Free-to-play games often look appealing, but it’s difficult to know at a glance whether the business model is insidious and fun ruining, or reasonable and worth pumping a few bucks into. With Freemium Field Test, we’ll take a recent free-to-play iOS game, put it through its paces, and let you know if it’s really worth your time (and money).
With its daring stunts, explosive chase sequences, and tense shootouts, the James Bond film series is absolutely ripe for a video game adaptation—as the iconic GoldenEye 007 proved on the Nintendo 64 back in 1997. It seems logical that a game maker would seize the opportunity provided by this week’s release of Spectre to deliver a thrilling new interactive experience, but Glu Games’ World of Espionage for iOS isn’t exactly that.
There have been some dull, mediocre Bond games over the years, but World of Espionage is pretty wretched: It’s a menu-driven affair with no real means of interactivity beyond tapping a single action button for every single prompt. It’s less a game than a boorish business plan wrapped up in generic spy happenings—and a 007 logo stamped on the menus.
If you thought Need for Speed: No Limits skirted the line of false advertising for a free-to-play game, check out the App Store description on World of Espionage: “Seduce beautiful allies, drive fantastic cars and execute foul villains as you deploy James Bond and other secret agents around the globe,” it claims.
Here’s what you actually do: Tap the “next action” button. Tap it again. Tap it again. Oh, mission’s over? Tap it again. Sometimes you’ll see one of those beautiful allies as an illustration; other times, it’s a car. And sure, you might view a still image of a foul villain along the way. But there’s no difference between any of them in terms of how you actually play the game: You’ll always tap that lower-left button to move ahead.
It’s dispiritingly dull. Your goal in each area is to gain enough pieces of intel at each location, which simply means pressing that one button enough times to finish a mission. Each mission must be completed several times over to get the intel you need, which means you’ll literally watch the same mission happen a few times in a row before it’s actually finished.
World of Espionage also features one-on-one duels with computer-controlled versions of other players, and offers alliances to join with other players, but there’s very little difference between any of these modes. Ultimately, they’re just variations on the same, lazy approach of automated espionage. And as a free-to-play game, it’s designed to make you want to spend money to speed things along or enrich the experience. Investing money cuts down on delays, but truly cannot help make this Bond bomb any more interesting.
A restrictive energy system is at the heart of World of Espionage, and it limits how many times you can tap the action button in missions during a single stretch. In fact, the very first time I played, I tapped the button about six times in the span of a minute and then was told I had run out of energy. I didn’t even realize I was playing the game at that point—it just felt like I was flipping through some narrative setup.
It took a minute of playing to burn through all of my energy, and then several hours to recharge it. That’s an incredible disparity. I felt like I’d accomplished nothing, and then had to wait five or six hours to be disappointed again. Each energy point takes five minutes to regenerate, which means it takes about an hour before you have another opportunity to tap the action button. Once.
Your agent levels up over time, letting you assign points to increase energy, stamina, and other attributes, but then later missions also require more energy per action, as well as more actions to actually complete. So there’s no real sense of advancement when missions ultimately take longer for your better-skilled secret agent.
Naturally, when you run out of energy, World of Espionage encourages you to spend in-game coins to jump right back into the action. Just eight gold coins, right? Well, you don’t earn many coins via gameplay, so you’re pushed to the store to spend big on gold packs. A pack of 25 gold costs $5 on the low end, while $100 grants you 550 gold—and there are varying bundles between those, as well.
Gold is also used to purchase a random new secret agent at 25 gold ($5) apiece, and the higher offensive and defensive stats might make your missions fly by a little faster. I spent $10 on a pack of 50 gold and put that towards two new agents. Both seemed to be better than my top spy at the time, but equipping either did nothing to change the game. Still I tapped that button until my energy ran out, and still it was painfully boring.
Pouring money into James Bond: World of Espionage does nothing to make it any more exciting, nor does it unlock the secret fun hidden within—there is no secret fun. It’s an absolute misfire of an espionage game, lacking anything resembling action or strategy. Were there any tactical element to the gameplay, or multiple options to consider in each interaction, then there might’ve been a draw here.
Instead, with rare exception, each encounter lets you tap to proceed or tap to back out. That’s the whole experience. World of Espionage doesn’t honor its smart and skilled namesake and inspiration, and it’s easily one of the cynical, pointless free-to-play games I’ve had the displeasure of bearing with. Don’t waste your time or money here—surely Spectre is more deserving of both.