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  1. Review: Blood Stone

    Written by: Brad Hansen

    James Bond 007: Blood Stone marks the second PS3/Xbox 360 launch for the series from publisher Activision and the first from developer Bizarre Creations (of Blur and Project Gotham Racing fame). By now, if you’re a gamer, you’ve doubtlessly read reviews from gaming sites. I’d like to give this review from a position that many readers here might find closer to their perspective- Casual gamers who are dyed-in-the-wool fans of all things 007. So let’s get started on the elements presented in this newest mission.

    Gameplay

    Blood Stone is predominantly a third-person shooter. Like Quantum of Solace, it features a cover system that lets you duck behind objects to avoid enemy fire. The cover system is a little more finicky here but works quite well once you get used to it. Not helping matters is that the game doesn’t have a clear “get to know the controls” level, instead plunging you right into the action and hoping you can figure everything out yourself.

    Hand-to-hand

    Like Quantum, there is also the option to fight enemies hand-to-hand in close quarters. It’s an auto-pilot experience- All you have to do is run up next to an enemy and hit a single button- but it’s very satisfying and the melee moves (provided by Bond stuntman Ben Cooke) look fantastic. An extra reward for these take-downs is a new feature called “Focus Aim.” For every henchman taken down hand-to-hand, you’re awarded a Focus Aim that allows brief automatic targeting for shooting down opponents. It’s a fun way to add strategy to the game, as the Focus Aims can be saved up to get you out of big jams when the henchmen start flooding around you. You also have to be careful with your ammo, as you must rely on picking up spare clips from your dead rivals to keep going. Another touch of realism is the ability to only carry two guns- One pistol and one bigger weapon- forcing you to plan on which weapon you wish to carry at any given time. Dual-wielding a la GoldenEye isn’t possible here. Overall, the shooting gameplay is satisfying and fun, comparing very closely overall with the Quantum experience. But unlike Quantum, the adventure isn’t limited to on-foot action. You also get to pilot a variety of vehicles, from boats to Aston Martins. About a quarter of the game relies on this chasing format, where you must keep within a certain distance of a fleeing villain without falling too far behind or encountering ride-ending obstacles. These sections were my favorite of the game and were all-too-brief. The physics are pretty simple- more Grand Theft Auto and less Gran Turismo– but they work well for the game as you hurtle at blinding speeds past obstacles. My favorite level of the game finds Bond in a tow truck pursuing a giant dump truck barreling through the streets of Bangkok. It forces you to make split-second decisions on how to avoid the wreckage strewn in front of you while still remaining in pursuit. Great fun.

    My only criticism with these driving levels was the invincibility of the vehicles that you pilot. Running head-on into a freight truck does nothing but slow you down. And it certainly looks cool to see baddies shooting at you from vehicles ahead, but it doesn’t harm your car in any way. If there was a damage meter for the vehicles, it would raise the pulse on these levels even more.

    Unfortunately the fun comes to an end all too soon. There’s only enough game here for a solid day of play. While there are three difficulty settings that should encourage replay value, I found myself wishing for more levels from such a top-tier release.

    Plot

    Bond runs from the driller

    Bond scribe Bruce Feirstein makes a welcome return to game writing duties with Blood Stone. Being a big fan of Feirstein’s previous work (including the last original Bond game storyline, the superb Everything or Nothing), I had high hopes for this adventure, perhaps too high. Maybe I was looking for a suitable replacement for Bond 23, but in any case, I didn’t get it here. As a game plot, it works just fine in shuttling Bond off to new locations to chase down new bad guys with every level. But as a memorably cohesive story, it falls a bit flat.

    The Brosnan-era games were such a blast because they reflected the films- Big, goofy, ridiculous fun. Robotic spiders, invisible cars, Bond in space, ninjas, and nanobots are all things that are questionable in the film Bond’s universe and might even make Ian Fleming turn in his grave, but they certainly make gameplay a thrilling and memorable experience. The Craig-era games certainly reflect the Craig-era movies, as Bond is a cold, hard killer, with very little gadgets, humor, and sex to bolster relatively realistic plots. While that might work in the films, this reflection leaves Blood Stone feeling like a story without the fun and humor of the older films but also bereft of the intriguing drama of the newer ones.

