Reviewed: November 6, 2008
Released: November 4, 2008
There is perhaps no name more recognized in the world of action films than James Bond, and it only follows that there are millions of people around the world who enjoy the over-the-top escapism of the long-running series. Naturally, then, video games based on Bond and his many exploits have been around almost as long as the video game industry itself, with the first officially licensed product being released in 1983.
Around the time GoldenEye was released, a popular and newer type of game, the first-person shooter, was tapped to create a new Bond gaming experience. The result was GoldenEye for the Nintendo 64, and the franchise hasn't looked back since. The latest FPS to bring the experience of being in Bond's shoes is 007: Quantum of Solace, after the new film of the same name.
Beginning with several hours of missions that tell the story of the previous movie, Casino Royale, the game segues into the beginning of Quantum of Solace, which finds Bond (as usual) on a continuing and only vaguely legal quest to protect the world from nefarious evildoers. Looked at this way, Quantum of Solace could have been two games' worth of story for the price of one--which makes sense, since the two movies are closely connected. However, this game really has almost nothing to do with the movie that shares its title. The vast majority of play time will be spent reliving Bond's more destructive moments from Casino Royale, which is a big disappointment for those of us hoping that a game called Quantum of Solace would actually be about, you know, Quantum of Solace.
That said, no one really plays a Bond game for the storytelling experience. Most of the dialogue happens briefly and succinctly in between levels, as gamers follow a recounting of the tale told from the point of view of someone reviewing files on all of Bond's doings, leaving plenty of time for the game to be experienced first-hand during the levels themselves. Developers Beenox have utilized a well-liked FPS engine (the Call of Duty 4 engine) in an effort to keep the action intense, the enemies intelligent (but not too intelligent) and the physics solid.
The results, unfortunately, are mixed. Apparently the game was either rushed to production (not likely, since it was given an extra five months to go gold when the release date of the film was pushed from spring to fall of '08), or the team at Beenox simply didn't care enough to fully optimize the engine for the Wii. The problems aren't so bad as to make the game totally unplayable, but they can be extremely frustrating, especially when the game is played at a high difficulty level.
The main issue is lag due to framerate issues. Despite the stripped-down graphics compared to other home-console versions of the game (a necessity given the Wii's less-powerful hardware), the lag can become intolerable at certain points, dropping to a mere handful of frames per second. Mysteriously, this seems to happen somewhat arbitrarily rather than as a result of many enemies on-screen at once. The worst lag in the early part of the game is during a descent through a rock passage with no enemies around. Other sequences in more graphics-intensive locations, such as the streets of Venice and a luxury hotel in Miami, had no detrimental framerate issues even when eight or ten enemies were onscreen at once.
The overall experience smacks of shoddy optimization. There is also a certain point at which jumping down from a school bus (not moving) onto the pavement eight feet below causes Bond to die instantly, with no real explanation as to why or how. The other big problem I had, though, was while switching from one vantage point to another during the very first level. Bond dashed towards a safe spot, but became stuck on a corner of a doorframe and stayed there, wheezing and shaking like an epileptic, until I reset the game and had to start over. I did not encounter the problem a second time, but then again I didn't tempt fate by trying to perform the same move in that spot. Regardless, a bug that freezes the entire game is a big problem for any title, and not the sort of thing that should have happened with such a high-profile release.
On the other hand, some of the trouble comes not from technical difficulty, but from the way the game is set up itself. Often, when Bond needs to do something particularly acrobatic, an icon will appear telling players where and when to push a button to get him to perform the feat. Sometimes, however, the timing and acrobatics are left up to the player, and as anyone who has played a game on the CoD4 engine knows, it's not exactly geared towards acrobatics. The main issue is certain points at which Bond needs to jump from one place to another, for instance from a detached train car to one that is still moving ahead. The ineffectual little bunny-hops that the game engine allows for are not enough to make these leaps without split-second timing and picture-perfect placement, which means that generally speaking, Bond will die more often by falling than he will from actually being injured by his enemies. When such a difficult leap is required, the game should always offer a scripted button-push, not just sometimes.
All those troubles and annoyances aside, the bulk of the game plays well enough, and can actually be very entertaining, especially during the urban firefights that are Quantum of Solace's bread and butter. The game engine, which allows for dashing from safe spot to safe spot, taking cover behind objects, and blind shooting with remarkable ease thanks to seamless transitioning between first-person (free movement) and third-person (behind cover) perspectives, allows players to occasionally feel almost like the man himself--which is of course the goal of any licensed game.
