Quantum of Duty
October 16, 2008 – Whenever a new Bond shooter makes its way to the market, it will undoubtedly be compared to what is widely regarded as the best Bond video game to date. I am, of course, speaking of GoldenEye for the N64. Although fans are always quick to draw these comparisons, a more valid measuring stick in the case of Quantum of Solace would be Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. The reason for this is that this title borrows much from Infinity Ward’s stellar shooter, including its engine.
Using a version of the Call of Duty 4 engine likely made this game much easier to develop, and also helps make Quantum of Solace one of the best-looking first-person shooters soon to be on the market. The game’s environments, enemies, explosions, weather effects, and even Bond himself are visually stunning. The latter becomes even more evident when the camera pulls out to a third-person perspective during certain parts of the game. These mostly consist of times when you climb ladders, participate in quick time events, or need to take cover.
Cover plays a large role in Quantum of Solace, especially in the single-player campaign. The difficulty level seems to be dialed up fairly high, as it only takes a few shots to put Bond out of commission. This often forces players to seek cover early and often if they wish to survive. From cover, you can blind fire, peak your head out for more accurate and effective shots, or even sprint to another cover position. Having a first-person shooter that relies on cover is definitely different, but it manages to feel fairly natural after only a few minutes with the game.
Where the game started to get a little sticky for me was how the environment was used in combat in the level that I had a chance to play. This level took place on a speeding train, starting you out on top, eventually making your way inside and proceeding forward from there. Before dropping in, players are treated to an opportunity to relive something similar to the bathroom stall scene from GoldenEye, being able to shoot some unsuspecting foes through the train’s sunroofs. It wasn’t until I made it inside the train that certain things begin to catch my attention.
What I’m referring to is the way the level was designed. It seemed like no matter where I was on the train, the game was encouraging me to shoot the environment and not my enemies. Any time I took cover, I always found countless gas drums, propane tanks, and fire extinguishers. The first two created large explosions that usually dispatched the enemies that just so happened to be right next to them, and the latter blinded foes so that I could get to a better position, or just sprint up and headshot them before its effects wore off. While I can’t be certain if the entirety of Bond’s single-player missions suffer from this same design choice, I sincerely hope not. If the game’s many other levels manage to escape this unnecessary shoot the tank and move gameplay, I believe the ability to take cover will make this a very unique and compelling single-player experience.
Next, I got to get my hands on some multiplayer and this is where the game began to truly shine. There are several modes to choose from, including standard death matches to more Bond-centric affairs like Golden Gun. Golden Gun has players competing to gain control of this classic weapon, scoring points when they dispatch enemies with it or their foes who are carrying it. The weapon itself gives the controlling player the most powerful weapon in the game but also makes them easier to spot on their enemies’ radars, which can make these matches very interesting.
The maps I had a chance to see were very well-designed and conducive to the game’s many different modes. One had players jumping around rooftops in Venice, shimmying up ladders for position, and finding countless dark corners with great lines of sight, perfect for hiding and sniping. This was a fairly small map, so conflicts were very action-packed, as it seemed like every time you spawned, you were either looking directly at a foe or being shot by one. Another, much larger map, had players shooting it out at a construction site. This map was also well equipped with multiple sniping perches but had a variety of vehicles and objects, providing players with a plethora of cover to help them gain the upper hand. Here the action was a little slower-paced but rewarded players for working as a team and being more intelligent about their movements and positioning.
Much like in Modern Warfare’s multiplayer, players will be able to create custom weapon load-outs and even upgrade their character with special abilities (perks). These abilities are what most would expect, ranging from allowing players to carry more ammo to having a noticeable upgrade in the health department. While we had the opportunity to try out fully leveled up and tricked out characters, players can likely expect these special abilities to be unlocked similarly to the perks in Call of Duty 4.
All in all, Quantum of Solace looks very promising. If the rest of the single-player campaign steers clear of the “shoot the barrel and move on” design I experienced in the train level, expect a beautiful and action-packed Bond experience full of frantic shootouts, strategic use of cover, and more style than you can shake a martini at. Add to this the excellent multiplayer offerings that will feel right at home for Modern Warfare fans and Quantum of Solace becomes a very complete package for Bond and shooter fans alike. Since the game is also launching more than a week before the film’s theatrical release, it provides eager fans with a welcome chance to check out the action before standing in the long lines during Quantum of Solace’s opening weekend.
Time for a New Bond
July 2, 2008 – Think back to the last set of Bond movies – the batch starring Pierce Brosnan. There were four in total, yet most people remember the very first one – “GoldenEye” – as the best entry. By 2002’s “Die Another Day,” the series resembled a train wreck: you had a cliché bad guy living in an ice castle who controlled a giant space laser with the help of a gadget that looked like an over-sized Nintendo Power Glove. Oh, and don’t forget Bond’s car – it turned invisible and could drive on ice.
