Fans of James Bond have been having their emotions toyed with over the past few months, primarily due to the legal and financial shenanigans that have gripped MGM, the studio that owns the rights to James Bond. Things were looking good for the franchise following the two Daniel Craig movies, and a third film with Craig had lined up Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes to helm it — all was good in the Bondiverse. Then someone at MGM forgot to pay a bill or two. Or $4 billion worth of bills. After years of dodging bullets, explosions, and STDs, it looked like Bond might finally be killed by crappy bookkeeping — at least on film.
But bad news for Hollywood is good news for video games, and with the movies going on indefinite hiatus, that gave the multiple Bond video games more importance, as they became the de facto means of continuing the Bond legacy. The movie franchise has since righted itself thanks to the blissful mercy of bankruptcy, but it could be awhile until Bond returns to the big screen. In the meantime, this month has seen the release of two major Bond titles, the first being the Wii-exclusive GoldenEye remake, a solid entry to the franchise that delivers a deep campaign and the best multiplayer FPS on the Wii. It is a great addition to the Bond legacy, and offers fans something to to help keep their Bond passion alive and well. And then there is this game, which is not so much.
James Bond 007: Blood Stone offers a decent story that takes you on a mission in the life of James Bond. The story is typical Bond stuff, and it fits right in with history of the character. Unfortunately, in an effort to help push you through the story, Activision has designed a game that is so user friendly that it takes away most of the choices of the game. It is linear to a fault, and with the exception of the combat, which tends to be exceedingly easy, you basically just run full speed all the time and hit the action button when prompted. It quickly grows tedious and relegates this title to being an average and inspired Bond adventure.
The story of an average guy named Bond…
The one thing that Blood Stone definitely gets right is the themes and tones of a James Bond story. Of all characters ever to begin on the big screen and make the painful transition to the video game world, James Bond is one of the easiest to adapt. After all, he is basically a superhero anyway.
As the story begins, Bond is en route to Athens to prevent a terrorist named Greco from assassinating several government officials who are meeting at the G-20 summit at the Parthenon. As you might expect, Bond is quickly thrust into action mode, and forced to fight his way through dozens of bad guys before chasing Greco by boat, then pursuing the bomb by car. It is typical Bond stuff, and feels right at home in the Bond universe. The opening section concludes with the traditional opening song and graphics that have accompanied every Bond film since Dr. No.
Once the game begins in earnest, Bond heads to Turkey to search for a missing scientist named Tedworth. One clue leads to another, and Bond is soon put on the path of a man named Pomerov, which takes Bond to Monaco and to a jewelry designer named Nicole Hunter (voiced by singer Joss Stone), who is being forced to work with MI6 due to criminal charges stemming from tax evasion.
While infiltrating the casino office of a suspect, Bond discovers that chemical weapons are being developed in Russia, and an attack is imminent. With the help of Hunter, the mandatory Bond-girl for the digital set, Bond travels to Russia to stop the manufacturing of the weapons.
The story is not exactly deep, and there are a few moments that really push the logic of the plot, but it feels at home in the Bond universe. Several twists and turns, including betrayals and surprises help keep the story interesting, and hardcore fans should get a kick out of the take on Bond, which is helped quite a bit by the inclusion of Daniel Craig’s voice and likeness.
Craig is a new type of Bond, and both of his Bond films have been departures for the series. It is good to see Craig take up the mantle again and give the character his own spin. Blood Stone’s greatest strength is the story. It might not appeal to casual Bond fans who find it slightly over the top, but longtime fans should enjoy seeing Craig make the role his own. All in all, the campaign should take roughly five hours, less if you hurry, so you could view this as one long movie.
While the story is a highlight of the games, that isn’t really saying all that much when you look at the rest of the package. It is kind of like congratulating the skinniest kid in fat camp.
Bond has never looked so meh
Blood Stone is an average-looking game throughout. A few backgrounds stand out, but much of the game is spent in levels that are dull and repetitive. Generally, within the first few minutes of every new section, you have a fair idea of what the rest of the area will look like. It is never really bad, but it is never impresses either. It is well and truly meh.
And then there is the character animation, which would have been incredible on the PS2 or original Xbox. At best, it looks like an Xbox 360 launch title game from five years ago. The voice work of Craig, Stone, and Dame Judi Dench as M is all very good, but it is somewhat hurt by facial animations that make the characters all look like they have suffered some serious burns. The character movements are also blocky and awkward, but passable.
By contrast, the vehicle sections are fairly strong visually, but they are a small part of the game. The cars and boats look good, and the damage is realistic.
The sound is passable, but the music is forgettable, and the Bond theme is not heard until the very end of the game. Like many of the decisions in this game, it feels like a missed opportunity.
Bond versus average combat controls
The story is the highlight of Blood Stone, and the game does everything it can to hold your hand and lead you through it. The combat is based around cover, and it is nothing you haven’t seen before. There is also a focus gauge that fills up when you pull off takedowns, and when activated it is essentially bullet time, slowing down the game for you to take out several enemies at once. It is an interesting feature, but one you probably won’t use all that often thanks to an auto aim which will help you automatically lock onto enemies. Once you see them, you simply press the zoom, fire one, and release to drop back under cover. With a little patience you can clear entire rooms out easily without taking much damage.
The takedowns play a major part, and while it is interesting to see the several takedown animations that will do everything from putting an enemy to sleep to smashing them into a table, it is too easy to pull them off. The AI is fairly uninspired, and they will typically take cover, then stay in that spot until you put them out of their mercy. Strategy is not a big part of Blood Stone.
Like everything else in the game, the combat is bland and repetitive. When you first begin, you can accept that this is essentially a Bond movie that you play. Because of that, you might be willing to accept certain limitations in the game. It is extremely linear, the combat is simple, and anytime you get to a point you are unsure of, you can either just walk around and look for the action prompt to pop up, or you can use Bond’s smartphone, which is like a watered-down version of Batman’s detective vision from Arkham Asylum, or the eagle vision from Assassin’s Creed.
At first, it is no big deal, and the game pushes you through the story. After a few levels of this, it quickly becomes limiting and irritating. By the third level you realize that you have seen all there is to the game, and the only reason to play is for the story.
The multiplayer. Wait, there is a multiplayer?
Even though we reviewed this game after the retail release, it was still difficult to find any multiplayer games to join. Up to 16 players can join, in theory, you will be lucky to find that many people for long.
The multiplayer includes team deathmatch, objectives, and last man standing. As you play you earn points to progress and unlock items. It is nothing you haven’t seen before. Like everything else in Blood Stone, it is alright, and has its fun moments, but is generally uninspired.
While some multiplayer modes add value to a title, this multiplayer simply adds content. It seems like a late addition to the game.
For as big a property as Bond is, and for as easy it might seem to adapt James Bond for a video game, yet again we receive a mediocre Bond title. Blood Stone isn’t bad, but it sure ain’t good.
The story is classic Bond stuff, and hardcore fans should enjoy seeing Craig’s interpretation of the character in an original story, but dull and simple combat, mediocre graphics, and a generally uninspired feeling to the game define it.
Blood Stone might be worth a quick rental for fans, but for everyone else there are much better titles out there worth your time.
Score: 6 out of 10
(This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360 on a copy provided by Activision)