James Bond might be the longest running franchise in the history of film, but its future is laced with uncertainty. Due to a lack of cash being showered on the project, Bond 23 has been put on indefinite hold, and nobody knows quite when development will resume. Fear not though, Bond fans, as Daniel Craig will be reprising his role as everybody's favourite secret agent not once, but twice before the year is out. His first appearance will take the form of GoldenEye, a Wii remake of the beloved Nintendo 64 classic, which was revealed at E3 earlier on in the year. The second game is a completely new venture, an original Bond game recently revealed as 007: Blood Stone. Sneaking into an Activision press conference last week (admittedly using my VideoGamer.com invitation) I was lucky enough to see Bizarre Creations' new game in action.
Blood Stone is billed as a complete James Bond experience. This means players can look forward to running, sneaking, shooting, snapping, driving and flirting their way through a brand new Bond plot, penned by none other than Bruce Feirstein (GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies and The World is Not Enough). While the recent Quantum of Solace game did little to satisfy the urges of wannabe Bonds, Blood Stone attempts to finally do the third-person Bond game justice.
After a brief trailer to whet our appetites, we were treated to ten minutes of in-game action from the first level. Kicking off in true 007 style, Bond throws himself out of a plane circling high above a harbour in Athens. After a short freefall, he yanks on his parachute chord and glides onto the deck of a large and expensive looking yacht. Before landing, however, he kicks an unsuspecting baddie off the boat and into the murky waters below. For scenes such as this, Bizarre has employed the talents of Ben Cooke (Craig's stunt double), who will supply the game with Hollywood-esque stunt animations such as these.
Safely aboard the yacht, we get our first glimpse of the third-person action providing the bulk of the Blood Stone experience. Bond sneaks about the deck of the ship, snapping to cover whenever he finds an appropriate wall. When an enemy is looking the other direction, Bond demonstrates his proficiencies in hand to hand combat, performing a silent but deadly takedown. Blood Stone is based on Daniel Craig's James Bond, which means the game is bold, gritty, and very action heavy. After snapping the necks of a few more goons, Bond makes his way down to the lower deck of the yacht, where we're introduced to one of the game's many villains, Greco. Not deterred by the gun pointed at his face, Greco calls for back up, and manages to make a getaway out of the ensuing chaos. The yacht is peppered with bullets, with an army of henchman appearing out of thin air. Somehow, Bond manages to safely make it back up on deck.
Meanwhile, Greco has jumped ship, making a swift getaway on a speedboat. The speedboat just so happens to have a rocket launcher onboard and Greco wastes no time in giving it a whirl. As the rocket pirouettes its way through the air toward the boat, Bond jumps overboard, with slow-motion explosions providing the background to his descent. Bond commandeers a conveniently placed speed boat of his own, and the scene that follows sees Bond tearing through the Greek harbour after Greco. Rockets are flying through the air left right and centre, helicopters are providing cover fire from the skies, and structures built around the harbour are blown to oblivion. The camera bobs up and down as Bond navigates his way through the busy harbour. It feels very Hollywood, and incredibly reminiscent of the boat chase in Quantum of Solace.
Amidst such chaos, getting a clean shot on Greco is understandably tough. Thankfully, Bond has a mechanic known as Focus Aim at his disposal. By performing stealth kills, Bond is rewarded with Focus tokens, which can be used to slow down time to line up the perfect shot. It's similar to what's on offer in Splinter Cell: Conviction or Read Dead Redemption, and makes boat based shoot outs such as these that little bit easier. Even with Focus Aim, however, Greco still manages to escape, ditching the speed boat and fleeing into the streets of Athens.
The final section of the demonstration sees Bond where he's most comfortable; behind the wheel of an Aston Martin. This, incidentally, is where Bizarre is most comfortable too, and its experience with the Project Gotham series (and more recently Blur) shines through strong. Look quickly, and you'd be forgiven for thinking you were playing PGR; the car models are fantastic, the roar of the engine is realistic, and the way the Aston weaves through the traffic is incredibly convincing. Car chases are a staple ingredient of the James Bond experience, and Blood Stone pulls them off with style. Of the three very different gameplay types shown, this was far and away the most impressive.
Before the presentation concluded, a 'special guest' was brought to the stage. British singer, song writer and actress Joss Stone announced that she will appear in the game as Nicole Hunter, Blood Stone's very own Bond Girl. Stone also provides the game with its very own Bond song, written alongside Dave Stewart of Eurythmics fame. The song, titled 'I'll Take It All' played alongside a traditional silhouetted Bond intro sequence, and was of a quality that could get away with being the intro to the next film. Activision seems to be pumping a lot of money into the game, and the production values are subsequently very high.
Blood Stone is an ambitious project, bringing together several facets of the James Bond experience into one cohesive package. The question is whether the glue holding each element together is going to stick. While the driving sections looked fantastic (I'd expect nothing less from Bizarre), the third-person action looked a little clumsy, and the character models weren't of the standard I'd expect from the genre. Bizarre isn't a stranger to the third-person shooter genre, 2008's The Club is proof of that, but an amalgamation of genres of different qualities might end up giving the game an identity crisis. Blood Stone's success will be determined by how successfully Bizarre can knit together the menagerie of mechanics. With no new Bond film to look forward to anytime soon, here's hoping the team pulls it off.
007: Blood Stone will be available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC before the year is out.