I managed to get hands on with GoldenEye a few weeks back at the Ninty showcase day in London and wasn't terribly impressed and, as you may have noticed from his preview, neither was Jon. I'd like to say that it was the Wii holding it back, but frankly I think the idea was kind of doomed from the start. Bond fans shouldn't fear, though, because Bizarre Creation have teamed up with Eon Productions and Danjaq to try and provide a Bond experience that punches above the middling-to-average quality the series has languished in since Rare's heyday...
...and it's looking pretty good.
Echoing Everything Or Nothing, which really didn't suck all that much, Blood Stone 007 is shaping up to be a pretty varied third person shooter, with a good deal of interesting and promising parts to it. 'We really wanted to create a cinematic experience. Bond has this incredible history and it meant a lot to us as a British studio...I mean every little boy wants to grow up to be James Bond,' suggested Bizarre's Neil Thompson.
That's all well and good, but words don't necessarily make a good game. Thankfully, Bizarre have a few things up their sleeve. For starters they've turned to acclaimed Bond writer Bruce Feirstein for a script which sees a secret biochemical weapon go walkies along with a missing researcher. Of course Bond is tasked with finding out what the hell is going on and so, teaming up with Joss Stone's steely socialite Nicole Hunter, and jumping through a bunch of locales from Bangkok to Athens, he proceeds to get on with it, wading through a bunch of terrorists led by a man named Greco to do so.
Bizarre might seem to be an odd fit for Bond. The Liverpool-based studio are, after all, far more renowned for titles such as Geometry Wars, Blur and Project Gotham Racing. The secret to this game, however, lies in 2008's The Club, but whilst the team working on Blood Stone might be highly similar, the arcade, point-scoring style of the former has been replaced by a 'much deeper shooting experience'.
We got a chance to see whether this was the case thanks to a new developer demo. Showcasing two levels, different from the ones seen at E3, Bizarre gave us a glimpse of why they think they've gone and got things right with this latest interactive chapter in 007's gaming life.
First up? Istanbul, and it's fair to say that with release too far off, the game looks very impressive indeed. The textures are wonderful, and all of the usual tricks and wizardry are in there such as dynamic lighting and extensive motion-capture making the animations look the business. Bond himself wears the very recognisable pout of Daniel Craig and all of his moves have been handily mo-capped by Ben Cooke, Craig's movie stunt double.
The basics of your average 3PS are all in there, slick cover system, evasive manoeuvres between hiding etc. But there are a few things thrown in there that made for interesting viewing. Being a fairly gadget-lite Bond, Craig's incarnation has only one real gizmo that we saw here: a particularly useful smartphone. It can scan items and bodies for intel, it'll point you towards your next objective and, using a view much like Altair/Ezio's Eagle Vision or Batman's Detective Mode, you'll be able to pinpoint enemies in the vicinity and determine whether or not they've been alerted to your presence. Don't expect to use it all of the time though, as rapid movement fittingly causes this augmented view of reality to glitch with interference and static.
Bizarre have also gone to town a bit on the combat, although that's not surprising, if this game is to succeed the combat has to be tight and Bond has a few tricks up his sleeve for taking down enemies too. The first are the contextual melee takedowns that can be used both to stealthily dispatch opponents – we saw grapple holds, neck breaks and a frontal bear hug that looked a little more like a cuddle than a takedown but it proved effective – and also eliminate opponents during the heat of battle. One such move saw Bond sprint at a henchman, knocking him to the floor before suffocating the poor lowly guard with his knees. Some of them are quite meaty, with multiple punches, throws and kicks, although Thompson noted that one of the sounds had to be removed due to it being 'too visceral for human consumption'. It was following several of these that we noticed there'll be in-game achievements, the takedown quota award aptly named 'Queensbury Rules'.
Additionally, Bond now has access to Focus Aim, kill an opponent with a melee attack and you'll have the opportunity to use Focus Aim for a one shot kill. Sounds a bit like Sam Fisher's Mark and Execute move in Splinter Cell: Conviction right? Yeah we thought that too, but there's a slight difference in that Focus Aim is fully manual, rather than marking the targets and then leaving the execution to the game, you get to take the credit all the way on this one.
Thompson and his driver took us through the Istanbul level, which sees you infiltrate a quarry, twice. Once using stealthy techniques, quiet takedowns and swift assassinations, the other using a rather more direct route. Although worth praising for offering differences in approach, we couldn't help but feel that some of these takedowns made things look a little easy – a simple task of going up to a guard and hitting a button. It was a feeling that grew when the action zoomed forward to the second half of our demo...a driving section in Siberia.
Hot on the heels of a Russian oligarch, there was yet more opportunity to marvel at the game's good looks. Credit where credit's due, the whole thing looks and sounds like a hugely polished cinematic experience, with a soundtrack courtesy of Richard Jacques adding to proceedings. The chase took Bond's Aston Martin speeding over the snow, with some impressive weather effects and massive explosions suggesting some urgency. A little leap off of a precipice saw the driving move to the surface of a frozen lake, although unfortunately Bond had picked up a tail in the form of a helicopter. Here we were privy to some deformable terrain as Bond picked his way through the breaking ice but again, although it looked impressive, it also looked pretty simple and scripted. Disappointingly too, at the end of the level Bond screamed over a jump, crashing the Aston into the train he'd been chasing, but control was taken away from the player during this awesome moment, and it hadn't been the first time.
These are minor gripes, though, Blood Stone is shaping up nicely, but it'll be good to get hands-on with it to make sure. There are plenty of aspects to the gameplay that we 'haven't seen yet' apparently, and there will be moments where you'll be able to perform setpiece action yourselves, but we hope that the desire to make the game cinematic doesn't detract from the actual playing experience. There was some multiplayer news too, with Thompson informing us that there'll be Deathmatch modes, M16 vs. Mercenary battles and a mechanic by which the MVP on the MI6 side will dynamically change to play Bond. Bizarre pride themselves on having a fairly diverse portfolio and it looks like they're drawing on all of their previous experience to create a game that offers a number of different gaming experiences, let's hope it succeeds.