Using the Wii Remote to aim and fire weapons is a joy in and of itself, well-implemented and adding to the sense of immersion considerably. A helpful targeting system that locks the gun's reticule into the space near the target is helpful for clumsy shots, but Wii gunplay is so intuitive it's almost not necessary. The game has been further augmented with an entertaining, if unnecessary, wobble-control system for when our hero has to walk across thin beams and the like, and with an aim-and-push hand-to-hand combat system (point the Wii Remote at the target area and push the A button to successfully complete an attack) that is used mostly in silent takedowns of the occasional unwary guard (one hit) and in a few special fight sequences with main characters (multiple hits). The hand-to-hand system is particularly fun, if a bit on the easy side. Bond can also pick electronic locks via a simple button-pressing game using the D-pad.
As would be expected, 007 has access to a wide range of real-world weapons throughout the course of the game, from his trademark Walther P99 silenced pistol to military rifles like the M14 and several automatic guns and sniper rifles, plus a few more exotic weapons such as a nail gun (for a particular scene) and a MGL (Multiple Grenade Launcher). Players are limited to carrying three weapons at a time, including the P99, which cannot be swapped out for a different gun. The sniper rifles all have telescoping sights, and a few of the guns sometimes come with a silencer, but even when trying to be as stealthy as possible, James Bond is no Sam Fisher, and firefights erupt regularly during the course of play. By quickly dispatching guards and disabling security cameras, though, Bond can move about with much more ease than he might otherwise, which makes it still worthwhile to try to sneak as much as possible. He manages to stay alive for so long even when things go wrong thanks in part to a very forgiving system wherein his health automatically replenishes itself as long as he is not taking damage.
Where the weapons really get entertaining is during multiplayer matches, where sights, scopes and silencers drop like candy from a ripped sack along with the weapons themselves. Beenox seems to have spent more time on their exclusive split-screen multiplayer offering for the Wii, which includes four modes of play for up to four players sitting together in the same room. There are two basic games: a free-for-all frag-fest and an objective-based competition. Each game can be played by all four players competitively, or in 2-vs.-2 teams. As one might suspect, the Team Conflict (2-on-2 deathmatch) is arguably the most fun, but all the modes are fairly entertaining, and a welcome addition in this current age of fewer and fewer split-screen games. For those who prefer online full-screen multiplayer action, the same options are also available online via the Wii's Wi-Fi connection.
Whether in single or multiplayer mode, where Quantum of Solace performs best is in the middle of an all-out firefight with plenty of terrain to hide behind and climb over--in other words, during the urban warfare part of the game. Framerate issues are usually only mildly annoying without hindering gameplay. It is too bad that this game couldn't have avoided game breaking lag altogether, though, because even occasional bouts of it are really unacceptable. Wii owners shouldn't have to suffer through poor optimization or the game-freezing bug that I encountered during my first play through. In fact, if it weren't for these troublesome technical issues, Quantum of Solace would be a good, if not quite great, gaming experience. As things stand, it is lacking in the core, foundational elements it needs to be good, and no amount of brand tie-ins or polished mechanics will fix that problem.
Quantum of Solace gets both good and bad marks for its graphics, which in the end average out to nothing particularly special. On the plus side, draw distance is excellent, with virtually no pop-in. Faces on the characters look convincingly realistic as well, including Bond himself, whose virtual avatar bears a striking, if not quite dead-on, resemblance to Daniel Craig. The game's few CG cinematics remain polished despite having a lower polygon count than their PS3 and Xbox 360 counterparts, with metallic and otherwise artificial objects like cars looking particularly nice. Telescoping sights have a very smooth zoom, and tracer bullets can be seen from source to impact even at great distances.
On the other hand, many of the objects in this game have unusually rough edges for a next-gen title, and some of the real-time textures are downright last-gen, like the water seen in the canals of Venice during a pan shot. Bond also suffers from Squinty Eye Syndrome, a phenomenon familiar to anyone who has played a graphics-intensive PC game on a low setting. His eyes are barely there, although the depressions where they should be are evident, giving him the overall impression of constantly squinting. Needless to say, he looks much cooler during the sequences when he gets to wear sunglasses.
Flat textures such as signboards are also lower-resolution than one would hope, although they aren't as bad as they probably could have been. It is also worth noting that items which are white (like pillows and bedspreads) look like untextured models at first glance. The white that they use is so bright, and the texturing so basic, that they are blinding anywhere they show up, and seem to be immune to having shadows cast upon them by their surroundings. Lastly, Bond's body has an unfortunate habit of passing through common objects such as his watch and his cell phone, which just looks cheap. Quantum of Solace looks good enough that it's playable, but naturally not as good as on the other systems, and not nearly as good as it could (or should) have looked regardless.
