I thought it was strange that we had a brand new Goldeneye game last month for the Nintendo Wii. I can quite understand if James Bond Blood Stone for PS3 is equally confusing. Not only have Activision re-imagined the N64 classic thirteen years after the original; they’ve also gone and released a totally new and original Bond game for the HD consoles starring Daniel Craig.
James Bond 007 Blood Stone is a new story written and created by Bruce Feirstein exclusively for this game, it’s not linked to any of the movies or books. According to Wikipedia Bruce has written/co-written three Bond films, so if you were worried about Blood Stone’s authenticity then you can worry no more. The story goes something like this:
As usual an international terrorist of some sort is planning on killing people. This time it’s a chap called Greco who is supposedly going to blow up the world’s leaders at the G20 summit. Of course the secret agent James Bond is there behind the scenes to stop any of this nastiness from happening. As with any Bond entrance, style is of the essence and Blood Stone immediately delivers with Bond parachuting down and perfectly onto the terrorist’s cruise ship without any of the guards noticing. Currently we don’t know how Greco is planning on causing this massacre but with the help of his fists and trusty silenced pistol, Bond is going to find out.
Ten minutes and a lot of dead henchmen later we discover the threat is in the form of a car bomb which is now already on its way to the G20 event. Although we won’t know this ’til later on in the game, it’s quite possible this is bomb could be a biological weapon too. Of course it’s suffice to say that a frantic car chase later and Bond has everything under control. The bomb has been safely detonated a good distance from the important people and best of all Bond is just in time to get his favourite cocktail at the bar before happy hour ends.
From here on things get a bit grittier. Bond is first instructed to locate a missing professor believed to be in Istanbul. Before he was captured he was in possession of an encrypted USB stick, containing data that MI6 can’t afford to fall into the wrong hands. Namely British research about a possible cure for Anthrax and Smallpox. What would the terrorists want with the data you ask? Well they would like to reverse engineer this data and with it create new bio-weaponary.
As you’d expect one thing leads to another and Bond is soon done in Istanbul and off to investigate this whole thing in yet more exotic locations. He’ll travel to Monaco, Siberia, Bangkok and even Burma in a bid to sort this grizzly affair out once and for all.
I guess the first thing to mention would be that Blood Stone puts you in control of Bond in the third person perspective. So unlike Goldeneye you see get to see Bond on the screen at all times, not just during cut scenes. If you’ve played Splinter Cell Conviction or Uncharted then you’ll already have a good idea how this works. For the most part the camera is fixed behind Bond which gives you that ‘slightly further back than over the shoulder look’. The reason for this perspective choice is because you’ll be using the cover mechanics very frequently; hiding behind objects, barriers, walls and doors is essential if you want to progress further than a couple of screens.
Whilst I’m not the biggest fan of the trend to use a cover system in almost every video game lately, I can recognise when it’s done well and when it’s not. Considering you’ll be spending six to seven hours on your first play through using cover it’s very nice to know that the process works very well. Simply hit the X button as you approach something to hide behind and Bond will instantly duck behind and stay there until you hit the X button again. Of course you can lean out and shoot but if you need to walk around a corner whilst staying in cover then simply continue holding X and move in that direction. I know it’s hard to visualise so you’ll just have to believe me when I say that Blood Stone currently features one of the best cover systems I’ve encountered.
The cover system comes into its own when it comes to subduing enemies on the quiet. Yes you can shoot everyone all guns blazing and risk raising the alarm, but there is another way. If you’re patient you can wait behind a wall until the bad guy walks past, now simply hit the Square button to grab him and silently take him down. If you manage to sneak up behind and unsuspecting victim then of course you can take care of them with a snap to the neck too.
Performing these subduing manoeuvres not only will help you infiltrate an area without being spotted but will also earn yourself a Focus Aim shot. This gives you the rather cool ability to switch into a semi automatic bullet time mode that can be used to dispatch up to three baddies with the assistance of an auto-aim crosshair that goes straight to the guy’s head. Lovely.
