James Bond 007: Blood Stone
Writing a Blood Stone review in the wake of Bizarre Creations' seeming demise is a task of personal unease. When I visited the studio a while back for a preview event, the atmosphere wasn't one of doom and despair but of calm and anticipation. It was all smiling faces and laid-back shoulders.
Actually, I've followed Blood Stone from its reveal to its release here, having attended the launch event last summer and two preview events after that. I've never followed a game so closely in its development, and I'm unashamed to say that for the journey to end this way saddens me.
There remains a review to write, though, and the truth is that Blood Stone simply doesn't attempt enough to be anything more than a slightly above-average video game.
Any enjoyment derived from Blood Stone comes from it being simple to play and constantly engaging, albeit at a very superficial level. As Daniel Craig's Bond you travel to Athens, Istanbul, Bangkok, Monaco, Siberia, and the Burmese jungle in your adventure of espionage, but in every single location the game's basic mechanics apply and, more pertinently, aren't stretched at all. Blood Stone is designed to be short and undemanding, but to really accumulate one must speculate.
To its credit, Blood Stone successfully blends what it supposes are the core components of the Bond films, namely high octane chase sequences and on-foot action. The chases are quick and busy. Tankers explode brightly in a Monaco speedboat chase, for example, while a chase over brittle Siberian ace ends in driving your car into a speeding train. Meanwhile, on-foot play is constant and attractive. There's the cacophony of a huge firefight across a weapons facility, but also the hush of an old-school infiltration of a casino glittering against the night sky.
On face value, the action suits the license and in particular the (relatively) new Bond at the helm, largely thanks to the wide bevy of contextual physical takedowns you can enjoy, all from a single button. Take out a henchman across a short fence and you'll drag him over it and knock him out - in a number of possible ways, I might add. Sneak up on another while he's standing on a ledge and you'll kick him into the chasm below, and that doesn't get old. It's more fun, though, when Bond gets physical with his enemies. The camera twists and turns to his swings, punches and blocks, and this serves to give the exchanges that rugged Craig oomph.
Again in line with the films, what helps to keep the action cohesive between sequences, be they on-foot or driving, are the very quick, mostly loading-time-free transitions. They're kept so breathless by clever use of cut scenes, while the cut scenes themselves are kept short and sweet to maintain flow.
Sadly, Blood Stone misses out on the other major component of the license: the dramatic tension. For all the instant transitions and constant action, there's no sense of anything at stake, largely because of an uninspiring, poorly delivered script. Moreover, attempts to instill those extraordinary moments of the films, the ones in which Bond has to draw from that chiseled well of ingenuity and perform something special, fall so very flat on their face in Blood Stone. For all the explosive action around you, the driving sequences comprise little more than avoiding carnage as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, the on-foot action outside of shooting and stealth is restricted to automated platforming and running towards an arrow. It's clean and simple, but not particularly impactful.
Maybe Blood Stone feels so average because both facets of its play are so derivative of other games, or in the least so similar to other games. Pertinently, in comparison Blood Stone comes up short.
The stealth-based shooting, for example, is very similar to that of Splinter Cell: Conviction. Physical takedowns earn you focus aims which can be used to perform instant kills in slow motion. Sound familiar? It works well enough, and visually it's a treat, but it's never taken in any interesting directions. It's all too easy to make a shot without focus aim anyway, even on the harder difficulties, and it's even easier to just rush a foe and perform a takedown. The casino mission should require skill and artistry in your use of stealth, but it becomes a drab routine of taking down three guys in a row to max up your focus aims for dispatching against the next three guys.
The driving of course echoes Split Second, but sadly is hampered by how much chaos can be ongoing in the semi-realistic world of Bond before going overboard. The Bangkok chase, in which you take charge of a dinky little float in your pursuit of a great big truck, does throw an interesting spanner into the works. Otherwise, the chases simply feel like spiced-down version of other 'disaster' racers.
Maybe what could've helped Blood Stone rise above its familiar play would've been a more involved script involving the kind of constant, scene-setting interchanges present in Uncharted 2. Bond and his accomplice, played by Joss Stone, rarely say a word outside of cut scenes, and when they do the words are dull and surprisingly poorly acted - even on Craig's part as Bond. The Siberian ice chase, for example, is full of unconvincingly lackluster delivery, and it's very hard to believe Stone's character is in a life-or-death situation when she sounds like she's stuck in bad traffic.
It's such a shame Blood Stone is so average and lacking impact because it does do some things right. It even does some things very right like the copious attention to detail present in the scenery of each location - the Athens hotel in particularly full of little touches of authenticity. Sadly, without the drama in the script in the play, it's impossible to get excited about the game. Add in a function but underwhelming multiplayer mode and you have a game that can only really sell on its license, and even then it could've done better. What must be as frustrating for Bizarre as it is for its fans is that in some areas the game builds a solid platform for something that could've been stronger. Of course, at this stage it's all ifs and buts, and cruelly the industry doesn't have time for such retrospection.