[9 December 2008]
It’s not easy being Bond. The James Bond 007 franchise is arguably the most maligned, albeit also one of the most praised, series in the history of video games, one whose genesis is, quite obviously, Goldeneye. The Rare-developed, Nintendo 64 first-person shooter is often cited as the birth of the contemporary FPS and is praised as the best 007 game ever made, mostly due to the multiplayer deathmatch mode. But with the flight of Rare from the 007 franchise and the emergence of the gorgeously crafted Perfect Dark—the proper Rare sequel to Goldeneye—the series seemed increasingly doomed as Electronic Arts produced dud after dud.
And so with the release of every new Bond game, each is held up to this somewhat unfair standard. Quantum of Solace, the latest in the series and the first published by Activision, effectively attempts to separate itself from Bond games of past, much like its blockbuster counterpart is attempting to do on the silver screen, all the while trying to maintain the charm and casual playability of its successful predecessors.
As with almost all FPSes on the Wii, the success or lack thereof starts and stops almost exclusively with the control system. Because motion control is so touch and go with the Wii, and the precision required in FPSes is so great, the control scheme is integral to each game’s success. Quantum of Solace follows the same method most of its contemporaries do on the Wii: The bounding box and dead zones. Players can choose between three presets or customize their own schemes. You’re given the opportunity to adjust, most importantly, sensitivity and aiming dead zones, and in the pantheon of Wii FPSes, Quantum of Solace neither wows nor disappoints.
What sets this game apart from other Wii FPSes is the inclusion of a cover system, the primary tool with which to fight random henchmen, helicopters, or onslaughts of trained assassins. In the cover mode, you’re thrown into a third-person view, which enables you to see the mass of enemies headed your way, where they’re taking cover, and establish an attack plan, much the way you assume Bond might actually do.
This third-person addition is nice and incredibly useful throughout the game, but it brings to light one major problem with the control system in not only this game, but all Wii FPSes: aiming and turning are mutually exclusive actions, which is to say, you can either turn or aim, never at the same time. In a non-Wii FPS, the crosshairs stay firmly planted in the middle of the screen while you turn and aim. But Wii FPSes function more like Time Crisis games with the added burden of having to move and turn your character. The cover mode in Quantum of Solace is basically the equivalent of Time Crisis, perfected and implemented in a FPS.
As for the single-player missions in the game, they are mostly formulaic and are greatly hindered by the function of “being James Bond,” which means explicit objectives and covert tactics. The levels are all notably linear. You can only go one way and are confronted by enemies whether or not you’d be able to find a more discreet way of going about the level and killing your adversaries. So when you’re not sneaking around trying to disable cameras, you’re mostly being funneled into ambushes where you hide behind whatever cover you can find before moving onto the next scenario. Objectives are basically dead ends or the ends of the levels.
It’s not until you play the multiplayer mode—online or otherwise—that you realize that this basic level design is done more out of necessity than laziness. Frankly, the control scheme of Quantum of Solace falls apart in open space with the possibility of enemies from all sides. While the cover system is perfect when encountering enemies head on, it leaves you almost completely defenseless to attacks coming from the backside. While you have a full view of what’s on the other side of your cover position, you have absolutely no way of seeing what’s coming at you from your side of the cover position, and also almost no way of defending yourself. As such, you have to rely on the traditional FPS view to kill your enemies, something that becomes increasingly difficult as you’re not giving the same options for customizing your control scheme in multiplayer as you are in single-player modes. And with random designated spawn points throughout the level, your opponents can come from almost any direction.
It’s somewhat ironic then that what truly shines in Quantum of Solace is the single player mode, not the multiplayer that the series has become notorious for. Unfortunately though, the single player mode isn’t much to write home about. It has its moments but is ultimately muddied by the poor control conception of all Wii FPSes. Whenever someone figures out the Wii control scheme, the result will almost certainly be a masterpiece, but until then, FPS will flounder in their own self-realizing prophecies. And while Quantum of Solace attempts to be the first arbiter of this new control scheme, its approach simply emphasizes the problems within the game rather than correcting them. This game is not the new Goldeneye, and frankly, no Bond game—or any game really—will ever be again; you can only revolutionize a genre so many times.