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After Activision picked up the license for 007 a lot of people were curious what they would do with it: would they advance on what EA accomplished at the end of the PS2 and Xbox generation with another third-person, multi-genre shooter or would they go back to basics with a first-person title? Well, playing it safe, Activision first released the movie-based game, Quantum of Solace which ran on a modified Modern Warfare engine but still only managed to be a mediocre attempt at revitalizing the 007 series.
Activision’s next attempt at the 007 franchise happens to be a little more intuitive but only moderately. Designed as a third-person stealth, action-shooter, Blood Stone is an ambitious attempt at doing something different but in a very muted way. The game contains some fairly interesting features but all of them pale in comparison to what Electronic Arts already accomplished with the greatest 007 game ever made: Everything or Nothing.
Nevertheless, the game offers up some decent playability, if only for casual gamers looking for a cross between Splinter Cell: Conviction and Gears of War. You can find out exactly what the game does right and where it falls flat in this 007 Blood Stone review.
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The good part about the concept behind Blood Stone is that it follows very closely to the format of the new Bond films: lots of characters, a few twists and turns and not everything is as black and white as it seems. The problem is that for the game the story is somewhat convoluted and slightly basked in non-sense when you get a view of the big picture by the time the credits roll. But most people don't play games for their storylines unless it's Metal Gear Solid or Deus Ex.
The highlight of the game design is in the simplicity and effortless look and feel of the gameplay. In fact, that’s such a good thing it’s somewhat of a bad thing, too. See, for all of the “fight scenes” instead of actually having players, well, play the game there is instead pre-scripted, pre-animated sequences of Daniel Craig’s Bond beating the living daylights out of the bad guys. And here is where the stark comparisons come in between Everything or Nothing and Blood Stone. In EA’s game you could fight, throw and counter-attack and the bad guys could fight, throw and counter-attack. It made for interesting and sometimes dynamic fight scenes. In Blood Stone, players simply tap the melee button and Bond will automatically dispatch a foe. If you happen to be in the midst of several foes, just tap it a few times and they’re all dead…no fuss, no worries. This takes away a little bit from the interactive feel of the game. Still, including driving sequences, arcade shootouts, stealth segments, melee and espionage all into one game makes it a bit more unique amongst some of the other shooter titles currently on the market.
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While melee is handled (for better or for worse) with enough ease even a five-year old could do it like a pro, the rest of the game is somewhat of a mixed bag when it comes to functionality. The shooting is solid enough but the AI doesn’t really pressure players to move around much if you find a good cover spot and blind fire or pop out and snatch up headshots. In Gears of War the Locusts were constantly pressuring the player to move around by shifting flanking positions and utilizing cover points very efficiently. Here, most of the baddies run towards you if they can’t hit you…yeah, real smart.
Another issue I had with the combat was that in Everything or Nothing and From Russia With Love secondary weapons appeared on the Bond avatars. Since in Blood Stone the UI fades away when players aren’t actively using it, it’s easy to forget what your secondary weapon is because it doesn't show up on Bond, which seems like a bit of a step backward from what was accomplished in Everything or Nothing. It’s a minor thing, but it does affect the immersion qualities that the game seemed to depend on so much.
Given that Bizarre Creations designed the game and it features multiple driving segments, one would assume that they would be amazing, over-the-top and expertly designed given BC’s history with games like Project Gotham Racing. However, again, I have to draw comparisons to EA Canada’s driving segments in Everything or Nothing, which were unparalleled in both action and dynamics (and designed from the Need For Speed engine). The motorcycle chase with the fuel tanker across the bridge toward New Orleans was one of the best driving segments in any game, and far more intense than anything we’ve seen from the Need for Speed in years. In Blood Stone, however, the dynamics of the driving are compensated for with lots and lots and lots of explosions. The boat chase in the beginning was pretty good but after that it felt like the team was running out of steam…even though that was the beginning of the game. Again, it all felt really muted and safe, and in result such segments warranted for very little replayability.
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To mix-up the gameplay a bit, there are a few puzzle segments scattered throughout the on-foot levels where players must do some timed sequences to gain access to an area or get out of area. It’s obligatory for a game like this to have such segments but they feel wholly uninspired and feel like they were modeled after something found in the very first Splinter Cell.
