Quantum of Solace PC Review
James Bond has never really gotten along well with the PC. The game that launched a million Bond fans, Goldeneye, was released back on the Nintendo 64 and ever since then developers have been trying to recapture that magic. EA couldn't ever quite get it right, and now that Activision has taken over the reins of the Bond game franchise, I'm sad to say that while Quantum of Solace is a step in the right direction in a few key ways, it leaves behind so much of the fun factor that it's just not worth your gaming dollar.
The Quantum of Solace game starts you out with some of the setpieces from the movie, but that classic Bond film thrill and action has been replaced with fairly dull firefights against enemies whose most intelligent moments usually come when they decide to toss a grenade at you. Sure, some levels can be done stealthily, asking you to creep around, watch enemy soldiers' patrols to move past them or quietly take them down, and to watch for cameras and disable them. All of this stuff was done better by the Bond parody game No One Lives Forever (and its incredible sequel) many years ago.
So what's left is, well, Bond himself. Activision has included the likeness and voice of Daniel Craig for the role along with Judi Dench and that new Bond girl, Olga Kurylenko, as well. While Quantum is primarily a first-person shooter, the viewpoint switches to third person whenever Bond dives behind cover or does any climbing or ledge shimmying. It's a pretty decent system overall - few games even try to mix first- and third-person perspectives in this fashion - but something is just lost in the constant transitions between camera views. The first is that you can't directly vault over an object you're currently taking cover behind. You have to back out of it first and then separately do the vault. After getting used to the standard set by Gears of War, doing it Bond's way feels very clumsy. Beyond that, popping out from behind cover to shoot at enemies is a little strange, as Bond won't actually use the scopes on many of the scoped guns from behind cover. To do that, you'll have to pop out from cover.
There's also the issue of cover making you at least partially invincible. It's weird - I can duck behind an object and get peppered with bullets, but getting cover behind it, taking up the exact same space, will make those bullets simply not hit me. Yep, even though I can see them actually traveling right through the back of Bond's head. Of course, if the enemy manages to flank Bond then his sides and back are fair game, but there seems to be some magical arc that cover will just arbitrarily protect you from, even if your enemies really do have the angle on you.
So as you trudge through the game and its rather haphazard level design, you'll quickly find that the story is about as disjointed as well. Bond's bosses continuously hammer on his inability to capture a single important person, and, well, Judi Dench might as well be complaining to the game developers, too. They have Bond kill entirely too many people in loud, out-in-the-open gunfights to be anything but a "secret" agent. Now, I know that this is a theme in the movie: Bond's too violent, driven by revenge (a theme that this game completely fails to deliver in any coherent way, even with the hour and a half of Casino Royale flashbacks and picking up a few of the best parts from that first Craig movie), and is too much of a rogue for M's tastes. But here, it's just one kill after another, often punctuated by the explosion of one of the many gas or propane tanks conveniently lying around every spot that the enemies are about to congregate in. Oh, and they glow, too, so it takes zero effort to notice them.
While the gunfights can get fun here and there depending on the quality of the level you've been placed in (the intro is probably the worst part of the game and gives a horrible first impression), you'll quickly find yourself at the conclusion of Quantum with a goofy cliffhanger that makes it seem like the developers sort of forgot to include the last couple of levels of the game.
Problems go a bit beyond that, though. For the PC audience, this game feels like a classic quickly-hacked-up port from the console version. Developer Beenox handled the port, and while it doesn't quite get as bad as telling you to press console-controller buttons to reload or anything like that, the mouse controls feel horrible and not nearly as smooth or responsive as a PC shooter should really be. And while the game does include a slick multiplayer mode through the free Games for Windows Live system that mimics Xbox 360 matchmaking and such, the controls still feel just as bad and your connection to a game depends mostly on the game's host - no dedicated servers here, folks.
It's too bad; the online play has a cool unlock system and some pretty fun action, especially the Golden Gun mode where the person holding the gun, a scoped Magnum with explosive bullets, gets five points per kill instead of one but can get killed and have the gun taken away from him at any time. But Microsoft's GFW software still has a long ways to go to impress PC gamers, as its decidedly Xbox-like interface will immediately turn many of them off. They'd much rather have dedicated servers with regular old server browsers and the like, and even if they do jump into Quantum's online play, they'll be pretty disappointed when they find the same choppy mouse control and strange cover system from the single player game are there online as well.
Quantum of Solace certainly showed some great promise before its release (in preview events, Activision made sure to show off the absolute best levels in the game) and the console versions play a bit more solidly, but the PC port is one that should be avoided. Credit goes to Beenox for pushing through and making all the online play options available, but without some solid controls or some way to really pull in hardcore PC shooter players, the multiplayer modes completely miss the mark. Maybe the next Activision Bond game will show an improvement, but this one is best left sitting on the store shelf.