Has there ever been a more confusing press event? With Activision frugally deciding to kill two birds with one bloodstone, both of its forthcoming Bond games have been squeezed into the penthouse suite of a (s)wanky Mayfair hotel. It starts badly when I mistake the bowler hat-wearing doormen for Oddjob impersonators, and gets worse when a man dressed as a sailor turns out to be the PR contact. Girded by a lukewarm Diet Coke, I patiently sit through the GoldenEye presentation in which Daniel Craig infiltrates a dam. Somebody laughs out loud.
Blood Stone finally gets its turn, and I nurse another tepid carbonated beverage during a presentation in which Daniel Craig infiltrates another dam. This time it's different though; nobody laughs, the graphics are slightly crisper, and you can see him, or at least the back of his head. Blood Stone is a third-person affair, with a seemingly botoxed Mr Craig doing his bit for queen and country. To clarify that I'm writing about the correct game, I check my notes, on which I have cryptically daubed 'BE D.CRAIG.' I've even underlined it, once for each time that a slightly nervy man with a North West accent says it.
In reality, what they're actually saying is "be Daniel Craig's Bond" - the message being that this is a visceral, brutal, contemporary, gadget-lite, action-heavy 007 who is more likely to snap your neck with his bare hands than shine a laser out of his digital watch. 'They' of course are Liverpool-based Bizarre Creations, who have been making superb driving games for so long that they must be heartily sick of it. The alternate argument is that they're really good at it and should stick to what they know.
Back to the presentation, and prior to the dam infiltration there's a torture scene followed by some airborne shenanigans resulting in a plane crash in the Burmese jungle. Bond naturally crawls out of the wreckage unharmed and immediately pulls out his phone. Has he got a text? Is he tweeting? No, it's an "augmented reality smartphone", essentially an information-gathering device that shows you on-screen exactly where your enemies are, what weapons they're packing, their awareness state, and some secondary objectives to flesh out the single-player mode. Most importantly, it shows you where the exploding barrels are.
This precipitates some efficient combat, with Bond swiftly tearing through the environment and performing some of his purported 65 to 70 takedown moves. Successfully pulling one of these off rewards you with a focus shot, enabling you to unerringly pop a cap in the next enemy's head, chaining moves together in a fashion loosely comparable to Bizarre Creations other off-road outing, the misjudged and misunderstood third-person shooter The Club, with whom Blood Stone shares a level designer, called Pete. (Yes, we know there were also no cars in Geometry Wars, forum spotters.)
It all looks pretty slick, delivering the promised cinematic thrills, with Bizarre Creations keen to stress that the cut-scenes mask the loading times to deliver a seamless experience - otherwise known as common decency. As for that cinematic heritage, Blood Stone makes no claims to be a sequel to Quantum of Solace, but does apparently use the same core palettes and camera cuts as that film and its predecessor, Casino Royale.
As for the acting talent involved, it's pretty much identical to that of GoldenEye, and it's interesting to see the respective developers rubbernecking at each other's games, having both essentially been given the same raw materials and told to go away and come back with something good.
The original script from stalwart Bruce Feirstein takes Bond on an obligatory travelogue through such Champions League hotspots as Athens, Istanbul, and Monaco, as well as the sex tourist haven of Bangkok. And if you've just come in, there's also a bespoke Bond girl in the shape of East Coast (of Devon) songstress Joss Stone, who has also written the theme tune and sung the theme tune, along with Dave Stewart. Called "I'll Take It All", I've just listened to it fully expecting to hate it, but it actually sounds like a proper Bond theme. She's certainly got a set of lungs on her.
Cars! It would be a gross dereliction of duty for Bizarre Creations to make a Bond game without some driving sections, and it's reckoned to be roughly a 30/70 split between wheels and feet. Perhaps tellingly, the only hands-on action we're allowed is with a driving section, which features James Bond, in Siberia, in a car, chasing a train, being shot at by a helicopter. There's also a woman with him, which, given her baffling mid-Atlantic accent, may well be Joss Stone. In terms of handling it's definitely more Blur than Project Gotham Racing, and there is no need to enter the apex correctly in order to shave a hundredth of a second off your time.
The idea is to make you feel like you're pushing the car to the limit and teetering on the edge of disaster. It certainly achieves that, and indeed I teeter over the edge three times, sliding off the frozen tundra and into the drink, accompanied by some low-level swearing. When I finally get it right - by remembering not to crash - I catch up with the train and dramatically jump over it, flying through the air as the camera switches to a fully cinematic view.
Despite a traumatic flashback of Octopussy, it gives me a mild sense of euphoria - I'm doing it, I'm actually being Daniel Craig's James Bond. Not for long though, as I'm unceremoniously bundled out of my seat as a cut-scene kicks in, left only with a further reminder that it's masking the loading time for a seamless cinematic experience. Well done, keep that up.
Multiplayer is nowhere to be seen, but we are promised 16-player team-based action with MI6 taking on a bunch of mercenaries. And in a nice aspirational touch, the most efficient player in terms of kills-to-deaths ratio gets to automatically become (Daniel Craig's) James Bond. Men want to be him, women want to be with him, and everyone wants a decent Bond game, particularly in the absence of another film on the horizon.
James Bond 007: Blood Stone is due out this winter on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.