James Bond is a character who would seem to be a natural for video games. He's cool under pressure, suave with the ladies, knows how to fight and has all the really cool toys. For all of Bond's natural appeal, though, games featuring the character have run the gamut from good to bad to merely average. While the recent remake of Goldeneye for the Wii was a success, the next-gen outing for Bond isn't quite as rousing.
James Bond 007: Blood Stone tells a story that is typically Bond. After a suitably explosive introduction, the main plot line kicks in, and it involves possibly traitorous scientists, biological weapons of mass destruction, beautiful women, fast cars and more henchmen than you can shake a stick at.
With high-caliber voice acting from the likes of Daniel Craig as Bond, Dame Judi Dench as M and Joss Stone as the new Bond girl, Nicole Hunter, and a solid script, Blood Stone isn't shy of plot. When the game is playing one of the many cut scenes, it would be easy to mistake it as a sequence from an unreleased film. Unfortunately, the story is the high point of Blood Stone. Everything else is solidly average, resulting in a game that is passable but far from memorable.
The bulk of Blood Stone plays out as a third-person shooter, with an emphasis on stealth and cover over straight-up firefights. Super spy that he may be, Bond isn't invulnerable, and enemy fire takes you down quickly should you offer yourself as a target. Instead, the trick is to pop and shoot, using cover to stay out of the line of fire and returning shots when your opponent stops to reload.
Getting up close and personal with an enemy gives you the option of a one-button takedown. Pull it off, and you're rewarded with focus shots. You can collect up to three focus shots, which are basically guaranteed headshots thanks to the magic of auto-aim. It's a useful mechanic when facing off against a large group or an unexpected surprise. It's also one of the few times when playing as Bond actually makes you feel like Bond. Taking down an enemy and then immediately rolling into a focus shot to kill another standing nearby is something straight out of the films.
Adventuring around the world, however, is much more pedestrian. While you're on foot and not engaged in combat, the game revolves round "scanning" with your Smartphone. The Smartphone view gives everything a green tint, and orange dots lead the way like breadcrumbs. There is no "exploring" or "adventuring"; you simply follow the path provided. When the phone beeps, you look for the blue dot to scan an item and either reveal intelligence reports or start a hacking minigame. Hacking involves a spinning dial and pressing the correct action button when the dial passes over the corresponding icon. It's not very Q-branch.
There is also very little interaction with other people outside the cut scenes. In general, the NPC characters are either there as window dressing or to provide something for you to shoot at. Don't expect to use any of Bond's classic charm or wit to your advantage.
In an attempt to mix things up, Bizarre also included driving sequences. Given the company's heritage with Blur and the Project Gotham Racing series, one would have expected this to be the highlight of the game. Instead, there's nothing about the driving sequences to make them feel special. Part of the excitement of playing as Bond is feeling like Bond, but when you can't take a corner at high speed without spinning out, you don't feel like a superspy.
Blood Stone also suffers from some mixed art choices when designing the world. Some areas are lively and vibrant, but others are bland and uninspiring. In some places, poor texture choices and generic level design make the game more difficult than it needs to be. This is most obvious during the midpoint, when you are racing across a frozen river in Siberia. The level is designed to hide much of the track from view, and the iced-over river uses a texture that looks very similar to the standard water texture.
At certain points, you must quickly steer off the ice, onto solid ground, and then back again in order to avoid falling in the river. Unfortunately, these hazards aren't telegraphed or easily visible when racing at full speed. The trick to success is simple memorization. Once you've died enough to know where the hazards are located, it is a simple matter of racing through, but until you do that, the frustration level can be high.
A multiplayer mode is included for those who like to battle it out online, but there is little to make it stand out from the pack. Supporting online play as well as system link, you've got team deathmatch, objective and last man standing. While competent, there's nothing here that differentiates the play. You really could be playing any generic, multiplayer shooter.
Ultimately, James 007: Blood Stone feels like a licensed movie game without the corresponding movie. The title screen menu is even done in the same style as those on the Bond DVDs. Take away the Bond license, and you've got a solidly average, but completely generic shooter. If you're a Bond fan, it's worth a rental for the story, but once you've finished the game, there is little in the way of replay value. For everyone else, there are better third-person shooters out there.
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