Quantum of Solace Preview
The lucrative Bond license has seen more than its fair share of ups and downs within the videogame industry; while many insist the N64's Goldeneye is the Bond to beat, I still return to last-gen's Everything or Nothing for the absolute coolest in shaken (not stirred) gameplay. While debates will continue over which 007 title lets gamers do Bond best, there's no arguing the last couple of efforts were clunkers. From Russia with Love and that oh-so-desperate attempt to cash-in on the beloved Goldeneye name, Goldeneye: Rogue Agent left gamepad secret agents worrying this franchise was finally going the way of most mediocre licensed offerings. The thing is, at the time, Bond's big-screen efforts were beginning to mirror the games' in their questionable quality; Pierce Brosnan kicked ample ass in Godeneye, but by the time he was racing around that ice castle in his invisible car in Die Another Day, even his biggest fans were calling shenanigans. Thankfully, 007's silver screen exploits received a much-needed reboot in the excellent, Daniel Craig-starring Casino Royale, restoring fan's faith in MI6's tuxedoed main man. Now, with Craig's second Bond flick landing in theaters this November, the super-spy hype is at an all-time high.
Forgive the quick history lesson, but I thought it important to kick off my Quantum of Solace preview with proper perspective; you see, like the film franchise's recent makeover, the game license is also seeing a re-tinkering that'd make Q's gadget-tweaking look like child's play. For starters, Bond's game outings are no longer in the hands of Electronic Arts (the folks responsible for the last two lackluster efforts.) Activision is now the publisher, and they've handed Quantum of Solace's reins over to the capable folks at Treyarch. The experienced development house has not only honed their chops in the action/shooter genre (the slightly less-notable games in the Call of Duty series), but they've also proven they can handle the licensed goods, churning out multiple Spider-Man titles. While the reboot attitude and developer pedigree had me excited for Bond's next console landing--and next-gen debut--it wasn't until I got to see the game in action that my heart began racing like a tricked-out Aston Martin.
In a smart move that'd make the titular secret agent man proud, Treyarch is incorporating action and story elements from the new film as well as Casino Royale. A smart play, indeed, given the last film's enormous popularity. So, in addition to the still-secret plot of the new film (we do know it picks up about an hour after Casino Royale) players can expect to exercise their brains and muscles in a variety of action-driven scenes from Craig's double-O debut; I'm told many of that movie's scenes, including the break-neck paced free-running segment, will make the cut. I was also treated to a moment from the film's mid-point in action; during the high-stakes Hold 'Em game from the film, you may recall Bond taking a break that culminates in some stairwell sneaking, shooting, and I believe at least one broken neck. In the game, this scene has been fleshed out into a full-fledged level, sporting many of the slick spy's abilities.
An amazingly rendered Craig did some stealth-driven scouting around and about this scene's hotel corridors and then on its sky-high window ledges. In fact, it should be noted that Quantum of Solace supports some branching paths, so, in this case, the man behind the gamepad could have stuck with the more dangerous corridor route, rather than taking the ledge-teetering, but safer path. In a cool touch that reminded me of TV's 24, the screen soon displayed two views of the action, one from the player's perspective and the other showing a henchmen's view point. In addition to presenting a stylish aesthetic, this mechanic proved helpful in planning Bond's tricky room-to-room trek, as knowing what the gun-toting goon was looking at made it easy to know when the coast was clear to pass a window. Once out of the fresh evening air, I witnessed Bond unleash a bevy of button-matching takedowns reminiscent of the action from the recent Bourne Conspiracy. With a few quick taps, players can quickly and quietly dispatch of baddies with martial arts flair to spare.
Of course, Quantum of Solace is just as much about gunning than tip-toeing--it is, after all built from the Call of Duty 4 engine. With this impressive tech powering the play, Bond's first-person-shooting actually unfolds similarly to how it did in that modern military juggernaut. Even that game's cool ability to nail enemy's through weak cover spots has made the jump--watching Bond blast baddies through an overturned table is undeniably sweet. Speaking of cover spots, Quantum of Solace also adopts a nice duck-and-cover system, where the action jumps from a first to third person perspective, similar to the Rainbow Six: Vegas games, when grabbing a hiding place. The transition looks like it may take a bit of getting used to, but once you're controlling the full-bodied Bond, you can unleash blind fire, aim for a down-the-barrel shot, and even dash from one chunk of cover to another like those Gears of War guys.
While my Bond demo was brief, it did get me psyched for this extremely promising title. The shooting and visuals alone, nicely notched up by that CoD4 tech, looked amazing, especially when complemented by copious amounts of destructible items. Additionally, detail-drenched backgrounds flesh out Montenegro, Venice, Bolivia and Austria and go quite a ways in delivering that cinematic, international espionage vibe. And the retelling of both movies' plots through a nice mix of stealth and shooting gameplay look to offer an experience that could easily put this fledgling franchise back on track. I look forward to finding out--and torturing that old bastard Mr. White--when Quantum of Solace infiltrates Xbox 360s and PS3s this fall.