With James Bond's cinematic future in limbo thanks to the bankruptcy of MGM, Activision's blockbuster license finds itself in an unusually strong position. Based on an original story by an actual Bond screenwriter, starring Daniel Craig and Judi Dench, Blood Stone is this year's official Bond adventure by default.
Can videogames fill the gap left by Hollywood's flaky finances? Bizarre Creations has certainly gone all out to make it look that way. With globe-trotting locations, bombastic set pieces and a lavish credits sequence set to a new Bond theme song from Joss Stone and that bloke from Eurythmics, Blood Stone looks and sounds the part.
Sadly, the game beneath the glamour isn't quite as impressive. There are two main gameplay elements, shuffled together as the episodic plot requires. For the most part, it's a third-person shooter with a half-hearted stealth flavour. You enter an area and try to remain hidden for as long as possible, picking off enemies with silenced headshots and melee takedowns. Once spotted, you're able to fight back using, well, noisy headshots and melee takedowns.
It's functional and adequate, but this style of play has been run into the ground over the last five years or so, and Blood Stone has neither the depth nor polish to stand out from the crowd. Entering or leaving cover is an awkward, gluey affair, too heavy to cope with the demands of a room filled with AK-47-wielding henchmen. Strangely for a game which often foregrounds stealth play, there's no crouch command. You can dash laterally from cover to nearby cover, but for all other movement, you're painfully exposed. Once you're out of cover, Bond can only stand tall and proud, strolling about like a peacock with a bullseye on his forehead.
Every hand-to-hand victory earns you a Focus Kill token, which can be used to trigger an obligatory slow-motion instant-death targeting mode, but it's rarely required. Bad guys dip in and out of cover, shuffle backwards and forwards, and occasionally lob a feeble grenade but they ultimately prove no more troublesome than their famously disposable big-screen counterparts. It's surprising how many you can polish off simply by hiding behind a doorway and battering them to death with a single button press as they obligingly walk up to you, one at a time.
The game is often confined to narrow corridors and small rooms, where only objects and features that are essential to progress can be interacted with. Occasionally you'll get the chance to pick one of two paths leading to two objectives, but as both have to be completed, it's an illusion of choice. Ditto for the sporadic areas where you're able to attack from the left or right. It looks like you're making a tactical decision, but there's no real depth to the combat. Nor are there any anterooms to explore or alternate paths to try you just keep moving forwards, admiring the scenery but rarely engaging with it.
Any movement beyond the advance-and-shoot routine is scripted to a frustrating degree. If Bond can climb, grab or jump from something, then an on-screen prompt tells him to, and you press the button to trigger the animation. There's no reason for this to happen unless that's the way ahead, so you're constantly being led by the nose rather than working things out for yourself.
One of the key factors in Bond's appeal is that he's cool under fire and always knows what to do. By reducing 007 to a rodent in a rat run with big signs saying "CHEESE THIS WAY", Blood Stone never lets you play with that fantasy, never lets you feel like you're the one reacting to each situation with unflappable aplomb. It even commits the cardinal sin of having Bond's coolest fights and stunts take place in cut-scenes rather than under player control.