If you’re feeling technical then hitting down on the Dpad will instruct Bond to enable his smartphone that has some very handy features. Firstly it features a radar system which will pinpoint enemy locations, perfect for discovering where those snipers are without having to stick your big head out too far. Secondly the device can also disable security cameras and open locked security doors quite easily, you’ll have to perform a little quick-time event by hitting the correct buttons before the phone will actually do its stuff but don’t worry it’s fairly easy. Thirdly and most importantly is the fact that unlike the iPhone4 you can get a strong signal back to MI6 no matter what way around Bond holds it.
As well as all that normal running, gunning and stealthy game play developers Bizarre Creations have been tempted to put some racing sequences in for good measure. Well they’ve had successes with Project Gotham Racing and Blur in the past so I can’t blame them for trying. So whilst I said race, they’re more chase sequences if I’m honest about things. Basically you’re shoved into a vehicle (usually a car) and asked to chase another vehicle along a road until you eventually catch them up. Despite the bad handling it’s not the controls I find a bummer, instead it’s how heavily scripted the actual sequences are. So as you’d expect there are plenty of triggered events such as scenery demolishing just in front of you or buses grinding to a halt almost but not quite in your path, what I am upset about is that no matter how well you drive it’s impossible to catch up with the driver in front until you reach the finish point. Not only that but if you drive quite averagely the car you’re perusing will actually slow down and let you catch up. I mean come on – since when do bank robbers slow down to let the cops get alongside the getaway car eh? Despite the initial coolness of the chase scenes all you really need to do is drive fast enough to reach a few checkpoints until the scene is over, the only skill you’ll need is memorising the computer controlled cars that always drive and crash in the same places. Now don’t get me wrong, the chase scenes are a spectacle & travelling at brake neck speed around tight blind city streets avoiding busy traffic is fun and all but they could have been so much better.
Blood stone for PS3 does for the most part impress visually, you’ll encounter a wide variety of locations that look nice but feel a bit too similar. It’s all very well adding extra set dressing but if the level design itself doesn’t veer too much from tight corridors and a few open rooms, things can and do get a little repetitive. However the levels look great and really do make you believe that Bond is in a new country every twenty minutes (just like the movies). A special note must go to the gorgeously recreated Monaco seafront that you get to view at night, it’s a stunning view. Textures are sometimes a little plain but as you don’t usually have to study the background, it doesn’t make that big a deal. Where Blood Stone does disappoint me is with the character models, most notably the face and lip syncing. From certain angles (the side and behind) it really does look like Daniel Craig, but when you see his face close up and personal it can be quite scary. The same goes for Judi Dench as M and Joss Stone’s character, Nicole. The faces lack natural animation, look rather robotic and seem to lack any emotion at all. I hope seeing the awful expression put across by these characters is warning enough to any women reading this who are considering botox injections.
Now the voice acting and overall Bond presentation itself is top notch, Craig and Dench fulfil their roles admirably – giving a great sense of Bondness to the proceedings. Joss Stone on the other hand can’t act for toffee, whenever you see Nicole Hunter on screen you will end up admiring the curves and blocking out the voice.
I did certainly have fun playing through the single player campaign of Blood Stone but there’s not much incentive to replay the game for unless you’re a Trophy hunter. Higher difficulties will require more use of stealth and cover aiming but the objectives remain the same. There is certainly a good mixture of gun play and hands on physical combat but those themselves can be a bit plain. The choice of guns for example is fairly unimportant when the game helps you aim so much, only the trusty silenced PP9 (or is it PP7?) really stands out from the crowd. Fighting an enemy with your fists looks cool but only requires one button press for an instant kill, the enemies never manage to get out of your arms or put up much of a fight at all.
Alright before you get all shouty at me I do realise there is a multiplayer mode in Blood Stone. Up to 16 players can battle against eachother over PSN or Xbox live and have fun shooting each other across a variety of game modes. Due to issues with the latest PS3 firmware being incompatible with my router (yes I did try a DMZ) I was unable to actually test the online mode, however – all reports I’ve heard elsewhere seem to suggest it’s not that much fun. I’d stick to Black Ops for multiplayer for now.
I award James Bond 007 Blood Stone a decent 7 out of 10 for the single player campaign alone, just don’t ask me about the multiplayer.