007: Blood Stone Xbox 360 review

Walther? Check. Tuxedo? Check. Aston Martin? Check. Aaron finds out if 007: Blood Stone has the right ingredients to shake and stir…

James Bond: Quantum Of Solace wasn’t a bad game. In fact, it was quite good. Sure, it was certainly no game of the year, but it delivered some quality Bond action nonetheless, even if it was a little unoriginal. With the lack of a film out any time soon, Activision didn’t want to let the world’s most famous spy get too rusty, and called Daniel Craig’s incarnation of Bond back into active service for Blood Stone.

If you’re expecting more of the same Call Of Duty-style gameplay, though, you’ll be surprised. Developer, Bizarre Creations, has dropped the previous game’s mechanics in favour of some more old school Bond action that plays much more like older 007 title, Everything Or Nothing, only much smoother. Think Metal Gears of Bond, and you’re about there.

The game is played primarily in third person, and features a ton of cover-based gunplay similar to Epic’s chainsaw-wielding series. Stealth also plays a pivotal role, and aside from the copious amounts of ballistic combat, you’ll spend a good deal of time trying to silently get the drop on foes, performing stealth takedowns and outflanking enemies in numerous locations around the world.

Licence to imitate

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Controlling Bond is pretty standard stuff, with the usual by-the-book cover system being one of the central components. Ranged combat is similarly familiar, with over-the-shoulder aiming, blind fire from cover and a simple easy kill system that lets you kill any foe with a single precise shot. This focus mode is gained by performing stealth kills, a la Splinter Cell, and is useful, but not all that impressive.

Bond can use a range of weapons above and beyond his trusty Walther pistol, and he also has a rather handy mobile phone scanning device that can locate and scan evidence, reveal the direction you’re supposed to go, and track the location and awareness level of enemies, as well as hack computers and the like. (I bet the iPhone can’t do that!)

Although none of this is exactly revolutionary and most features have been seen before many, many times, all of this hangs together well for the most part, and the controls and feel of the game are about right. The cover system, although fairly rudimentary, works well enough, and gun combat, mixed in with simple stealth and basic melee attacks, help create a surprisingly enjoyable romp. Sadly, the enemy AI and challenge don’t stand up quite as well.

Toasty!

The enemy AI is pretty poor, and when enemies aren’t standing right out in the open soaking up James’ bullets, they’re hunkered down behind objects, bobbing their heads up and down out of cover with the regularity of a nodding dog in the back of a rickety old banger. It’s comical at times, and placing your sights over the hiding place of a terrorist, waiting for him to laughably pop his head out, into your sights, for the easy kill is commonplace.

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Even on hard difficulty foes rarely put up a struggle, and are usually non-events that exist merely to fill up space and give you something to do. They’ll certainly return fire, though. In fact, so happy are their collective trigger fingers, they’ll even fire constantly into walls and other objects that dare to get in their line of sight towards Bond, emptying clip after clip with nary a sidestep to look around obstructions. You do have to make use of cover if you wish to stay alive, though, when the enemy actually figures out how to move and target you.

This is because the harder difficulty only lets you take a couple of shots before James croaks, so cover is essential. But once seated in a hidey hole, you’ll rarely have to move, as enemies just aren’t that intelligent, and will often be content to wait until doomsday behind the closest wall or barricade. They’ll even get nestled down right next to conveniently placed explosive barrels, as if daring you to blow them to kingdom come.

Obviously, effective battlefield movement and cover use wasn’t important in their respective criminal organisations orientation programme. They will sometimes attempt to press the fight onwards, moving in on you, albeit very slowly, but you’ll rarely find yourself flanked or outthought.

Spice of life

Luckily, while the on foot gameplay is fairly traditional, not exactly pushing any boundaries, it’s mixed together with the various other elements well enough that it all combines to make an enjoyable game. Stealth never feels awkwardly forced, the slick, easy to execute melee moves are cool and the gun play is polished enough, especially with the slow-mo headshot-tastic focus mode, and despite the flaws, it’s always entertaining.

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To mix things up a little, some missions throw in stealth-heavy sections that let you sneak around without firing a shot, and others see you locating computers and other devices to hack and recover information. There’s even a rooftop chase sequence that stands out as a highlight of the game. This variety helps to keep the admittedly repetitive core gameplay interesting, and it all feels very Bond in the process.

Mota

Breaking up the main course of third person combat are a few vehicles sections. These are usually short and sweet, but offer some hugely entertaining high speed thrills that wouldn’t be out of place in a real Bond movie. There’s a host of James Bond moments, including exploding oil tankers, strafing helicopters and frantic pursuits through oncoming traffic, and each handles very well, which is no surprise, coming from the developers behind Project Gotham.

As with the main game, these sections are rarely all that challenging, and serve mainly as a distraction from the combat-heavy and occasionally repetitive nature of the on foot sections, but they look great and play well, and are a step up from Bond’s previous outings behind the wheel in past videogame adventures.

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Pacemaker

When you first plough into Blood Stone, you’ll experience an initial wow factor. The opening act is a non-stop thrill ride, packing in on foot combat, an epic speedboat chase and a rubber-burning road race pursuit. But this soon gives way to a far more mundane and slow paced game, at least initially.

Eventually, after a few sluggish (but still enjoyable) sections, things pick up, and the latter part of the game certainly tightens things up, but then, before you know it, it’s all over. The story will last only around five to six hours for most, with little to no reason to replay it.

There is a multiplayer component included, but it’s more of a throwaway extra than a real reason to keep the game in your playlist. In fact, I suspect most will try the multiplayer out one or two times and never return. It’s just so, well, meh.

You expect me to be good?

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007: Blood Stone has a lot going for it on face value, including decent visuals, solid controls, some exciting and varied locations and an authentic cast, but it’s let down by some basic, overly formulaic features, dodgy AI and light challenge.

Like Quantum Of Solace, Blood Stone isn’t a bad game, and is, in fact, a very enjoyable one while it lasts. The main bulk of the game may be a little samey and unoriginal for some, but the vehicle sections and some great Bond-like situations help to keep things interesting.

It’s just a shame that it never quite manages to escape mediocrity, and there are so many similar style games that do the same thing better. Bond fans will definitely get a kick out of this, but it’s no GoldenEye.

3 stars

007: Blood Stone is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.

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Rating:

3 out of 5