The “one man against the odds” nature of James Bond makes him a perfect character for video games. A tough-as-nails trained killer, an expert in all sorts of weaponry taking on the various minions of whatever psychopathic industrialist is taking over the world this week? Perfect.
In one hit you’ve got the outline of pretty much any first person shooter ever created, but coupled with over half a century of legend, history and goodwill. There isn’t a man out there who hasn’t fancied himself as Bond, so any opportunity to put yourself in those (handcrafted) shoes is one you’re going to take time and time again, right?
Well, yes, right, if you’re playing GoldenEye on the N64 (and possibly the Wii / DS for the revamp but we’re awaiting word on that), but a big no if you’re playing Blood Stone on one of the other consoles. With both games hitting shelves on the same day, Blood Stone was always going to suffer in comparison: hell, GoldenEye is the title that got me into gaming in the first place. But, having had a hands on, sneak preview of a couple of Blood Stone levels, I was genuinely excited by it. It looked amazing, the production values are incredible, the passion of the team behind it was obvious... And clearly something big has gone very, very wrong.
There’s obviously some money involved here and a lot of love. The makers told me – to my face – that they were aware of the burden they faced, that in MGM’s absence, they’re the people carrying the Bond torch for a while. That’s why they’d spent so much time and effort getting things right. They’ve shunned the old Bond of gadgets and followed in Daniel Craig’s brooding, violent footsteps. Forget the cars that double as submarines and ejector seats. This Bond has a gun and his fists. He also has Daniel Craig’s face and voice, as the actor has recorded all the Bond dialogue for the game. What’s more, Judi Dench has given her time to voice M. You’ve also got Joss Stone as the Bond girl (and theme songstress). You’ve got Craig’s stunt double doing weeks of motion capture to make the takedowns and fisticuffs as authentic as possible. You’ve got a story and screenplay by Bruce Feirstein, who wrote the screenplay for GoldenEye and other recent Bond films. Bizarre Creations are clearly taking the franchise very seriously indeed... And turning it all into a painfully easy, dully repetitive, five hour game. Er, what?
Even with all of the above, and a story – Bond v terrorists and mad industrialists hell bent on destroying the world with biochemical weapons – that whisks you to some of the world’s most glamorous locations, it’s really not enough. As beautiful as it looks, and there are a couple of jaw dropping bits of scenery that will make you very happy you have an HD TV, the game is too short. Worse than that, how can you take such production values and passion and turn them into such stilted cut scenes that occasionally make Daniel Craig look like Mad Magazine’s Alfred E Neuman?
It’s thus often jaw dropping for all the wrong reasons. Still, as we’ve long argued here, you can get away with things like that if the game is good, and Blood Stone just isn’t good enough. The story is decently twisty and throws up a couple of decent challenges, and the mechanics of the game are excellent. Bond’s use of cover is superb, and the ease with which you can move through an environment or hug walls feels incredibly natural. The ability to shoot from cover is also very welcome.
Unfortunately, the games USP – well, unless you have that Tom Clancy game that did much the same thing – is a little redundant. If you perform a takedown, you get rewarded with a “Focus Aim”, a one shot zoom-and-kill method of dispatching bad guys. With them, you can take out bad guys at speed and with brutal efficiency. Without them... you can take out bad guys at marginally slower speed and marginally less brutal efficiency. You might run around in early levels attempting to get your full quota – three – but it soon becomes clear that they’re hardly essential to complete this game. Also, the use of Craig’s stunt double might promise massive variety but all the takedowns looked much the same to me.
The best bits, as you might expect from the developers, are the driving sections. Bizarre Creations are the minds behind Project Gotham Racing and Blur (and Geometry Wars), so they know their way around speed. Accordingly, the regular driving challenges – over an icy river, around the windy island roads of the Mediterranean, through Bangkok, etc – are superbly done and reasonably unforgiving. This toughness and adrenaline boost give a sense of satisfaction – and a nigh instant slump at the realisation it’s all over and you’re back to picking off the bad guys from behind another pillar.
- The mechanics are excellent – taking and moving around cover, and dragging bad guys over crates and out of windows is a doddle.
- The driving sequences are slicker than an oiled-up penguin in a wax jacket.
- The plot, screenplay and settings are genuinely impressive
- The unintentional hilarity of the cut scenes.
- The ridiculous ease of aiming and all round lack of challenge.
- Fifty quid for a five hour game you’re unlikely to pick up again? Really?
The Short Version: The more you think about it, the more depressing Blood Stone becomes. There’s so much good stuff here, it’s hard to see how other aspects have been left in such a poor state, and how anyone could have thought that half a day of gameplay would be value for money. As for the lack of gadgets, that should be reason to celebrate but the one device you do get, Bond’s smartphone, is less occasionally useful and more an unavoidably spoonfeeding, idiot’s guide to completing the game. When there’s only one (possibly one and a half) gunfights that are anywhere near a challenge to the average gamer, puzzle solving is one of the few joys you have left. Take that away and you’re left with a game that, for all its plus points, can only disappoint.