If you look at the video game side of the Bond coin during that time, it’s strikingly similar. GoldenEye 007 on the Nintendo 64 was not only a terrific counterpart to its movie sibling; it was a flat-out, fun game. Continue down the Bond video game timeline and you’ll find your memories not so warm and fuzzy. Electronic Arts picked up the Bond license and released eight (mostly) below average entries – titles you don’t hear gamers talk about with any kind of fondness.
So, with history as a guide, should we be worried about the new Bond game? Well, there are some details that should make gamers pause. For one, Electronic Arts isn’t at the helm anymore. Activision is stepping up to the publishing plate and Treyarch is front-and-center as the developer. Plus, there’s a change in source material. True, this a Bond game, but it’s not Pierce Brosnan’s Bond – the one who never seemed to run out of one-liners, gadgets, and girls. Instead, the developers are staying current and going with Daniel Craig’s rendition. Yes, this could be interpreted as a way to cash-in with a movie tie-in, but Treyarch claims the new Bond works better from a story standpoint. “He’s still a bit raw. M refers to him as a blunt instrument,” says Executive Producer Garrett Young.
During our recent trip out to Treyarch in Santa Monica, California, the developer walked us through three levels. Upon release, the game will feature a 50-50 mix of levels inspired by locations and scenes from “Casino Royale” and the anticipated “Quantum of Solace.” Since the new movie doesn’t release till November, Treyarch limited its demo levels to scenes inspired from “Casino Royale.”
Those who saw “Casino Royale” should remember the scene near the end where the Venice house floods and collapses. Treyarch fleshed out that pivotal point in the movie and used it as a jumping off point to demonstrate their work. The level started with Bond in first person, clutching a familiar weapon – the silenced PP7. As Bond got close to a bad guy, he bound to a nearby wood box, using it as cover. At this point, the camera pulled out to reveal a third person perspective. Treyarch said it struggled with deciding whether to make the game entirely first or third person. At the end of the day – after polling fans about their preference – they settled on a hybrid approach.
As the level continued, we got a glimpse at the shooter-centered combat. The standard first person shooter mechanics are there, but what was more noticeable were the cover mechanics. Bond cannot only move behind cover, but he can also flip from one piece of cover to another. Also, whenever Bond moves toward cover he sprints and the camera shakes – an obvious nod to the CNN running cam found in Gears of War.
Perhaps the biggest thing we took away from the Venice level was the development team’s use of the Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare engine. Not only was the level well-rendered and littered with bad guys, but as it flooded with water (forcing Bond to stay on the move), parts of the building continually came crashing down – all without a single hit to the framerate.
The second level is where we got more of a taste of the title’s varied gameplay. Set in the casino from its respective movie, the second level allowed Bond to take a more stealthy approach. Guards were scattered throughout the floor and sneaking allowed Bond to use one of two options: a quick head shot kill or a takedown. Takedowns work in a fashion similar to those in the recent Bourne Conspiracy – you trigger them with a button press and this starts a QTE. Should you hit the right button, a custom animation plays. In our demo, Bond flipped several guards over a balcony, sending them plummeting to the street. The balcony served another purpose – it illustrated a stealth mechanic. Bond can carefully shimmy along ledges to avoid certain rooms. So that players don’t miss what’s happening inside the room, the screen splits in half – on the top, a series of picture-in-picture panels display what the bad guys are up to, while keeping Bond on the lower half, so the player isn’t completely taken out of the moment. The level also featured a lock-hack mini-game where Bond timed button presses to disengage a lock.
The latter-half of the casino level erupted into a complete shootout. Bond was spotted in a spa section and a massive number of bad guys descended on the scene. Since the difficulty was set at a moderate level, the A.I. played it relatively safe – they stayed bound to cover, only sneaking out to pop out a few rounds from time-to-time. However, cover shouldn’t be misinterpreted – the majority of it can be blown away, forcing Bond, as well as the A.I. to always keep an eye out for the next battle position. This was demonstrated by tables shattering, vases exploding, and tile getting chipped away by rounds from MP5 submachine guns.
To give us a taste of one more kind of gameplay, Treyarch loaded up their final demo level. It was a recreation of the construction yard chase from the beginning of “Casino Royale.” Bond chased after his target, but the sense of speed found in the movie seemed lost in translation. This is probably due to the movie’s quick cuts and editing, whereas the game featured the chase from a first person perspective and occasionally pulled out to third for Bond to make a giant leap or carefully climb across a steel balance beam. Regarding the beam, players familiar with Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune will find a similar mechanic at play here. When Bond crossed the beam, a small bar appeared along the bottom of the screen with a white dot in the middle. As Bond moved along the beam, his balance wobbled from side-to-side, indicated by the dot moving further away from the center.
It’s too soon to be excited or worried about Quantum of Solace. We were shown a very early version of the game and didn’t get any hands-on time. The game’s core shooter content looks solid, but things like the QTE-based combat and mini-games could end up being less-than-stellar in-game distractions instead of notable features. Treyarch is adamant about this being the start of a new Bond franchise and seems committed to reinventing Bond. Can the team pull it off? We hope they can; it’d be nice to see a proper Bond game after years of mediocre attempts.