James Bond 007: Blood Stone Review
James Bond is an iconic character that began with a book, moved on to film, and finally entered the world of interactive entertainment. This year, we don’t get a 007 movie but we do get a new game, called James Bond 007: Blood Stone. It features the voices of Daniel Craig and Judi Dench, plus a classic action/adventure structure that involves third-person shooting, high-speed driving, and a wee bit of stealth. Perhaps above all else, this game feels very much like Bond, in that it embraces many of the traits that fans enjoy about the franchise. It has that slick, high-class style, a few of those dry witticisms that are staples of the series, and plenty of nonstop, over-the-top action. It doesn’t look all that fantastic, there’s too much in the way of generic shooter gameplay, and there are a few small technical shortcomings, but it controls well, it’s relatively fun to play, and yes…it is indeed Bond.
The graphics are a low point of the production, as there’s a lack of detail in regards to character design, which comes across as plastic and decidedly inhuman. It’s odd that some of the environments look pretty damn good from afar; various natural elements of certain levels are quite appealing but when up-close-and-personal, the plain, almost bland presentation becomes painfully obvious. The special effects aren’t bad, though, and the animations – especially concerning the melee takedowns – are smooth and satisfying. It also seemed as if the vehicle-based sections – cars, boats, whatever – featured more refined visuals…or maybe I’m just hallucinating. When on foot, sneaking about or engaged in yet another massive one-sided firefight, things are just underwhelming. If the game had released a couple years back, we wouldn’t be forced to hold it to higher standards.
The sound is a better, thanks to the aforementioned inclusion of the real Bond actors, and therefore, any dialogue sounds realistic and believable. The sharp effects that accompany bullet impact, explosions, and gut-wrenching body shots are also quite good, and then we have the benefit of a classic Bond soundtrack. I think we hear the standard theme a few too many times and they could’ve tossed in a few more tracks, but it still helps to define this as a quintessential 007 quest. The weapons don’t offer a rich enough “crack,” though, and I didn’t really believe in the authenticity of some of the vehicle engines, but I suppose those could be deemed minor complaints. The balance remains mostly stable throughout (despite a few small inconsistencies) and in the end, the quality voices and resounding effects are most noticeable and most appreciated. When you make another daring escape and the sound really comes together, you kinda feel like a super-cool spy.
The gameplay consists of a number of different mechanics, as you might’ve guessed. First, there’s the standard third-person shooter gameplay, which involves taking cover and simply aiming with L1 and firing with R1. If you’re close enough to an enemy, whether you’re in cover or not, you can simply press the Square button to execute a melee takedown. It can be stealthy provided no one sees you and you can’t be harmed by flying bullets when in the midst of that always-entertaining animation. If you were in cover before executing the takedown, you’ll snap back into cover after completing the maneuver, which is a nice touch. Then there are a few driving sections, which has you piloting sweet vehicles like speed boats and the world’s hottest cars. Lastly, there are some minor platforming elements, but they’re mostly scripted; i.e., you just hit the button prompts on screen.
The latter aspect of the game leads me to my first point, and in some ways, my first gripe- it’s almost too accessible, even on the regular difficulty setting. Perhaps because Bizarre Creations knew they could target more casual gamers with a Bond title, they limited the number of demands on the player. Sort of like Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, you don’t have to worry about dying when shimmying along a ledge or jumping across a gap; but this is even easier, as you just press the button that shows up on the screen. Also, no matter where you are in the game, the tutorial instructions keep popping up to remind you…as if you forgot in the last 15 minutes. Lastly, they don’t do much to enhance the sneaking/stealth, because there’s no button for crouch, and you really don’t have any nifty gadgets. There are just a few mini-games that rely on timing and reflexes, typically done when hacking doors or cameras.
