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Reviewed: Quantum of Solace (James Bond)
Author: Michael Ahlf       Date: November 24th, 2008
Page: 2

Starting back years ago - yes, years - we were sitting around on the N64, and all of a sudden people were shooting each other in this game called "Goldeneye." For a lot of today's gamers, that was their first James Bond experience, and it's something of a tragedy that this latest game (based on a multiplayer shooter's engine) should manage to be destined for only personal enjoyment. I'm laying that one out right out of the gate, guys: the multiplayer implementation hurts this title. The main Call of Duty series hasn't had any problem allowing four players to play in "quadrant mode" on a single screen: Quantum on the console limits players to either online or LAN play with one person per screen and offers precious few multiplayer modes to be had.

With that out of the way, of course, let's review this as it comes - James Bond, running around, shooting stuff, killing people, and of course causing explosions and mayhem everywhere he goes.

First up: Graphics. Since it's a Bond game, the graphics had better not be sub-par, and they certainly are not; the game is very well done, with levels specifically designed to play to the engine's strengths. Plenty of glass to shatter, plenty of places for explosions to happen, plenty of well-modeled enemies to die, realistic gun weaponry - and the levels are chock-full of stuff to blow up. The cover system breaks away from first-person mode into third-person, to allow players to "see" Bond hiding behind objects and to duck around the side when firing his weapons. A somewhat silly physical combat system (involving simply clicking the right thumbstick when close to an enemy, then pressing the appropriate prompted button) allows for dispatching of enemies with vaguely martial-arts moves, if you can get close enough to pull it off. And instead of a health bar, players near death will see a graphic like the inside of a gun barrel overlay the screen, and everything go monochrome... a sure sign that they'd better either kill their prey, or duck for cover and hope nothing else hits them.

Of course, since this is a Bond game produced to coincide release-wise with the movie, the cross-promotion gave the makers access to the actors for their voice lines, and the musical score as well, so there's no worrying on that score. Even the bit parts and audio clips from things like cell phones are well done and fit the game and mood. Even though it's a movie tie-in title, they didn't skimp on the graphics or audio.

In terms of controls and interface, they didn't do a bad job. Bond's health, ammo count, and position (standing/crouching) are indicated by his portrait and ammo counter on the left bottom screen corner, and the rest of the screen is pretty much left for action; there's a game menu (options/save/quit/etc) on the start button, and an in-game menu featuring maps and mission objectives and notes on the select button ("back" for gamers on the Xbox360). There's a wonderful "sneak" mechanic that, for the brief times it's usable, lends itself well to the idea of a secret agent actually sneaking around (although it somewhat breaks the believability when in a "stealth, keep quiet" mission Bond tosses someone off a scaffold and they have time to give a Wilhelm Scream on the way down to their demise).

With all this going for it, Quantum might have been a stellar game. Unfortunately, it's got two major things working against it as well; slavish adherence to storyline, and slavish adherence to, well, keeping the player "on the rails" through whatever Treyarch decided to throw in. Visually, the levels are all very distinct - Bond travels all over the world, in every landscape, through familiar and unfamiliar terrain alike. In terms of design, alas, the idea of multiple paths and creative gameplay were lost.

Every mission has precisely one path, which must be followed with precision. Enemy AI is designed not so much to flank and tease the gamer, forcing them to fight creatively, but rather is designed to stick behind cover points and pop up one by one. The end result is that each fight resembles nothing quite so much as a Hogan's Alley-style shooting gallery with 20-30 mooks to shoot. Throw in boss fights involving "push the button on your screen now" gameplay, "missions" involving an invincible enemy that runs ahead only to indicate the path and the ever-fun "inexplicably deadly floor of the world" trap requiring players to stick to the rooftops for a chase scene, invincible enemies that nevertheless rain fire down in a level because they're not intended to be "killed" until a cutscene to be revealed later, "missions" where Bond's tied down to one spot and told to "defend himself" against enemies that are firing randomly from nearby rooftops... just instance after instance of plain poor level design, especially when there's so much that could have been done.

Storyline-wise, I wish they'd had more to work with... there's about 5-6 hours of gameplay in Quantum, and a good portion of the story is actually flashbacks to the previous Bond title (Casino Royale). It's an intriguing way to flesh out their story, but I'd rather they had expanded Quantum's storyline in general rather than trying to shoehorn two movies into one, especially with the title still remaining as short as it is.

If you're a Bond fan and a fan of the movie, you're the target audience for this title, and I'd say "go for it." If you're being pulled in by the idea of a "James Bond in the Call of Duty Engine" title, you might want to rent before buying and see if it's really your thing.

Added:  Sunday, November 23, 2008
Reviewer:  Michael Ahlf
Page: 2/3

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