Reviewed: November 6, 2008
Released: November 4, 2008
An amazing transformation has taken place over the past several days. I’ve gone from the tuxedo-wearing suave secret agent known as Bond…James Bond, to a machinegun-wielding, one-man army known as Rambo…John Rambo, all within the same game. In the 5-7 hours it will take you to beat 007: Quantum of Solace you will kill more henchmen than all of the previously released Bond movies have contained and never once feel like the pride of MI6.
Treyarch, in their attempt to revitalize the Bond videogame franchise, had some good ideas. The first was starting with a proven 3D engine, the same one used in the latest and legendary Call of Duty game. Yet despite several tweaks to the AI and even the gameplay engine, Mr. Bond has lost that lovin’ secret agent feeling. At no time while playing this game did I ever feel like James Bond or even a secret agent. Sure, when I snapped to cover and the camera pulled back to reveal the detailed cyber scan visage of Daniel Craig there was a brief connection, but you could just have easily inserted Kiefer Sutherland into this game and called it “24”.
The first of numerous problems lies in the title of the game itself. Consisting of 15 chapters, the first 14 missions all take place within the story elements of Casino Royale leaving you with one tacked-on and entirely lame final level in some Eco Hotel in the middle of the desert followed by a cliffhanger ending video that will leave you feeling shortchanged and possibly deceived. I knew Quantum of Solace contained some content from Casino Royale but I was expecting a 50-50 split at the very least, otherwise, call it what it is…Casino Royale. At least you don't have to worry about any movie spoilers.
When it comes to gameplay we can start with the cover system; something new to the Call of Duty engine. In the past I’ve often criticized the various Call of Duty developers for not implementing a snap-to-cover system or even the ability to lean and peek out around corners in the WWII games, but now that I see what happens when a cover system is added to the gameplay I will retract those previous requests and leave well enough alone.
The cover system in Quantum of Solace can quite simply be described as “broken”. Nearly 99.9% of all my deaths (and there were far too many to count) were directly related to the cover-fire system. You can easily snap to nearly any vertical surface in the game that is large enough to conceal a standing or crouched James Bond. What is nearly impossible to do is break away from that cover in time to save your own dying ass. Henchmen aren’t content to stick to their own cover and trade bullets. They will rush around the corner and kill you while you are stuck to the wall or lob a grenade so that the resulting concussion forces you to stand and inevitably die.
While you can perform SWAT-style moves from various pieces of nearby cover you are unable to circle around multi-sided objects, so if you are flush against a column and taking fire from the side you can’t simply rotate to the safe side. You have to break free, move around and reattach, taking lots of damage along the way.
Often, enemies will leap over the very cover you are hiding behind and kill you before you can even try to break free, while others will flank you. If you do detect incoming fire from behind (as indicated by a directional red arc) you can spin Bond around to face this new enemy, but as soon as you rotate past 180-degrees you will automatically stand up and get the back of your tux filled with hot lead. Hope it wasn’t a rental…
The enemy AI is all over the place. In missions that promote stealth the henchmen are suitably unaware of their surroundings, so you can sneak up on them and perform a stealth takedown, which could have been cool if it were anything more involved than pressing R3 followed by a single tap of a random face button. Performing a takedown has been reduced to nothing more than a simple reflex that a six-year old could manage.
Then you have the wave mentality where you find yourself in a courtyard, airport hangar, opera house, or a giant sinkhole, and wave after wave after wave of heavily armed soldiers are coming at you with guns blazing and grenades bouncing at your feet. The game tries to balance the 100:1 odds of any given combat situation with interactive environments like exploding tanks, exploding fuse boxes, exploding fire extinguishers, exploding fuel pumps, exploding helium tanks…you get the idea…lots of explosions that can either kill or temporarily daze your enemies. The most original interactive takedown I had was in Venice where I shot a suspended gondola, which fell about 12 feet and…you guessed it…exploded!
So there is a whole lot of shooting and killing and exploding but not a lot of spy stuff going on. You get to disable security cameras, which is as easy as pressing X to flip a switch. The only real challenge is getting to the switch without the camera seeing you, but even that isn’t much of a challenge after playing games like Splinter Cell and Metal Gear Solid. We all know how to watch those moving “cones of awareness” in the top-down map and time our safe approach.
Then you have some door hacking, which is a timed exercise in pressing the D-pad in the direction indicated by the green arrow. If this weren’t easy enough already you are given multiple strikes before you actually fail the hack. And finally, we have the collection factor; only we aren’t securing stolen documents or top-secret info stashed on memory sticks. In Quantum of Solace we are looking for misplaced cell phones with random bits of useless data. Sure, the memo on a random cell phone tells me the location of a cool Magnum revolver, but it’s not like I would have missed it anyway given the linear level design.
