Illusion of Solace
The latest Bond adventure has hit theaters, and yup – you guessed it – related Quantum of Solace video games are hitting gaming platforms as well. Though the DS version follows the movie’s storyline somewhat, the handheld 007 takes a slightly different tact than the console iterations in terms of gameplay. How does this secret agent fare on the dual screen?
James Bond movies have always been about three things: cool gadgets, insanely entertaining action, and gorgeous ladies. You’ll get none of those things in the DS version of Solace. You’re relegated mostly to the use of simple guns and melee, the action is basic and repetitive, and Judy Dench is the only dame you’ll spend any real time with here. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean the game’s not at least worth a look.
For starters, the game is played in book-style form – a plus for many DS owners. You’ll turn your DS sideways (yes, there’s an option for left-handed players), and the action will take place on the touch screen, with the map/inventory housed on the top screen. Like Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword (DS), all actions in the game are performed using the stylus, with the exception of attacking, which is initiated by pressing any of the buttons on the DS.
When you first begin, your go-to gal (and Dench’s character), simply named M, instructs you on the basics. You run through a training level housed within the British secret-service complex known as MI6. The game is played from a third-person, isometric view, and you move Bond via the stylus. His movement isn’t as fluid or precise as that of Link in Phantom Hourglass, but Bond can either walk or run depending on how far you move the stylus from him. Additionally, there’s a circle marker always surrounding 007, and by tapping within the circle, you can cause him to move in a more stealthy fashion.
Quantum of Solace plays as an action adventure, and you’ll be running through various levels, defeating tons of baddies along the way. Bond can engage enemies in several ways. You’ll acquire different guns as you progress through the game, and by holding down any button on the DS, you’ll bring your weapon to bear; then simply tap on the touch screen where you want to fire. The shooting works okay, but there are issues with hit detection. Additionally, it’s impossible to shoot enemies from more than a short distance, as the onscreen view around Bond is very limited.
The melee combat, however, is even trickier. When you’re up close to an enemy, you can initiate hand-to-hand combat by holding down any of the DS’ buttons. Once toe to toe with your enemy, you’ll need to draw lines and/or circles to cause Bond to attack. A slash from left to right causes him to throw a left hook and vice versa; heavy attacks are performed by slashing either up or down on the screen. You can also stun enemies by blocking attacks (blocking is done by tapping the side of the screen where an enemy is attacking from), and when enemies are incapacitated, you can then throw them for extra damage. There are also combos and a few other melee techniques that are somewhat entertaining, but there’s a lot of inconsistency in terms of the game properly reading your touch commands. That said, due to the limitations of gunplay, melee ends up being the practical approach to dispatching most foes.
Levels are fairly plain in their design, leading Bond from checkpoint to checkpoint. There’s a bit of stealth action involved, but enemies offer up little challenge, often staring blindly at a urinal or wall, waiting for you to simply sneak up and whack them from behind. When enemies do patrol, it’s only in very simple and abrupt patterns. A given mission consists of little more than taking out a few bad guys, find a key/ticket/keycard that permits access to the next area, and as the now classic saying goes, rinse and repeat.
There are, however, some other interesting gameplay elements thrown in that give Solace a bit of an RPG feel. Dependant upon your performance during missions, you’ll gain a number of “Bond Points,” which you can then use to increase 007’s various attributes. Adding points to Brawler, for instance, will increase Bond’s melee damage, whereas allotting points to Rough and Tumble will increase his maximum health. Additionally, Bond will find both poker chips and playing cards along the way, and you can turn in chips for Bond Points, or use the playing cards to make different poker hands that will improve some of Bond’s other abilities. They are neat, little gameplay mechanics that work fairly well.
The inventory system also works okay, but you’ll still be required to often pause and enter your inventory mid-battle, either to reload or health up. The game provides quick slots you can tap for an on-the-fly reload and such, but you’ll run through ammo so fast that these hotkeys become practically useless. Space is also limited, so you won’t be able to take everything you find with you. There will be times when you’ll have to choose between what to keep and what to discard.
On the production front, Quantum of Solace DS does some things right and some things, well, not quite so right. The graphics are serviceable and, at times – such as during the first actual mission, as well as a couple of the game’s later levels – there are some very attractive 3D elements to experience. However, the character models are boxy, and you’ll see the same few enemies over and over…and over again. The backgrounds are crafted well enough, but there’s little variety here, either, and some of the game’s environmental objects make little sense within the context of a given mission. Lots of stuff seems thrown together to make the mechanics work, though there’s no real rhyme or reason in terms of the story and setting. Additionally, we experienced lag moments after almost every item pick-up.
The game’s audio performs at about the same level as the rest of the game’s presentation, and you’ll hear the same few musical loops throughout most of the adventure. There is a bit of voice work provided by the movie’s actors, but the way in which it’s used does little to enhance the gameplay experience. The audio’s output is high, but unfortunately, music and effects sound distorted, regardless of the volume level.
The game’s cutscenes are little more than a handful of character stills with a few snippets of dialogue overlaid. The voice work is fine, but everything’s pasted together to make for a hodge-podge of a presentation. The game likely would have benefited by the exclusion of these vignettes, as they add no clear storyline, nor are they attractive in any way. If anything, the game’s cutscenes only serve to amplify Solace’s many other flaws.
There are some fun gameplay ideas in the DS version of Quantum of Solace, but the execution plainly leaves too much to be desired. The cutscenes artificially connect the missions together, and the story makes little or no sense. The game, at various points, is either too easy or too hard, and its only real challenge comes from the inaccuracy of all its gameplay elements. It’s also a very short romp, clocking in at about five hours. A bit more attention to detail, some fine tuning and more practical use of the touch screen could have made this a really fun adventure on DS, but as it stands, Solace is playable, though little more.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.4 Graphics
The game offers a few nice-looking backgrounds, and the framerate is pretty solid. Character models, however, are boxy, animate awkwardly, and the overall production looks slapped together. 2.9 Control
Controlling Bond with the stylus works fine, though his movement isn’t very fluid. Shooting is often fun, though the limited view sours the experience. Melee is almost broken.L 3.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
There are some cool sound effects, and it’s usually pleasant to hear voice acting. However, most lines of dialogue are out of sync with their respective cutscenes, and the output of the game’s audio is slightly distorted. 2.7
The gameplay is derivative, the story is incomprehensible, and Solace DS has plenty of problems. That said, it does offer some level of entertainment, though only for a short time.
2.9 Overall Rating – Average
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.