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Reviewed:GoldenEye 007 and Blood Stone
Producer: Activision
Required System:Wii (GoldenEye 007), Xbox360 or PS3 (Blood Stone)
Overall Rating:/
Author: Michael Ahlf
Date: January 27th, 2011

The phrase "back to the well" can occasionally be thrown around in the world of videogames; certainly making a new sequel to a long-lived series, or attempting to bring back a "classic" series long dormant, is a common practice. Sometimes it works well, as with the Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time trilogy. Sometimes, not so much. The long history of James Bond video games offers an instructive history, and the latest two outings from Activision an almost complete case study in the differences.

GoldenEye was a major step for videogames. No, it wasn't the first first-person shooter by a long shot, nor even the first console FPS. It did, however, do a very good job leveraging the meager (single analog stick) controls offered to it by the N64, and it had a very solid following that has followed it, along with its engine sequel Perfect Dark, quite well.

While the original GoldenEye 007 was a N64 title put forth by Rare, Activision's reimagining from developer Eurocon does a creditable, if not perfect, job of bringing the title forward into the new generation. The first thing the designers got right was allowing for variety in control schemes. The first option, with buttons remappable, is the Wiimote+nunchuck and aiming by pointing at the screen. Recognizing that this may not suit every gamer, they also opened up the playing field; for those who prefer it, the game can be played with a Gamecube controller (sadly, alas, no N64 mapping, though a little investment can get around that) or with the Wii's dual-stick "Classic" controller.

As might be expected, GoldenEye 007 rehashes the storyline of the first title and movie; if you want a synopsis, well, plenty abound. The appearances of many of the characters have been changed, though most names haven't - actually, the most jarring change is the switchover from Pierce Brosnan's image and voice to the current Bond, Daniel Craig. Craig apparently had a role in helping with the reimagining process, which is why some levels have altered characteristics to make them match better with the modern reimagingins of Bond movies, with more opportunities for fisticuffs and not quite as much stealth-and-sniping.

In terms of building a strong story and bringing GoldenEye 007 forward, Eurocon did a good job. There are a few spots where players will be a little annoyed, because the game "grabs control" for cutscenes without warning - in the very first truck sequence, I had just drawn a bead on the jerk with an RPG launcher to take him out, when 006 slammed the wheel hard left and put us into the standard "truck goes off road, tumble, maybe we lost them" style cutscene. Gratuitous use of Bond's smartphone, which apparently has replaced most of James Bond's other far more interesting gadgets, is a signature of the remade game as well.

Of course, if we're talking GoldenEye, we're also talking Multiplayer. Eurocon brought back a ton of classic maps and characters from the game, and threw in a few others for players to enjoy (Oddjob, Dr. No, and Jaws are all available, though sadly again, no Pierce Brosnan Bond). The upsides here are classic maps, classic-feeling multiplayer play (especially in split-screen, a feature astonishingly missing from far too many FPS games today) and XP progression in online play... but sadly, no voice chat, since this is the Wii. The "party game" mentality, of having players sit around, shoot each other, and talk smack, is only available if you bring some people over to play on local split-screen. The title also really needs humans to play, since the game does a lot of heavy lifting and even the AI routines Eurocon designed for the engine (previously used in Dead Space:Extraction) just don't have much to work with on the Wii's processor.

At the same time Activision put GoldenEye out, they've also shipped out a more detailed title for the PS3 and Xbox360. This time, there's no "new" Bond movie to go with, so Activision brought in Bizarre Creations and tasked them with the creation of an "original Bond story", which winds up being very much centered on the Daniel Craig interpretation of Bond. The short version of the story is that Bond winds up involved chasing after a kidnapped scientist in a plot involving biological weapons, arms merchants, and a cliffhanger ending either aimed at setting up a future movie, sequel game, or both. Mostly, the plot is an excuse to send Bond to exotic locations to blow stuff up, which would be fine if the rest of the gameplay and locations weren't so darned dull.

The engine for this one is a third-person shooter with alternate vehicle chase sequences (car, boat, etc). For most of the game, Bond's chasing around using a combination of stealth and run-and-gun mechanics, mostly required to take down every enemy that appears at scripted moments. This makes for gameplay and tactics that aren't necessarily fun; blowing up a series of cars won't cause enemies to come running out to investigate, for instance, but crossing the magical, invisible line in the level will get the next group to spawn. There's a "slow time, lock and kill target" (they call it "Focus Aim") system in the game, and players can earn up to credits for using it by taking down enemies in hand-to-hand combat. Usually, it's just plain easier to stick to hiding on corners, pop-and-fire gameplay or kill enemies by destroying the Obligatory Exploding Barrels found placed gratuitously throughout the game.

As for the driving sequence levels, they're altogether forgettable. Half the objects you'd expect to crash into you'll instead just go right through - I guess someone either decided it was "too hard" to drive a car through their short little racetracks, or else just forgot to create bounding boxes. The opening-level speedboat sequence (see also: "gratuitous explosions") is probably the worst, since it felt intended to be a training-level sequence but offers almost nothing in the way of actual control training.

Blood Stone's got even less gadgetry than the GoldenEye remake did; not surprising, since the Daniel Craig era seems to have reduced bond to a smartphone and whatever explosives he can get his grimy hands on. Between the rather boring level design, the fact that there are maybe 3-4 actual guns (skinning doesn't count if the gun's mechanics are the same guys!) in the game, and the fact that "Focus Aim" and melee combat are both forgettable enough that I honestly found myself forgetting about them until I ran out of bullets in one level, there's just not much to work with here.

As a final insult, Blood Stone continues the grand tradition of FPS/3PS games on the PS3 and Xbox360 of requiring a console for every player in order to do any form of multiplayer. Team Deathmatch, Objective, and Last Man Standing (here I want to shout "There can be only one!) are the only multiplayer modes, though there's a "level up in online play" portion as well... great, more hapless grinding. There's a serious lack of any vehicle options for multiplayer, which is a sad event given that one of Bizarre's previous works is Project Gotham Racing, and the fact that multiplayer requires multiple consoles pretty much prevents it from keeping players going for any length of time.

If you're looking to get a Bond game of the last two, which just happened to hit the market on the same day? Definitely go with GoldenEye 007 over Blood Stone, GoldenEye may not be perfect, but it's an able and fun updating of a true classic; Blood Stone looks like something that was slapped together with a focus group just to kick out a Bond game while they wait for enough details and art assets to come from Bond 23 in order to start production on the next game in the series.

Added:  Thursday, January 27, 2011
Reviewer:  Michael Ahlf
Page: 1/2

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