No Mr. Bond, I Expect You to Mark and Execute (Blood Stone Review)
Game: 007: Blood Stone
Platform: Xbox 360/Playstation 3
Developer: Bizarre Creations
Released: November 2010
Sometimes all you need is one really good game to set off a mediocre franchise, and there's probably no better practical example of this than "James Bond" in the video-game world.
"Goldeneye," of course, was a solid FPS that endured largely for its frantic and fun multiplayer that helped establish a place for the genre on consoles and cemented Rare's already strong position as a great developer. Since then though, the series has been decent at best ("Russia with Love," "Everything or Nothing" come to mind) and forgettable at worst ("Agent under Fire").
But now a real attempt has come at bringing the series back to its roots, much to the excitement of nostalgic fans and shooter junkies everywhere. But "Goldeneye" was rented out at Blockbuster, so let's just talk about "Blood Stone."
"Blood Stone", being a James Bond game and all, follows James Bond as he tries to... um... honestly I'm not sure, though I do know that anyone going in wondering what the hell a 'Blood Stone' is will be pretty disappointed since they never bother to tell you. The game starts out with him trying to foil a Russian guy who's making some kind of super-chemical weapon, but this ends up getting resolved about midway through, with the rest of the story kind of wandering around before a rather unsatisfying twist sets up for a sequel.
While things definitely pick up during the second half in terms of gameplay, the way the story tries to justify this tacked-on effort to extend the short playtime makes the more structured and focused thread of the first half seem rather irrelevant. Even by the standards of conspiracy-theory-slash-political spy thrillers, the narrative is all over the place and it makes it harder to get invested in than it should be.
Not helping things at all are the distractingly Uncanny-Valley-ish character models. Normally I'm not one to focus on that too much, but it deserves mentioning here because combined with the sub-par dubbing, nearly everyone looks like poorly-trained ventriloquist dummies. And I swear I haven't heard an voice-acting performance this half-assed since Hugh Jackman did the "Wolverine Origins" game. I expect better from you Daniel Craig, though I suppose it's still a step above goddamn "Kid in King Arthur's Court," not that that's hard to do. Though even he's not lower than a noticeably-plasticine mocap/performance by Joss Stone as the token Bond Girl, though the themesong she performs is alright even if she's no Shirley Bassey.
(hey, Joss Stone, blood stone... I think I just figured out where the title came from!)
"Blood Stone" sticks to the third-person shooter/racer formula that the series has utilized pretty much since "Everything or Nothing," though this time it seems Bond has taken some remedial classes at the Sam Fisher Institute of Espionage since the gameplay now most closely resembles "Splinter Cell: Conviction." There's the heavy emphasis on cover-based stealth, the unblockable insta-kill takedown move, the infra-red-vision that lets you see enemy positions through walls and gets blurrier the faster you move, and the ability to get up to three 'free kills' by using said takedowns as fuel. Hell, enemy awareness is even indicated by the same spiked line-thing around the middle of the screen, though here it's YELLOW and in "Conviction" it was RED and that's a totally different color, so it's okay!
In all honesty the combat is actually pretty good-- there are more than a few strong setpieces, like a desperate shootout at an exploding chemical factory and a genuinely tense escape from a Burmese prison camp-- even if the bad guy's forces consist of passive-agressive suicidals since they're all too eager to move stupidly into easy takedown range without the slightest bit of subterfuge.
You may have noticed that I haven't talked about the racing bits at all, and the main reason for that is because they are universally awful. Not the context itself; they're all pretty thrilling at least. Oh no, the problem with the driving sections is that "Blood Stone" has the worst-handling cars this side of an anonymous Craigslist posting. Not only does Bond's vehicle react to physical objects like a goddamn bumper-car (which is ESPECIALLY frustrating when you're chasing a distance-sensitive target, which is all the time), but drifting is practically nonexistant, or at least doesn't react at all the way it should.
This reaches its peak of frustration early on actually, when you're in pursuit of a speeding target in an old European city, which means the streets are so narrow and turns are so awkward that drifting is practically necessary in order to succeed, so you can see how this might be something of an issue. This might be easier to overlook, granted, had developer Bizarre Creations not made a racer this very year-- "Blur," which I rather enjoyed-- with an emphasis on these exact things.
Ultimately, "Blood Stone" is well-presented and it definitely has its strong points, but the whole thing feels a bit insubstantial, really. As much as it tries to be "Conviction" it just doesn't have that game's vital alchemy of speed and strength that helped it stand apart from other stealth titles, and it definitely doesn't succeed as a racer. I guess if you, say, happen to be desperate for a Bond fix, have seen all the movies, and "Goldeneye" is ALSO unavailable to you, then it's probably worth a look.
The Good: Solid "Conviction"-style gunplay presented on great action setpieces, captures the 'Bond feel,' brutal and well-animated takedowns
The Bad: The driving itself, enemy AI is noticeably dim, plot feels very made up as it goes
The Ugly: Phoning in that voice-acting much are we, Mr. Craig?
Rating: y/73 Spy Movie Trumpet Stings