James Bond 007: Blood Stone review
The Bond series has had an interesting history with the games industry. Ask any twenty-something gamer what their favourite game was back in the day and almost everyone will respond GoldenEye whose success Activision have recently tried to replicate. But whilst the GoldenEye name was reserved for the Nintendo consoles, Activision needed something to satisfy Xbox and PlayStation owners and with no Bond film to tie in with, a brand new concept was needed. This job was handed to Bizarre Creations, the developer of 2010 title Blur and a bundle of other great titles in their back catalogue. With the aforementioned racing title, Blur and the successful Project Gotham Racing franchise in their portfolio, these guys are no strangers to the racing genre and it's clear these guys know what they’re doing when it comes to fast cars and sharp corners. So can they take their expertise and apply it a Bond game, delivering not only exciting chases but engaging action segments too?
Bond gets to go to all the best places
We can appreciate that many movie-game franchises have a turbulent development cycle, with developers often forced to release alongside the film leading to a rushed game or are tied so tightly to the movies. Like Nightfire or Everything or Nothing, Bizarre Creations were not tied done to an impending film release and so have been given relative free reign to come up with their own story, locations and action sequences. It was written by Bruce Feirstein, who is no stranger to the Bond series, having written screenplays for both GoldenEye (the film) and Tomorrow Never Dies, as well as being the writer of the aforementioned Everything or Nothing.
The story of Blood Stone sees you tracking down the suppliers of some pretty nasty weapons and much like the recent Bond films or a great season of 24, all is not what it seems. About two thirds of your way through the game, you manage to catch up with the current antagonist and the story takes a sidetrack which sees you chasing down the puppet-master of this intricate plot. There are some great moments here, but none of the principal characters are given the time to develop with the dialogue. Bond and M are given most of the dialogue with side characters resorting to strained cliches or innuendos. This results in Blood Stone delivering less of an impact at critical moments than it could have, making your victory against the "boss" feel a little hollow. In Blood Stone, the environments are the true heroes and like any good Bond film, you’ll be travelling across the globe to many exotic locations which leads to some interesting set pieces.
It wouldn't be Bond without a car chase sequence
And boy, does the game make great use of the environment. At one point you’ll be rushing along a river on a huge hovercraft, dumping the vehicular cargo stored below in order to catch up with a bio-weapons dealer, dispatching the various bad guys that have tagged along for the ride. Another moment sees you escaping a burning oil refinery, explosions going off left, right and centre before hopping into your car and escaping along a frozen river, chasing after a train. All of these moments are fantastic and that's not mentioning the casino shoot out, chasing an assassin along rooftops in Bangkok and escaping from guards in the jungle in Burma. What makes these moments particularly memorable is the game's soundtrack, with a classic Bond score blaring away in the background adding excitement to any scene that incorporates it. This will certainly remind anyone who’s seen a Bond film of those exciting moments from the films and the games often rivals those big Hollywood action scenes. This is Blood Stone's greatest strength; whilst the gameplay is great, it is the feeling that these moments provide that sets it above other recent games.
Taking a closer look at the gameplay mechanics and you begin to notice a few cracks. When not strapped into a vehicle, the on-foot sequences see you navigating the various bases and alleyways you find yourself in, taking out guards (usually silently). The game borrows heavily from other stealth games in this genre, most notably Splinter Cell: Conviction. Taking out any opponent with a melee attack with grant you a focus kill. This lets you efficiently take out an enemy, by locking on to an opponent and granting you a one hit kill against them. Whilst not exactly mark and execute, as multiple targets must be taken out one by one rather than the automatic efficiency of Conviction, the parallels are remarkably similar. And that's not the only thing that appears borrowed; Bond has the ability to duck into cover and drag enemies into cover with him, taking them out silently. When enemies become alerted to Bond’s presence a marker will appear on screen, indicating their awareness as a white indicator that changes to yellow, again something that I’ve seen before in Conviction. As a fan of Splinter Cell: Conviction I enjoy the same feeling that this game provides, but it's hard to avoid thinking why Bizarre Creations couldn’t create some new mechanics, rather than appearing like a mask over the same engine.
The unmistakable silhouette of Daniel Craig
As we alluded to earlier however, this area is not Bizarre Creations' foray and they are definitely more experienced in the realm of racing. Luckily then, Blood Stone provides them with plenty of opportunities to flex their racing muscles. There is a wide range of different chases in the game, from boat chases in Athens, to high speed pursuits down Monaco’s winding roads as well as an over-the-top sequence featuring a large dumpster truck being chased by a maintenance truck down busy streets. This isn’t all great however, as the game's most annoying problems materialise here. Chases often allow little room for error, such as the aforementioned ice chase which sees a wrong turn result in a plunge into the cold depths of the water and is often about memorising the correct route rather than the game naturally leading you in the right direction through level design. Another section has you driving through the city in a fast car but the handbrake turn feels stupidly week meaning that you either crash into a wall or slow down to crawl. But whilst some sections feel a little weaker than others, each one is almost certainly unique and different, acting as nice stopgaps between the on-foot sections.
The single player alone would have been enough to satisfy any Bond fan, but Bizarre Creations felt the need to create a multiplayer mode. Unfortunately, like many new releases, this seems to be an attempt to insert longevity into the game and the whilst competent, it doesn’t really add anything new or exciting. It has the feeling of Counterstrike, with teams of agents and terrorists vying it out for objectives over a number of different locations. With the lack of a ‘unique’ twist on the classic team objective deathmatch, the multiplayer will only your interest until the next big thing comes out.
Another Bond hallmark: explosions.
Overall, Bizarre Creations have offered us a great Bond game, with their own flare on the classic chases that makes any Bond film great. It offers many great ideas and some memorable moments. The single player is the outstanding element here, with multiplayer feeling like something that was just bolted on. Whilst not exactly original in its implementation, Blood Stone is more about making you feel like Bond as you dispatch a group of thugs, rather than the methods of how you actually accomplish it.