Version tested: Xbox 360
It's Bond! With Gears of War cover mechanics and the Call of Duty 4 engine! How can it possibly fail? As it turns out, by being dull, repetitive, unchallenging, ruinously linear, and one of the shortest full-priced games ever. Quantum of Solace: The Game (in case we got confused with, I dunno, Quantum of Solace: The Hamper) starts off with solid fundamentals, only to undermine them in depressingly swift fashion. The controls are pleasingly refined and well-implemented, with an intuitive cover system that does a fine job of giving 007 the ability to switch between walls, boxes and cover points with the minimum of fuss. But it's nowhere near enough. All too quickly, the game settles into a tired FPS routine that plays itself.
The chief culprits are that twin FPS menace of linearity and predictability. Right from the very start, there's rarely an opportunity to improvise or think for yourself. Just point Mr. Broody in the direction you're told to, crouch behind cover, wait until the obliging enemies pop their heads out and repeat until the area is clear. It would be nice if all the people copying Gears of War actually paid attention to what it was doing, rather than phoning in superficial explanations.
Initially, there's a sense that the enemies aren't as clueless as the usual drones that populate mass-market shooters, but it really is just window dressing. Destructible cover allows you to send enemies fleeing in panic, and occasionally it even looks like they're working as a team trying to outflank you and pressure you into making mistakes - but it's little more than a scripted illusion, so the core gameplay degenerates into stop-and-pop. With the now-standard recharging health mechanic reducing the challenge almost to zero, it's actually harder to screw up than not. Assuming you've got motor function, finding cover when you're shot at will be enough to get you through most situations unscathed.
What with the boring shooting, it's almost a relief when Treyarch introduces elements to remind you 007 is a spy, and not just a sour-faced chap with a nice suit and a selection of big guns, but this is cocked up as well. It's almost a given that we get to perform some silent takedowns on unsuspecting enemies, but they're so poorly implemented that you wonder why they bothered. On several occasions during any level, you'll get a chance to creep up behind enemies and incapacitate them with a single button press. Despite presumably being on high alert, these idiotic goons never see you coming as long as you're crouched down on approach. With faintly embarrassing predictability, they follow strict, basic patrol paths, and stand around staring at walls for no apparent reason.
And despite the obvious noise, no-one in the vicinity turns a hair if their back's to you (which, thanks to pathetically generous level design, means they will generally always have their backs turned on the source of any potential noise), meaning you can rack up one ridiculously easy stealth takedown after another. Even if you screw up, armed combat is so generous and unthreatening that it's never much of a problem. Sometimes you'll also find yourself battling enemies in Quick-Time Events, but, again, the game gives you such a large window of opportunity to succeed you could steal Mr. White's mansion through it without grazing the sill. The AI's antics are as predictable as the explosives stashed all over every level, waiting to cue the 'mousetrap' moments that blow up any neighbouring henchmen not already dead by stupid.
With solid but uninspired stop-and-pop combat, and an excruciatingly bad attempt at incorporating melee combat, it's not surprising the rest of the game's similarly disappointing. There's more stealth-lite in the form of security cameras that sweep specific points of the level for intruders. Rather than introduce interesting evasion tactics, or give the player any sense of achievement for hacking the system, the designers cop out completely and reduce the task to a single button press on a nearby panel in a manner we haven't seen since the worst of PS2. Elsewhere, unlocking supposedly super-secure doors involves pressing d-pad directions when prompted at glacial pace.
A couple of times you get to shimmy along ledges and jump between windows, with a cutaway view giving the player a chance to see the action from a suitably useful perspective. But, yet again, there's almost no tension, because the AI is so completely dense. Almost every step of the way you feel like the game has been designed for complete idiots with zero attention span.
Once in a while though, it hits upon something genuinely interesting, like a good set-piece. Having to guide a drugged-out Bond out of Casino Royale itself is a particular highlight, as is the Venice level set in the crumbling building and the one set on a train. But these bits are far too rare to elevate the overall quality of the experience and distract you from the mediocrity surrounding them, and for the most part you're funneled through corridors instead, dispatching brainless enemies and wondering whether EA would have done a better job after all.
To give Treyarch credit where it's due, Quantum of Solace does at least look presentable throughout, although it's a dinner jacket rather than a dinner jacket. Daniel Craig's likeness is genuinely excellent, and the seamless way the game employs the cover system is a useful (and convenient) means of ensuring the star gets enough time on-screen. The levels are also reasonably detailed, with a good deal of variety ensuring the Call of Duty 4 engine is given a run for its money, with over-the-top explosive effects and loads of destructible objects throughout, so you won't be complaining much about the way it looks, or the way it sounds either.
In fact, the audio chaps can skip detention entirely, with an array of excellent voice talent contributing to slick mission briefings, mid-mission chatter and plenty of incidentals. The soundtrack's great too, so in certain respects the game does its job of creating a suitable atmosphere. It's just a shame the core gameplay's so vapid and uninspired, and not helped at all by the utterly confusing way the narrative flits around the timeline of both Casino Royale and its sequel. If you're not a student of Bond, you will neither know, nor probably care why, in the middle of the game, you're suddenly thrown into flashback, or playing bits of the Casino Royale timeline which didn't make it into the film.
And while we're not ones to complain too much when games are short these days, in this case Quantum of Solace is unacceptably brief. Clocking in at around the five to six hours even for cack-handed old grumps like me, you could clear the single-player campaign in a single evening without breaking a sweat. Sometimes it's great for a game to be on the short side if it's crafted and poetic (ICO, for instance), and massively replayable (Portal), but that's never the case here. Some of the Achievements (like taking out a posse of snipers with one bullet each) are a nice touch, but enough to make you want to play it again?
Inevitably at this point there's always a chance for the multiplayer to help save face, and Bond does passably. Among all the standard modes are a couple that stand out - there's Bond Vs, for instance, where one person plays as 007 trying to disarm bombs placed by players representing the 'Organisation' - and the popular Golden Gun mode also makes an appearance, giving one player Saruman's one-shot-killer and everyone else the rank-and-file. Meanwhile, Bond Evasion mode is pretty good, with players trying to escort a VIP between locations. The weapon upgrade system, meanwhile, gives the multiplayer side a bit of longevity, with cash-based unlocks allowing you to customise weapons with a series of attachments, and improve reload times and damage levels. It's all too little, too late, though, and struggles to escape the stigma of the rest.
That's because in a genre as super-competitive as the shooter, it's easy for minor elements to prove to be the deciding factor, but when it comes to Quantum of Solace, the problems are blatant and fundamental. As a piece of interactive merchandise for the masses, it does its job: it's polished, intuitive to control, and approximates the Bond Experience, albeit with about as much subtlety as Vesper Lynd's neckline. For everyone else though, it's brainless, dull, and ridiculously easy. Rather than giving the Bond game its Casino Royale moment, Activision and Treyarch have simply carried on in the joyless tradition of dumbed-down shooters designed for thickos, and GoldenEye has never seemed so far away.
5 / 10