After the tepid response to 2008’s Quantum of Solace game, Activision apparently decided to ramp up their James Bond efforts for 2010. Gamers got both home console and portable versions of two new Bond games, the remade GoldenEye 007 and Blood Stone. While GoldenEye and its intangible recapturing of N64 nostalgia wrapped within modern FPS mechanics is all well and good, Blood Stone is interesting in its own way. An original 007 story penned by veteran writer Bruce Feirstein, the game is an attempt to make up for this year’s painful lack of a Bond movie, as MGM sorts out its complicated financial mess.
Unfortunately, Blood Stone on the HD consoles was something of a disappointment. Bizarre Creations did their best to deliver a blockbuster game, but lack of clear direction and gameplay innovation made the home console Blood Stone feel like a side-story; Daniel Craig’s View to a Kill, as it were. Sadly Bizarre Creations are hitting some financial issues of their own, a fate that the Project Gotham developers really don’t deserve. Blood Stone might have been a little disappointing, but it wasn’t too bad for a Bond story smack in the middle of a rebooted continuity that is still very much up in the air.
However, the smaller scope of the portable Blood Stone focuses it into a much more compelling Bond adventure. While the console big boys get to argue whether Blood Stone or GoldenEye is the better game, DS owners are the real winners here. Both games found their way to the portable, courtesy of n-Space.
It must’ve been a busy year for the people at n-Space, with not only two 007 games but also Tron and Call of Duty Black Ops to tackle. Luckily they were up to the challenge. GoldenEye DS turned out just a bit too ambitious for its own good—a solid solo story with a few pacing issues but an incredibly deep multiplayer to even it out. Blood Stone on the other hand is the exact opposite—a rousing globe-trotting adventure with a more modest multiplayer.
It’s a little ironic but the technological constraints of the DS make for a much more interesting game. Without the HD flash Bizarre Creations were privileged with, n-Space had to make Blood Stone DS good through sheer gameplay alone. As a result Blood Stone DS has the one thing its HD counterpart was sorely lacking—variety.
The console Blood Stone was mostly a series of generic cover-based firefights, and as with the many Gears of War imitators before it, this rote shooting quickly grew thin. Blood Stone DS does have this gameplay, but it feels fresher for a couple of reasons. First of all, I personally have never seen it in a DS game, at least not done well. The way n-Space implements it is kind of clever; Bond can cover-stick to corners and the obligatory chest-high-walls, but you use the D-pad to pop out in the desired direction and the stylus to aim. You still get the occasional stylus hand-cramp, but that’s more a flaw in the DS’s ergonomics rather than a problem with this game. All said the aiming is a nice workaround for the typically dual-analog heavy cover combat, and manages to pull it off without the clunky aim-down-sights mechanic that usually shows up in such gameplay.
The combat also involves something I haven’t seen in a 007 game since EA was making them: Bond moments. At certain points in combat a little 007 emblem will appear on screen, indicating you can shoot something or pull off a Bond-like move to take out several enemies at once. In EA’s games this mechanic made you feel a lot more like James Bond, highlighting shortcuts and executions only he would think of, and it works the same way here. Ironically the HD Blood Stone’s tedious firefights would’ve benefited a lot from this system. The Bond moments also make up for the DS version’s lack of focus kills, and considering that was a rather arbitrary element in the HD game it isn’t particularly missed.
Blood Stone DS also includes the much-vaunted hand-to-hand fighting and I actually liked it more in this version. While the HD game’s gorgeously animated melee takedowns have been scaled down for the DS’s modest abilities, the fighting is interactive now, requiring direction matching on the D-pad. It feels much more like you’re struggling to disarm an enemy, instead of just pressing a button and watching the subsequent takedown animation.
Like the HD version this game isn’t all action. Stealth is involved too but it’s a lot more fleshed out. For one the inclusion of radar makes it much easier to evade enemies, and the stealth sections themselves aren’t simply a thin veneer that dissolves into an all-out gunfight when you’re detected. If you alert an enemy several more will pour into the area, and as you whittle down their numbers the remaining guards will call for reinforcements. In these situations it’s an endless battle against unfavorable odds; you either have to kill them all quickly or, preferably, hide until they resume normal patrols. At one point I barely survived a fight against three sequential response squads, scarcely taking down the last guy before he could call in more. The whole system is much better balanced than the pass/fail scheme in the HD version.
