It's perhaps indicative of the current state of the global entertainment industry that while the crippling financial problems at MGM have temporarily foiled the 23rd James Bond film, Activision has had no such concerns pulling together a stellar cast for big budget new video game Blood Stone 007. The third-person action game's completely original story has been written by Bruce Feirstein, writer of three Bond films and two Bond games (Everything Is Nothing and From Russia With Love), while Daniel Craig, Judi Dench and pop singer Joss Stone all lend their likenesses and vocal talents. So Digital Spy joined the famous British secret agent to end some lives and break some hearts in Blood Stone.
The game puts the player in the shoes of Daniel Craig's Bond, described by developer Bizarre Creations as "gadget light and action heavy" - meaning fancy technologies such as exploding pens or multipurpose briefcases are replaced by Jason Bourne-style quick-paced violence and chiselled-jawed conversations. Essentially, Blood Stone 007 is a third-person action game mostly featuring shooting, close-quarters combat and driving sequences. As with the Bond films, the story sees the super spy travelling to multiple locations around the world, including Athens, Istanbul, Monaco, Burma, Siberia and Bangkok, in pursuit of a terrorist leader, this time called Greco.
A hands-off preview session demonstrated the game's penultimate level deep in the Burmese jungle. After escaping from a prison camp, Bond jumped into a V22 chopper in pursuit of a bad guy called Rak. In a lengthy cinematic (Bizarre Creations has used the cut scenes to hide the game's load times), Rak shot down Bond's chopper with a rocket launcher, causing him to crash-land in the undergrowth. As soon as Bond escaped the burning chopper, Rak's goons poured in looking for him, causing the game to switch to a fairly standard third-person shooter.
There seems to be nothing hugely revolutionary about Blood Stone's shooting mechanics, but nothing seems to be overly worrying either. The usual range of pistols, machine guns and shotguns appear to have a good weight to them, and the cover mechanic is strong - although it's difficult to judge its stickiness without going hands-on. Cover is dynamic, with the concrete blocks and surfaces falling apart under damage, requiring the player to keep moving. Despite the shooting sequences being fairly standard, the game could excel over rival third-person shooters such as the Uncharted series with its takedown system.
There are apparently up to 70 different CQC takedowns in the game, ranging from stealth suppression moves to full-on, bone-crunching face breakers (all modelled by Craig's stunt man Ben Cooke). Each time the player performs a takedown, they earn a Focus Aim point to a maximum of three. The points basically give the player the chance to do a very satisfying-looking one-shot kill, while achieving three Focus Aim points slows down time for a triple headshot. With the right amount of skill, the player can also chain together takedowns and Focus Aim kill shots in a fluid combat system.
In the demo, the Bizarre Creations representative moved into a building site area in front of a huge dam, before engaging with a gang of enemies. Among the few gadgets in the game is the Smartphone system, which brings a state of "augmented reality" that is basically the same as 'detective mode' in Batman: Arkham Asylum. The screen goes to a negative filter and the enemies are highlighted, including their weapons and state of alert. Other items, such as explosives, are also highlighted to help the player plan their approach.
Alongside the shooting sequences, there are some Casino Royale style platforming sections, such as jumping up on a crane to take out a helicopter gunship by dropping a palette of pipes onto it. As the game is being developed by Blur studio Bizarre Creations, the player will also engage in a variety of driving sequences. A hands-on section in Siberia put the player in control of a beautifully recreated Aston Martin with Joss Stone's character - wealthy socialite Nicole Hunter - in the passenger seat. Pursuing a bad guy called Pomerov inside a speeding train, all hell broke loose around the car, as towers came crashing down and explosions ripped up the road. Military trucks got in the way on the road and the player had to guide the powerful sports car around them to keep pace with the train.
The Aston Martin controlled pretty well and there was a good feeling of power and speed, aided by the pleasing rasp of the engine (although it's somewhat off-putting to have Stone jabbering on in the background). After running out of road, the player was forced to take a shortcut over an icy lake to keep up with Pomerov. On the ice, it was sometimes hard to see the safe places to drive, leading to quite a few deaths before getting the hang of it. After an attack chopper started ripping up the ice around the car with gunfire, the mission ended as Bond launched the car onto the back of the train, causing Stone to break her wrist - which unfortunately didn't shut her up.
On the Xbox 360, the game looked superb, easily mixing it with other next-generation third-person shooters. Panning around the Burmese dam showed an impressive vista, while the character models of Craig, Dench and Stone all looked realistic and detailed. The game's score is created by British film and video game composer Richard Jacques, while Stone sings the theme song 'I'll Take It All', composed by Eurhythmics musician Dave Stewart. All in all, the game pretty much has every element that makes up a big budget James Bond adventure, but only time will tell if it can truly put them together successfully.
Overall, Blood Stone 007 follows a string of third-person action games in the James Bond series that have proved solid, well-made and fun, but not exactly stuff to set the world on fire. However, all the right elements are in place with Blood Stone, from the original script penned by a bone fide Bond screenwriter, to the involvement of Daniel Craig's stunt double. The level of polish already appears strong and there seems to be depth and fluidity in the takedown system that could elevate the game above its third-person rivals. Considering the uncertainty that still surrounds the future of MGM, hopefully Activision's Blood Stone will be able to keep the secret agent alive and kicking.
Blood Stone 007 will be released on PS3, Xbox 360, PC and Nintendo DS on November 2.