November 2nd marked an important day in video games, the return of James Bond to video games, not just with Goldeneye but the newest edition and 24th Bond game made with James Bond 007: Blood Stone. With Goldeneye on its way, Blood Stone fell under the radar for most approaching its release. Unfortunately compared to its Wii counterpart, Blood Stone falls somewhat short of expectations and falls into the territory of being an average third person cover based shooter.
James Bond 007: Blood Stone’s action consists of two main gameplay types. The first and most widely used is the third person shooter. Players use a basic cover mechanic to pop out from behind walls and bunkers to take out oncoming foes. The shooting is fairly accurate and the autolock often aims are opponents bodies making players use some degree of twitch skill to move in to a head shot. Unfortunately, these head shots don’t always register as well as they should, even with the most accurate of guns.
Even on the Agent (normal) difficulty, some foes who are not wearing protective headgear or are shot right in the face take multiple shots to bring down. In a realistic setting (i.e. not zombies, superheroes or space aliens), this definitely pulls a player out of the game as they wonder what adamantium skull must be taking this kind of punishment. While the pop in and out shooting can be fun for some time, it does begin to get slightly repetitive as the enemy AI doesn’t effectively use cover to draw the player into a vulnerable position.
The guns in Blood Stone don’t do much to differentiate themselves from each other. Even though there are sixteen present in the game, many guns feel identical such as the two shot guns and host of automatic rifles that are basically interchangeable. One huge disappointment in combat comes from the presence of grenades. For some reason even though Bond’s enemies can use them, there is no opportunity to equip any of their own for the player to toss back at the oncoming horde of faceless minions.
In addition, Bond can perform takedowns on enemies who get within close combat range. There isn’t much skill involved as they only act as short animations and aren’t interactive combat. There is some fairly basic platforming as well where players are allowed to traverse only certain gaps with the predetermined use of the jump button.
The second gameplay type is the game’s chase scenes where bond must drive a pricey set of wheels and in one case a speedboat in pursuit of one of the game’s villains. These scenes are more like obstacle course races than a true chase as players are never allowed to catch up to their target earlier than the end of the level and must spend time dodging falling debris and other cars or driving around collapsing pieces of the road. The driving isn’t as tight as one would hope and spinouts and collisions are frequent. The breaking and cornering leave a lot to be desired.
Mutliplayer suffers from much of the same issues as single player as the choice of weapon doesn’t play a huge role in the game. The largest problem however comes in the small size of the game’s online player base. There are times objective based games which can be filled with 16 players only end up with five total between both times while Last Man Standing games sometimes cannot even start because not enough people are looking to play them. There are also some interesting lag issues that hit multiplayer. While shots still seem to register, the animations for kills often occur late and it’s hard to tell if two players actually killed each other off or if the lag played a part in it.
The story of Blood Stone feels like many other Bond films in the past. This is one of the biggest strengths and also weaknesses of the game. For someone who isn’t a huge Bond fan, the characters won’t resonate the same way, especially the relationship between Bond and M and Q. At the same time, players might not realize this takes place in the early days of Bond’s career (coinciding with the Daniel Craig movies) so there aren’t a ton of super hightech gadgets available at Bond’s disposal aside from his suped-up smartphone.
The story plays out in two very distinct acts. The first revolves around Bond’s unique relationship with the Mi6 informant Nicole Hunter, played by Joss Stone, as they use her connections to stop the production of biochemical weapons of mass destruction. The second part of the game revolves around some unfinished loose ends that Bond needs to further investigate as not everything seems to add up.
The disappointing part of the game comes from the near Halo 2-like ending that leaves a cliffhanger that is more frustrating than exciting. Blood Stone is not a very long game from start to finish so it makes players wonder why the full story could not have been told by just expanding the play time further or putting together a less drawn out experience that players won’t get to find out the end result of for more than another year (or possibly ever if the game doesn’t sell well enough).
James Bond 007: Blood Stone has some great level design to it. This is the visual highlight of the game. Each of the game’s environments has a drastically different art style and do a great job of preventing players from feeling like they are just running through the same areas repeatedly. From the munitions laboratories to the jungles to the mansions that Bond travels to, each has their own signature style. One of the most beautiful comes from an underwater aquarium that Bond must traverse up through as he tries to catch an assassin. The entire way, fish and whales swim alongside as violence breaks out around them.
Animations are also well done throughout Blood Stone, especially in combat. The takedowns look fantastic and feel very fulfilling even though the player is able to pull it off with only a single button press. The platforming sections are also performed expertly as they don’t look like a video game as much as they do a cinematic experience. Players stumble up ledges and make it by the skin of their teeth as opposed to the stereotypical video game jump where players make it everytime perfectly over an impossible chasm.
The voice acting in Blood Stone is some of the best of the past year. While many Hollywood actors have been seen to phone it in when doing gaming voice work, the voice cast of Blood Stone gave the same level of commitment to the game as they would have in a feature film.
Despite the hype behind the James Bond property, 007: Blood Stone feels much like a very standard fair game. The game works and has fun parts but there aren’t any epic moments either in storytelling or gameplay to look back on as iconic. It also feels like the coinciding release dates for Goldeneye and Blood Stone can’t help but hurt the sales of this game as well. If owners of multiple systems were given the option, most would likely go to Goldeneye just because of the nostalgia associated with it.
Blood Stone is a good game for fans of the Bond franchise or those looking for a fun and quick third person shooter that they don’t have to invest too much time in. There is nothing overly intense about the game that requires more than just casual attention and it lacks the super addictive quality behind it to make it anything more.
XBox 360 (Also on PlayStation 3, Nintendo DS and PC)
Developer: Bizarre Creations