James Bond 007: Blood Stone
This is what you call a missed opportunity. A totally original Bond game, scripted by a Hollywood screenwriter, voiced by Daniel Craig and Judi Dench, starring a digitised Joss Stone and developed by the team behind The Club and Project Gotham Racing, Blood Stone should have been a blinder.
The fact that it fills the gap left by the postponement of the 23rd Bond film could have been the icing on the 007 cake. Instead, Blood Stone is a half-decent action-er spoilt by some fairly major flaws. It's not quite a dud, but it's more Octopussy in quality than You Only Live Twice.
The general storyline isn't bad by Bond movie standards, even if there's a slightly odd feeling that it begins with one evil plot and villain, then expands outwards just to beef up the running time. It sort of comes together in the end. Bond's initial battle against a nasty Russian oligarch takes him from Athens to Istanbul, Monaco and Siberia, and from there events lead him onwards to Bangkok. We get all the things we expect from a modern Bond tale - exotic locations, car chases, boat chases, stunts, hard-hitting fight sequences and a spot of gunplay - and the vocal work from Dench and Craig is a fair replication of what we heard in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace. The score, too, is classic Bond.
Unfortunately, the execution falls flat. The biggest disappointment is how dated Blood Stone is technically. In-game graphics aren't bad, but the character models lack detail and the scenery is often bland, primitive and poorly textured. The cutscenes are supposed to carry the story, but our digital Daniel Craig seems incapable of doing anything more than moving his lips and eyes, and the rest of the cast aren't much more expressive. Uncharted taught us that, if you want to make a game that feels like a movie, then it has to look like a movie in the close-up scenes. We've seen Heavy Rain, Enslaved and Mass Effect 2 pull off a similar effect. Blood Stone falls painfully short.
The gameplay is a little better. Most of the time, Blood Stone is a cover-based shooter in the Uncharted/Gears of War mould, with Bond crouching down behind walls or lurking behind doorways and blasting away at whatever terrorists/assassins/hired goons the game throws at him. However, the game differentiates itself with a mechanic where you can attack closer foes with one-button, hand-to-hand takedowns, and earn “focus” points from these which you can use to pull off slow-motion, automated executions. We saw this idea in the under-rated Splinter Cell: Conviction, but it's a good way of rewarding players who use stealth and strategy rather than rely on straightforward blasting, and the game is at its best when it encourages you to sneak around, ambush your foes and act decisively - just like Bond does in the movies.
Sadly, this doesn't always happen, and while there are some great levels, with Bond infiltrating a Monaco casino or hiding from the police in Bangkok, there are also plenty of levels where we're back in shooting gallery mode, clearing each room of enemies in sequence then moving on to the next. Plus, while the use of a smartphone to give Bond tactical info and highlight objectives is a nice move, it can turn the game into a bit of a breadcrumb trail. There's scope for strategy, but not enough freedom to really make it interesting.
Oddly, given Bizarre's heritage, it's the driving portions that feel most disappointing. They're unquestionably the best looking parts of the game, but the gameplay isn't tight enough. Some sequences are dull and go on too long, while others are spectacular but so packed with sudden death drops and hard-to-dodge obstacles that getting through is more a test of memory than reaction. In this respect, Blood Stone needed to live up to the example set by Split/Second. It doesn't even come close.
Multiplayer is equally unexciting. We get team deathmatch, deathmatch and objective-based team modes, but there's little inspired about the map design, the weapons or the gameplay, and certainly nothing to match the rich co-op and competitive modes of Splinter Cell: Conviction.
Blood Stone can be fun, and the music, dialogue and locations go a long way towards giving the game a Bond feel. If only the animation were better, the visuals more advanced and the gameplay tighter and more distinctive, we might have had a Bond game to rival the original Goldeneye. Instead, it's the sort of deeply average game you could easily polish off with a weekend's rental. Let's hope that when James Bond does return, he brings his A game with him.