Voice acting and music, naturally, are top-notch in Quantum of Solace. Evidently, many of the actors performing the voices of Vesper, M, Le Chiffre and the rest are the real deal, and they do a great job, particularly the tart indignance of Dame Judi Dench's (M's) voice. The latest Bond-movie single plays across the opening cinematic, as sultry as all of its predecessors, and the movie's unforgettable and classic theme music makes several welcome appearances throughout the game. Quantum of Solace also manages to use silence effectively, as a sign that whatever imminent danger 007 was facing has now passed and players should move him towards the next objective.
The sound effects are also very well done, lending gritty realism to the game with realistic weapon sounds, explosions and bullet impact sounds that change depending on what the bullet hits. Even with a simple stereo setup, the movement of a helicopter through the air sounds like it's happening in three dimensions. This effect only gets better with a surround sound setup. If there's one mark that could be made against the game's sound package, it's the way that the voices of generic enemy soldiers are used. They yell plenty of lines, such as "take the shot!" and "I've got him in my sights!," but generally the statements are only nebulously connected to what's really going on.
At one point, upon passing a checkpoint aboard a cargo ship, I approached a huge shipping crate with a ladder leading up one side, but before I had even begun scaling the ladder, panicked soldiers began yelling and screaming from the other side of the crate, even though there was no way they had seen or heard Mr. Bond yet. It's nowhere near as bad as the laughable voice placements of True Crime: New York City (in which civilians screamed expletives at the main character even when he was just buying a hot dog), but it could use a little polish.
If there's one thing that Quantum of Solace has going for it, it's the relative dearth of first-person shooter games for the Wii. The system's motion-sensitive control scheme is a match made in heaven for a genre founded on accurate aiming, but its graphical limitations have kept most FPS developers shy about releasing for the platform. With four-player split-screen and online multiplayer options, Quantum of Solace offers a good rounded package for FPS fans looking to get their fix on the Wii.
The single-player mode is sadly short, however, and really only barely begins the story of the Quantum of Solace movie, which comes off as a cheap attempt to "force" gamers to see the movie to find out how everything turns out. For most of the games six or so hours of play, the story is that of the previous film, Casino Royale. Why didn't they just call it "Casino Royale?" One can only assume that the same nefarious force was behind both this game's misleading title, and its cruddy Wii optimization. No, not a Bond villain. Something worse: marketing people.
Arguably the biggest failing of Quantum of Solace as a game, though, is a technical one, and that impacts the lasting value of the game as well. As more games are released for the Wii, bugs, glitches and lag will become even less acceptable than they already are. It would not be at all surprising to find this game in a dusty discount bin at the local game shop within 2 years' time.
For big fans of anything 007-related, Quantum of Solace is a worthwhile purchase, though perhaps not at the current MSRP of $49.99. That's a lot of money to pay for a buggy game, after all. For everyone else, the game warrants a rental before buying, at the very least. Let's hope that the next Wii game based on the Call of Duty 4 engine, World of War, fares better in the technical department, because that really is the main thing separating Quantum of Solace from the "worthwhile purchases" list.
"Bond. James Bond." These classic words, which comprise one of the very first lines in Quantum of Solace, sum up the best reason to give the game a whirl. There was no game for Casino Royale (although this game would more appropriately have been named after that movie, as mentioned previously), making this the first time gamers have been able to fill the shoes of Daniel Craig's rough, edgy young double-0 agent. The gameplay is smooth and intuitive, except for some frustrating jumps, and the technical issues, while certainly a factor, do not render the game unplayable by any means.
Given a bit of patience, it is easy to like this game well enough to play it through to the end, even if most players will find themselves yelling indignantly at the game screen from time to time as James Bond suddenly drops dead from a cheap shot. Checkpoints are plentiful, which lessens the sting of this phenomenon considerably. Graphics-wise, it could have been better than it is, but the game doesn't look bad in most cases, just a bit dated. And no one can fault the excellent quality of the voice acting, music or sound effects.
Quantum of Solace is a flawed game, but not a bad one. Some people may find that it's just what they're looking for, but for most of use, biding our time in hopes of something a little more put together is the wiser choice, even if it does mean skipping the latest chance to be James Bond. My final recommendation - Give it a rental first.