I’ll be honest: I’m not a fan of the rebooted James Bond series. I quite liked the old James Bond, before Hollywood felt the need to go all Jason Bourne on us. Ooh he needs to be edgy. Ooh he needs to be a rookie again, but set in modern times. Ooh but we need to keep some continuity, so let’s keep Judy Dench as M. Anyway, I’m one of the few who liked Quantum of Solace more than Casino Royale, mainly because it felt more like a Bond movie. But now MGM is stuck in economic purgatory, and there won’t be a new Bond flick for a little while. So Activision, who just went and paid handsomely for the rights to make video games based on 007, decided to go make their own story up. They even got Daniel Craig and Judy Dench to supply voices and images. Well, it’s not like they have anything better to do right now. So anyway, lets see what Blood Stone is like.
Right. First of all, nowhere in the game did I get the reference Blood Stone. There’s no old Soviet satellite orbiting the Earth with a payload of conflict diamonds or something. No ultra secret submarine. One of the characters does mention briefly something about getting blood from a stone while being tortured, but I refuse to believe that was the reasoning for the name. So I don’t get it. Anyway, Bond is sent to discover why a biochemist has disappeared with some research, determine if he’s sold out his country, and then do what comes naturally. The game follows the storyline established in the reboot, with Bond hunting what will eventually become SPECTRE, never really knowing who he is fighting because he keeps killing everyone who can tell him.
OK, firstly, they got Daniel Craig’s likeness pretty spot on. Judy Dench’s polygons were not so lucky. She looks like Clayface in the scenes when you can see her. Joss Stone also lends her face and voice to the game as the Bond girl, but really I had no idea who she was so she could look like Kermit the Frog and I wouldn’t know the difference. In the name of thoroughness I looked her up, and after doing so I can say she resembles herself.
The game is divided into on foot sections broken up by car chases. While there are only a few real cars in the game, they look amazing when you’re driving them. You can tell that Bizarre takes particular pride in their car modeling. Now if only they’d take as much care in making those car chases interesting. But that’s another section.
The level design is nicely varied. You have casinos, yachts, ancient ruins, and chemical plants. Basically, if it’s exotic in some way it is probably in this game. The graphics engine does a solid but not spectacular job. Some stages, like the Casino, look amazing, with stone floors and brass everywhere. Others, like Bangkok, look a little too generic for my liking.
Daniel Craig gives a terrific performance as Bond, and all of his lines sound exactly as you’d expect them to. Either that or his version of Bond is so dour that it’s difficult to mail it in. You pick. Anyway, Judy Dench doesn’t quite match the performance of Craig, you can tell she’s reading at some points. The rest of the voice acting is pretty well done. Sound effects are solid too. Hell even the intro song is pretty good, sung by the previously mentioned Miss Joss Stone. It’s no Goldfinger, but it’s not Die Another Day either.
Playing Blood Stone made me think that this was the game that Bourne Conspiracy was trying to be. It also made me think that this is probably as close to Uncharted that many Xbox 360 owners are going to get. The gameplay is setup in a manner similar to the a fore mentioned Uncharted. Playing from the third person perspective, you have a level you must navigate. You go from cover to cover as you eliminate any opposition to your progress. You can shoot them or you can take them as they walk past you in ninja like fashion. Or you run up to them, press X and watch as the game beats the snot out of that enemy for you.
The reboot of the Bond franchise seems to have gone for more realism, less gadgets. And the game takes that same approach to new levels. You have one gadget, and it’s your cell phone. With it you can talk to people (crazy concept I know), clone computer hard drives for MI6, collect intelligence that you find lying around, even disable security cameras. Basically, whatever you need to do spywise, there’s apparently an app for that. The phone also tells you where the waypoints are on the map and otherwise acting much like the x-ray vision found in Arkham Asylum. When you run with the phone vision on, the screen will start to distort. Slowing down will reduce this effect. It’s a nice way of forcing you to not simply run around all the time with the phone on, like you could in Arkham Asylum.
When you take an enemy down using your ninja skills, you earn an action move called a Focus Aim. Essentially it’s a one shot kill which you can use at any time. You can have up to three Focus Aims stored and ready for use at any time, meaning you can drop three enemies in under a second if you’re quick enough and they are all visible. These Focus Aims become very important if you are playing the game on the 007 difficulty level, as you can die from one shot. You can only earn these Focus Aims by taking enemies out with your fists. I would have liked to see the ability to use the environment as your ally, which you can do from time to time, as another way to earn Focus Aims, because sometimes it’s next to impossible to get a guy to walk up to you so you can break his neck, and running up to people shooting at you is seldom advisable.