    My biggest complaint with the storyline is the lack of a clear central villain. While playing, it’s never clear who the “boss” baddie is. By the time we think we’ve vanquished the central villain, the story sends Bond after another one, then another, and so on. None of the villains are set up in any interesting way or given any memorable characteristics. Nor is the bad guy’s scheme some grand, interesting take-over-the-world reveal (it’s a simple game of bio-weapons here, a little more interesting than raising Bolivian water prices, but not by much). To be fair, there is a nice character twist towards the end of the story, but it’s a case of too little, too late.

    That’s not to say that there aren’t some incredible sequences in the story, many that would’ve made great film sequences. Among the highlights are Bond evading an excavation drill, chasing a train by driving across splintering Siberian ice sheets, and a fantastic hovercraft chase. Remember the “hover-jet” from the book Devil May Care? Here Bond actually gets to encounter it in action! Too bad it wasn’t the climax of the game, as it was the most epic level of the entire game.

    By the way, what’s with the title? What/who is the “Blood Stone” anyways? It sure isn’t those diamonds featured in the title sequence, as diamonds aren’t even hinted at in the story. “Never Kill Me Again” would’ve been better than this! Moving on…

    Voice Acting

    Joss Stone as Nicole Hunter

    Daniel Craig returns to voicing duties as Bond himself. It’s a pity the script doesn’t give him much leverage to actually ACT, but he deliveries his lines with conviction. Ditto for Judi Dench (who unfortunately looks a little frightening in CG form). The show stealer is singer Joss Stone, who does double-duty here by not only belting out the wonderful title song “I’ll Take It All,” but also giving a great voice performance as Bond girl Nicole Hunter.

    Graphics and Atmosphere

    In a side-by-side comparison with Quantum of Solace, the graphics are roughly the same as far as detailing and modeling go. However, the scope of the environments is much grander in scale. There are some locations that are simply jaw-dropping, chief among them being a massive aquarium that’s home to whales and sharks. I sometimes found myself stopping my quest just to look around and take everything in. The sheer variety of exotic locales also keeps the interest up.

    The music, provided by Richard Jacques, is another highlight of this release, with a score that would feel right at home in a motion picture. Here’s hoping it gets released in the near future.

    Multiplayer

    With the single-player mode as short as it is, the multiplayer option should provide a bit more replay value. But, much like Quantum, the online multiplayer option leaves a lot to be desired. The levels are all straight from the game, and unlike GoldenEye, the characters are basically faceless henchmen, not classic characters from the series. There are only a handful of game modes as well. It plays just as well as it looks- like an afterthought. While it’s nice to include this, it makes you wonder why they even tried when there are so many better options out there (Call of Duty chief among them). Adding insult to injury, multiplayer is online-only, with no split-screen local option available, so don’t bother getting your friends with this release.

    Overall Verdict

    All the elements are here for a great game- A talented writer and voice cast, stellar graphics and locales, and a solid shooting and driving engine. But somehow they’re all held back. I kept thinking that if only the people involved were allowed to just let loose and have fun, as they seemed to be in the Brosnan-era games, then the game
    would be more of a joy to play. While I applaud the variety of levels and situations that the game came up with, and the occasionally epic scope it achieves, the short play time and the meager multiplayer mode means there’s not much bang for your buck here.

    So my advice? If you’re looking for Bond 23 in this, you won’t find it. If you’re looking for a $60 game, you won’t find it here either. Wait a few months and buy it used for half off, and you’ll be a happy customer.

    Fan Curiosities

    • Although there is no gadgetry to speak of, Q-Branch is mentioned several times during the game.
    • The Aston Martin DB5 make an appearance here, and license plate reads BMT 216A (the designation as it appeared in the Connery films, not the Brosnan movies).
    • Bond is identified as “Commander Bond” for the first time in the Craig era. About time!

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    Guest writer @ 2010-11-22
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