My enduring memory of Casino Royale is the scene where Daniel Craig wades out of the ocean in his speedos. Apparently this vision of slick-skinned beefcakery caused some viewers to swoon, and understandably so. Me, I was simply staring in incredulity at the size of the man, thinking "bloody hell, how does he move? Look at the size of those muscles on his shoulders - can he even lift up his arms with those dog-sized lumps of meat squatting on top?"
Quantum of Solace provides the answer to this query. This is most certainly not somersaults-over-the-rooftops Bond. This is Bond as lumbering hulk, more rifle-wielding rugby player than graceful super-spy. It's like steering a rhino. A rhino with a sub-machinegun. While this might well reflect Craig's shaved-gorilla physique, it's perhaps not the sort of kineticism and athleticism many might expect or hope an e-Bond to possess.
So don't expect much in the way of acrobatics: this is almost exclusively a game of combat. Specifically, it's a first-person shooter, though the camera will switch to third-person when requested, or during occasional moments when the game decides it's imperative you see its unnervingly motionless 3D render of Craig's scowling face. Developer Treyarch claims his terrifyingly plastic phizzog will be fully animated come release, though that day does seem worryingly close.
Built from the Call of Duty 4 engine (though you wouldn't recognise it as such) QoS sticks doggedly to shooting - the 007 staples of driving sections and mad gadgetry won't feature. Possibly, this is a bold decision, an attempt to escape the gimmickry and heavy scripting of EA's Bond games in favour of something earthly and intense. Equally possibly, it might end up feeling like Bond skins taped over a hasty Any-FPS skeleton. While we've only seen two levels so far, the bizarre presence in those of exploding fuel tanks ("mousetraps", according to Treyarch) inside a posh hotel lobby and waves of lookalike baddies popping up from nowhere suggests this an action game that very much plays by the rules.
Arguably, there's no reason it shouldn't be so. Casino Royale may have been a slick, timely reinvention for Bond, but it was also just a modern action movie - so there's every chance that its fans really don't want anything more than guns and terrorists from the videogame adaption. Whether anyone was hoping for quick-time events and hacking mini-games seems less likely.
The game's appeal to Bondophiles will likely increase thanks to it chronicling the events of Casino Royale as well as the upcoming film. Makes sense, what with QoS being a direct sequel to CR. That said, quite a lot of CR features Bond sitting around a poker table frowning at people, which doesn't make it ideally suited to videogaminess. With that in mind, QoS: The Game extends certain sections of the films in the name of high-action. So the scenes in which Bond would excuse himself from the poker table to quickly go change his shirt or kick a man's head in now become half-hour opuses of destruction, as our boy cheerfully carves up an army of terrorists lurking in the casino's backrooms.
It really can't be emphasised enough: gunplay is all here. Despite the COD4 blood-ties, the FPS it's most like (and deliberately so) is Rainbow Six: Vegas. Clearly this is a solo and not a team affair, but it places a similar emphasis on use of cover, blindfire and timing. For all his tankiness, Bond won't last long if he hangs around in the open, so he needs to make careful use of the environment. The build we saw wouldn't let you forget this - a huge on-screen prompt to Press A To Dash For Cover was all but omnipresent. Treyarch promises it'll be less frequent in the finished game, but it enforces the developer's claim that QoS will have less steep a learning curve than R6 Vegas. It's an action game for a broad audience, not for stern tactical shooter types.
Adaptive AI is promised too, so you'll not face quite the same fight twice - the identi-terrorist might come from the left instead of the right next time. Imagine! Still, gritty realism it ain't. Bond's legion of foes can soak up a ton of bullets before falling over, there's a spot of vent-crawling, and plenty of things explode on demand. It's all fairly heavily physics - sofas spray stuffing when shot, flammable barrels are everywhere and Treyarch demonstrates a chandelier that can plummet from the ceiling, making for that Bond/Phantom of the Opera crossover we've all been dreaming of.
Adding to this vague sense of Hitman-lite is some balcony-shuffling semi-stealthery. It doesn't appear as though there's recourse to avoid combat through brainy sneaking, but you can make your odds a little more favourable but taking circumspect routes through the levels.
So, back to those Quick Time Events. Treyarch wasn't ready to show any of the boss-fights that will feature them, but we did get a taste of the Simon Says hacking sub-game. Near-future computer tech is as close as QoS gets to classic Bond gadgetry, which reflects the grounded approach of the Daniel Craig films, but all that button-memorisation did look a little anachronous and, well, annoying.
Treyarch is convinced it makes for a better game - "something that isn't just about moving your cursor around to hit guys". One might argue that a driving section would be a more Bond-appropriate method of achieving this, but Treyarch claims that would have been too much of a change of pace - the devs want to keep it a pure combat experience. Perhaps they're right, but it's hard to shake the worry that Bond without car chases is like Christmas without presents.
So, right now it's hard to picture Quantum of Solace really going toe-to-toe with any of the big first-person shooters we were blessed with over the winter. Still, there were apparently some three or four months' of work left to go on the game when we saw it running back in June, which may be enough time to shed the worrying tang of insert licence, pull lever. The actors' faces are there, the cut-scenes are there, the music's there: it's definitely a 007 game in aesthetic respects.
Beyond that, it was tough to identify a definable personality. Whether those four months of final coding were enough to give QoS some flavour of its own remains to be seen - more than likely, it won't matter. It's got guns in it and Daniel Craig will be on the front of the box, and that's what matters, right?
Quantum of Solace: The Video Game is due out in Q4 on PS3 and 360, with separate PC, Wii and DS versions also in development.