Scattered throughout the solo campaign are other bits of gameplay and minigames that add to the variety. Hacking cameras and computers involves a puzzle minigame instead of simple button matching. At one point you have to scan and identify a target’s face out of several at a conference table, using security cameras on the touch screen. The aquarium level, which had probably the most involved puzzle in the HD version, is even deeper on DS, requiring that you explore all of the exhibits for secret messages written on the tanks.
My favorite minigame was the poker match at the casino, where you deplete a villain’s funds by looking for his tell and betting accordingly. It was done very well and I wish it showed up more, or was a separate minigame by itself. In fact I was surprised that this is the first time we’ve seen cards in a Bond game. It’s one of 007’s favorite hobbies and is easy enough to implement on the DS; even Mario 64 DS had gambling minigames six years ago, so why not Bond? After the edge-of-your-seat hold ’em games in Casino Royale, you’d think card playing would be a mandatory inclusion in all subsequent Bond games.
To round out the gameplay n-Space of course had to include the driving sections. While Bond only drives his Aston Martin DBS in the DS version, the chases are a lot more enjoyable. In an odd twist of fate, the DS’s underpowered hardware is what makes the chases fun; n-Space was unable to replicate the near-constant environmental destruction that was so distracting and cluttering in the HD version. It’s a lot harder to completely wreck your car or fall behind, removing the trial-and-error irritation that I experienced on the 360. This makes the car chases much more focused, and the thrill comes from staying on track rather than dodging explosions. Incidentally, the controls are also more responsive, although I advise using the D-pad to steer and the buttons for acceleration—the touch screen controls are cool in theory but aren’t nearly as precise.
I’d like to say something about the multiplayer but unfortunately I don’t have much to review. I searched for online games multiple times for over a month but never found any other players. I can only assume that very few people are playing. It’s really too bad; after the robust online offering in GoldenEye DS I wanted to see what n-Space did for Blood Stone’s multiplayer. I recommend hunting down some friends for local wireless matches, or adding them to your friends list so you can set up wifi battles.
Multiplayer or no, Blood Stone is one of the DS’s strongest action titles in terms of production values. n-Space’s DS graphics have always been impressive but the presentation in Blood Stone looks just a cut above the rest. Maybe it’s the third person perspective showing off more action, but I dare say Blood Stone looks even better than GoldenEye DS. There are even elaborate cinematic cutscenes for the really dramatic plot points.
The rest are condensed down into phone calls between Bond and M, placing most of the HD game’s dialogue in that context. It is presented in the lively MI6 menu graphics introduced in Quantum of Solace, playing on the screen of Bond’s smart phone. Getting plot exposition from a phone menu might seem limiting at first, but it helps focus the plot and makes it easier to follow, as if you’re Bond getting orders from M. It works well in two ways—you get Judi Dench and Daniel Craig’s high quality voice acting but avoid the stiff, plasticy character models that were so distracting in the HD game. Several pieces of the HD game’s orchestral music have been compressed down onto the DS cartridge too, and although they tend to repeat a bit they help complete the larger than life Bond experience.
It’s a little odd to say but Blood Stone is the definitive 007 adventure on the DS. While the 360 version disappointed me with its generic gameplay, n-Space made the DS version an engaging single player story that gave me the full Bond experience in a handheld. Their tweaks to the shooting and stealth give them much needed variety, and the added minigames inject doses of 007 style and color that were simply missing from the console version.
I wish I could say more about the multiplayer, but for now I think it’s safe to say that DS owners can get the full 007 experience this year. Pick up GoldenEye for the deep, nostalgic multiplayer. Get Blood Stone for a rich, classic Bond adventure that somehow fits on a handheld. Either way, they’d both make great holiday gifts for the 007 fan in your life.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
n-Space takes the rather generic framework of Blood Stone and turns it into a thrilling Bond experience, through gameplay innovation and old fashioned ingenuity. The story mode really caught me off guard; it offers a lot of variety and is a surprisingly complete package. It might be hard to find multiplayer opponents, but for a 007 adventure on the go look no further than Blood Stone DS.