IGN Review of Bond 007: Quantum of Solace
It's no secret - we make sure of it - that we consider developer Vicarious Visions to be one of the biggest powerhouse third party developers in the world of Nintendo. The team was there when GBA launched, pulling off Tony Hawk in an edgy isometric display when we thought only traditional 2D would happen on the system, they were there again with Hawk to push Nintendo into the world of online with DS, including deck creation, video upload, online skate crews, and more into what is still one of the most robust online offerings on the system, and just weeks ago to developer took what was otherwise a very copy/paste design with Guitar Hero World Tour and raised the bar technically on Wii, including full SD card streaming, always-online interface for players, and exclusive modes outside of what 360/PS3 offered. When we first heard that the team was working on Quantum of Solace for DS, we were a bit skeptical, as licensed products are commonly victim to short development cycles and a lack of overall effort, and while DS's first Bond offering isn't the blowout title we've come to expect from Activision's top Nintendo developer, it's an interesting design with some great ideas. The execution, however, never quite pans out as we'd expect.
The best comparison we can make with Quantum of Solace DS is that it's a full-touch version of Perfect Dark on Game Boy Color. Rather than making use of traditional controls, Vicarious instead went with a book design for Bond, so you'll turn your DS on its side, and have the option to use any face button, d-pad direction, or shoulder tap as the game's main action key. Everything else is touch-based, and since the game follows a somewhat close camera of Bond as he runs around 3D environments in a simpler, similar, Metal Gear type design, that includes everything from running, fighting, shooting, jumping, sneaking, and quick close-quarter combat on unsuspecting enemies.
From the design standpoint, the game seems to all be there, but there's a fundamental issue with all-touch gameplay, and it centers around a few key areas. We're not arguing that all-touch games can't be fun - that's obviously not the case, as DS has some amazing ones - but in this situation, touch doesn't necessarily help the design, and it's met with an overall closed-off feeling from the world as well. Touch controls for fighting - which actually zoom the camera in behind Bond, and make use of a Smackdown vs. Raw, Fight Night kind of mash-up with line and circle drawings for different attacks - are pretty unreliable, with the biggest offender being the "hold the stylus on the far left or right of the screen to block" concept. Since you're drawing all your punches and grabs on the screen, a tap and hold doesn't always register (sometimes the game thinks you're starting a line), so Bond can often get his butt kicked more in a fist fight than he will with pistols at point blank range. The concept is there, as you've got some neat animations and a unique fighting mechanic worked in, but it doesn't translate as well as it could have into the game.
General mobility in the game is decent, with a simple "drag to move" mechanic in place similar to Phantom Hourglass. You'll of course get the same issues with your hand or stylus being in the way of the screen, which is annoying, but by this point on DS most players have gotten used to it at least a bit. Sneaking is done by tapping Bond's feet (a maneuver that works surprisingly well), jumping is handled with automatic zones in the level, so you drag the stylus over a set of blocks, and Bond leaps with no button press needed, and the inclusion of a few on-screen hot key zones (one at the beginning, with more added as you add Bond Points to your character) making it easier to execute health, ammo, and body armor boosts in-game, and with 100% touch. Overall it isn't bad, but it is a little odd.
The biggest issue though lies within the game's camera, both from a touch point of view, and from a fundamental standpoint. The game reminded us Perfect Dark GBC due to its similar close-quarters combat feel, the ability to scavenge for items on dead cronies, but to a less-appealing degree, the issue of trying to do gun combat with a zoomed in camera that inevitably requires players to run up to enemies anyways and shoot them point blank. This was a huge issue in Perfect Dark, as players would drain both bullets and health closing the gap between them and the enemy, ultimately turning every gun duel into a face to face affair, and that rings true here as well. The idea is to tap an enemy (or hold) and have Bond fire, and while it works most of the time, battles are done mostly at very close range, and an odd stylus issue comes into play as well.
When firing, you'll often manipulate the game's camera ever so slightly when you tap an enemy, so if you're trying to peel off a half dozen PP9 shots into a baddie, your first will hit, slightly move the camera, and now you're shooting above or below him. We had this happen on occasion, as well as a similar issue, where tapping an enemy too close to Bond resulted in lots of misses, which we'd assume has something to do with how shots are calculated with point A (Bond) and B (tap point) at close range. We can also chalk that up to user error as well though, since there's less room to see your shot and correct it at a close range.
This is in no way out to say that Bond is broken on DS (far from it), it just isn't as streamlined as it could have been. A cover system, for example - something that's in the console versions, ironically enough - could have made combat more of a tactical display, rather than a run-and-gun type of feel. With a bit more of a change from the design, a full "tunnel running" design also could have worked better with the taller screens in DS's book mode, having an over-the-shoulder viewpoint and making it more like Brothers in Arms DS, with the main goal to latch onto cover with 007, and deliver precise shots with stylus aim. Sticking with the design at hand, a zoom function or pulled back camera could have made gun battles a bit more engaging as well, with more room to hide behind objects, attack from a distance, and see more of what was ahead of Bond as he ran though halls and encountered opposition.
If you can get into the main gameplay though, Bond is a great overall package that pushes DS interface and depth in a big way. There's a pretty sizable amount of recorded VO, some borrowed from the other games, some from the movies, and some recorded specifically for the DS game as well. The Bond feel really comes across in menus, front end, and added gameplay options, as even the game's 2nd screen is filled with a very 007-inspired map and icon system that animates and moves in a very sleek, fluid way. An attaché case inventory system is used a well, with drag-and-drop control used to reload guns, give Bond more health, and equip playing cards into a five-card "hand" at the bottom of the screen, using those cards to individually upgrade Bond's stats on the fly, or substantially boost them if players can collect pairs, straights, full house hands, and the like within their five selected cards.
Poker chips (Casino Royale inspired) can be collected off baddies and then traded in for Bond Points, which allow you to upgrade dozens of stats ranging from a stronger, more resilient bond, to proficiency in specific weapons, high-cap magazines for each gun, a charisma trait that gets you more Bond Points after each mission, and so forth. It's a very sleek, fleshed out experience, and one that - outside of the issues we mentioned in gameplay - feels like it was truly designed around DS's "book style" interface.
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