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Quantum of Solace

Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 Version

(Activision; US: 4 Nov 2008)

Review [9.Dec.2008]

The name is Bond? James Bond?

As anyone familiar with the James Bond franchise of films knows, 2007’s Casino Royale marked a clear effort to re-envision the classic spy in a significant way.  The newest version of Bond shed his more elegant and refined tendencies for a more brutal embodiment of the legend.


Indeed, the 2007 film seemed fixated on Bond’s body as an early scene of Bond emerging dripping wet from the ocean demonstrated.  The ironic reversal of the iconic scene in which Ursula Andress emerged clad in a revealing bikini from the ocean in Dr. No made the point clear that no longer would the body of Bond’s women be the primary object of the audience’s interests.  Instead, the chiseled and hard body of Bond would become the film’s focus as we watched it brutalize others and be brutalized itself in a chain of visceral and kinetic spectacles.


This move from Bond as an idealized sophisticate of the espionage world to a more two-fisted pulp hero (in part returning to some of Bond’s rootedness in the more pulp-magazine-inspired Ian Fleming books) indeed served to reinvigorate the aging franchise.


Thus, it is no surprise, perhaps, that while Treyarch has attempted to produce a first person shooter that adapts both the film Casino Royale and its sequel Quantum of Solace into video game form, the studio has done so with an eye on some re-envisioning of its own.  Of course, this re-envisioning largely concerns taking an aging video game genre, the first-person shooter, and entails the consideration of a few new elements that might enliven that classic form.


Of course, many of Quantum of Solace‘s gameplay elements are familiar enough to the genre.  You will be collecting weapons and ammo, gunning down waves of enemies, and, of course, also blasting away at the always stupefyingly commonplace explosive barrels scattered throughout the levels of any given first-person shooter.


Such relentlessly visceral and kinetic gameplay at first blush seems an appropriate match to the equally relentless savagery of the new Bond.  As anyone who has ever wielded a double barreled shotgun against a horde of hellspawn in a first-person shooter like Doom knows, such games are marked by an extremely brutal and straightforward style of gameplay experience.


Interestingly, though, the hybridization of Quantum of Solace‘s first person mechanics with gameplay styles more often found in third person action titles lends the Bond game a curiously more elegant and thoughtful approach to first-person shooting.


While some of the game will be spent barreling forward to furiously blast away at waves of enemies as one might expect in a first person shooter, Quantum of Solace also includes a cover system, the mastery of which does require Bond to slow down and think things out in a genre better known for aggressively frantic and frenzied combat.  Likewise, the addition of the option of being more stealthy in some levels by dispatching enemies quietly from behind or not alerting patrolling guards by taking them down with a well placed head shot from a silenced gun also adds a degree of possibility for a more elegant and graceful approach to the first-person shooter.


This decision to provide a more sophisticated version of action gaming to the genre (as well as other innovations like segments where Bond is more focused on chasing down opponents then on simply blowing them away) is ironically an intriguing way of rethinking what a first-person shooter can be, but at the same time seems a bit out of step with the interests of the films that the game intends to adapt.  Bond has gone from civilized international playboy to savage bull in a china shop in the new films, but this first person shooter has gone the exact opposite direction in terms of its tone by turning what is otherwise a savage and less subtle style of game into something more civilized and refined.


This refinement extends not only to the tone of the game but to the graphics and some elements of the game’s storytelling.  Quantum of Solace is one of the prettiest first-person shooters I have ever seen, with beautifully rendered locations and a world grandly evoked through well designed environments full of unique details.  Unlike a lot of first-person shooters, Quantum of Solace‘s levels, indeed, each look uniquely different as Bond globetrots in order to save the world, and any given building that Bond enters presents a series of rooms that each have their own unique style and aren’t just cookie cutter versions of every other room that you have seen before. 


Treyarch’s decision to move the plot along at a rapid clip by providing bridges between levels in which the previously recorded discussions of MI6’s administrators fill us in on where in the world Bond is going to be next and what his objectives are at any given moment is also smartly implemented.  This seems a reasonable way of disposing of less action-oriented narrative quickly and getting the player back to the fast paced action scenes that are the highlight of any James Bond experience.  The developers seem to recognize that the coherence of the plot of a James Bond movie is less important than the highly staged spectacle of watching Bond in action, and they apply this formula to the game.


These interesting additions of more unique approaches to what is often a very formulaic genre are both the game’s strength as well as its Achilles Heel.  The game seems a schizophrenic rendering of Bond with all the brutality of the first-person shooter and the re-envisioned Bond, but all the refinement of less blunt action games than the first person shooter and the retrograde Bond.  The game is a little uncertain of who or what it wants to be and how it wants to emulate the revision of the new cinematic version of Bond; it is stuck between being relentlessly brutal and simply offering us something new.

Rating:

G. Christopher Williams is a Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. He posts his weekly contribution to the Moving Pixels blog at PopMatters every Wednesday. Besides also serving as Multimedia Editor at PopMatters and writing at his own blog, 8-bit confessional, he has also published essays in journals like Film Criticism, PostScript, and the Popular Culture Review. You won't find him on Twitter, but you can drop him a line with that old fashioned thing called e-mail at williams@popmatters.com.


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Quantum of Solace PS3/Xbox 360 Trailer
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