Reviewed by Clayton Stone
James Bond has had a long history in video games. After the Nintendo 64’s GoldenEye 007 (a game that many consider to be one of the greatest games of all time), nearly every new Bond film has been accompanied by a new Bond game. Most of these tried to emulate what made GoldenEye successful, but in the end were nothing more than lackluster wannabees, at most worthy of a single play through. One notable exception, however, was Electronic Arts’ Everything or Nothing – an original Bond game that wasn’t tied to any movie but still featured big stars, huge production values, and a third person camera (different from the usual first person perspective that the franchise became known for). But now the Bond license belongs to Activision, and with developer Treyarch’s first effort, Quantum of Solace, they have given us a decent, if still lacking, Bond game.
After navigating a stylish menu and selecting New Game, you’re treated to an in-game recreation of Casino Royale’s final scene, in which Bond prepares to capture the mysterious Mr. White. Things go awry, however, when Mr. White’s henchmen show up and try to prevent his capture. This first level essentially bridges the gap between the films Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, by having you battle your way through Mr. White’s estate. What players will soon find, however, is that the game’s title “Quantum of Solace” is a bit misleading. About a quarter of the way through the single player mode, the story flashes back to the beginning of Casino Royale, and players end up spending the majority of the game in levels that retell Royale’s story, rather than its sequel. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just something that gamers should know ahead of time, especially if they’re expecting a game centered on Quantum of Solace.
Utilizing the powerful Call of Duty 4 engine, the game’s combat is handled similarly to the incredibly popular war franchise. From the first person perspective, you can shoot, throw grenades, crouch, sprint, and look down the gun’s sight to increase your accuracy. Needless to say, if you’re a fan of the Call of Duty franchise, you should feel right at home.
Treyarch has also given us a few cool innovations which help make this feel more like a Bond game, instead of a wartime shooter. For example, instead of a standard melee attack, you now have a “takedown” ability. By clicking the right thumbstick when close to an enemy, you enter a one-button quicktime event, which if successful, shows Bond rapidly disarming and knocking out his opponent. It’s a cool animation to watch, even if the moves start to get repetitive halfway through the game. But there is one huge issue that most gamers will have with this new ability: even though you have no control over the character as he performs the takedown, you can still take damage from gunfire during the animation. This effectively penalizes and discourages the player from using the move in the heat of battle, as you can die when you’re not in control. It sort of makes the player wonder if the inclusion of a standard melee attack would have better sufficed.
Also, in a technique similar to the one found in Gears of War, the player has the ability to tap a button and have Bond enter into “cover” behind objects. When this happens, the camera instantaneously pulls back to a cool third person perspective, giving the player a better view of the area in relation to Bond. From cover, you can then aim, pop out, and get a few shots off before ducking back down. Bond can also blindfire from cover, although his accuracy is severely limited.
This cover system works well with the regenerative health system, as you can take some bullets, find some cover, and be back in the fight with full health in no time. As you take damage, the classic James Bond “gun barrel” slowly closes-in on your screen, until the screen whites-out completely and you have to restart from a checkpoint. Thankfully, there are several checkpoints within each level. This is most welcome, because even when playing on the standard “Agent” difficulty, most players will probably find themselves dying and repeating some of the more challenging sections a few times throughout the game. This challenge can mostly be attributed to the good enemy A.I. Enemies make a noticeable effort trying to outflank you, and their accuracy forces you to use cover and wait for the right moment to fire back. All in all, the gunplay in Quantum of Solace is handled very well.
That being said, the biggest problem with the single player game is that it all too often feels like a very by-the-numbers first person shooter. You travel from the beginning of a level to the end on a mostly linear path, you always know where to go, and even though you’ll occasionally enter into a quicktime event or be faced with a timed challenge, the majority of the gameplay experience feels the same from level to level.
However, it’s obvious that Treyarch tried to break up the monotonous run-and-gun gameplay. For example, you have the option to be stealthy in some levels, by avoiding security cameras, taking out bad guys with their backs turned, and using a silencer on your gun. Even so, most players will find it easier to just run through the levels, use cover to take out enemies, and avoid the whole “stealthy” approach – particularly after multiple occasions of trying to be stealthy, only to have their patience spoiled by a camera they didn’t see or a distant enemy who somehow “hears” them. The stealthy approach just feels like a waste of time.
If the developers wanted to flesh out the rather shallow, single player experience in Quantum of Solace, they could have adapted some of the excellent components found in the online multiplayer portion of the game, particularly the cash-based equipment and weapon store. When playing online, you receive money for every enemy killed or objective completed (similar to Call of Duty 4’s level-up system). You can then spend this “cash” at a store to buy weapon upgrades and gadgets which increase Bond’s stats. If this system were applied to the single player game, maybe players would find more depth in the experience.
In general, the multiplayer works pretty well. You get all of the standard multiplayer modes (free for all, territory capture, team deathmatch), but also some neat Bond-themed ones. For example, there’s a mode in which everyone plays as The Organization (the bad guys) with one person playing as Bond who must take them all out, and another in which each team has a person playing as a VIP who must be protected – kind of like a game of Capture the Flag in which your own flag moves. All in all, the multiplayer is fun, mostly lag-free, and a much needed companion to the game’s single player experience.
In terms of the game’s production values, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. The good news is that Bond’s character model and the environments look fantastic, particularly the rain effects. Also, the voice acting is good throughout, as all of the main actors (Daniel Craig and Judi Dench, in particular) lend their voices to the game, and really sound like they put a lot of effort into their performances. Unfortunately, the story isn’t told as well as it could be. The majority of the cutscenes between levels simply show a digital map with moving icons that are supposed to represent Bond’s location. M and a member of MI-6 talk about what is “happening” as they track Bond, but the player rarely gets to see what is actually going on. For example, when Bond jumps out of a plane in Quantum of Solace and must pull a parachute before hitting the ground, the game’s cutscene only shows a digital map with an icon moving downward and an MI-6 agent reporting Bond’s decreasing altitude. Totally lame. It feels like an attempt to avoid spoiling the film’s story, but instead only serves to unravel any sense of plot the game would otherwise have.
In terms of lasting appeal, the game doesn’t have much outside of the multiplayer mode. You can go back and play the single player levels on the different difficulties, but there’s not much of a point. From the menu, you can also choose to go to the “MI-6 Debriefing Rooms”. This transports you to an interactive, underground portion of MI-6, where you can view concept artwork and character models from the game. That’s about it. Thankfully, the game does include unlockable Playstation Trophies (the equivalent of the 360’s Achievements), which few third party developers have taken the time to include in their games. Fans of this sort of thing should appreciate it. Finally, you can view all of the game’s previously-unlocked cutscenes again.
Quantum of Solace is a decent entry into the Bond franchise, but takes very few risks, and ends up being little more than an average shooter. Add on the fact that the game is very short (it can be completed in just a few sittings), and you’ve got a game that doesn’t elevate itself to the level of anything truly special. It deserves a single play through if you’re a huge Bond fan, but nothing will keep you coming back for very long. Here’s hoping that Activision builds upon this game’s foundation, and gives us something much more deserving of the Bond name during his next big screen adventure.
Rating: B minus