Reviewed: November 2, 2010
Released: November 2, 2010
Activision is just full of surprises this year. First we get an impeccable Spider-Man game with no movie tie-in, and now, here comes our favorite MI6 agent with an all-new adventure, also sans movie. Perhaps the gaming industry is finally getting the message that good games don’t require a movie license…just good gameplay.|
James Bond 007: Blood Stone is certainly the dark horse of shooters this season with so many other major titles, both new and franchise sequels, all arriving in the holiday surge of games that starts today. Bond even has to compete with himself, as GoldenEye is also making its triumphant return on Wii and DS today, but next-gen gamers won’t be left out. Blood Stone might lack the nostalgia and name-recognition of the N64 classic, but it certainly isn’t lacking in authentic James Bond action. What other franchise can you skydive into Greece, kill 20-30 guys; take part in a speedboat chase, and a car chase, and save the Acropolis, all before the opening credits?
For as exciting as that last sentence sounds, the opening level of Blood Stone had me a bit on edge. The opening sweep of the coastal city was gorgeous but then I was met with a horrible CG version of M (voiced by Dame Judi Dench) and her equally last-gen character models that formed her entourage. Even the Bond character model was decisively lacking in texture and detail, which made for a stark contrast with the otherwise gleaming environments and photo-realistic backdrops.
Thankfully, after the credits and pretty much throughout the rest of the game the character graphics improved, or perhaps I just got used to them. Bond (Daniel Craig) and his female companion Nicole Hunter (Joss Stone) look remarkably plain in their close-ups and game-engine cutscenes. Their mouths move to the words and they blink, but that is the extent of their emotion. Sadly, when it comes to emotion, Daniel must have been having some trouble relating to his Bond character in the recording studio. Most of his dialogue comes off as him just reading from the page with subtle changes in volume – no real emoting going on at all.
But that is the extent of any technical issues and most of my complaints for Blood Stone, so how about the good stuff – the gameplay. Never before have I felt such a rush of adrenaline while playing a third-person action game and it’s all thanks to a wonderfully dynamic mix of melee, shooting, and stealth takedowns. We’ve seen all these elements before, but they have never worked as well as they do in Blood Stone.
At its core, Bond is a cover-shooter. You run around the levels snapping to cover then taking shots at an overwhelming number of enemies. You can also mix this up with melee combat in the forms of takedowns and stealth takedowns whenever you get within striking distance. Performing these moves fuels your Focus Aim, up to three charges at a time. You can then use this to slow down time and nail a few instant kills, usually headshots. My only complaint with takedowns is they are one-button and automatic – no real skill involved other than getting close enough.
Focus Aim is a great tool to get out of a hairy situation, but it is balanced enough that you never rely on it. I did notice that the game will usually send one in six enemies toward you if you wait long enough, thus enabling you to fuel your Focus Aim, which I almost always reserved for those distant targets hiding in the rafters. Without Focus Aim you are at the mercy of a realistic crosshair that you must manually aim, usually spraying the area with bullets before you eventually hit someone. Even using iron sights won’t snap your cursor or guarantee a hit, let alone a kill.
Stealth is greatly rewarded, not only with achievements for various takedown styles, but also some of the most gratuitously satisfying animations I’ve witnessed in any action game to date. Depending on where you and the enemy are and any nearby objects, or if you are crouched or walking up behind or from the side, will determine whether Bond pushes a guy off a balcony, slams his head into a railing, kicks him in the groin, or judo flips him over his shoulder, just to name a few. After 7 hours and hundreds of takedowns I can’t recall any two playing out exactly the same and I never got tired of watching them.
I also need to talk about the enemy A.I. As I was playing Blood Stone I was seeing some strange behavior that I couldn’t quite explain. I recorded a few combat situations and sent the video off to Mongoose (our resident military specialist and retired Special Forces soldier). At first glance he thought I was playing online, as he noticed definite human traits of “seeking better cover”, “strategic flanking”, and “setting up crossfire and elevated firing positions”. And then you have the one singular trait that has been lacking in every video game up until now (with the exception of Splinter Cell Conviction) – the enemies target your “last known position”.
If you are hiding in one spot and can manage to move when they aren’t looking they will continue to fire and even advance on that spot, allowing you the delight up sneaking up behind them for a stealth takedown. Mongoose has officially declared, and I quote, “Blood Stone has the most human-like and tactically accurate A.I. of any shooter I have seen to date…they need to license this A.I. code to every other developer out there.”
Ever since Daniel Craig embodied the Bond character the series has moved away from the Roger Moore gadgetry and kept things rooted in gunplay and fisticuffs, thus a lack of cool gadgets and gizmos, both in the movies and in the game. There are no machine guns or rockets launchers on your cars and no rappelling wire in your wristwatch. Your sole gadget is your phone and you will use this multipurpose device for a lot more than checking in with M. Need to find out where all the nearby enemies are, what weapons they have, or what their alert status is – there’s an app for that. Need to locate hidden Intel, hack computers, or reprogram a bugging device – there’s an app for that.
The story is rather loose, with each mission revealing just enough to fuel the next sequence, which is always in some totally unique location. There are a few vehicular pursuits thrown in to break up the gunplay, but with no weapons on the car you are merely required to stay within range until you reach the scripted moment where you can shoot or ram the other vehicle. I will say that the chase in Hong Kong with me in a tow truck pursuing what can only be described as a “Monster Truck” would make car chase history if they ever put this on film.
My time with the multiplayer modes in Blood Stone wasn’t as long as I would have liked before posting this review, but I feel it was enough. I was able to get into a few game sessions for all three types of games; Team DM, Objective, and Last Man Standing. These modes are self-explanatory for anyone familiar with the genre, but offer only minimal incentives for long-term gameplay. The modes and even the entire multiplayer component seem tacked on as an obligatory afterthought.
Achievements are nicely crafted, both for completing the levels on standard and 007 skill levels as well as other level-specific challenges and even game-arcing accomplishments like performing a variety of takedown or finding all that hidden Intel. You can finish the game in about 8 hours and you’ll certainly want to make a second pass through to pick up anything you missed. Multiplayer won't keep you around for more than a few extra hours.
Admittedly, I knew nothing about this game prior to its arrival for review. All my attention was being directed toward GoldenEye so I was surprised, both at the horribly bad first-impression this game makes and how much of a complete turnaround for the better Blood Stone achieves by the end. Arguably, there isn’t that much of a Bond feel to the game other than Craig’s accent and a few familiar bars of the Bond theme music, but as action-shooters that mix stealth and melee, and a few car chases tossed in to spice things up, you won’t find much better this holiday season.