James Bond: Blood Stone may not give 007 fans and action video game fans the ultimate James Bond experience, but as a first outing it’s solid. The mix of 3rd person action and stealth which is coupled with driving segments feels natural and is executed quite well in the context of the game as it’s seamless and surprising. The gunplay offered in the game and doesn’t get tiring in the five hours it takes to complete the game but at times feels like it’s going through the paces a bit. With a so-so multiplayer mode and not a lot of replayability in the single-player campaign, gamers and 007 fans shouldn’t miss out on Blood Stone but it’s more of a rental if anything.
The gunplay and melee combat may not match or exceed what we’ve gotten in other games but it’s executed well and controls quite nicely. Even though the driving segments can be a bit hit and miss, the action in them is really damn crazy. Keeping in tune with the 007 franchise, the game visits some nice locations with some cool scenic moments.
Visuals are a bit hit and miss. The driving segments are a bit too linear and feel too grounded in constant trial & error. The online mode is kind of meh to be honest. Some of the coolest stuff Bond does in the game is limited to the cutscenes. From a narrative standpoint the story is lacking a punch and the ending is too much of a teaser.
Every two years in November I look forward to one thing in particular. No, it isn’t Thanksgiving, or the first time snow hits the streets of Chicago. What fills my heart with excitement and joy is the release of a new installment of the James Bond franchise. What has become a tradition of sorts since 1995, EON Productions releases a new installment of 007’s adventures in November every 2 to 3 years that is until this year. Thanks to the financial blunders of MGM (the distributor/financer of the James Bond films); the latest 007 film won’t be dropping this November but instead November 2012 (fingers crossed). But not all is lost for James Bond fans like me as Activision has released James Bond: Blood Stone, a game that essentially is the James Bond movie that never was, thus filling my void for some suave British secret agent action.
Before I delve into my review let me just say that I’m a huge James Bond, like I’m a mega fan. I’ve sat through all the films multiple times, read some of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels and some of the more recent ones such as “Devil May Care.” To put it into perspective how much James Bond is engrained into my geek DNA, one of the reasons my parents named me Ian was after James Bond creator Ian Fleming. So yeah, I take my James Bond content seriously and at times judge it slightly harsher compared to others.
With James Bond: Blood Stone I find myself in a bit of a quandary for multiple reasons. On the surface I do appreciate what developer Bizarre Creations has done with 007 in their first foray with the franchise. But going deep into Bond’s new mission, which is a mix of 3rd person action and driving segments, I can’t help but wonder if this is the best we could’ve gotten. There are parts of the game that are serviceable, parts that are awesome and other parts which made me shake my head in disappointment which resulted in a face that looked more stern and serious than that of James Bond himself Daniel Craig.
The basic plot of Blood Stone is pretty simple, just like most of the recent James Bond films have been. Following the route established in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, things are kept relatively realistic in Blood Stone as Bond is on the hunt for biological weapons which are of course in the wrong hands. The story, which was penned by Bruce Feirstein – a veteran Bond writer, is ok if not a bit light on setting things up properly. I don’t know if it’s exactly a bad thing, which perhaps is the result of its video game based nature, but the story just seems like a set-up for Bond to visit specific locales such as an underground tunnel in Turkey or an aquarium in Bangkok – essentially setting up the action set pieces. In a way that’s a staple of the Bond films, but there’s no real drama or character building at all in Blood Stone as everything seems truncated in some form. Bond, who is voiced by Daniel Craig, doles out some occasional quips but besides that he’s in full on stone cold killer mode and doesn’t have that immediate level of charm. Part of that is because of the writing and because of Daniel Craig’s voice acting which doesn’t have the same level of punch as his performances in the Bond films, but thankfully Craig doesn’t sound completely bored in the recording booth.
Bond meets Nicole Hunter (Joss Stone)
Though the weakest link in the story are the villains, who don’t have a real menace to them nor do they have any classic traits that have been present in past Bond villains. Every Bond project, whether it’s a film, book or even a video game has had a memorable roster of villains but sadly that isn’t the case with Blood Stone and it suffers for it. Instead of getting a menacing villain or a somewhat psychotic and well-acted character like Dominic Greene from Quantum of Solace, we get characters that seemed like they were plucked out of a cliché villain database and are quickly forgotten about once they served their purpose.
But in general, I was pleased with what Bizarre Creations crafted as far as Blood Stone’s gameplay is concerned. Mixing up 3rd person shooting/stealth with exciting driving sequences may be a foreign concept to some compared to Bond’s past gaming exploits, the most successful of which have been fps games. Taking a note from the classic and slightly underrated EA game James Bond: Everything or Nothing, Blood Stone has Bond shooting some goons and engaging in fisticuffs one minute but then the next he’ll be blazing down the road in an Aston Martin while avoiding on-coming traffic and sudden accidents. The balance between the elements of 3rd person combat and driving is done quite well as each segment in the game has a driving section, as opposed to using them sparingly.
