|Developer:||Bizarre Creations|||||Release Date:||2010|||||Systems:||Xbox 360, PS3, PC|
Today on Super Adventures, I'll be playing some Blood Stone 007, or perhaps James Bond 007: Blood Stone if you want to believe the manual.
This came out in 2010, so chronologically it slots right in the middle of the four year gap between the movies 'Quantum of Solace' and 'Skyfall' caused by MGM's bankruptcy issues. In fact Skyfall spent so long in production that this may have actually started out as a movie tie-in, so lucky escape there perhaps. Sure GoldenEye 007 is the exception that proves that movie licences don't have to be terrible, but it's also exceptional in that it stayed in development until two years after the film came out. It wasn't as rushed as they usually are.
It's been years since did my 'Every Old James Bond Game' marathon, but I remember that when I got past Goldeneye and moved onto the EA era, I started seeing the same few developer logos show up over and over: EA Redwood Shores (AKA Visceral), Black Ops Entertainment and Eurocom. But EA passed the licence to Activision in 2006, Black Ops vanished that same year, and Eurocom were busy making three other games (and got shut down two years later), so this has a whole new logo at the start. Blood Stone is the first Bond game created by Wiz 'n' Liz, Project Gotham Racing and Blur developer Bizarre Creations, and also the last as they went and closed down four months later as well! I guess that's why there hasn't been any Bond games since 2012, as every developer the franchise touches ends up dying.
Activision only put out one more Bond game before getting bored with the licence, which incidentally is probably why we haven't been able to find Blood Stone on Steam since 2013. Fortunately I was able to find it on eBay, so I won't have to draw sketches of the game from memory. Oh right, should probably mention that I played this before a few years back, so I'll be slightly less ignorant than usual and will be able to mention stuff from later in the game. Like how it plays the Bond theme about 700 times in a row on the end credits.
(Click images to view them in a slightly higher resolution.)
The game at least starts with the traditional Bond movie pre-credits sequence, with M (head of MI6) in Athens trying to convince a general to cancel a group photograph of the leaders of the G20 due to a reports of a possible terrorist attack. But he gets all “is this your female intuition telling you this?” and she gets all “you can keep your faith, I put my trust… in Bond” and all the Dame Judy Dench in the world couldn’t make me take this scene seriously. And this does in fact have all the Dame Judy Dench in the world, as the actress is both present and actually putting the effort in.
Those pause and skip buttons on the other hand are very impressive, and worthy of celebration. I always appreciate it when game developers remember that people sometimes play things more than once, and occasionally need to interrupt their game to get something else done.
|Not actually a screenshot.|
The shaky-cam parachute scene looks better in motion than it does in still shots though, so I borrowed some art from the installer to stand in for it. You'd think a game like this wouldn't bother dressing up the setup too much, but it actually gives you a cool looping flash animation to watch while you wait. It constantly zooms into a still shot, with the camera pulling closer and closer until it flies through a tiny gap and into another scene from the game. And so on until it has looped back around.
But even that got kind of old during the half an hour or so it hung on "updating component registration". After a few retries I began to come to terms with the fact that the game just wasn't going to run on Windows 8 and was about to give up on it entirely... but I eventually discovered that leaving the installer alone for a ridiculous amount of time was all it needed to resolve the issue.
Blood Stone is very much a third person shooter and right now it’s being as generous with the tutorials as it is with the film grain. James Bond isn’t known for paying attention to instructions though, so I disregarded its pleas to click the mouse, unstuck myself from cover, ran up to the target, and used a single button instant takedown move instead. This saved me from wasting one of my infinite bullets, and even got me an extra FOCUS AIM power up! I can’t remember how to use the Focus Aim move though so I’ll have to save that until the tutorial box pops up.
A SHORT WALK AND A LADDER LATER.
