What Went Wrong: Blood Stone
Given the current economic climate, it's no surprise that the movie industry took a bit of a hit. It's also no surprise that studios had to cut back. MGM, partial copyright holders of the James Bond franchise, had a deficit in the billions, meaning that a new entry in the 50-year old franchise just wasn't on the cards, despite the success of the series' reboot with Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace. So, rather than a new film continuing Bond's quest to take down the Quantum organisation, fans were instead treated to a stand-alone story in the form of a third-person shooter from Bizarre Creations, the team behind Project Gotham Racing. Blood Stone had a lot of responsibility: not only did it have to stand up to its contemporaries, such as Gears of War, Splinter Cell: Conviction and Uncharted, it also had to tell a story worthy of the great tradition of Bond movies, and promised some awesome Bond-style car chases. Despite the talent of Bizarre Studios (clearly evident in the PGR games), Blood Stone just didn't make a splash with critics or audiences. What went wrong?
There are a number of elements that make up a Bond movie. The story must incorporate a mystery involving dangerous science or political manoeuvring, there must be a girl who ties into the story somehow, there must be a car, normally an Aston Martin, to be involved in a car chase, the story must be global for the maximum amount of locations, and at the heart of it all there must be a villain turning the cogs. This is true of both classic Bond and the new, “grittier” Bond. Blood Stone features each of these stereotypes effortlessly. There's an unrelated pre-credits sequence involving a gunfight on a yacht, followed by a boat chase, and by a car chase. It's a promising start. Once the story kicks in, though, we realise that this story was, unfortunately, half baked. There are a couple of twists and turns, some nice locations, and a thankless performance from Joss Stone as the utterly uninteresting and vacuous Nicole. Daniel Craig only just fares better, imbuing his avatar with a sense of character through sheer force of charm. The villain, though, is completely forgettable. In short, the story and characters are Bond through and through, and yet that's one of the games biggest weaknesses: it just isn't at all surprising.
If you played Splinter Cell: Conviction last year, chances are that, at least once, you thought to yourself: “This is just like James Bond!” Apparently the folks at Bizarre did the same thing, because the gameplay in Blood Stone is strikingly similar to Splinter Cell in places. A third-person shooter where you need to stay in cover to not die, the game also uses one-button melee takedowns. These takedowns earn you focus aims, which slows down time and takes out your target in one hit. Pretty much exactly the same as in Splinter Cell. I suppose this isn't a bad thing: it's an interesting mechanic and is entirely appropriate.
The problem is, the game rarely makes you feel like a superspy. Obviously the game has to respect the new “realistic” aesthetic of the franchise, which is difficult considering how many henchmen you take down, and some of the situations you find yourself in, but is ultimately fairly successful in this endeavour. No, the problem is that the game holds your hand for the entire duration. Your cell phone guides you to each objective, literally marking out every step. Gunfights are easy and don't require much thought to defeat the dopey AI. It's a real shame, not helped by the fact that most of the games cool moments are in cutscenes, so there's no real sense of accomplishment. You're just there, pressing some buttons. Every aspect of the game is linear. There's no opportunity at any point to deviate from a set path, to use your own brain to deal with a situation.
This might be more acceptable if the shooting aspects were top notch. Unfortunately, shooting just doesn't feel very responsive. In an incredibly saturated genre, a games shooting mechanics have to be sleek and intuitive: there's a good reason Call of Duty is pretty much the biggest game in the world. The shooting mechanics here can't save the campaign, and consequently doom the multiplayer. There's a reasonable selection of gametypes and maps, with unlockable skins etc. It's just not enough to keep players coming back beyond a few games. The multiplayer shooter market is chock full of games trying to tap into Call of Duty's monopoly, and Blood Stone is just one more that can't do it.
There are a number of driving levels in Blood Stone. They break up the shooting aspects well, but aren't particularly memorable themselves. The cars handle well, very similarly to PGR (not-surprisingly), meaning these sections are more arcade than simulation. There are huge amounts of destruction over vast areas here: visually sumptuous, but utterly ridiculous. A more realistic interpretation, indeed.
It's staggering to think that GoldenEye 007 for the N64 still hasn't been topped. One would be forgiven for thinking that all the advances in graphics and gameplay complexity would lead to a better game, but they'd be wrong. Blood Stone has good, not great graphics. Everything's a little bland but far from ugly. It has an uninspiring story and mediocre gunplay. Everything is just a little too simple. At least it's better than the Quantum of Solace game.
For the sake of speculation, it'd be interesting to see if Bizarre are tasked with making a sequel. Blood Stone has real potential, but could have done with more time, as is always the way with franchised games. A sequel isn't likely, however, since the 23rd Bond movie has been officially greenlit.