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Blood Stone: 007 (PlayStation 3) artwork

Blood Stone: 007 (PlayStation 3) review

"Bond has landed in a cover-based shooter and he's smart about it. If you put him behind a crate and an enemy is approaching his location, it's easy to creep to the edge, then duck around the side of the crate without standing up and exposing himself. Or if there's cover nearby, it's easy to roll to that cover and keep moving from there. The difference is in how long you hold down the appropriate button once you press it. The whole process quickly becomes second nature and feels a lot more natural than it did in similar titles."

It's difficult to think of a single thing that Blood Stone, the latest 007 game in a long line of 007 games, does wrong. It remains technically polished throughout. It has a reasonable number of stages that span a variety of interesting locations. There are the expected explosions, the required moment where Bond wakes up with a beautiful woman in his bed, and there are the usual car chases and fistfights. Naturally, there also are diabolical villains, sneaky betrayals and voice work from familiar celebrities such as Judi Dench and Daniel Craig, the current face of Bond. In short, all of the right bases are expertly covered and the result is a very good game.

Perhaps, though, you should hesitate before you spend full price for the privilege to experience the new adventure. Because even though Blood Stone does a lot of things right, even though it crosses every 't' and dots every 'i,' there are times where you won't be able to shake the notion that maybe things would have been better if the developers thought outside the box a little bit more.

The game begins with a race through Athens, first along the deck of a luxury yacht and then on a speedboat and in a sports car. The game's prologue is very good at setting the tone for everything that the player will experience in the following stages. It's a satisfying opening to what promises to be a real thrill ride, but as an opening act it's a tough one to follow. The player begins the next stage in another (less exotic) country with a new mandate: walk around and gather evidence.

In this game, Bond has precisely one special gadget to supplement his supply of machine guns and pistols: a "smartphone" that allows him to scan the environments around him in search of intel that means nothing because by the time he finds it, Bond already knows all of the information that it contains (or very close to it). Intel is the game's collectible, a transparent way to extend the experience because typically it is hidden away so that you must go out of your way to find it. The problem is that while a lot of games give you additional rewards if you find intel, the most that you'll get in this instance is a selection of one-paragraph text summaries and a trophy or two. There's no in-game footage detailing the making of the game, no soundtrack, not even character artwork to unlock. A lot of work clearly went into making the game, but apparently none of that is any of your business.

The smartphone is annoying because when you have it equipped, the screen assumes a hazy appearance. It's like you're watching everything on a fuzzy old black-and-white television. Points of interest are marked in primary colors, which makes it easy to find weapons or even to see enemy locations, but the minute you fire a gun or do anything else along those lines, the smartphone stops working. If you want to continue monitoring an approaching group of enemies, you'll have to activate the phone again. Doing so isn't difficult, but it's still a bit annoying. The developers eliminated some of the need for heavy smartphone use by making sure that indicators pop up on-screen if you're in the general vicinity of something that might be worth scanning for intel, but the effectiveness of that prompt is uneven. If you're really looking to find all of the intel, you'll either want to bring along a FAQ or you'll need to have the smartphone active most of the time.

Fortunately, the game benefits from numerous elements that will make your overall experience an enjoyable one. Bond has landed in a cover-based shooter and he's smart about it. If you put him behind a crate and an enemy is approaching his location, it's easy to creep to the edge, then duck around the side of the crate without standing up and exposing himself. Or if there's cover nearby, it's easy to roll to that cover and keep moving from there. The difference is in how long you hold down the appropriate button once you press it. The whole process quickly becomes second nature and feels a lot more natural than it did in similar titles such as Uncharted: Drake's Fortune.

The cover system's polish is an absolute must because as you work through stages, you'll receive credit for sneaking up on your foes. If you are good at getting stealthy, you can advance most of the way through the typical stage without ever raising the alarm. That makes it easy to conserve ammunition and it also opens up the "Focus Aim" move. With a Focus Aim, you can press a button and time will slow as you take your time aiming at an enemy's vital points, then fire before he has time to turn his gun on you. Players who wish to do so will be able to find and maintain an interesting balance of melee combat and gunfights, which should leave them striving constantly for improvement. It's nice that as a player gets better and better at a game, the techniques that get that player through the stage become increasingly complex and more interesting. Stages are built in a way that makes it easy to run and gun if you want to just barely get through, but there also are obvious rewards for truly mastering each environment.

The developers at Bizarre Creations certainly knew how to produce a polished third-person shooter, as they proved with The Club, but the team is perhaps best known for its Project Gotham Racing games. Some of that expertise is put to work in Blood Stone, which is an exciting thought, but unfortunately the results are quite mixed. When the player is provided a capable vehicle, which is the case only around half the time, the streets of Europe and Asia are a delight to explore. The remainder of the driving sequences are a hassle, though, as the player is forced to settle for a jalopy or a tow truck or even a nice car that doesn't handle well because you're speeding along rapidly twisting docks or even ice flow. Most high-speed pursuits begin to feel just a little bit more like work than they really should. Players who have stepped into the shoes of the heroic James Bond shouldn't have to spend so much time feeling that they were handicapped in the process.

How much any of the issues referenced above will bother you comes down to personal taste, of course. Some folks are bound to chafe at the repetition inherent to the genre. Some are bound to wish that the smartphone mechanic weren't included at all. There are obvious answers to those concerns, though: don't play the game if you hate cover-based shooters and don't use the smartphone if you don't like it.

Such common-sense solutions to its most significant issues mean that in spite of the few moments where it stumbles, Blood Stone is a generally competent title that fits perfectly within the Daniel Craig version of the Bond universe. Some might feel cheated when they find themselves in the middle of moments where the game doesn't feel quite like the sort of Bond title that they remember from the early GameCube and Xbox days, but the change in focus is clearly intentional. Bizarre Creations has produced a game that is true to its license--right now, not in some idealized past--and in the process has produced one of the most efficient third-person shooters around. Like Bond himself, the game gets the job done in an imperfect but ultimately entertaining manner. Fans of Britain's fictional finest could do much, much worse.


honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (October 26, 2011)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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SamildanachEmrys posted October 26, 2011:

I particularly like the way you deal with the game's flaws here: explain exactly how they affect gameplay, then point out that they're easily ignored with a bit of common sense. It's a nice change from the 'I don't like this feature, waaaa' criticism that a lot of reviews elsewhere tend to indulge in.

A couple of corrections:

'spann a variety of interesting locations' should lose the double N: 'span'
'toe truck' should be 'tow truck' (unless it's a disreputable podiatrist's vehicle)
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honestgamer posted October 26, 2011:

Thanks for catching those silly errors. I'm not sure how either slipped into the review. Perhaps I was tired. I don't have any editor except for me, so when I write while I'm tired, bad things happen. The image of a guy driving around collecting toes is downright chilling.
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SamildanachEmrys posted October 26, 2011:

It happens. I make some hideous errors when tired, even to the extent of repeating whole paragraphs.

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