As mentioned before there are sections of the game where you are sitting behind the wheel of a car instead of on foot. I found these car chases to be tedious. You cannot catch your quarry until you get to the point on the map where the action on foot resumes, making the car chases extra long semi interactive cut scenes. Set piece action scenes are great in the movies, but in games they quickly become tiresome, especially if the player figures out that the chase cannot be won, merely endured. I will say that Bond is extremely lucky in this game, there is always an Aston Martin around when he needs one.
One of the things that made Goldeneye on the N64 so entertaining was the challenge presented to the player. Essentially the difficulty level was increased by the amount of things you had to do to succeed in your mission. This wasn’t just more things to make it harder though, it upped the challenge without making it any less entertaining. Blood Stone takes a slightly different approach, but the game has that same feeling. You can go through the missions on higher difficulty levels and still enjoy it. In fact, when I played the game on 007 difficulty I enjoyed it more, even though it was one shot kills. Actually I think that’s the reason I enjoyed it so much. Each level becomes a puzzle you have to figure out. Just like the old Goldeneye.
On the downside the game is very static in terms of where enemies are positioned. There is no randomization, so when you enter a room and die, you can be sure that the next time you reload it, the enemies will be in the exact same place, ready for your bullet. The same is true for the vehicle chases.
Bizarre have added a multiplayer component to the game. Connecting via Xbox Live or System Link, you can play with up to 15 other players in three separate game modes. Those modes are the standard Team Deathmatch, Objective based missions, and Last Man Standing missions. Team Deathmatch is basically you and seven of your friends vs eight opponents, with respawning and no apparent reason for killing each other aside from the joy of killing each other. Objective is similar to MAG. You have to succeed at one objective as the attacking side to continue on to a second objective, and so on until the final objective is completed. Finally you have Last Man Standing, which is essentially Counter-Strike. No respawning, whoever is still alive at the end is the winner. The online functionality is nifty, but unless you are hard up for an online game it’s not nearly interesting enough to be a must play.
The game takes the Uncharted route when it comes to balance. Enemies can take a number of bullets before they die, where as you take a lot less. 007 mode in particular makes things really challenging and really discourages running up to enemies who are shooting at you. The game makes you think about the situation, makes you wait for them to reload before sticking your head out and shooting at them. In the head preferably, they get lead poisoning a lot faster through the head.
There are no boss fights. Unlike Bourne Conspiracy, where some of the boss fights were insanely difficult, the developers of Blood Stone seem to be saying if you beat the level, you don’t have to beat some over powered boss character. We’ll just make you watch a cut scene of Bond beating them for you.
When you play the game online, you join a lobby for whatever kind of game you choose. If there is nobody else in the lobby the game starts one for you, meaning you are the host. Once someone else joins your lobby the game waits for additional players to join before launching. All of this is nothing new. What is new, for me at least, is that after a certain amount of waiting the game will launch anyway, even if there are just the two players in game. Players can join the game in progress so really there is no reason not to launch if there are two players ready to go. I wish more programmers would include that functionality if players can join mid game. Why make me wait?
As there won’t be a new Bond movie for a while until the rights to the franchise are sold or MGM comes out of bankruptcy, this might be the only new Bond action we have for a while. As such, if you’re a fan of the franchise’s new direction this game will certainly appeal to you. And really, even if you’re not a fan of the reboot the game does enough on its own for you to enjoy it anyway.
The game isn’t overly long, and it’s interesting enough that playing it again is definitely in my future. The lack of randomization is a thorn in its paw, but even with that flaw the game is enjoyable enough while playing on 007 for me to want to play again.
One of the things that I noticed over the course of playing the game is some of the loading screens reminded me of the LCARS computer system from Star Trek: The Next Generation. I’m going to admit something here. It’s sad really. I didn’t need to look up what that computer system was called. I did, to make sure I was right, but there you go. Nerdery at its finest. Anyway, whatever. When the developers are trying to tell a story via a briefing screen, it felt like it was ripped directly out of Captain Picard’s hands.
Story: Very Good
Appeal Factor: Good
FINAL SCORE: ENJOYABLE GAME
Short Attention Span Summary:
Certainly not the worst Bond game I’ve ever played, Bizarre Creations have done a nice job with their first crack at the franchise. I would like to have seen them get another shot at making a Bond game, but it seems Activision has other ideas for Bizarre, sadly.