So I need to make sure to pull off the occasional melee takedown to keep my emergency Focus Aims stocked up then. Thankfully (unlike in Deus Ex: Human Revolution), there’s no need to stock up on anything to use my takedown move in the first place. The game is also unlike Deus Ex, in that it's basically as linear as they come. I'm heading from doorway to doorway here, with only one path to take. The movement is pretty similar though, with the typical 'snap to cover' button to stick me safely behind a wall, and the 'aim' button to make me lean out and zoom in a bit to take a shot.
NOT LONG LATER.
Sleeping Dogs, but I’d rather watch a stunt team do their jobs than watch QTE button prompts pop up so it could’ve been far worse.
Unfortunately Cutscene Bond is surprised by the villain calling for help, summoning some goons with machine guns. Greco slip away and Cutscene Bond leaves me to deal with the shooting! Well I would use my well-honed mouse pointing skills to get a quick headshot against these two goons, but they’re right in my face here so I’m just going to use the Focus Aim I have spare.
Yeah, I'm pretty much going to destroy anything they can throw at me here.
Or I could just jump straight into another cutscene I suppose, where Greco asks his subordinate to pass HIM a conspicuous rocket launcher (“no, the bigger one!”) and blows up his own yacht with Bond still on it. That's the good thing about being an arms dealer I guess, there's always an RPG around when you need one.
Well the yacht's in pieces now, but Bond managed to escape in the nick of time by... jumping off. Maybe not the most incredible escape he's ever pulled, but he did at least managed to commandeer a speedboat along the way, and all without a single QTE.
You know, still screenshots really don’t do this scene justice as it really does look a lot prettier in motion. In fact with all the spray, reflections and bullets kicking up the water I’m finding it hard to see the boat I’m chasing, so I'm actually grateful there's a nice visible ‘Greco 271m’ tag attached to it. And I really do need to know where this guy is going, because I’m the one doing the steering here. I’m doing a bit of shooting too, but that’s just limited to pressing the button when the game goes into slow motion and a crosshair appears over the enemy’s head.
Well that speedboat chase was actually better than the one in the film 'Quantum of Solace', so the game's doing well. Greco’s offloaded the bomb at the docks though, so now I need to follow it on foot. Hopefully he left henchmen lining the streets behind him to give me a trail to follow.
A FEW HENCHMEN LATER.
I know what it must be! I'm too comfortable here behind this car, I need to go run out into the open where the failure for being a crap shot is death. That'll motivate me to get my shit together.
Oh damn... I totally forgot that these cars all explode if you shoot them in the petrol tank! This place was all set up so I could blow up a car park full of suicide bombers and get maximum irony points, but I blew it. Not that the game actually has any points, or bonus objectives, or 'Bond moves' or anything like that.
He soon gets his answer though, when a van carrying the bomb bursts out of the garage next to him and speeds down to the road towards the G20 summit. Now I need to catch up to that van and stop it disaster happens.
Fortunately Greco just happened to have an Aston Marten DBS parked here with the keys in the ignition: the exact model of car that Bond was driving during 'Casino Royale' and 'Quantum of Solace'! In fact it has the exact same licence plate of his car in 'Quantum of Solace' too, which makes exactly zero sense but whatever.
I tried to turn the car around and run it over Greco a few times, but unfortunately he’s impervious to automobiles, and letting the van get a few more seconds ahead of me is an instant fail. I managed to count to three between taking control and watching the ‘Restart From Checkpoint’ option flash up, so there isn't a huge margin for error here.
The thing is, MI6 have been paying attention to everything I’ve been doing and know without any doubt that a terrorist attack is about to take place, but the photoshoot is still going ahead and it’s entirely up to me to save the day! The general in charge is such an idiot that even a car chase heading straight at him isn’t enough evidence that something's up.
I'm reminded of the 'chase the van' level that made me quit Agent Under Fire, but this is thankfully far less frustrating. No gadgets, no chance of getting lost, just a straight run for the van, and I don't even have to use an EMP device to disable it! Nope, I have to crash a £200,000 supercar into it.
