Criticism Features Video Games

“Memory Trouble” – On 007: Blood Stone

My review-writing process when it comes to video games has remained largely unchanged for as long as I can remember. It’s a simple system that I assume a lot of other writers use; it isn’t particularly imaginative, but it works for me and that’s all that matters.

First, I play the game. As I do so, I keep a notepad or a scrap of paper handy and scrawl rough shorthand notes with a pencil – not a pen, because I can’t remember the last time a pen didn’t run out on me when I needed it the most. When I’m done with the game, I type these barely-legible doodles into a Notepad file and expand them until I have a coherent summary of my experience. Then, I write the review. The lion’s share of what you’re reading in the finished piece is a final expansion of those initial, hastily-pencilled impressions.

There is obviously a little more to this process, but those are the bare bones. I’ve been doing this for a long time, and this is how I’ve always done it. James Bond 007: Blood Stone (just Blood Stone from now on) is incredibly interesting to me because it single-handedly legitimizes this whole process. We’re talking about a video game here that is so unremarkable that the very act of playing it created some kind of quantum collapse, erasing the previous five hours from my memory completely. The notes I made during that period are the only evidence I have that I even played it at all. So, here they are in full: this is a review of Blood Stone, a game that I can’t even remember playing.

Blood Stone is the first original James Bond video game since 2003’s Everything or Nothing. I remember playing that one. It wasn’t amazing, but it was a pretty fun little action game which worked reasonably well within the confines of the Bond license. It had Pierce Brosnan – in his final portrayal of the character – and Blood Stone has Daniel Craig. Blood Stone also has Dame Judi Dench as M, and a new Bond girl, Nicole Hunter, played by British musician with a thousand difference accents, Joss Stone. I played Everything or Nothing a decade ago, but I still remember the plot revolved around nanotechnology. I played Blood Stone an hour ago, and I have no idea what it was about. The notes say “chemical/biological weapon, terrorism” so we’ll just go with that.

I’m also pretty sure Bruce Feirstein was involved in some capacity – I must have caught his name in the credits or something – but judging by the fact I wrote “plot: formulaic, shallow” he can’t have done a very good job. Then again I also wrote “entire game: formulaic, shallow” so if nothing else it seems that Blood Stone is pretty consistent.

Blood Stone also wants to be Splinter Cell: Conviction so badly that it’s embarrassing for everyone. Usually I’m pretty lenient when a video game builds on an already successful formula, especially when it fine-tunes a core experience and expands on some of the ideas. That’s a perfectly normal, acceptable way for media to develop. Aping a tried and tested framework with enough style and personality can also prove extremely successful, which the Saint’s Row series – all games I remember very well – proves rather well indeed.

From what I can work out, though, Blood Stone is a shameless carbon copy that fails to dress up its pilfered mechanics in even the vaguest original idea. The third-person shooting is a familiar series of linear environments populated with plenty of things to hide behind and plenty of dudes to shoot, but that I was “sick of Daniel Craig’s face” suggests there’s possibly too much of it. Bond also has a close-quarters melee takedown ability which is identical to Sam Fisher’s close-quarters melee takedown ability: namely, pressing a single button in close proximity to an enemy will perform an instant kill, my favourite of which was, apparently, the “ridiculous hug move”. Hugging enemies rewards the player with a special gunshot which, when triggered, locks onto the nearest enemy and sends a single, all-powerful bullet their way for an instant kill. I didn’t write down the name of this ability, but it sounds a lot like the Mark & Execute mechanic from Conviction without any tactical or strategic depth whatsoever.

This being a James Bond video game, there are of course a handful of vehicle sections, which I think I may have enjoyed a little bit. They are “chaotic” and “visually impressive”. I can believe this, because Blood Stone is developed by the now-defunct Bizarre Creations, who are responsible for the excellent Project Gotham Racing series. I also wrote, however, “same fucking bus”. While I can’t be sure, I feel that I know my own mind well enough to assume that unforgiving difficulty works in conjunction with heavy scripting in these sections, so that it’s easy to witness the same purportedly dramatic set-piece – a bus cutting into your path and drastically altering your route, for example – several times in a row. I imagine if this did happen to me, I would be pretty annoyed. Perhaps even annoyed enough to write “fuck driving, keyboard sucks”, which I did. I played the PC version, by the way. Possibly.

There is multiplayer. There is also no online community to speak of, which means there technically isn’t multiplayer at all. If there was, the game modes would have been Team Deathmatch, some objective-based mode the name of which I didn’t write down, and Last Man Standing, which according to Wikipedia is a free-for-all with no respawns. So there’s that. Or at least there would have been that, if anybody cared about this game at all.

My concluding thoughts would be “no reason to exist”. Everything in Blood Stone has been done before, and done better – coincidentally by the same development team. Aside from PGR, Bizarre are also responsible for a grossly underrated arcade shooter called The Club, which I remember as being fast-paced and addictive. You should play that. If you’re an extremely dedicated James Bond fan, watch Skyfall. It will be done in half the time and won’t make you feel as though you are “five hours closer to death”, whereas Blood Stone apparently will.

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