump and use weapons created by Q (including the Ghetto Blaster) and also take out enemies with his trusted Walther PPK. Although the controls are on the fiddly side, the Daylights game is not a completely terrible experience and far from the worst licenced game of this era. This game is at least reasonably playable.
One of the main stumbling blocks with Domark's A View To A Kill Game was that it was really three completely different mini-games in one package and none of these sections were satisfactory in isolation (in fact, the first part in particular where you are supposed to be driving around Paris, was absolutely terrible). The Living Daylights game is at least breezy and fast moving in comparison to A View To A Kill and has a more consistent concept and sense of purpose. The Living Daylights wants to keep things as simple as possible and be an arcade game where you are constantly shooting things all the way through. The gameplay never really changes. One nice thing about these old games is that you have unlimited ammo and never need to reload. When you play a game now you have to reload every ten seconds.
Domark's A View To A Kill game tried to be a driving game, a puzzle game, and (finally) a platform game but none of these individual sections were any good and the game felt like it was all over the place. All the individual levels in A View To A Kill felt half-arsed. The main criticism of the Daylights game was that it was merely a Missile Command clone (in that you follow a cursor to shoot targets which appear) dressed up in different graphics. The Daylights gameplay becomes samey after a while but at least some effort is made to make the various backdrops look different. It's a shame though that the game doesn't include Kara and there is no car section either.
As ever with C64 games, the James Bond theme is murderously mangled by the audio technology of the time. Bond is supplied with various different weapons in the game by Q. These include a bazooka and crossbow. While the playability and durability of the Daylights game is questionable, at least you can say that a modicum of effort went into it. The Living Daylights game doesn't feel like a completely lazy licenced cash grab but isn't anything to write home about either. It's nice though to have a Timothy Dalton Bond video game, however primitive it might seem today in a world of games like Doom Eternal.
As with The Living Daylights, there was also computer game by Domark to tie in with Licence To Kill in 1989. This game was released on both the Commodore 64 and the Amiga. The promotional text for the game went like this - 'Timothy Dalton plays James Bond in the movie. But in this adventure, you're the star. The powerful drug czar Sanchez has murdered your best friend's bride. So you're out to take him down. Show no mercy as you battle him on land, at sea and in the air. You'll need to take the controls of helicopters, planes and tankers. Perform death-defying stunts in midair. Even water-ski in your bare feet! The breakneck action closely follows the James Bond film. Including an exhilarating helicopter chase ... an underwater pursuit dodging harpoons ... and a high-speed demolition derby with 18-wheel oil trucks! Here's your licence. The rest is up to you!'
The Licence To Kill game is a top down vertical scrolling action shoot-em-up where you pursue Franz Sanchez through various levels. The game starts much like other top down shooters like 1942. You control a helicopter and battle your way through Florida landscapes blasting anything in sight. The gameplay in the first level is like Space Invaders except you can move the helicopter forward and back and have to shoot numerous ground targets in addition to other aircraft. This level is nothing radical or amazing but passable as an undemanding shooting level to begin the game.
The second level of the Licence To Kill game has James Bond on foot shooting it out with the army of Sanchez. The game becomes more of a Commando/Who Dares Wins II clone at this point (although nowhere near as much fun as those two games). This does freshen the game up and stop the gameplay from becoming too repetitive. You have another helicopter section after this but this one is different because you are being dangled below the helicopter as Bond (as in the PTS of the film). It's to the credit of the game that they have these different sections but that they all feel part of one overall game rather than seem completely disjointed (as in the case of Domark's A View To A Kill game).
You also have a plane escape level and a water chase level - which are both passable. The last section of the Licence To Kill game is the tanker chase. If you remember an old arcade game called Spyhunter you'll have a good idea of what to expect from this level. You just race up the screen in a tanker and try and force other trucks off the road. The game is nothing special on the graphics front (though pleasingly colourful) and the familiarity of this type of game (of which there were hundreds on the C64) makes the gameplay get old quite fast in certain levels. Mixing up the gameplay with different sorts of level was therefore very welcome.
The Licence To Kill game is, if my playthrough is anything to go by, occasionally unforgiving in places. It might simply be that I am completely rubbish at playing this game but it was quite frustrating at times. The lack of originality in the Licence To Kill game is at least compensated for by the variety. The various levels do feel different (a contrast to the Daylights C64 game - where although the backdrops changed the gameplay stayed exactly the same) from one another and it's fun that they've tried to include the big action setpieces from the film. Out of the two games, I had more fun playing Licence To Kill than The Living Daylights because Licence To Kill is less samey.
The makers of the Licence To Kill game were allowed to read some of the script in preparation for making their game and they do capture the main action scenes of the film within the constrictive confines of the C64. This game was apparently made to a tight schedule so you can give it some leeway. It's definitely an improvement over the Daylights game but still not what you would call a classic of the C64. Not much of Licence To Kill had been shot when the game started development so the faithful nature of the game in relation to the film is very impressive. The programmers of the game even visited Pinewood Studios and met Cubby Broccoli.
Licence to Kill's game earned a decent 80% in zzap64 (the most famous C64 gaming magazine of the era) and was better reviewed than the Daylights game. Neither of the Timothy Dalton films inspired a classic game but the C64 versions of The Living Daylights and Licence To Kill are interesting time capsules of that gaming era and modest (if sometimes frustrating and fiddly) fun to explore.
Buy No Time to Die - The Unofficial Companion.