The level design in Quantum of Solace isn’t terrible but it is quite linear, and given the deceptive nature of the large and complex levels, you really start to feel constrained to following the path the designers have laid before you. There are no multiple paths through the level, no fight path versus a stealth path. It’s all A to B and lots of snapping to cover and killing a few dozen baddies in between.
Bond has always been about gadgets, and even if this story does take place before Q and his toys I want something more than a data screen between missions. At least give me cell phone that I can use to take pictures, or a pair of binoculars, or something. All of my toys have been replaced with bullets, which is not very Bond-like. I didn’t even get to drive my fancy sports car, and the only time I got onboard a speedboat in Venice was when using it as part of a makeshift bridge across a canal.
Quantum of Solace quickly turned into a boring and repetitive shooter with nary a hint of secret agent gameplay. Even the few instances of stealth takedowns seemed like throwaways with oblivious henchmen and one-button kills that were far too easy. There were three or four brief sequences where you had to balance-walk across a beam by keeping a bubble in the center of a meter. These will obviously fare better on the Wii and PS3 with their motion controllers.
Given its Call of Duty roots it is no surprise that this latest Bond comes with a hefty multiplayer component, and while not nearly as deep or involved as Modern Warfare, you will get to experience a taste of what that game had to offer without all the perks and challenges. Classic modes like DM, Team DM, Domination, Golden Gun, Bond Versus and a few other modes will keep you busy for a few extra hours…at least until something better…cough…World at War…cough…comes along.
Golden Gun is a great mode that allows everyone to rush for the special weapon that offers a one-shot kill. Of course, once you have the gun everybody else is coming after you to take it away. Bond Versus has a single Bond player being hunted by the opposing team, and Bond Evasion has one team escorting a VIP to an extraction point while the other team tries to kill the VIP.
Built upon the already-solid Call of Duty 4 engine, Bond is able to pull of some impressive visuals at times, mostly because we are seeing places that Call of Duty will never take us. Each of the 15 chapters takes place in a unique location starting at a large mansion estate. The opera house in Sydney was an interesting level and the train level was definitely one of my favorites, even if I had done something very similar to this in Splinter Cell. I loved the detail of Venice with all the classic architectures, but the flat green water took away from the overall realism. Perhaps the worst level in the game was also the last; some lame hotel buried in the desert. It was so bad I had to burn it down.
While the model for Bond was exquisite, the rest of the character models were right off the carbon copy shelf. All the enemies looked identical within their own respective chapters, and they all had the same animations for sliding across tables or the hoods of cars and rolling into cover or flipping over a railing and plummeting to their death like an overpaid stuntman.
The weapons looked great and there was plenty of environmental destruction. Glass would break and wood splintered and you could leave bullet holes in just about anything. Considering the abundance of explosive objects I would have thought the designers would spend more time on their explosions and fire effects. These were surprisingly lame. Fire seemed almost painted onto objects, at least until you shot a nearby fire extinguisher to snuff it out.
Daniel Craig, Judy Dench and the rest of the primary film cast all lend their voices to a solid sound package that starts with the acting and carries over into sound effects and music. The score is excellent with all the familiar Bond themes in place to accent those special moments of gameplay. The opening title sequence is quite thrilling, although not as sexy as the Bond films are known for…no naked silhouettes of Bond girls here. I loved the music that was playing over the PA in the opera house level. I don’t know the specific name of the song, but it’s from Excalibur, one of my favorites movies.
The weapons all sound great with realistic firing sounds and the explosions are powerfully loud and deep, even if they look rather lame on screen. There are lots of environmental and ambient effects to bring the levels to life in a rich Dolby Digital surround experience.
Veterans of the FPS genre will storm their way through Quantum of Solace in 5-7 hours; perhaps less. There are a few oddball achievements that might send you back to some of the chapters if you want to find some missing phones, hack a missing door panel, disable a security camera, or perform any of the quirky objectives – there is usually one per chapter. The rest of the Achievement points are awarded for completing the various chapters and doing well in online multiplayer.
We’ve already discussed the online element, and while Bond offers some excellent online gameplay, it won’t be enough to keep you hanging around when other games start competing for your online time. Gears of War 2 and World at War will retire this secret agent faster than a sexual harassment lawsuit from Miss Moneypenny.
007: Quantum of Solace isn’t a terrible game but it is certainly not the game I expected it to be. Treyarch spent too much time trying to convert a WWII engine into something viable for a secret agent game, and we end up with a gun-toting thug in a tux rather than the sophisticated secret agent we all love from the books and the movies. There are a few moments of gaming pleasure, but this latest Bond is mostly a repetitive and often frustrating shooter that barely qualifies as a weekend rental.