There's one James Bond game coming out this year that's got 007 fans cocking their golden guns in anticipation. Then there's Blood Stone 007. While Wii and DS owners are being treated to a re-imagining of one of the most beloved console shooters of all time in GoldenEye 007, Xbox 360 and PS3-owning Bond fans have to make do with a consolation prize in the form of a third-person shooter from Project Gotham Racing makers, Bizarre Creations. And as far as consolation prizes go, this is about as comforting as an open-mouthed kiss from Dame Judi Dench.
Dench and Daniel Craig reprise their roles of M and Bond in Blood Stone 007, while pop singer Joss Stone steps in as the token Bond girl Nicole Hunter. And those are basically the only obligations to the Bond license that this game fulfills. Otherwise there are no memorable villains, no signature gadgets – even the Bond theme music doesn't properly play until the final credits roll – and the only moment even vaguely resembling any form of fan service is the time you get to briefly step behind the wheel of the Aston Martin DB5 from Goldfinger, albeit for no apparent reason. Otherwise this could be any other bog standard third-person shooter with Daniel Craig's expressionless face smeared across it.
The plot has you chasing biochemical terrorists across a handful of exotic locations in Europe and Asia, and at times the game can be quite visually striking – like when you're escaping an exploding oil refinery in Siberia, or chasing a monolithic earth mover across crumbling highway overpasses in Bangkok. Unfortunately such moments are both fleeting and few and far between, and Blood Stone's five hour campaign is mostly padded out with repetitive firefights against brainless henchmen in bland and texturally inconsistent concrete environments.
Aside from the use of explosive barrels to take out your opposition – which comes direct from chapter one, page one of the FPS textbook – the main hook to Blood Stone's otherwise generic cover-based combat is the Focus Aim feature, which is basically a carbon copy of Splinter Cell: Conviction's Mark and Execute system, only in this case it doesn't really present any genuinely strategic benefits to the gameplay. For every context-sensitive melee takedown you perform on an enemy (Bond smashes their face into a table top and/or cuddles them into a deep sleep) you're awarded a Focus kill – and you're able to store up to three of them at any one time. When activated the Focus Aim mechanic allows you to swiftly dispatch enemies with a few quick button taps.
On the game's lower difficulty levels, Focus Aim is entirely unnecessary thanks to the Call of Duty-style targeting that automatically snaps to an enemy each time you zoom in, making it easy to pull off headshots without the need for any further assistance. But even on the higher difficulty levels there's no tangible gameplay rewards for being stealthy, so whilst Focus Aim might be a slightly quicker and more stylish way to dispatch enemy goons it's far from essential, and at times we forgot it was even there.
Bond's smartphone can be used to display your current mission objective in the HUD, along with the location of enemies in your vicinity even if they're concealed behind walls, as well as scan for evidence and hack keypads and the like. Too bad it doesn't also let you play a copy of Angry Birds, because the smartphone is the closest you'll come to getting your hands on any kind of gadget from Q branch, otherwise your only tools are an assortment of samey assault rifles and shotguns, and the odd grenade launcher. Fair enough the Daniel Craig Bond films haven't featured many gadgets either, and Bizarre has tried to ape the style of Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, but when the lack of gameplay variety as a result is detrimental to the overall experience, we think the developer should have been afforded some artistic license. Strictly as a shooting experience, Blood Stone can only be described as uninspired.
But when you're not shooting cookie cutter enemies or idly staring at your smartphone like a bored teenager, you're speeding along in sports cars and powerboats in one of the handful of vehicular sections in the game. These high-octane interludes are easily the standout portions of the single-player campaign, and although they're slightly unforgiving in terms of the instant deaths caused by head-on collisions and wrong turns into bodies of water, they at least kick start your flat lining enthusiasm levels as though each vehicle is packing a set of the glove box defibrillators from Casino Royale.
It's too bad then that cars and boats are entirely absent from the game's online multiplayer component, which consists of just three uninspired shooter game types – Team Deathmatch, Objective and Last Man Standing. You can level up and unlock new character skins, but otherwise there's very little gameplay meat here. Some Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit-style car chases with friends would have been appreciated, but as far as multiplayer experiences go, Blood Stone's seems very much like a last minute afterthought and is unlikely to extend the lifespan of the game by more than an hour or two at best.
Blood Stone won't just disappoint fans of 007, it will also frustrate those familiar with just how capable a studio Bizarre Creations is. The British developer consistently excelled with its acclaimed Project Gotham Racing series, and subsequently displayed versatility with The Club, an underrated yet fast paced and addictive shooting experience. And yet here we are with a game that combines dangerous driving with third-person shooting – clearly two of Bizarre's strengths – and the studio has come up well short of greatness. We're not sure if it's due to the restrictive nature of working with the Bond license, or if the game has been focus-tested within an inch of its life – completely stripping it of any real depth or innovation in order to appeal to the lowest common denominator – but Blood Stone is a shallow and short-lived husk of a game. It won't keep you entertained for an afternoon so much as it will merely pass the time.