Just like in the films, Bond is an adept marksman and fighter who when the moment calls for it can pull off a headshot or a perfect punch into neck hold combo. The basic gun play of Blood Stone plays like that of any 3rd person action game to have come out in the past few years, which isn’t exactly a bad thing. Bond can snap into cover when needed, which is easy to pull off and has a nice sticky feel to it. One thing that does set the gun play of Blood Stone apart (or at least makes it reminiscent of one game) is the Focus Aim. By taking out foes via melee attacks, Bond can fill up his Focus Aim ability which allows him to do quick instant headshots. Bond only has three Focus Aim gauges so the system can’t necessarily be abused easily. And if you’re wondering if the system sounds is similar to that of Splinter Cell: Conviction’s Mark & Execute, well it is, albeit with a different presentation given to it. But that being said I did wish the gun action in the game had more of a punch as the gun selection available to Bond is rather limited and some of the weapons don’t necessarily pack a satisfying action punch.
Bond chases an assassin atop the roofs of Bangkok
As simple as Bond’s melee moves are, I did find the more slow paced stealth sections and melee combat to be enjoyable. Instead of going for a proper combat system complete with different attacks and grapple moves, all the player needs to do in Blood Stone is press one button to perform a melee attack. It may sound simple, but the ensuing animation of Bond neck chopping or punching an enemy is entirely satisfying. There were moments when I did wish the game had a deeper combat system, perhaps similar to Uncharted, to extend the combat a bit and provide more thrilling scenarios. But I must say that I did enjoy the action Blood Stone presented as it’s fun to shoot a few guys with a gun before moving and taking the last one out with a brutal melee attack. Mixing combat tactics up like that does create a flow to it that at times can be quite fast and not too different from the action presented in the most recent Bond films. Trying to chain together moves like a headshot followed up by a Focus Aim shot only to get in close and punch a guy creates a somewhat breakneck and intense pace that isn’t found in many 3rd person action games. I just wished the game had some sort of scoring incentive and online leaderboard rankings for the single-player campaign in an attempt to extend the somewhat sort length of the campaign.
Playing Blood Stone I wasn’t worried about my license to kill being revoked due to bad playing on my part or shoddy mechanics. Shockingly, I was instead worried that poor old Bond was going to get his license to drive taken away by Her Majesty’s Secret Service as the driving in Blood Stone is really hit and miss. It is fun to finally get Bond behind the wheel again in stylish cars as the action during these segments is often the most explosive the game gets with things blowing up all over the place. The barrage of explosions and mayhem does have a side effect as I found myself going through a constant phase of trial and error. Since the driving sequences had me chasing an opponent constantly, without the aid of firearms for the most part, I literally found myself missing a well-timed corner or in the most dire of cases driving into a frozen lake to my death. Playing through the driving sequences made me reminiscent of the old game Stuntman, as the driving in Blood Stone is more focused driving precision as opposed to brute power. I wasn’t necessary turned off by what Bizarre Creations crafted with Blood Stone’s driving elements but at times the linearity of them and the constant issue of trial and error did slow down the action considerably compared to Bond’s on-foot sections.
Bond chases an assassin in a deadly car chase
The James Bond franchise has always been known for taking its viewers or readers across the globe with exotic locales and visuals that often are some of the most unique in the world. As a young lad that was one of the things that hooked me into the Bond franchise as seeing 007 infiltrate Fort Knox or jump from a massive dam only to grab onto a falling airplane is the stuff of legend. Blood Stone stays true to Bond’s globetrotting nature with Bond visiting places like Greece, Turkey, and Monaco. All the locations have that epic Bond nature to them, whether it’s through sheer size, like the foreboding Siberian refinery or hitting the style factor like Bond walking through a Monacan casino while fireworks light up the sky.
From a location standpoint Blood Stone didn’t disappoint me but I was a bit let down by the graphical fidelity of things. Some of the locations are quite breathtaking (the Bangkok rooftops and aquarium being two standouts for me) but some of the other levels really don’t look all that great from a visual standpoint. Looking across the board, Blood Stone isn’t an ugly game nor is it one that runs terribly. It just seems like Bizarre Creations didn’t push things far enough or were limited by time/budget constraints since Blood Stone just doesn’t have that glossy wow factor strewn about it that made me want to explore every square inch of the levels merely so I can stand in awe of what it offered. The game also suffers from slightly stiff character models that really don’t do a good job of emoting. Sure, the character model for Daniel Craig looks spots on from a likeness perspective, but it’s missing the all-important facial details that Craig uses in his performance as Bond, whether it’s a slight smirk after disposing of a baddie or the almost cold as ice look in his eyes during a dramatic moment. Seemingly all the character models in the game suffer from the same issue as they have that dreaded mannequin syndrome – they look nice but are missing that personal and realistic touch.
To put it simply in a way that my fellow Bond fans will understand, James Bond: Blood Stone is in a way the video game equivalent of Quantum of Solace. The game isn’t bad as it’s a serviceable Bond entry, but it doesn’t stand up to its predecessor who in this case is the amazing James Bond: Everything or Nothing and the similar action centric games on the market such as Uncharted. Bizarre Creations should be given some props for crafting a decent 007 game on their first go but the game almost screams that things were cut short in some regards or scaled back as a few of the missions seem out of place or at times drag on a bit. Even the multiplayer mode seems like it was thrown in for the sake of it as it only features standard team modes with no special mechanics nor does it present anything that’s overly addicting. James Bond: Blood Stone may not be Bond’s best mission but I do look forward to the day James Bond returns as I have confidence that Bizarre Creations will give us the Bond experience we’ve been wishing for.