General: "Fireworks?!? Did you know there were going to be fireworks?!?!"I didn't even exaggerate that punctuation, that's straight from the subtitles. So yeah, it turns out that this guy who's in charge of security for the G20 summit, which is a meeting of the leaders of 20 of the biggest economies in the world remember, hadn't heard about:
M: "...Honestly? Yes."
General: "How did you know?"
M: "Quite honestly? Intuition."
- The reports saying that Greco had flown in international suicide bombers for a terrorist strike.
- Greco being an arms dealer.
- The satellite info showing suspicious activity around his yacht.
- The yacht exploding, followed by a speedboat chase with lots of gunfire and missiles being fired.
- A fuel tank explosion big enough to engulf a helicopter.
- A shoot out in the streets.
- A car chase, where a British agent in constant radio contact with MI6 was chasing a bomb heading right for him.
I was crying on the inside though. Anyway, cut to credits.
It’s not really a bad song and they certainly found a good singer for it, but the verse feels like it’s building to an epic 'Skyfall'-style chorus, and instead we get a replay of the intro and then it's over. The full 4 minute version of the track does work better though in my opinion (YouTube link), as it has to time to establish that the chorus is a chorus.
The animation does look cool, even if it's let down a little by too obviously ripping off 'Casino Royale’s ‘people exploding into stuff’ silhouette fights. This time the antagonists explode into actual diamonds when they’re taken out, but it looks kind of crappy to my eyes, like they ran out of time and had to leave placeholder effect in.
The mission briefing gives M a chance to show off MI6’s stylishly absurd proprietary OS, as seen in the movie 'Quantum of Solace' (and then dropped by the time of 'Skyfall'). Personally I thought it was ridiculous when they had the touch screen 'Minority Report' table in the movie and I think it’s ridiculous here too. Sure the cinematic MI6 had shown a fondness for sci-fi level tech and impractical displays long before this, but I think a step away from the direction that leads towards holographic training rooms and invisible cars would be wiser. Don’t get me wrong, I love a bit of sci-fi, but the game is supposed to be set in a reasonably grounded version of the present day and even Tony Stark would be rolling his eyes at the way this mess of information unfolds across the screen.
I've been sent here to track down a cellphone, or more precisely the man carrying it, as he may be a British scientist who faked his death to sell his research to folks we don't like.
Oh did I mention that I spent three straight weeks watching all 23 official Bond movies (and 'xXx') in preparation for this game? Because that's the level I of commitment I have to giving you the best possible commentary. You might be thinking that it's more likely that I chose to play Blood Stone because 23 Bond films in a row have gotten me in the mood for a Bond game, but... okay that's actually significantly closer to the truth.
I suppose now I have to follow the blue arrow to the next set of evidence and repeat the process.
Fortunately no one was watching, so as far as they know they've got a secure construction site and a dead intruder to recover. They also mention needing more time with a British scientist, so I think I'm on the right track!
environment-specific contextual takedowns' technology. For my next trick I crept up on his friend over there looking down into the pit and gave him a Sparta kick for good measure. Didn't even hear me coming.
Well, while the other goons here think that Bond’s dead, this seems to be a good opportunity for me to try a bit of sneaking (especially as Q branch seems to have equipped me with finite 9mm ammo for this mission). Though without a crouch button or a radar (or even shadows) I’m not sure how well this is going to work out.
Hmm, there’s a guy over there blocking the doorway on the right, he might be a bit awkward to get around if it turns out I can't jump through windows. I'm pretty sure I can, but I feel like shooting him anyway. I mean a headshot is still kind of stealthy as long as I use a silenced pistol, right? Though I do have to keep in mind that I won't be able to hide the body afterwards.
There's no XP bonus for ghosting an area... there's no XP at all in fact, and no penalty for being seen either, so stealth is very much an opportunity to get a tactical advantage rather than an encouraged play style. This game is very much about the shooting, with Bond getting good use out of his licence to kill.
LATER, IN THE ANCIENT CATACOMBS BENEATH THE CONSTRUCTION SITE.
