This mismatch of identities begins with the game’s graphics. Developer Bizarre Creations is probably best known for their driving games, having created such driving classics as the Project Gotham Racing series and most recently the excellent Blur. This is the chief reason that all the driving sections in Blood Stone are outstanding in their look and control. Whether it’s racing Bond’s Aston Martin down a frozen river in Siberia, dodging missiles from a Russian attack chopper, or chasing a huge dump truck through the streets of Hong Kong, all the vehicle sequences are absolutely top notch. The vehicles all handle as you would expect them to, with great motion blur as you hit top speed. It wouldn’t be a Bond movie without plenty of explosions, and Bizarre Creations doesn’t skimp when it comes to this. All the set pieces in the driving sections are punctuated by gorgeous slow motion explosions to highlight the action and tension just that little bit extra.
As good as the vehicles and explosions look, the character models in the game are average at best. All the lead characters are recognizable film stars, but it’s a stretch to say you’d be able to recognize them from their in-game avatars. Daniel Craig has played the part of 007 for two movies now, and for the most part his portrayal has been understated, attempting to show a man that is calm on the outside but full of rage on the inside. Unfortunately, the characters in Blood Stone are so flat that they are never able to convey subtlety of emotion like this.
The environments that you encounter as you play through the game are another area where you will feel shortchanged. With locations as far-flung as Hong Kong, Istanbul, and Siberia, you would assume that Blood Stone provides plenty of variety for the player, but on the whole the environments feel empty, with very little interactivity to be had. At times you’ll be able to overhear random conversations from guards or tourists, but this is infrequent and doesn’t do the job of “filling in” the world around you. You’re even limited on your choice of whether to open a door or kick it in, with the game deciding how you’ll proceed even with this most basic of actions.
The sound work is where this title really hits its stride. As you would expect, Judi Dench and Daniel Craig are absolutely stellar as the voices of M and James Bond. What’s a pleasant surprise is the way the rest of the cast manages to keep up with the stars of the game. Whether it’s a random Hong Kong policeman or a terrorist in Athens, the entire cast delivers strong voice performances that add to the overall feel of the game. This is an area where many titles cut corners, using less than talented actors to fill in for the bit parts. The developers of Blood Stone chose to keep the quality high across the board when it came to voice acting and attention to detail like this is truly appreciated.
One of the key aspects of any Bond movie is the title song that goes along with the opening credits. Ever since From Russia With Love premiered in 1963, a wide variety of musical artists have lent their skills to the opening sequence of the Bond films. Everyone from Duran Duran to Madonna to a-ha have performed an original song for the films, and Blood Stone is no different. This time around it’s Joss Stone, who also happens to play the female lead in the game, that sings I’ll Take It All over the credits at the start of the game. To go along with the title song, composer Richard Jacques has created a score that will make any fan of the 007 movies feel right at home, featuring plenty of orchestral brass to highlight the action during the game.
The control scheme is where things start to come off the rails for Blood Stone. It’s not that the controls are necessarily bad, it’s more like they’re overly simplified. Players are prompted at every turn on how to move into cover, or stay in cover around corners. While I agree that this is a perfect way to handle tutorial levels early on in the game, in later levels it becomes a distraction and doesn’t contribute to the gameplay.
One of the best innovations in gameplay is the use of Bond’s mobile phone. In function this is a close parallel to Batman’s “Detective Vision” in Arkham, allowing Bond to analyze his surroundings, determine the location of enemies, whether they’re alerted to his presence or not, and the presence of intel (collectibles) scattered throughout the levels. There is one crucial difference in functionality though – in Arkham there was often very little reason to turn off detective vision, meaning you would play much of the game in a green-tinged night-vision type of mode. In Blood Stone, if you try to move around, fire your weapon, or sprint, the picture from the mobile phone starts to break up. This encourages players to use the mobile phone sparingly, but not leave it on all the time.
Two big surprises await players of Blood Stone – how easy the game is and how
short the game is. In your first run through of the game you are limited
to Recruit, Operative, and Field Agent difficulty, with 007 only being unlocked
after you complete the game once. Even at Field Agent difficulty the game
is very easy to complete, and experienced players will have no problem
completing the game in as little as five hours of gameplay. Focusing on
trophies and collectibles when you play through on 007 difficulty will tack on
another four to five hours at most.
As short as it is, Blood Stone starts out extremely strong, with a tutorial
level and intro sequence that is worthy of any Bond movie to date. Faced
with a terrorist bomb threat against the G20 conference in Athens, Bond has to
skydive into action right from the start and track down the terrorist
leader. Starting out on a yacht in the Aegean, Bond pursues the terrorists
via speed boat, and then by car to thwart their plan. As 007 runs the car
bomb off the road just short of the conference, we’re treated to a huge
explosion and then dive right into the opening credits accompanied by Joss
Stone’s I’ll Take It All.
It’s moments like these that show the true magic that Bizarre Creations and
storywriter Bruce Feirstein are capable of creating. It’s just too bad
that they weren’t able to recapture that magic until the penultimate level of
the game. What happens in between the opening and the end of the game
feels more like an unconnected set of levels, with no overarching plot.
While they are each good on their own, the different locales don’t contribute as
much to the overall story as they should, and leave the player feeling flat, not
caring about the characters much at all.
The next-to-last level on the dam is excellent, with plenty of action,
challenge, and outstanding level design for players to enjoy. While the
dam level would have been a high note to end the game on, what happens next is
confusing and unnecessary at best. Without ruining any surprises, let me
just say that the final level of the game attempts to create a cliffhanger to
keep fans excited for the next game. Instead, it feels forced and not true
to the films at all, practically making that player feel that all was for
naught. And where does the title, Blood Stone, figure into all this?
That’s a great question that I wish I could answer, but the game never clearly
explains how the title figures into the storyline.
Most first-person shooters can be forgiven the sin of having an extremely short
single player story because the expectation is that the multiplayer component of
the game will provide the majority of the gameplay. If this were the case
in Blood Stone, then all (or almost all) would be forgiven, but that’s not the
case here. Coming off as almost an afterthought to the extremely short
single player game, Blood Stone only offers three types of multiplayer
games. Players are given the choice of Team Deathmatch, Objective, or Last
Man Standing. These are all classic examples of multiplayer game types,
but it seems like very little effort was spent to customize the multiplayer
experience so it reflected the Bond movies’ style and flair.