While you might see these comments as negative against the gameplay, it’s mostly to point that much of it has already been done in a game that was out more than half a decade ago. Again, Blood Stone’s gameplay isn’t bad but it feels far less innovative when compared to Redwood Shores’ groundbreaking Everything or Nothing.
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Graphics And Sound
It would be hard to ask for anything more out of the visuals when a game looks as good as Blood Stone does. And so in regards to its looks, there’s nothing to complain about if you have the game on the highest graphics settings. However, there is a minor issue with the lip synching. Given the high quality put into the character models it becomes rather obvious how lacking the mouth movements are in some sequences. A minor issue but one worth noting.
As for every other visual aspect of the game…there’s nothing to put down about the game. The locations are often exotic and highly detailed, with a great amount of attention paid to the texture work and lighting, giving each new level a wholly different look and feel from the previous one. The chase sequences I believe have some of the better visuals, despite their somewhat overdone elements of destruction.
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The one thing, though, worth a very high note of praise are the animations. Yes, this game has some of the best animation work throughout this generation, especially with the way James Bond looks, moves, reacts, shoots and fights….especially the way he fights. Bizarre Creations have some of the most brutal and gritty takedown moves featured in a game since THQ’s last UFC game. I just wish players could have actually had more interactivity in these scenes so it didn’t feel like it’s just a sequence that can be watched but not played.
Another highlight in the game’s aesthetics is the music. Richard Jacques – one of the more under-rated composers for the past two gaming generations, who contributed to games like Headhunter and Jet Set Radio – lends his amazing talent to the score of Blood Stone, and does both a striking and entertaining interpretation of the legendary Bond themes. Throughout the entire thing the music doesn’t miss a beat and keeps pace with the action quite nicely. Speaking of music, Joss Stone’s “I’ll Take It All” is one of the very best Bond themes released…of course, it still pales in comparison’s to Chris Cornell’s “You Know My Name”, but it’s still an awesome song and matches the intro very nicely.
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There’s a multiplayer mode attached to the game to goad players to come back for more…allowing skilled deathmatch players to unlock new skins, weapons and what have you, but good luck finding games to play since you have to use Activision’s multiplayer setup. It reminds me a lot of Stranglehold’s online multiplayer that no one bothered with because, well, it wasn’t all that good. The problem here is that the multiplayer feels too out of the way and there’s far too little incentive, stages and functionality to come back for more. It’s also a retreaded mix of Quantum of Solace meets From Russia With Love. The stage designs are very deathmatchy but the combat retains a similar pace from the single player game.
The real downside to the replay falls in-line with the single-player, though. There’s really just no reason to go back and play through it unless you want to unlock additional achievements. Also, unlike EA’s Everything or Nothing there is no cooperative mode that ties-in with the single-player campaign. And I’m just saying, but the co-op mode is one of the main reasons why the game is still ranked as the very best James Bond game ever made. The other thing is that EA’s later attempts at Bond games included a lot of unlockable content…for better or for worse it (i.e., concept art and environment design shots) was there to give players a reason to go back and play the game(s). Here, Blood Stone offers none of the aforementioned incentives and that leaves players basically with the option to go back and play the game just for the heck of acquiring achievements. However, because of the limited playability when it comes to the fighting and the very standard-fare shooting segments, I can’t really say that the single-player mode (which clocks in at just under 6 hours) is really worth going back and playing just for the heck of it.
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Bizarre Creations has a really good attempt at a very good Bond game, and with this game being the first of two parts (yes, the game’s story doesn’t end with Blood Stone) there’s some aspect of me that wants to see what comes out of the sequel. However, given Activision’s “cash in and count the dollar bill” mentality it’s tough to see if a second game will make the necessary improvements to be as good as it could potentially be. As it stands, though, 007 Blood Stone is a good looking game with a lot of visual, cinematic qualities to it but fails to advance or even equate its gameplay to what 007 Everything or Nothing already accomplished. If you can grab this game for a budget price it might be worth checking out, otherwise hardcore gamers would probably do better with Splinter Cell: Conviction.