In other words, despite all the different gameplay elements, it’s all very straightforward and easily grasped. Sure, you can press the Circle button for the hand brake in a car, but it doesn’t seem to be that much different than the regular brake. You don’t actually throw punches or kicks with various buttons, you simply press the Square button (or sometimes the Circle button) to execute a preset takedown, which you will only watch. Even the one special skill, the Focus Aim, is simple enough for a child. You gain Focus Aims by performing up-close takedowns, and you just press L2 instead of the usual aim button (L1). The game will slow and the aiming reticule will automatically center on the nearest enemy. Press the R1 button and bam, instant kill. It’s sorta cool to string three together, though; with all three Focus Aims available, just hold L2, tap R1 to kill the first foe, and the aim will automatically shift to victim #2 and then victim #3. You get a trophy for that, by the way; “Three Birds With One Stone.”
But the point is, there’s a whole lot of “auto” going on. That’s basically the biggest drawback, although I suppose it isn’t a flaw if you’re not a big gamer. On the plus side, we have to understand that it lets just about any Bond fan play and succeed as the dapper spy. Besides, there is plenty of good, too. The foes aren’t entirely stupid – even if they’ll advance towards your hiding position too often, just waiting to get taken down – as they’ll find cover quickly, strafe across open environments, and punish you if you get too cocky. See, despite the legend, Bond really is just a man, so he can’t withstand much in the way of gunfire before succumbing. I liked that aspect, because it really forced you to play with a calm, strategic mind, and because the overpowering Focus Aim was tied to the takedowns, you were further encouraged to be patient. Also, the door swings both ways; you can’t take much, and neither can your foes. Well aimed shots will find their mark.
I sensed a very small collision detection issue every now and then; it usually involved the pistol, though, and it might be a range problem; i.e., I was just too far away so the bullet missed its mark, despite the reticule being in perfect position. The driving mechanics are decent albeit a little loose, and such chases represent many of the most intense parts of the game. The pacing is great, too, because you won’t be doing the same thing over and over; the developers have a gunfight lead to a chase, which leads to a calmer, searching-for-clues portion, which once again builds nicely to a really entertaining climax. The environmental diversity is also a bonus, and that’s essential: Bond enjoys the most beautiful scenery this planet has to offer, and we do catch glimpses of that throughout the adventure. Lavish casinos, snow-covered mountains, teeming, lively city streets, intimidating factory settings, etc.
You can hold a couple weapons at once (usually a handgun and a rifle or larger weapon of some kind, like a rocket launcher) and you have a very handy Smartphone, which has a number of different purposes. It acts as radar, as it points out bad guys and their positions, and it also acts as a built-in map, as it points you in the correct direction if you’re lost. Heck, if you can get close enough to them and complete the quick, reflex-oriented mini-game, the Smartphone can even disable security cameras. It’s a nice touch but it doesn’t quite make up for the lack of any real challenge, and the auto-assist/hand-holding that is always prevalent. Also, while the pacing is fine the balance isn’t quite so great, as you do spend the majority of your time fending off hordes of enemies. Unfortunately, this often causes the game to downshift into the unfulfilling realm of “generic third-person shooter" and that's a problem.
That being said, James Bond 007: Blood Stone ought to be fun for all the avid fans and in reality, it isn’t a bad game. In fact, it’s a good game that falls short in the overall quality department due to lacking graphics, an over-emphasis on shooting, driving controls that feel a mite loose, and what I call “over-accessibility.” It’s like they tried to make the game for both the hardcore and the casual and you know, that’s hard to do. But the control is stable and reliable, there’s some realism involved because bullets really hurt, the pacing (if not the balance) is effective, the recognizable voices are a plus, and the game really encourages you to be patient and keep playing. The multiplayer option is there but while it can be fun, it probably won’t be a big draw. Also, only time will tell in regards to the online balance…I get the feeling they might have to issue a patch or two.
It’s a fun game. It’s just not great.
The Good: A few nice landscapes. Voices from real Bond actors help. Nicely combined adventure elements. Stable control. Fitting, appealing atmosphere. General game design and structure is good.
The Bad: Plain, even boring graphics. “Overly accessible” and too easy. Over-emphasis on shooting aspect. Driving mechanic is iffy.
The Ugly: I’m sorry, but they didn’t do Judi Dench any justice at all.
11/6/2010 Ben Dutka