Also available on: Xbox 360, DS
Publisher: Bizarre Creations
As fans wait for the delayed 23rd James Bond film to arrive, Activision has stepped into the breach with new blockbuster video game Blood Stone 007. Featuring a stellar cast of Daniel Craig, Judi Dench and pop singer Joss Stone, the action game takes players on a globetrotting mission to save humanity from destruction and hopefully get a vodka Martini in before bedtime. While there are a few pacing issues in its early stages, the single-player campaign is explosive, hugely enjoyable and really makes you feel like the famous superspy. The game features a solid but forgettable multiplayer mode to elongate playability, but the rather brief campaign makes the package feel a bit light on content. However, if you're looking for a high octane hit of Bond while waiting for the new movie to surface, Blood Stone is certainly worth checking out.
The game's completely original story, written by Bond writer Bruce Feirstein, bears all the usual series hallmarks of glamorous locations, international terrorists and a dastardly plot to end the world. Craig and Dench put in solid performances, while Stone avoids any real cringe-worthy moments as wealthy socialite Nicole Hunter. Despite clocking in at only around five or six hours, there is a fantastic amount of variety in the campaign, including third-person shooting sequences, cinematic driving sections, stealth missions using melee takedowns and gadget-led covert sabotage. This all goes ahead in some incredible locations, including the deep Burmese jungle, the glitzy party hub of Monaco and the frozen tundra of Siberia.
The campaign starts in true Bond fashion with an action prologue, as the secret agent infiltrates a glamorous yacht close to Athens, takes out some bad guys and then embarks on an explosive speed boat chase. If that wasn't enough, the spy then hops into an Aston Martin to chase down an escaping truck containing a terrorist bomb. It's a truly awesome opening, fitting of any Bond movie, but it's a shame that the next few missions drop the pace a bit too much. Wandering through the catacombs under Istanbul just takes too long to get going and feels a bit of letdown. The same could be said for the opening part of a stealthy infiltration of an industrial complex in Siberia, which leaves the player neither shaken nor stirred.
However, the campaign really hits its stride a bit further in and then genuinely delivers a great and memorable experience. Following the post-prologue stumble, the pacing is excellent and the wide variety of action sequences is never frustrating or repetitive. Most importantly, the game always makes the player feel like Bond. At its core, Blood Stone sticks to tried and tested third-person action mechanics, but that's not a bad thing. The usual range of pistols, machine guns and shotguns all pack a solid kick and it's really satisfying to clip multiple enemies with headshots using a silenced pistol. The action sequences place an emphasis on getting into cover, so it's good that the system works well and never feels sticky. There is also the option to take a more stealthy approach, as Bond can sneak up on enemies to silence them with melee takedowns.
Aside from the shooting, the game boasts a really strong melee combat system featuring around 70 different takedowns (all modelled by Craig's stuntman Ben Cooke). Takedowns require getting close to enemies and then pressing a button to dispatch the unfortunate adversary. The game gives players the incentive to try takedowns with Focus Aim points. Working similarly to Splinter Cell's 'mark and execute' mode, each time the player performs a takedown, they earn a Focus Aim point opening up a very satisfying one-shot kill. The Focus Aim kills can be chained together to a maximum of three and with the right amount of skill, the player can stream together takedowns and Focus Aim kills in a really fluid and satisfying combat system.
Daniel Craig's no-nonsense Bond is usually considered to be "gadget light" and action heavy, but the game incorporates a Smartphone system that works similarly to 'Detective Mode' in Batman: Arkham Asylum. When activated, the screen goes to a negative filter and all 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. The Smartphone system is a pretty good feature, but using the gadget in covert infiltration sections feels a bit tagged-on. The game usually just tasks the player with scanning something or unlocking a safe or door using a simple button-press mini-game. It's not a bad system, but never really feels filled out.
Alongside the combat, the game features excellent driving sections, hurtling through glamorous locations at high speed in pursuit of some reprobate. As the game is handled by Project Gotham developer Bizarre Creations, it's unsurprising that the driving is well-handled and the cars feel authentic and fun. Driving missions generally come at the culmination of a chapter and are always real highlights, with one sequence involving Bond tearing through an oil refinery as it erupts, before careering across an ice lake in pursuit of a fleeing train. Another memorable section puts the player behind the wheel of a tow truck hurtling through the back streets of Bangkok in the wake of an enemy driving an enormous dumper truck. The driving sections are all thoroughly enjoyable; it's just a shame that there aren't more of them.
Blood Stone looks absolutely fantastic, easily mixing it with other next-generation third-person action titles. The environments, such as a millionaire's casino in Monaco, a space-age aquarium in China and an expansive dam in Burma, are all genuinely jaw-dropping. The character models of Craig and Stone look realistic and detailed, but Dench curiously appears as though she's been made out of rubber. The game's score, created by Richard Jacques, is fantastic and really adds atmosphere and authenticity. The campaign only takes a modest five or six hours to get through, but you are guaranteed to have a good time playing it. The attention to detail is there to see and it's the greatest of compliments to say that Blood Stone feels like an authentic Bond experience.
Aside from the single-player campaign, there is also an online/offline multiplayer that is more solid than spectacular. All the usual modes are available, including team deathmatch and a few objective-based challenges. However, it's all pretty standard stuff and unlikely to capture the imagination in the same way as the multiplayer in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. There is also the sense that without the drive, production values and intensity of the single-player campaign, the multiplayer feels quite pedestrian and basic. It's certainly not bad or flawed - just not very memorable or addictive either.
Overall, Blood Stone succeeds in delivering an authentic and genuinely thrilling James Bond experience. The campaign takes players to various glamorous locations around the world, tackling international terrorists in shooting, stealth, driving and covert infiltration sequences. A few pacing issues affect the early parts of the campaign, but otherwise it's a complete blast to play through. The production values are excellent; from the superb graphics to the stellar cast and trademark Bond score. The only thing holding Blood Stone back from being a truly brilliant game is that its campaign is over too quickly and the multiplayer is not memorable enough to keep players coming back for more. But as a blockbuster hit of Bond while fans wait for the next movie, Blood Stone still has a licence to kill.
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