"We need to get off the ice," says Nicole to Bond. She's not talking about crystal meth, you understand - 007 is irresponsible at times, but not that irresponsible. No, the plummy-voiced lady is talking about the thin, frozen lake that Bond is currently driving over at ridiculous speed in a battered-up sports car. By extension, she's also talking about the ruddy great helicopter that's spitting out missiles and tracer-lit streams of hot, hot lead. Given the circumstances, "we need to get off the ice" is a strong candidate for Understatement of the Year.
Moments later, we do indeed get off the ice - but not in the way that Nicole planned. My typically fluffy driving skills finally get the better of me, and the car slips into the freezing waters. Instant death for Nicole, instant death for Bond, instant failure (and nagging embarrassment) for me. Luckily the game resets to the previous checkpoint in a matter of seconds. It's a good thing too - because this is about the twelfth time that I've cocked-up and crashed in the past 12 minutes.
This particular section of Bloodstone seems pretty hard, but then again, it's been culled from the middle of the game, at a point when you're probably supposed to be quite comfortable with the controls. I've got no idea what's going on in terms of the plot: Bond is in a car with a posh woman called Nicole (who has the voice of Joss Stone) and is chasing an angry Russian man named Pomerov, who's trying to escape 007 by train. The level finds Bond chasing the runaway choo-choo through a variety of terrain: you start out driving through an exploding oil refinery, replete with jack-knifing tankers, then break out into snowy terrain and end up skittering over the ice.
It's an out-and-out driving stage, so despite the presence of the chopper there's no combat, but to be honest this still leaves the player with plenty to manage: slide-y handling, instant-death hazards, and a fleeing target who'll disappear over the horizon at the slightest opportunity. On top of this there's a rather nice-looking (but intentionally rather distracting) snow effect, with thick flakes of white whirling into the camera. It's a busy sequence in other words, but the car controls with a weighty responsiveness that recalls Bizarre's past work in the racing genre. The whole thing comes across a bit like Bond mixed with a more streamlined version of Burnout, or perhaps even MotorStorm. It's tricky and easy to fail, but it somehow stops short of being frustrating - even to a hapless provisional license holder like me. The destruction effects are also rather pleasing, and there's certainly no shortage of things to go boom.
Even with my cack-handed driving, the chase sequence quickly draws to a close, ending the interactive part of my first meeting with Bloodstone's Bond. A Bizarre Creations developer is on hand to demonstrate one of the third-person shooter sections, which apparently account for roughly two-thirds of the game. If you're anything like me, you'll probably be quite curious about how the Liverpool studio is planning to handles these sections. After all, we all know that Bizarre is well-versed in the Art of Vroom Vroom; aside from 2008's The Club, the studio has little track record in the Art of Bang Bang.
On first impressions, it seems that Bloodstone is taking a fairly safe approach to its action. There's a cover system and a range of subtle and not-so-subtle combat options, from silent melee-based takedowns to an aim-assist mechanic, labelled Focus Aim, that helps Bond to pull off several perfect headshots in quick succession; if that sounds familiar then you've probably played Splinter Cell Conviction, which featured a near-identical Mark and Execute setup. Still, competence is often more important than originality, and from the looks of things Blood Stone will offer a solid set of violent tactics.
Where the game does score points is with its approach to the license. "Blood Stone" may sound like a bit of an odd title for a Bond outing, but the story here has been overseen by Bruce Feirstein, who wrote GoldenEye (yay!) Tomorrow Never Dies (urgh!) and The World Is Not Enough (Hmmm?). There's also the official voice and face of Daniel Craig, and both Activision and Bizarre are understandably quite happy about this. If you speak to people working on the game you'll hear a lot of chat about how they've captured "the physicality of Daniel Craig" - by which they mean his tendency to beat people to death, rather than dazzling them with some kind of gimmicky magnetic wristwatch. Obviously, we're talking about Craig's version of Bond here, rather than Craig himself. I've no idea what the guy gets up to when he's not acting, but I'm sure it involves neither fist-based murder nor wristwatch-based tomfoolery.
The bottom line is that Blood Stone's Bond will be a no-nonsense, practical thinking type of hero. You do get a minor gadget, in the form of a smart phone that helps to reveal the location of your enemies and what they're carrying - think of this as a 007 variant to Batman: Arkham Asylum's Detective Mode - but for the most part you'll be saving your skin with hands-on brutality. When faced with a powerful helicopter and a distinct lack of rocket-launchers, for example, Bond chooses to commandeer a nearby crane - using the arm to smash the chopper out of the sky. Standard, bread-and-butter beatings are conducted with all the fearsome violence you'd expect in a post Casino Royale Bond, and the painful-looking animations come courtesy of Ben Cooke - Craig's official stunt double.
You'll notice that I've intentionally shied away from revealing too much of the story. This is partly due to the fact that the on-foot section of Bizarre's presentation was culled from near the end of the game (which presents something of a spoiler issue for interested parties), but to be honest I'm still a bit hazy about what the basic plot involves - I've no idea what a Blood Stone is, for a start. No doubt things will get a bit clearer when we've seen more of the game in action, and with any luck we'll get to hear a bit more about the multiplayer mode, which caters to 8 vs 8, team-based battles. There's potential in the separate gameplay elements here, but until we've seen a bit (Roger) Moore, it's hard to Dr kNOw whether this will beat The Living Daylights out of the competition.
James Bond 007: Blood Stone will be released this winter on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.