Last week saw the release of Commander Bond's major outing for 2010, James Bond: Blood Stone. Having finished it, I'm ready to attempt the impossible: to write a Bond review that in no way puns off any of the titles of any of the films, nor tries to crowbar in some reference to something being shaken and/or stirred. (Although now I've thought of a joke for that! Oh, okay, maybe it will contain one.) Here's Wot I Think.
It’s comforting to learn that despite my wobbly form I’m still able to sprint farther and faster than James Bond. You’d imagine the super-sleek spy, especially in his Daniel Craig incarnation, would be able to keep up the pace a little longer than about three seconds. Perhaps he’s worn out from all that sex. That could explain my advantage over him.
What would you do if you had access to the James Bond license? If you were given a chance create an entry into Fleming’s lexicon? I’ll tell you what I’d do: I’d explore the means by which Bond regenerates, by having Craig’s character go back in time and meet Moore, Connery and Lazenby. But not Timothy Dalton, because of how awful he was in Doctor Who. They’d have to team up to fight, I don’t know, a space octopus. It would be amazing. And it would be more coherent than the nonsense in Blood Stone.
I’ve never been the best at following Bond movies. I generally have to have someone with me so I can ask, “Is she the one from before, with the jewels?” And they can sigh, “Yes.” Then I can reply, “So how come she doesn’t like him now?” And they can dump me. But even from my disabled position, I’m fairly certain this is a lot of disjointed nonsense strung together by an attempt to stop some biological weapons. Or maybe I didn't follow.
Bond jumps from country to country, hiding behind the peculiarly scattered crates, shooting men in the face. In between he sometimes drives. Until it collapses to a close, in the most abrupt, awful ending I’ve ever seen. The whole game appears to have been made by the mission statement: “Oh, that’ll do.”
The big hook here is having some of the proper real-life cast of the films on board, including Daniel Craig, and extraordinarily, yet another Bond game starring Judi Dench. In what must be her second strangest career choice (because nothing will ever beat her agreeing to appear in the movie Chronicles Of Riddick) she seems to love contributing her vocals to any Bond cash-in. Joining the cast is the Bond girl who wasn’t, Joss Stone, who plays – well, really the only other character in it. And they’re all performing a story credited to Bruce Feirstein, who co-wrote the screenplay for GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies, and The World Is Not Enough. It’s like they were taking it seriously.
But the result falls so massively short of its splash credits that you wonder if it was contractual obligation rather than actors’ liking a script. What you’ve got is an astonishingly generic cover-shooter, incessantly hampered by cutscenes that don’t even have the good grace to be hilariously awful. They’re just boring.
There’s something about international terrorists, chemical weapons, and absolutely nothing whatsoever about the titular diamonds (that also occupy the opening titles). (Stone’s Nicole Hunter is a jewelry designer – that really does seem to be it.) This means travelling from Athens to Istanbul, Monaco to Siberia, and Bangkok to Burma. And in all places your job is to follow the marked path on your magical mobile phone, stealthily shooting enemies until the game forces you to unstealthily shoot enemies. Very disappointingly, the game appears to have way too much in common with Bizzare’s The Club, except without the goal of achieving a high score with its brainless, overly easy shoot-outs.
And it’s fine at this. It’s never difficult, but when hopping from cover to cover, picking out the moronic enemies (they have quite a propensity to panic at your arrival and blow themselves up with grenades) with headshot after headshot, it can feel slick. And to be fair, this is the majority of the game. It’s never more than average, but it manages to stay at average for the bulk of the time.
What’s more peculiar are the lengths to which it goes to be average. The controls are so sparse as to make sure you feel detached when doing anything other than firing. There’s no crouch, there’s not even a jump button. Instead you have one generic catch-all that changes its purpose according to the situation. If the game wants you to jump a gap, at that gap you’re told to press E. If it wants you to grab a horizontal pipe, then you’re told to press E. If it wants you to climb a wall, you’re told to press E. There’s never any choice, any experimentation. There’s one direction to head in, and one button to do it with.
There's also a weird lack of care. Everywhere you go in the world, the signs are all in English. Athens has British roadwork signs, China has British "slippery when wet" yellow folding signs. All shops and adverts and directions are in English in every nation. It's the oddest thing.
By far the most successful aspect of the game is the recreation of Judi Dench’s neck. Seriously – it’s quite extraordinarily accurate. You could almost be watching As Time Goes By. But that’s where the success ends, with faces looking like awkwardly just-off lookalikes, with the exception of Bond who looks exactly half way between Daniel Craig and Wayne Rooney. There doesn’t seem to have been even an attempt at lip synching, with characters bubbing their mouths up and down like a ventriloquist’s fish, and the direction is as dynamic as a soap opera.
But it sure likes to explode. Ho boy yes. Rather than including exciting action for you, instead the scenery around you gets to have the best fun. Entire cities seem to get destroyed in the car chases and cutscenes, the ludicrous pyrotechnics entertaining to watch, but exceedingly distracting to drive through.
Driving really should have been the strength for a game by the Project Gotham team, Bizarre Creations, but this is completely hopeless. You’re always tasked with “catching” a car you’re chasing, which can’t be done until you’ve reached the area where they start driving like EVERY SINGLE PERSON WHO EVER DRIVES IN FRONT OF ME ON THE A4. Before then you’re only following them, attempting to psychically guess which way the road’s going to bend next at your breakneck speed, and which way is going to end in a river. It’s trial and error.
The PC port is cursory. Obviously the woefully meagre controls are a hangover from a controller (but even so, the console players must have plenty of spare fingers), and just as frustratingly the cutscenes are at a resolution massively lower than the game itself. And these arrive whenever Bond’s about to do anything interesting. When the game wants you to spend vast amounts of time tediously trudging along corridors as Bond chats on his phone, you’re absolutely in control. When he jumps off a rooftop or evades a helicopter, the game will take care of that for you. And you’ll watch them in smeary, shitty quality, the glove puppet characters MAH MAH MAHing their way through a dull script, as you drum your fingers. Although I’ll give them this: you can pause them. Every other game, copy this!
And then, after about five hours, it stops. Technically I suppose you’ve killed the main baddy and so on, but in terms of any understanding of narrative structure (including how all Bond films work) this ends where it should have an interval. There’s a big revelation, a plot-twist, a muted conversation with M, and then rather than the game finally getting going it tells you “James Bond will return” and starts playing the longest credit roll I’ve ever seen in my life.
I realise this is a bit like the classic Woody Allen gag, but it really is adding insult to injuriously mediocre to have it so abruptly halt.
In a year when MGM are selling paperclips and post-it notes at car boot sales, this is Bond’s major outing, and it’s a disappointing one. When the best it has to offer is picking out headshots on static shooting galleries, it’s hardly living up to the franchise.
Oh, and that joke: The game's so boring that even if shaken you'll not be stirred from your slumber! Thankyouverymuch.