While moviegoers still have at least 2 years to wait for their next dose of super spy James Bond, this week gamers have been treated to two James Bond games, GoldenEye on Wii and James Bond: Blood Stone on the Xbox 360 and PS3. Blood Stone unlike previous Bond games has an original story and has been developed by Bizarre Creations, known for their great racing titles Blur and PGR. Blood Stone mixes 3rd person shot and cover, with some hard hitting hand to hand combat and Bizarre’s cup of tea high speed vehicle driving. While there might be a bit everything for gamers the downside is game has some phenomenal parts, some mediocre parts, and some down right ugly parts.
Gamers will step into the shoe’s of Daniel Craig’s James Bond as he chases a bio-terrorist villain across Europe and Asia. The game plays out like a Bond movie right from the staple opening action sequence which sees Bond parachuting out a plan onto a yacht to stop a terrorist from blowing up a group of important heads of state. But the sequence doesn’t stop on the yacht, after disposing of some evil henchmen you’ll be taking to the sea and a high speed chase and then ending with a fast paced car chase after the bomber, and it all ends with the nice Bond musical opening credits. At this point you jump into the real story. And like all Bond films you will be chasing the main villain’s associates trying to find a lead to him. And in your way stands swarms of evil henchmen. The story really is what you would expect from an action film, lots of shooting and action not a lot of depth, and at times confusing, but the bottom line is there is a bad guy you must find him. I can’t really complain about the story, as t does keep the game moving along, and while epic stories in games are the rage, I do like getting back to the action. Judi Dench reprises her role as M and singer/song-writer and Tudors alum Joss Stone plays MI-6 agent and new Bond Girl Nicole Hunter. It’s always nice hearing big name stars in games especially when your seeing their likeness on the screen.
Blood Stone employs some rather nice gameplay features and rather simple controls that gamers of all level will be able to enjoy. However some of the controls are so simplistic that it gets kinda boring after awhile. For starters the cover system works and works well, the A button puts you into and out of cover and will allow you to switch from cover to cover or stick to walls around corners. B allows you to vault over low cover which I’m happy to report you can do in-stride while running. You’ll also be using B to jump, grab ledges, kick doors amongst other things. The X button is your melee attack, and this is where I would have liked to see a bit more. We’ve seen all the great videos on Blood Stones action fighting, but it’s just to simplistic. All you need to do is hit X and it goes into the fight animation, there isn’t punching or kicking or doing the moves, it’s just one button. Don’t get me the wrong the hand to hand combat animations are great, I have yet to see any that don’t flow correctly and there are enough that it doesn’t seem repetitive, theres nothing better then a judo chop to the throat as your running down a hall, or ripping a gun out of a guys hands and smashing him in the head with it. But I was expecting more from the combat.
There are two other unique control/gameplay things besides the normal shooting. The first is Focus Aim, with every hand to hand takedown you get a Focus Aim, and you can hold 3 at a time. It’s a simple mechanic that when you press LB it slows down time and snaps your cross-hairs to a headshot. It’s nice and when used in conjunction with hand to hand combat can be very lethal and allows you to clear a room quickly. The other addition is 007’s smartphone. Unfortunately with the Daniel Craig era we have seen gadgets disappear, which is sad. The smartphone in the game is pretty much the gadget swiss army knife, it does a little bit of everything. Gives you waypoints, shows where enemies are, scans things, hacks things, and makes cameras blow-up. It’s a nice addition but I felt like it dumbed the game down a lot. It’s nice in the sense that it groups things together but the fact that is can show enemies and things to blow-up like barrels, makes it a bit of a crutch. I did enjoy the occasional mini-game to break codes that the phone offered, which is simple but works, you have to press a button as this thing spins on screen at the correct time.
Now the actual controls are pretty decent, again rather simple, but on the harder levels there is less aiming help which is nice, except some sort of aim marker when in cover would have been nice, as every time I go to pop-out and shoot a guy I end us aimed away from him. I’m not looking for lock-on, just a mark, cause we all know James Bond can land a clean shot right out of cover. Driving is a decent chunk of the game, and while you’ll be speeding in some tuned up Aston Martin’s the controls were rather off. I figured a sports car would have some nice tight handling, but it seems that is not the case. I constantly felt like I was out of control and the cars would be very loose. Granted your going fast, and after killing 007 a slew of times, as you learn the paths you do get a better handle on the cars. Even though I felt the controls were a bit loose in the driving sections, they were still a welcomed addition and the team did a great job creating some nice James Bond styled chases with plenty of explosions and carnage as you speed through these exotic locales.
Blood Stone is a graphical mixed bag, most of it is great, but it has some major rough edges. By far the driving, either on land or sea looked the best. The shooting parts though were a bit of a letdown. There are some great lighting effects and particle effects, and the areas seem lush and even the distant parts of the locales looked great. but up close the environment is made up of really dull and sub-par textures. Everything just looked the same, it didn’t have that visual pop that games like Uncharted 2 have. But at the same time some of the sequences, like when your running on scaffolding from a tunnel boring machine looked great, stuff was flying every where and the cut scenes were just great. Speaking of cutscenes, they are rough. They use the same engine as the game so it all flows, but they really bring out the texture flaws, and the character models look like they came out of a gumby show. Bond does resemble Craig, and Nicole looks like Joss Stone, but they just look bland and cartoony. I think a little more time and some more polish would have helped the graphics, cause there are some really shining moments, and then there are moments where you go “is this the same game?”
The AI is another area that is just middle of the road. Henchmen are henchmen, they are mindless. While they will take cover and even dodge missed shots, they still just keep coming at you and really use no tactics, other then lobbing the occasional grenade, which you’ll mostly not notice till you blow-up. Since the hand to hand combat system is single button and animated you always win, so nothing special there. I’ve seen worse AI and at the same time I’ve seen better.
Besides the story the sound is the best part of the game. From the movie like score that changes with the action, to the voice cast. Bond also has various weapons at his disposal, from his trust Walther PPK, to the various assault rifles and sub-machine guns dropped by his foes, all of which have unique sounds, which really sound great when silenced. The sounds of Bond have never been better.
James Bond: Blood Stone is a mixed bag, it’s nice getting a 007 fix, and it’s nice seeing the franchise get an original storyline. And while some of the gameplay is fun and enjoyable it’s also a bit simple. The biggest mix of good and bad is in the graphics department, as parts of the game look great, but others just take you back a generation in gaming. Having the voice cast does help out a lot and adds quite a bit to keeping you entertained, plus the original story and even score really give the game a movie quality. The online modes were obvious second thoughts, and could have used some sort of driving mode, I mean Bizarre is known for driving games these days. Bond fans will enjoy the game but in the end you’ll be wanting more from it.
A copy of James Bond 007: Blood Stone was provided to us for this review from Activision.