As one of the longest-running film and transmedia characters today, James Bond has had his fair share of shaken martinis, one-night stands, and megalomaniacal villains to partake in and deal with. A Cold War era product from English journalist Ian Fleming, 007 has been updated and re-imagined both in-canon for the EON productions as well as other, non-licensed adaptations. The latest version of Bond is a bit of a heavy-handed brawler under Daniel Craig than the more gadget-obsessed campiness of prior iterations, but his portrayal has also brought about a kind of vulnerability to the otherwise suave and promiscuous character.
Picking up a tradition of original storytelling in Bond games set by Domark in 1995 (with James Bond 007: The Duel on the Sega Genesis), Bizarre Creations and Activision bring Craig's likeness to the Xbox 360 and PS3 in James Bond 007: Blood Stone. As an interactive buffer between the property's most successful film (“Quantum of Solace”) and the working-titled “Bond 23,” Blood Stone is certainly a game that competently boils down the gist of the modern-day Bond into a playable package. However, this doesn't necessarily make it an extraordinary third-person-shooter-with-a-cover-mechanic-and-driving-sequences game.
In many respects, Bizarre's is a by-the-numbers Bond experience. An opening prologue sets the scene where MI6's best has to track down a suspected bomb threatening a gathering of the world's leaders. Of course Commander Bond saves the day and the opening credits roll in their distinctly silhouetted, colorful style, flashing “Ian Fleming's James Bond in...”, set to a headliner's theme song. Skip ahead through a globetrotting story full of Aston Martins, Walther pistols, and ever more little fish in a scheme setup by a mastermind—in this case, one of biological warfare—stir in a “Bond girl” and his protracted capture, followed by a foreseen twist, and you have about a 6-hour romp of Ian Fleming's James Bond in Blood Stone.
Without a doubt, it's quintessential Bond; and for all intents and purposes, it works. However, as a videogame presentation, even with Brosnan's Bond writer Bruce Feirstein contributing to it, the story is diluted by gameplay too focused on its action to be of the same caliber as today's films. Granted the process and delivery of the two media are different by nature, but with the scope of contemporary videogame storytelling, Blood Stone is uneventful and underdeveloped. Bond and Nicole Hunter's (the aforementioned Bond girl, played by Joss Stone) coming together is so nonchalant that it bypasses the typical tropes of the films. Not to mention, the overall conflict escalates in a meaninglessly whodunit fashion.
To stay in-line with the current films, this generation's talent reprise their roles in the game (Craig as 007 and Judi Dench as M), but their work is neither inspired nor forced; it, too, is what it is. More meaningful audio comes from the soundtrack, which is anything but rehashed loops of the Bond theme. Fully orchestrated arrangements create depth to moments and are fulfilling.
Tepid story aside, Blood Stone plays well for a third-person action game. Level design caters to Bond infiltrating and completing objectives with stealth. Using a permutation of Bizarre's bespoke engine, which was instituted for their points-based shooter The Club, Bond can suck up against walls, maneuver around corners, vault over and climb obstacles, and fire blindly with relative ease. They're functional elements which have been played before, and are instituted just as fluidly here.
Bizarre also employ their experience as a racing studio with tightly constructed driving levels. Each of the 6 sequences, spaced evenly throughout the entire single-player game, runs smoothly and play like high-budget Hollywood chases. Often times you're narrowly escaping explosions as beautiful, bright scenery whizzes by.
It's all well-knit gameplay, but shortcomings muck up the execution. While 007 is on foot, more than once he'll need fend off an unnatural number of enemies like Bond-turned-Rambo. A smartphone to find mercenary locations and hidden intelligence makes up the sole gadget at his disposal, and an insta-kill ability (“Focus Aim”) powered up by visceral melee “Takedowns” adds to the gun-heavy gaming. Where are the fancy laser watches, and nano-things? Shootouts aren't alien to Bond, but in this single-minded action, enemies are simple bullet sponge means to a mechanic end. Suicidal programming send your opponents walking straight at you just to pull off those fisticuffs.
Similarly, driving sections, while entertaining and eventful, are linear and hardly challenging. Bizarre hold your hand as you steer franchise-associated Aston Martin vehicles through light, pre-programmed traffic, which never offers new surprises after a first run.
A single playthrough affair with no room for improvisation, Blood Stone's story offers little reason to replay it once completed; but an included multiplayer provides extra hours of competitive deathmatch and objective style gaming. Though glitchy and lag-filled, the game's multiplayer side carriers over all of the same single-player character's elements. Melee attacks (that are literally hit-or-miss) grant you one-shot kills and shooting from cover is an essential practice. Like other online shooters, completing challenges net you experience points that unlock better weaponry and player skins as you rank up. Altogether it's a fairly standard and somewhat iffy multiplayer, but for its faults, it can be rather addicting.
With so many licensed games hastily pushed out to create extra revenue every year, its nice to see a publisher using their acquired rights for an independent tie-in. Blood Stone may not be the best Bond adaptation or action game in general, but it's not a gross misappropriation either. Visually it's a mixed bag with some stunning environments in vehicle sequences that are marred by sloppy textures in the bipedal settings. Gameplay is straightforward and isn't composed of an enthralling story, but it's serviceable and more than playable.
A longstanding fixture in pop culture, Bond will return in...something, sometime and in some media, that's for sure. As far as this game goes, though there are some rough edges, 007 is certainly in some capable hands with Bizarre.
What is there left for Bond to do? Is he still a relevant character? What do you want to see is a Bond game? Send us some intel via Twitter @gamers_hell