Review: James Bond: Quantum of Solace (PC)

Quantum of Solace_FOB FINAL_G4W.jpg If you get a suspicious feeling when you see a game based on a movie, that is a good thing – rarely do these rise above ‘shovelware’. However, when you have a game based on the Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare engine, and developed by Treyarch, the folks who brought us the surprisingly good Call of Duty: World at War, it is easy to get your hopes up. The good news is that this game offers loads of fast-paced fun that will satisfy Bond fans looking to extend the experience of the movie. The bad news is that for everyone else this is a ‘me too’ shooter that fails to rise to nearly the level of either of its’ Call of Duty forebears, let alone any of the other excellent action-oriented games released this fall.

From the opening cutscene you get the impression that you will be joining Bond as he completes the events in Casino Royale and then starts with the story of the new movie. The truth is that the game is a sort of mish-mosh of story elements from both films, and doesn’t meld well into a cohesive narrative. What is also obvious is that the developers have not made that their focus – from the start it is clear that this is an action game. Something else from the beginning – the cutscenes are merely ‘adequate’, looking no better than the in-game engine but differing in appearance enough that you wonder why they even bothered.

If you are a lover of the ‘classic Bond’ ideals of cool technology and gadgets and winner through intelligence rather than just run-and-gun brutality – then just skip this game. The pedigree of the engine and developer suggests a FPS-centric affair, and that is what the game delivers. Rather than a straight first person shooter you get a first person shooter with an integrated third-person cover system. You occasionally get to engage in hacking computer systems and picking locks, but that is just a matter of pressing and holding a button while a timer ticks away and hoping you don’t get killed while you wait.

Technically the game is a mixed bag – as you would expect, the graphics are pretty solid. They don’t live up to those of either Call of Duty 4 or World at War, but they look pretty good throughout. Strangely, the graphics in the opening area are not representative of the whole game – my initial thought was ‘the graphics are pretty weak’, but as I played on they got much better. Character models were all nicely detailed and featured fluid and fairly natural motion. The music and voice acting is a real highlight! Any fan of the franchise hopes for familiar themes, and they are featured throughout the game. The sound quality and placement of the themes is very nicely done, adding quite a bit to the authentic ‘Bond feel’. The developers have done a great job getting the main actors from the film to record the voices for the game – and also gotten very good performances from them. I think that more and more actors are getting a better feel for doing this sort of voice work, as we are having fewer occurrences of quality actors turning in abysmal game performances.

As I mentioned, the game is based on the Call of Duty 4 engine but plays largely as a hybrid first / third person shooter. This works as both a strength and weakness, and since the game is essentially a straight action game that is what holds the game back. As a straight-out shooter, things go along pretty nicely – your aim and control works just as you would expect from the Call of Duty games, and the levels are designed to make that style of gameplay fun. The problem comes in with the cover system. It is a hybrid wall-hug and cover system that allows you to lean out to take shots, but your range of view is quite limited and enemies can easily flank you and take you out while you are ‘attached’ to cover. Alternately, popping out of cover means making yourself vulnerable to everyone else. There is just no graceful way to manage the cover system that feels natural.

The enemy AI and difficulty settings create an interesting situation: enemies are smart enough to use tactics to take you out, but dumb enough to still keep running into your fire. There are four difficulty levels – New Recruit, Field Operative, Agent and 007. Playing as New Recruit feels like ‘god mode’ – you know you occasionally take damage, but it feels trivial as you mow down enemies easily. That is actually a good thing – that means that new players who don’t wanted to get frustrated and abandon the game (which happens too often with hardcore shooters) will have an option. Field Operative is sort of the ‘normal’ setting, but is perhaps a bit too easy as it feels simple to work through levels. Conversely, Agent feels a bit too hard – or at least it exposes the inadequacy of the cover system as a glaring flaw. Dying and retrying is part of any shooter, but when it feels like it is happening because of a flawed gameplay mechanic it sucks the fun out of the experience. I never tried more than a few minutes of continuous death in 007 mode.

The multiplayer levels are pretty solid and will greatly extend this rather short game. While it is nothing innovative, there are a load of modes that are fun and should satisfy fans of the series and shooter fans in general. They are a step back from the wildly popular rank increasing systems in the Battlefront and Call of Duty games, but they are quite fun. There are standard Deathmatch and Capture the Flag modes, and some interesting Bond-specific modes which are nice variants on ‘kill the guy with’ and ‘infiltrator’ and ‘king of the hill’ modes found in other games. The multiplayer benefits from solid level design that allows you to exploit a number of gameplay styles, and since all players face the same cover issues, it levels the playing field and makes it more fun. Sadly there isn’t much action on multiplayer due to a low volume of players. That leaves you with a too-short single player campaign with limited replayability, and multiplayer matches against the same few folks online.

It is interesting that there were a number of shooter games released late in 2007 that made me say ‘they should have held this until March rather than pitting it against a wide array of superior games’. That is exactly how I feel about Quantum of Solace: it is a decent game that is no shorter than the last two Call of Duty games, it has some interesting gameplay mechanics, and it has some fun multiplayer options. But it is just a solidly average game that would get little to no attention without the James Bond license attached. Every aspect of the game shouts ‘me too’, which is fine when you are part of the slow early spring release schedule, but not so good when you go up against the fall heavyweights. I imagine that it will sell better than it deserves due to the movie tie-in, but will be quickly forgotten well before the DVD release.

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Pros:
+ Interesting cover system
+ Solid graphics
+ Excellent music and voice work

Cons:
– Too short
– Multiplayer is empty
– Flawed cover system
– Uneven Difficulty
– Nothing really stands out

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PC, also available for PS3, PS2, Xbox 360, Wii and DS
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Beenox
Release Date: 11/4/08
Genre: FPS
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1-16

About the Author

I have loved technology for as long as I can remember - and have been a computer gamer since the PDP-10! Mobile Technology has played a major role in my life - I have used an electronic companion since the HP95LX more than 20 years ago, and have been a 'Laptop First' person since my Compaq LTE Lite 3/20 and Powerbook 170 back in 1991! As an avid gamer and gadget-junkie I was constantly asked for my opinions on new technology, which led to writing small blurbs ... and eventually becoming a reviewer many years ago. My family is my biggest priority in life, and they alternate between loving and tolerating my gaming and gadget hobbies ... but ultimately benefits from the addition of technology to our lives!