James Bond 007: Blood Stone
|Xbox 360||PlayStation 3|
|Install||6.6GB (optional)||3765MB (mandatory)|
|Surround Support||Dolby Digital||Dolby Digital, 5.1LPCM, DTS|
It's been a difficult year for veteran developer Bizarre Creations. With the generally excellent Blur having reviewed well but failed to translate into substantial sales, James Bond 007: Blood Stone may well be the company's swansong. When the game performed poorly at retail, Activision was quick to act in beginning the process of either winding down the company completely or else selling it off to the highest bidder. After 16 years of solid, excellent game-making, it's fair to say that the firm will never be the same again, regardless of its fate.
If Blood Stone is to be Bizarre's final game, it's also safe to say that it's not the developer's best work by quite a long chalk, but at least it's gone out with a bang. Lots of them. Blood Stone moves from set-piece to set-piece in a breakneck manner, and the action is rendered using what looks to be the same state-of-the-art engine that powered the extremely impressive Blur. So, in theory then, this should mean we're in for a very, very close cross-platform experience.
Technically, it definitely seems to be the case that Blood Stone has much in common with its racing sibling. Both Blood Stone and Blur run at native 720p, with the Xbox 360 game running full-on 4x MSAA while the PS3 gets 2x MSAA with an additional blur filter added (it's difficult to ascertain from the shots but chances are it's the same half-pixel-offset blur Bizarre previously employed). In Blur, scenery passed the player so quickly that the visual downgrade was slight at best. However, in Blood Stone, the gameplay operates at a more sedate pace - as you would expect from a third-person shooter - and so the blur is somewhat easier to pick up on and has more of an impact on overall visual quality.
There is only a tiny hint of compromise on PS3, with a lower-precision water reflection effect, and a hint of the odd lower-resolution texture/normal map - though the latter may simply be a knock-on effect of the blur filter employed which does serve to blend away a lot of fine detail. However, Bond's somewhat strange resemblance to Paul Whitehouse appears to be consistent across both platforms.
Again, similar to Blur, Blood Stone runs at a very smooth 30 frames per second on both platforms, and movement feels solid and fluid owing to an accomplished motion blur filter. When that performance level cannot be maintained, the game will drop v-sync and tearing is introduced. This occurs on both platforms. However, in Blur we saw some scenes that clearly favoured the PS3 - the Brighton stage in particular, with its bewildering array of dynamic lights.
So it is with Blood Stone. There's not a massive level of difference here, but it does demonstrate that this is no port - Bizarre Creations has taken the rendering tech in different directions on both HD platforms, resulting in advantages and disadvantages for each console.
The overall experience of playing this game on both consoles is pretty much equivalent, so if you're thinking about picking up a post-Christmas bargain, you don't have to be especially picky about the version you end up buying. However, in weighing up the relative strengths and weaknesses of the games it comes down really to how much the advantages and disadvantages of each game are noticeable during the overall run of play.
The small boost in performance we see on the PlayStation 3 version of the game is welcome, but it's a fleeting, split-second advantage. It's not as if the 360 gameplay experience has any real problems with frame-rate or screen tear. However, on the flipside, the blur filter employed on the PS3 version is an ever-present effect and while hardly an issue in its own right, in a side-by-side comparison with the 360 game it is clearly the suboptimal solution compared to the purity of 4x MSAA.
What is consistent between both versions is the implementation of the Bink video codec for the credits sequence. Activision clearly went to some lengths in creating a sumptuous intro sequence for the game, complete with exclusive Joss Stone track. So to have the video quality nerfed so dramatically by the aged video compressor is a bit of a blow. There's around 200MB left over on the 360 DVD, and gigabytes of spare storage left on the PS3 Blu-ray, so it's surprising that it was allowed to look so poor.
The choice between Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of the game isn't really a major factor in the purchasing decision. Whether the game should be purchased at all is of more paramount importance, since Blood Stone didn't excite reviewers upon its release (as Dan Whitehead's 6/10 Eurogamer review demonstrates). Replaying the game recently for the purposes of this feature, it's clear that it's something of a game of two halves. Technologically speaking, it's a nice workout for the host consoles, solidly put together and often graphically very impressive. It definitely helps wipe out most of the unpleasant memories of the last Bond effort, Quantum of Solace.
However, while some of the stealth elements work rather well, the overall impression is that Blood Stone's gameplay design doesn't match up to its excellent tech. Compare and contrast with Uncharted 2, for example, and it's clear that as a third-person shooter Bizarre's gameplay simply doesn't compare to the standards set by the best of the best. The driving sections, which you'd think that the firm would be able to handle with aplomb, also fail to excite.
This is not to say that Blood Stone is a bad game as such, but behind the impressive visuals there's a distinct feeling that the gameplay is old and lacking in surprises. It can still be solidly entertaining in places though, so if a Ł17.99-sized bargain does present itself, you could certainly do a whole lot worse.