If thugs get too close for comfort Bond can dispatch them with a variety of satisfyingly visceral melee takedowns. The aforementioned corner surprises are fun but during combat Bond can execute all sorts of cool moves. He can pop out from around a wall to bash an enemy into granite or introduce the thug’s forehead to his knee, and even bounce a guy’s skull off of a chest high wall and drag him over, disarming him in the process. It livens up the rote combat considerably and you might even find yourself unwisely rushing a thug just to perform a cool takedown, although I wish it was a little more involved than “press X to activate martial arts!”, perhaps including some button combos.
Melee takedowns also award Bond with up to three “focus kills,” very similar to the mark and execute feature in Splinter Cell Conviction. Basically you can hold down the right trigger and highlight an enemy, then kill him in one shot. Each hand to hand takedown gives you one focus kill, and it’s a good idea to save them for hectic firefights. Unlike Conviction’s executions, focus kills are more useful for thinning out a crowd of enemies raining fire onto you, instead of using them to maintain stealth by eliminating unaware enemies quickly. I enjoyed using the focus kills during heated battles but the feature felt a bit arbitrary—it seemed to be there just to make the grinding cover battles less frustrating rather than to encourage melee combat, but then again I was beating up guys just because it was more fun than the rather floaty and unresponsive gunplay.
The stealth segments work well but are somewhat simplistic compared to GoldenEye’s almost persistent stealth mechanic. There is no radar, making surveillance difficult, and Bond can’t crouch down to stay out of sight. This means there are predetermined stealth segments and places where you’ll be detected no matter what you do, and it can be hard to tell which is which. I actually would’ve preferred a lot more stealth to all the gunfights; it seems just as the game is letting you be a spy and get into the James Bond groove it interrupts with yet another cover-based firefight.
This is my biggest issue with Blood Stone’s gameplay. Like many other third person shooters it’s just playing follow the leader, taking cues from Gears of War but doing little to innovate or even just break up the monotony. The spying segments are over far too quickly and the rest of the game devolves into a series of increasingly homogenous firefights, using the same handful of pistols, shotguns and assault rifles over and over again.
The game does allow you to switch on Bond’s smart phone, giving you a grainy, washed-out digital overlay like the detective visor in Batman Arkham Asylum, but it isn’t used enough. Occasionally you’ll get to hack a camera or a keypad, but scanning intel only unlocks achievements, and there are only a couple times where you use the phone for interesting spy work. At one point I had to record voice samples in an aquarium and play them back to fool a microphone bug, putting the various samples into coherent order. This led to a fast-paced chase over the rooftops of Bangkok, but just as it was starting to resemble the epic parkour chase from Casino Royale a bunch of gun-toting thugs showed up, forcing me to take cover once again.
The shooting is broken up a few times by some car chases, and considering Bizarre Creations’ experience from Project Gotham I was expecting some top-notch vehicular pursuit. While the racing itself isn’t bad, the way it’s presented has a lot of problems. While James Bond is known for his rather destructive tendencies—he might destroy a construction yard here, demolish an old Venetian building there—the chaos in Blood Stone is far too over the top. The racing levels are so full of destruction that it’s very difficult to see where you’re going, leading to aggravating trial and error restarts that seriously break the flow. It’s as if they hired Michael Bay to choreograph all these chases to include as many exploding buildings, cars and bridges as the 360’s GPU could conceivably render.
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