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007 Blood Stone

(Activision; US: 2 Nov 2010)

Boring Old Bond

With new James Bond films on hold due to MGM’s financial diffiuclties, the British super spy has to find exposure where he can. This month, James Bond in the guise of a digital version of Daniel Craig appeared in two games: the Wii-only update of Goldeneye and the all new Bond story, Blood Stone. I like the idea of Blood Stone in theory—with no movie script to tie them down, the creators should’ve been able to design an engaging new Bond adventure that plays to the strengths of the cover-based shooter. On paper, it makes perfect sense. Unlike, for example, the plot.


I can’t quite explain what the overall plot of this game is. I’m not even entirely sure why it’s called Blood Stone, although I suspect it’s some combination of pop singer Joss Stone’s presence and a dagger with a ruby in it that makes an appearance very late in the game. There’s certainly nothing in the story about diamonds, whether they be mined by slaves in Africa or used to power world-domination lasers. Setting the title aside, there’s some stuff about a bad Russian oligarch and some chemical weapons, all of which gets wrapped up well before the game’s conclusion, making room for another villain whose purpose I never much understood and who’s ultimate fate involves a pretty silly (and not particularly fun to play) set piece boss fight.


But so what if I can’t explain the plot? I’ve seen every James Bond movie ever made, and as I sit here, the only plot that I can actually recall in any detail is that of Goldfinger, and were I to relay it now, it would sound silly (because it is). Bond stories have never been about tight plots or even stories that make sense. The meandering scripts are mere frameworks for stylish one liners and outlandish action sequences, tied together with some PG-13 sexiness.


How does Blood Stone measure up against even such a modest yardstick? Not too well, I’m afraid. The voice cast features Daniel Craig, Joss Stone, and Dame Judy Dench, all of whom are given dull as dirt dialogue to get through. Only Stone shows a hint of liveliness and then only a hint. Workmanlike performances all around add nothing but a scaffolding for each level.


As for the levels themselves, well, here’s a mixed bag. The game is mostly a third person, cover-based shooter with some occasional stealth elements. All this works as expected and works well. Playing Bond feels appropriately bad ass but not quite superhuman—stray out of cover into a firefight and you’ll go down fast, but aim carefully and use your focus attacks and you’ll clear the levels with little difficulty. Bond’s only gadget in the whole story is his Smartphone, which can overload security cameras, open locked doors, and locate enemies behind walls. It’s reminiscent of the Detective Mode in Batman: Arkham Asylum. It adds some depth to the gameplay and is the center of the games non-shooting segments, aside from the driving parts.


Ahh, the driving. Thrilling and frustrating all at once. Always done in fancy sports cars (okay, and one tow truck) and always done at high speeds through glorious settings like Greece or Monaco or Bangkok. It looks good and controls well enough, but it mostly sucks. These aren’t races or real chases, they’re obstacle courses—survive long enough to drive all the way to the cut scene and that ends the chase. As such, they mostly proceed through the tried and true and awful system that I call “learn by dying.” Obstacles will appear, the road will collapse, and unless you really do drive like James Bond, you’re probably going to crash or at least spin out. Either way, the games fails you, and you restart at a checkpoint. Fortunately, the game’s checkpoint system is pretty good overall, but even so, I found most of the driving sections tiresome rather than exhilarating because I ended up playing sections of them over and over again.


Blood Stone’s greatest flaw is that it gets less interesting as it moves along. Early levels have a better balance of sneaking around, spying, and shooting. Then at a certain point, it trades any semblance of subtlety for overwrought bombast. There’s a turret sequence where you shoot down missiles from a hovercraft. There’s a giant, unstoppable dump truck that looks more at home in Avatar. There’s a fish tank full of whales for some weird reason. And, spoiler, you have to kill an airplane by opening up valves on a dam and drowning it. All these silly sequences are overladen with protracted gunfights against identical armed thugs, resulting in a process that’s dreary rather than inspired or even particularly fun.


007: Blood Stone is a wasted opportunity. The game had at its disposal movie stars, an iconic character, and a clean slate. The results are entirely middling. It’s not a bad game, but it’s not thrilling, delightful, sexy, or clever. A good James Bond anything has all of those elements in play.

Rating:

Rick Dakan is a novelist and former game designer whose books include the Geek Mafia trilogy from PM Press. For more of his prose and musings, go to www.rickdakan.com.


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