Failure means restarting from the last checkpoint, but they’re so generous with them in this that I only had to run down one hallway to get back to where I was. Right now I'm trying to find a way to switch some tracks so I can ram a train through a wooden barrier, kind of like in level one of Max Payne. The two games have a few similarities, being third person shooters and all, but I'm finding this to be much more about sitting my ass down behind a good solid wall and taking aimed shots. Whenever I try being mobile and ducking through incoming fire I end up with a screenful of red.
By the way, the dynamic music in this is pretty great. It’s by Headhunter and Sonic & All-Star Racing Transformed composer Richard Jacques and it sounds just like a proper Bond movie without sounding like any of them in particular (SoundCloud link). It doesn't blast out the Bond theme all that often, but after playing a bit of Agent Under Fire again recently, I'm counting that as a blessing.
A BIT OF PROPERTY DAMAGE LATER.
Drop down Bond! Drop you shit! Fucking let go already! Oh bollocks, I think I’m still an inch or so too far from the end for him to let go, but if I can shimmy across a little... DEAD.
Okay, that was actually tense. It turns out that being caught on the wrong side of the biggest blender on Earth can be a little stressful. Though now I know that Bond is perfectly capable of jumping between walkways, climbing ladders and swinging across beams, though only when he absolutely has to. Usually I'm very limited in how I can move around, so these aren't extra techniques for my tactical toolbox.
SOME SHOOTING, A FEW GOONS WITH GRENADE LAUNCHERS AND BIT OF PLOT LATER.
This chase sequence actually reminds me a lot of the game Stuntman, except much more lenient. Not to say this bit is too easy, I’ve actually fallen too far behind or thrown my car into the sea a few times now, Stuntman’s just bastard hard. When I’m in danger of falling too far back the colour bleeds out, which is a nice effect and makes it clear when it’s past time for me to get my head back in the game.
It’s all very much on a track, there’s no way I can wander off into the city streets, but this looks like the interesting place to be anyway. There’s vans coming over to block the road, hairpin turns, jumps, and another bloody helicopter swooping by… I'm starting to think this would probably be a really good time to turn my controller back on actually instead of using keys. Fortunately it also has frequent checkpoints, in case the worst should happen (over and over again).
10 SECONDS LATER.
Right then, I guess there one more round of shooting before I’m done with Istanbul. I should probably mention that this cover system works exactly how you’d expect it to, and it’s very well implemented. I press the cover button when I’m near a wall to dart towards it, then once he’s attached to it I can hold down the aim button to pop out for a shot. I’m pretty much safe while I'm here unless I learn out and make myself a target, or let them come around the side like this gentleman is doing. Just a little closer my friend, the takedown option will appear on screen any second now...
The combat is really fast and responsive, but kind of limited. I can only ever carry two guns at once and the selection isn't great, plus I've no grenades or gadgets (beyond my Bond-vision phone). The enemies get grenades, but it wouldn't end well for me if I tried to pick one up.
ONE CONFRONTATION AND A NAME LATER.
Anyway, I’ve finally met up with title song singer Joss Stone, playing a rich jewellery designer called Nicole Hunter who does a bit of work for MI6 on the side. She sounds a bit like a singer with limited acting experience reading off a script in a sound booth, which to be fair doesn’t compare too poorly to Daniel Craig’s performance of 'a man with better things to do than record dialogue for a video game'. There isn't a whole lot of chemistry between the two, and I'm finding the story to be pretty dull in general between action scenes, but to the game's credit it's not demanding that I care about it. I can live with mediocre cutscenes as long as they're brief or skippable, and there's something worth playing coming up on the other side of it.
Okay I've learned that we're working together to investigate this businessman, Pomerov, and search his casino in Monaco for the scientist's research. But we have no evidence that he or his staff are actually guilty of anything so we have to be absolutely discreet.
I gave this a try with the controller turned on as well, and it looked pretty much the same. I mean it had the exact same keyboard icons, and not just for this, for everything. Activating the controller turns the mouse off but it doesn’t seem to turn off the keyboard prompts. Makes figuring out what all the buttons do a fun adventure!
