Close But No Martini
Quantum of Solace is the latest addition to the expansive library of James Bond video games. Like the films, 007 games’ quality has varied widely depending upon the era and team involved with its creation. Rare threw down the gauntlet with the creation of Goldeneye for the N64, and developers, whether they like it or not, will forever be judged by that litmus test.
With that in mind, 007 games have rarely been poor, From Russia with Love being the only real disappointment, but they also haven’t lived up to their progenitor. Treyarch and Activision are now at the development helm and looking to change this run of relative weakness. Unfortunately, they don’t exactly succeed on all fronts. The overly-cinematic approach, dodgy cover mechanic, nondescript baddies, and disjointed storytelling between chapters hold this title back. Nevertheless, Bond fans will be treated to solid visuals and shooter controls, and a rather expansive multiplayer component that help to rekindle interest in the Bond brand.
Quantum of Solace features a run-of-the-mill yet fairly satisfying single-player campaign. Daniel Craig’s rogue-like Bond suffers from hotheaded wrath and, consequently, is a grittier and more interesting video game character. Plowing through the attractive environments, players will find that this Bond is very capable; executing headshots with firearms and taking down marks with your bare hands is supremely easy. You will always feel like an elite badass, and that is very much appreciated. I found a handful of trouble spots with the campaign mode, but in spite of them all, I still had a lot of fun.
Where the game begins to bog down is in the extremely linear levels and the overly simplistic objectives. A map and objective-indicating system is given to players in the form of a Q-like Smartphone, but you’ll never need it, as you will always be railroaded onto the right path. As such, levels feel extremely formulaic: sneak into the room (train, cave, rooftop, lighting gantry, etc.), disable the infrared cameras, take out the henchmen, patch into the CCTV, and download the secret info for MI6. Sometimes you’ll have to deal with elite troops, balance yourself across a narrow walkway, or takeout helicopters, but these don’t really vary the gameplay. Though each level looks distinct, they all play remarkably similar.
Moreover, CCC Staff Contributor Adam Brown’s hands-on preview hinted at the abundance of shiny, well-placed explosive objects throughout the train level. Well, his gut feeling was spot on; making things go boom by shooting fire extinguishers, compressed air tanks, backhoes, and mini-generators is a big part of combat. It’s a mechanic that became old after the original Doom, and there’s no need for it in a modern shooter. The only reason I can think of as to why they would include it is because they wanted to communicate a cinematic feel to the title. After all, it is a movie tie-in. In that sense, the resulting explosions are great to look at and they initially make you feel like a superagent, but the overtly shimmering, strategically-placed containers tend to Nerf the experience.
Additionally, the much-touted cover system is a hodgepodge of fun and frustration. From cover, Bond is far more accurate with his precision aim; he’s largely protected from small arms fire and can even accurately blind-fire. Hiding behind crates, doorways, columns, and the like is easily executed by pressing the A (360) or X (PS3) button, and it’s very satisfying and intuitive. Sometimes getting out of cover feels sticky (you have to pull back on the left analog stick), but this isn’t much of a problem after a few levels.
However, automatically hopping out of cover and advancing at a sprint to the next strategic point almost never functions. Frequently, players will be prompted to charge out of cover by holding down the cover button, but the move can only be executed when prompted by the CPU. Often, I found myself wanting to charge ahead to the next cover location, but the prompt wouldn’t appear or it would flash on the screen and then immediately disappear. This really hampers the pacing of the title; you’ll spend a lot of time futzing around looking for the prompt and, after a couple of seconds, you’ll just charge out without utilizing the feature. Treyarch needed to give players the ability to activate the mechanic at any moment by pointing the crosshairs at the target and holding the appropriate button to bop over to the next bit of cover. Instead, we have to rely on the inconsistent prompts; a truly missed opportunity.
The story is told through end-of-chapter sequences that do a nice job of disguising loading times, but they do a terrible job of soliciting interest from the gamer. In fact, if it weren’t for my reviewing responsibilities, I would have skipped the storyline altogether and wouldn’t have missed a thing. Furthermore, the cookie-cutter baddies that you will take down might as well be Republic Clones or Star Trek Red Shirts. This applies to both mundane and elite henchmen; they all look exactly the same, and it detracts from the experience. How many times have I shot that bearded guy? Did The Organization manufacture them?
Graciously, Quantum of Solace does offer a comprehensive multiplayer mode. Taking a cue from GoldenEye, the team at Treyarch has done a nice job of emphasizing the multiplayer experience. Players can play ten different modes across twelve unique levels. Modes include conventional shooter staples, including Conflict (Deathmatch), Classic (Arcade Deathmatch), Team Conflict (Team Deathmatch), and Territory Control (Domination). Also, the classic Bond mode, Golden Gun, is back. One player wields the Golden Gun (a one-hit kill weapon) and the rest try and take him out. This mode is a ton of fun!
Additionally, Bond Versus and Bond Evasion are interesting modes unique to the game. Bond Versus, like Golden Gun, pits everyone against one player. However, Bond can either kill all opponents (no respawning) or disarm explosives to garner points. In Bond Evasion, everyone is divided into two teams and a random player is selected to act as Bond. If one team can get Bond to the exit without getting killed they win. Later, the sides switch roles and a new player on the other team becomes Bond.
The 12 multiplayer maps are quite enjoyable. Maps are varied and include such distinct areas as rooftops, docks, a chemical plant, a construction site, a hotel, a freighter, etc. Each level was designed with specific modes of play in mind. As a result, maps are small, medium, or large, take advantage of wide open, outdoor spaces, or even confine play for more frantic, tight fights.
As is typical from modern Activision shooters, players will gain experience points to open up weaponry, including grenades and attachments, and they’ll be able to customize their load-outs during multiplayer. Also, opening up gadgets functions similarly to perks in the Call of Duty series, giving players distinct advantages. All the modes and multiplayer mechanics are enjoyable and serve as a robust element for Quantum of Solace. Of course, a maximum of only 12 players can join in on any one level. Consquently, games tend to be short and furious. Also, the amount of fun found in Bond Versus, Golden Gun, and Bond Evasion often relies on the skill of the player playing as Bond. It seems as if games played in a large party of friends online or over system link (LAN) will prove to be more enjoyable than playing with randoms, as multiplayer games feel quite intimate.
Quantum of Solace uses the same game engine as Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and World at War. This makes the game very attractive and very smooth. Some of the character models are a little crude, but the realistic animations, detailed interiors, and sweeping landscapes are all of high quality. Players will notice no screen tearing or framerate dropping, even with a lot of action and explosions onscreen.
Not surprisingly, the background music is a mix of classic Bond themes and classical music that really set the mood. The explosions and ambient sounds are also ideal. The main characters are voice acted perfectly, but stock declarations by the various thugs, while context appropriate, get extremely repetitive. Nonetheless, the sonic experience is quite enjoyable.
Quantum of Solace won’t be up for any “game of the year” awards, but it is a solid title that offers a satisfying, though elementary, single-player campaign and a strong, but perhaps niche, multiplayer experience. It’s not a total return to form for the Bond franchise, but it seems to be headed in the right direction.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
The in-game engine is silky smooth and the environments are attractive. Unfortunately, enemies are very repetitive and character models look artificial. 3.9 Control
Taking out baddies and players in single and multiplayer games is very satisfying. However, the cover mechanic definitely leaves a lot to be desired. 4.1 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The background music is classic bond goodness, but the repetitive thug pronouncements are lame. 3.6 Play Value
The robust multiplayer saves the day. Though pleasant, the very short single-player campaign is only good for maybe a couple of playthroughs, but it is not in any way memorable. 3.8 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.