There are probably few reviewers out there who want the new James Bond game, Blood Stone, to be good as much as I want it to be good. I have been a fan of the character, the films, and the books for much of my life (when the games began I quickly became a fan of those too). There is something about James Bond which energizes me, which captures my emotion, and which – as much as anything – makes me swoon. A good James Bond movie is a thing of beauty, and a good James Bond game equally so. However, with every step you take in James Bond 007: Blood Stone it becomes more and more clear that this is not a good Bond game.
In truth, I am not quite sure where to begin discussing the problems with the title. Consequently, do not mistake their order of appearance for their order of importance; the below simply seems the best way to structure the piece, not to state the game’s faults.
The plot is certainly straight out of a middle of the road (or slightly lower) Bond flick – there is a megalomaniacal villain who, for reasons of his own, is producing vast quantities of biological weapons (and doing some other not so nice things). Bond’s job is to stop the villain and his henchman at all costs, but as Bond’s the good guy, preferably he should proceed with no civilian casualties.
That is our first problem – there can be no civilian casualties. You will absolutely see ordinary joes walking around in Blood Stone, but you can’t interact with them in any way – no talking; no pushing; no interrupting their mundane, brief, and repetitive conversations; and certainly there is no shooting them. The game simply doesn’t allow that. The civilians in Blood Stone are little more than animated pieces of scenery.
As for the multitude of enemies you will face, they do not go much beyond that definition. The AI employed in the game is a throwback to something you would have expected to see years ago, not on a current generation system. The game employs a decent cover mechanic (although the ability to crawl, or at least run in a crouch would be nice), and when there are multiple bad guys you are forced to use cover. However, when facing that multitude, the enemy closest to you almost always opts to close the distance, doing so to the point where he is within arm’s length but before he has an angle from which to fire. That means that all you have to do is press your takedown button to eliminate him.
I understand that dead bad guys can’t tell living ones in future levels that they ought not run right up to the pillar you’re behind because you’re going to snap their neck, but when there are a dozen bad guys in a room and the first one dies via that method, others shouldn’t blindly go down the same path. Plus, if we’re being honest here, why that first guy would get that close to you when they have a massive tactical advantage and the ability to flank you (which they never utilize) makes no sense.
Outside of it looking cool and being advantageous bullet-wise to take down a bad guy with your bare hands, Blood Stone provides some other reasons for utilizing takedowns as well. First, there is trophy support for eliminating people via stealth moves, in hand-to-hand combat, and a couple of other ways as well. The other reason is that taking someone out by hand gives you what are called “focus aims.” You are allowed to have up to three focus aims at a time, and each focus aim results in a one-shot kill of an enemy – press two buttons, one to initiate the aim and one to fire, and a bad guy across the room goes down. That is actually one of the cooler elements of the game even if it eliminates some James Bond-realism (as opposed to real world realism). In terms of the takedowns themselves, all you have to do to execute such a move is press a single button and the game performs the takedown, but that isn’t a real complaint.
As for the level design, it is a relatively standard affair. There are some larger levels, but there are few, if any, moments that really allow you to choose a direction in which to head. That by itself is disappointing, but it is all the more distressing when it is clear that you’re being forced to head in an unnecessary direction because the game would rather you reach point B via a certain path when another ought to be available with a simple jump. The game just won’t let you make the jump because it would rather you travel the way it wants you to instead of a sensible one. Jumps are certainly allowed – as are other less obvious ways to traverse obstacles – when the game wants you to be allowed to utilize them, they’re just not always available.
Rather than featuring some sort of heads-up display (because Bond doesn’t whip out a little GPS map on a regular basis), 007’s cell phone finds itself in heavy use in Blood Stone. A true Q-Branch item, Bond’s cell not only allows him to scan objects, but also tells him when there are guards around the corner, whether the guards are alerted to his presence, and what sort of weapons the guards are holding. All of the information is good and it does add to the game’s stealth and surprise element, but it feels a little tired. One gets the sense with the cell phone that the developers simply weren’t sure how to make it so that Bond has the information they want him to have and decided that a cell was almost plausible within 007’s world.
Blood Stone also contains a number of driving sequences. While the driving mechanics are good, the use of non-partisan vehicles is highly questionable. Why exactly so many vehicles upon seeing a shootout taking place on the highway would choose to follow alongside and jostle the cars involved as opposed to getting out the way is never quite explained. Certainly if they were enemy vehicles riding alongside your car you could expect gunfire to erupt from them, but that doesn’t happen. They aren’t enemy vehicles, they’re just innocent bystanders who sort of hang out near you and stop you from going where you want and don’t seem to mind the spray of bullets near them.
Graphically, the game will neither wow nor will disappoint. That is, it won’t disappoint except for when you get really close to some walls and turn, in which case you’ll see through the wall. There is also an issue when some enemies are standing to close to a wall with their hands outstretched – their arms will sometimes go through the wall (though oddly this doesn’t seem to bother them). The voice performances by Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, and Joss Stone are a little uninspired, but it is still nice to have Craig and Dench there doing their respective parts in the game.
On the upside, Blood Stone is continuing the recent Bond trend of honestly trying to make the games more like a movie (in this case though not like a good one). From the pre-title sequence to the opening song (done by Stone), and through the game, it is beginning to feel much closer to a movie than the titles have previously. Blood Stone is even based on a story by Bruce Feirstein who wrote screenplays for GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies, and The World is not Enough. It may not all work out quite as well as fans and gamers would like here, but it shows a dedication and desire to do it the right way and for that they should be given points.
Lastly, Blood Stone does feature several of your typical multiplayer modes While there is nothing outstanding or truly special about them, playing against human opponents does provide for a far more engaging battle than the computer AI.
Truly, I want to love Blood Stone. I want to be able to sit here and tell you that it’s everything that not just a Bond game but any videogame ought to be. It isn’t. Too much of it feels poorly conceived and/or poorly executed; it seems more like a rough draft than a polished, final work. Bond fans shouldn’t completely despair however, the new version of GoldenEye 007 just came out as well and we’ll be bringing that review to you next week.
James Bond 007: Blood Stone is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Alcohol and Tobacco Reference, Blood, Mild Language, Mild Suggestive Themes, and Violence. This game can also be found on: Xbox 360 and PC.