Games: James Bond 007 Blood Stone

James Bond hangs his head (and gun) in shame at tired storyline and gameplay association

Men Of A Certain Age Beware

There comes a point in every Englishman’s life when he comes to the reluctant conclusion that, bloody hell, he will never be James Bond. Just as he has reluctantly acknowledged (probably 10 years previously) that he will never be picked to play football for England. It’s both a rite of passage and a psychologically crushing moment that leaves one horrendously scarred if somewhat more rounded and mature and ready to get on with one’s life.

The promise that I can outlive this moment of clarity by becoming Bond (if only Games Bond) is highly enticing. Certainly the Bond character lends himself to video gaming far better than Lara Croft lends herself to cinema. And in the Daniel Craig incarnation, you have the best Bond yet – an almost unchanging force akin to the classic Western Hero who strolls into town, solves everyone’s problems (usually by killing many of them) only to languidly wander off into the sunset largely unaffected by the whole process.

However, about five minutes into this game you come to the understanding that no, this game won’t let you be James Bond either.

Sure,  it does replicate one key element of the Bond experience. After coming into town, clearing it of baddies and walking into the sunset, you emerge a few, scant hours later unscathed and unchanged. But it ruins even that by leaving you shortchanged, unmoved and bereft of any feelings of satisfaction or enjoyment.

What’s The Problem?

Essentially this is a game that doesn’t know what it wants to be and attempts to camouflage this beneath the thin facade of a below par Bond storyline. Rather than taking the plot as the starting point and building the game around it, it seems more likely that the plot has been shoe-horned into the capabilities of the developers.  As a result there’s no clear or coherent sense of ‘self’ to the game.

It’s a bit like that popular pop music song of a while back, Mambo No. 9 by Lou Bega. You play it for a moment, find yourself humming it while in the supermarket, but never have the desire to really play it again. To paraphrase, it’s a little bit shooter, a little bit stealthy, a little bit driving, a little bit platform and a whole lot of rigid linearity. All wrapped up in a storyline that feels like the bottom bin discards from an unsuccessful two day screenwriting workshop. You have the requisite, if predictable, ‘glamourous’ locations, the all too familiar rogue Russian billionaire and a few handy McGuffins – but nothing feels like a real Bond moment and the whole story runs out of steam pretty quickly, after which a succession of identikit, bob-a-job villains and baddies strive unsuccessfully to do you in as some kind of vague afterthought. It’s Bond Lite (rather than Bond Redux or Bond Reinvented or The Dark Bond), delivered from the rejected out-takes of one of the screenwriters of Goldeneye, Tomorrow Never Dies and The World Is Not Enough.

The Story Stays The Same

There are some fundamental problems here, which to some extent are problems with the entire concept of narrative within videogames, to some extent problems with the entire Bond world.

Essentially drama and narrative centre around the notion of change and conflict. You have a situation and a bunch of characters which develop over time only to reach a suitably climactic conclusion by the end. The satisfaction we take from a narrative lies as much in the development and resolution of both the situation and the characters as it does from our experience of their journey.

Games have a deepseated problem with the notion of story. Games are not stories, no matter how much they seem to want to be. Sure they may conform to the basic ‘beginning, middle and end’ concept you’re taught at school, but they don’t seem to do anything more superficial than that. The real journey does not play in front of you, it plays you, or rather in playing the game it’s the gamer who is changed not the character they are playing within the game. If in a novel character is internal, and in a film character is action, then in a game character and character development is about the spaces, the holes in which the player operates, allowing them to ‘live’ in the game, rather than any element of the game itself.

If that’s true, then this game has no character at all because there are no holes. Your process through the game is fundamentally rigidly linear, leaving little, or frankly, no room for exploration or deviation. Make no mistake, this is no highly extensible, open sandbox environment littered with choices and options. Instead you are instantly locked into a single passage through the game with paint by numbers routes filled with low grade anonymous enemies whose actions and ‘intelligence’ are severely limited.  In doing so the game reduces the player to little more than a flesh covered husk of bone and gristle whose sole function is to keep breathing while pressing the correct buttons in a specific sequence. Even more so than God of War, which has elevated mindless monkey see button mashing to ever-greater heights, this is about the game manipulating the player rather than the other way around.

Even those levels that are supposedly about exploration, where Bond’s task is essentially to do a bit of detecting, are painfully constricted, with a tedious ‘now go here, now go there’ mechanic that serves only to drag you from one shooting location to the next.

Driving elements are especially guilty. They’re all about pressing hard on the accelerator, learning the corners and various vehicular impediments and very, very occasionally dabbing a digit on the brakes. There’s no room for manoeuvre or deviation. It doesn’t matter whether you’re driving Bond’s Aston Martin, a Thai tow truck or a high speed boat, the action is exactly the same – speed, speed, brake, corner, accelerate, avoid the lump in the way, speed, crash out, memorise route, repeat, close. Very, very little subtlety other than the occasional moment where the finger is dabbed off the accelerator is required to comfortably pass these levels.

Meanwhile, the Stealth and Shoot levels are a bit like a chinese meal, easy to get to grips with, vaguely satisfying, but ultimately insubstantial. Unlike the meal, however, you’re not left wanting another one half an hour later. The linear, one-route-to-rule-them-all system, the tame, predictable behaviour of the enemies and the easy targeting style makes it unrewarding (not to mention pointless) to attempt a stealthy approach. There’s no real benefit in even trying it. And just in case you were thinking of going off-piste on this, your poxy smartphone, which looks even cheaper and nastier than your first disposable mobile in GTA IV, presents you with a series of waypoints that dictate your progress.

Sure the ‘Score an unarmed takedown, get a free headshot’ mechanic is kind of fun, at least making takedowns into a vaguely tempting option, but quite frankly the goons are so stupid it’s rarely worth the additional effort needed, and if you’re into the challenge of going through whole levels only killing baddies by stealth in a pitiful attempt to enliven the gameplay, well don’t bother as key doorways become bullet infested chokepoints which you can’t get by without a reliable semi-automatic weapon.

There’s also an essential problem with Bond himself. For Bond books and films are not classic stories per se, although they perfectly conform to the strictures of the classic Western. For Bond as a character is especially unchanging, his character arc defined by action and external events rather than any kind of internal or emotional development. Which is to say that the Bond who exits a film is essentially exactly the same as the one who enters it (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service being the sole exception). Indeed, one of the key differences between the Bourne movies and Bond ones wasn’t the gritty tone and the more intimate physical violence, but the fact that Bourne’s character actually changed over the course of each movie.

The Villain’s Lair

So there you are. Incomplete and insubstantial gameplay blocked off with a half-arsed storyline that would be lucky to see either side of the bin going down conspire to make this an unpalatable gaming experience to say the least. So much so  it’s hard to tell whether the excessive brevity of the game – around a paltry 6 hours – is a blessing or a curse. Certainly it’s a shock when you suddenly find yourself at the closing credits, albeit a brief one as there is a pang of satisfaction that the thing is actually over and shouldn’t be bothering you for the rest of your life.

[review pros="Vaguely entertaining for a few moments, Lets you pretend to be Bond if you squint a lot" cons="Highly linear and rigid gameplay, Monotonous, Derivative storyline, Way too short, Dull if speedy driving sequences" score=45]

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