As has been documented elsewhere on these very pages, I am gamer of a certain age. I dabbled as a kid but, as one who can remember Pong arriving, and who thus thought Galaxian was the leg joints of a fuzzy flying insect, there wasn’t much that really caught my eye. Yes, we got some classic bits of game play, and Pac Man, Asteroids, Missile Command etc., still have their considerable charms. But gaming as a “hobby”? You’re having a laugh.
Flash forward to 1998 then, and my first attempts to be a freelance journalist. I was naive, I was hungry, I was starting to regret giving up a good salary. And then I made a fatal error. I bought a N64 and a copy of Goldeneye which signalled the start of my gaming habit proper – and almost signalled the end of my freelance career.
It was one of those games. I know many who blame Goldeneye as the reason their first class degrees weren’t quite up to the expected standard, and many more who are still technically catching up on sleep from marathon 36 hours sessions every weekend.
“For me it was Unreal Tournament,” says Peter Collier, level designer with Bizarre Creations. As well as knowing the addiction of a good game, Peter knows the affection that’s out there for all things Bond which is good because Peter’s one of the people behind new Bond console adventure Blood Stone, a role that’s even more pressured than it sounds.
“There’s no film on the horizon which means the Bond fans are very much looking to us to fill the gap that exists at the moment. Everything we’ve done on Blood Stone is to try and deliver the authenticity of the experience for the player, and deliver on it being Daniel Craig’s Bond as well.”
Two years plus in the making, Blood Stone had certain advantages, from access to Dame Judi Dench (M) and Daniel Craig himself “and Joss Stone,” adds Peter, referring to Bond’s perhaps unlikely game world sidekick and, one assumes, love interest.
After what Peter calls “a mini school trip” to see Quantum of Solace, the teams analysed what it was Craig brought to the role and to see what game mechanics we could bring to that.
“Daniel’s very physical, very brutal, very aggressive. He’s very route one. He doesn’t go round with laser watches...”
He doesn’t run like Pierce Brosnan either.
“No,” laughs Peter. “But everything that Daniel Craig brought to Bond we tried to bring to the game, to give it that level of authenticity.”
Having got my hands on one level – a slick car chase across a frozen river – and seen a demonstration of another called “The Beautiful and the Damned”, they seem to have come damn close. The latter is a chase through the Burmese jungle and the infiltration of a military facility. Graphically, it looks like Uncharted, with jaw dropping scenery and realistic motion – “we had access to Ben Cook, Daniel’s stunt double” – and, in a very smart touch, cut scenes that mask the load times. Once you’re in the game, you’re in, and there’s a decent amount of choice by the looks of it. Take the stealth approach – “and there are 65-70 takedown moves” – and you’re rewarded with a “focus kill”, a chance to zoom in (in beautifully detailed close up) and shoot an enemy cleanly and quickly. There’s no stagnation, the move between stealth takedown and long distance sniper shot is fluid and instant, and what appears to be reasonably decent AI suggests you’ll need a combination of the two to proceed.
The car sequence is also a challenge, the controls handling like you’re slipping on ice (or being distracted by Joss Stone in the passenger seat). The driving should be good because, as Peter points out, Bizarre Creations worked on “Blur recently, and The Club, which was a bit more of a niche title. Before that we had Project Gotham Racing, and Geometry Wars was one of ours as well. It’s quite a varied palate of games, but that helped us bring all sorts of disciplines to Blood Stone.”
One and a bit levels is no indicator, of course, and full judgement will come in November. But if they’ve kept this standard throughout the title, things are looking good. With this and Goldeneye shaping up well (not to mention several hundred other titles), it’s going to be a long, sleepless Christmas.