ONE OR TWO COMPLETELY FAILED ATTEMPTS AT STEALTH IN A CASINO LATER.
In any normal Bond story this would be the bit where I confront the villain, drop a few phrases into conversation to see if he reacts, and then beat him at baccarat, but today I'm strictly concerned with good honest spy work. For instance, here I'm trying to get close enough to two employees to scan their pieces of a key with my phone. I've already collected one piece from a room just to the side (I got him done with my fist). The pointlessness of this procedure makes it almost feel like an 'insert gameplay here' placeholder. But to be honest I'm still too relieved that the stealth wasn't mandatory to care all that much.
A BIT OF BALCONY HOPPING LATER.
It turns out that our villain's sinister goal is to use the research on smallpox and anthrax vaccines to create bioweapons! Somehow. Anyway, I’m done here, so I need to meet up with... crap, I've forgotten the name of Joss Stone's character.
Of course that plan kind of falls down when I’ve got people shooting at me from across the room behind cover, but I'm so tempted to push it as far as I can. Not out of boredom, just to give myself a little extra self-inflicted challenge.
A LOT OF DEAD GUARDS LATER.
There doesn’t seem to be any way to turn on auto-aim for mouse control, nor any way to get rid of it when you’re using a controller, but either way it's fine. If you switch to aimed view with the crosshair close to a target it'll snap to it, though you're on your own with the next aimed shot. It's way more entertaining (for me) than the automatic snap-on target aiming system in some of the older Bond games like From Russia With Love, because it means that getting shots on target is the challenge, not the running around bit.
I was dreading having to escort Joss Stone out of the casino through rooms full of guards, but thankfully it never happened. There's zero escort missions in this to the best of my knowledge... which automatically makes it superior to GoldenEye's single player! The multiplayer mode on the other hand I have no idea about, because I haven't tried it (it's not really my area of interest). It does have one though.
My conclusion is that I've written way too many words about Blood Stone already, and yet I keep doing it.
It's not an overly challenging game, at least not at first (seeing as 007 difficulty is locked until you finish it once). Regenerating health, responsive controls, perfect cover, one button takedowns and one hit kills mean that a player who can shoot straight and knows when to get their head down is virtually unkillable. There's been no boss fights so far, no real enemy variety beyond 'dudes with helmets' and 'dudes without helmets', and even if a bullet doesn't kill them outright, they certainly feel it. You need to bring a bit of driving skill and patience to get through the instant death chase scenes, but the frequent checkpoints and quick restarts take the sting out of them.
In fact the game is always trying to be nice to the player, offering them a pause button for cutscenes, a level select to replay any area, waypoints to lead them around so that they won't get lost. And really, this isn't the kind of game where you want to find your own way around, as being lost just means you've wandered away from the ride. Not that this is an overly scripted Modern Warfare style experience which constantly pushes you to follow instructions and play along either.
The story and writing is pretty weak (with a bit of a crap cliffhanger ending), but at least it's more sane than some of the later EA Bonds. I still can't believe they had Pierce Brosnan's Bond destroying shield generators in a helicopter. They even rewrote From Russia With Love to include Sean Connery taking part in a jet pack fight over Big Ben to rescue the Prime Minister's daughter! It's still the same writer, but Daniel Craig's Bond is fortunately far too grounded for his games to ever go full 'Moonraker'. That also means that there's no gadgets really besides the phone, but if that even slightly discouraged the developers from including a Call of Duty-style 'aim the artillery using the flickery black and white screen' sequence, then it was small price to pay.
Blood Stone doesn't have the storytelling of Tomb Raider, the challenge of a Splinter Cell game, or the character interaction of Alpha Protocol (or the modifiers of GoldenEye, man nothing has those modifiers any more), but I love this game. I realise that it's flawed and comes across as a little bit cheap and rushed... plus it doesn't have the greatest metacritic score and it secretly kills me to go against the general consensus, but my heart is telling me that this is one of the most fun third person shooter experiences I've ever had, and my brain's doing a crap job of listing ones I liked better. So it can have a trophy.