Primarily a third-person shooter, Blood Stone immediately drew comparisons to Bizarre's other shooter, The Club, when it was announced last week. Indeed, Lockie confirms that the new Bond game has its roots in the studio's previous effort. "It's basically the Club team," he tells me. "We rolled off on The Club and started working on this straight away." But while The Club was all about scoring points and more points, Bizarre is designing Blood Stone to be "a much deeper shooting experience."
"This is another step towards being Daniel Craig's James Bond," says Lockie, "and that's kind of our mantra. It's permeated down into every facet of design." Blood Stone begins with a classic, pre-credits Bond scene. A digital Craig, as Bond, parachutes down onto notorious gangster Greco's luxury boat off the coast of Athens, Greece and immediately puts his license to kill to good use.
Cover mechanics play a big role in the gameplay. Bond moves from corner to corner, inching closer to lethal melee attacks that earn "Focus Aim" tokens, which in turn are used used to execute precision headshots. "He'll hide into cover," suggests Lockie, "survey the environment; he'll look at the enemies, determine where they're going. And then it's up to the player whether they want to stealthily take them out one by one, go in guns blazing, or whether they want to take out the guys with the big guns first, hand-to-hand, and then focus in on the rest of them."
There are over one hundred "corner context moves," says Lockie, so no matter where Bond is, he's usually in position to take down an enemy with a quick melee or weapon attack. I watch him do just this, as he clears the boat of enemy threats and makes his way to Greco, a slick-haired, low-level lackey. After a brief cutscene (Craig voices the leading man, of course, and Judi Dench oversees his work as M), a helicopter appears, shooting up the boat as Bond feels through cover and searches for an escape. As Greco jumps to a smaller boat, Bond gives chase in a craft of his own and the game quickly transitions into a chase.
The chase segment and the game in general are quite cinematic -- accented by lens flares and exploding things. As the boats race through the Athens harbor, Split/Second-style touches ignite the action: a lighthouse collapses across Bond's path; a gas tank explodes into a chopper. Bond crashes the boat into Greco's villa, and the game returns to third-person shooting as another set of gun battles ensues.
Blood Stone's "melee for instant kill power" (Bizarre needs to work on a better name for this feature) seems to be influenced by Splinter Cell: Conviction's "Mark and Execute" mechanic, but Lockie insists -- while he played and liked Conviction -- that Bizarre's game does it differently. "What we've got is much more sort of instantaneous," he says. "It's not like you have to mark someone and then move in for the kill -- you get a focus shot and then straightaway you can use that."
After blowing up a few cars and killing some henchmen, Bond corners Greco, but it turns out his diabolic plan is already in action. A car bursts out of the compound and speeds away, equipped with a bomb to be detonated at the nearby G20 Summit. Too late? Of course not. There's an Aston Martin idling nearby, and Bond leaps in to give chase yet again. The driving portion is uniquely polished for a secondary gameplay element; standing out from the various attempts made by many third-person shooters of the past. Clearly, Bizarre is taking special care to make these racing-like segments stand out. "They're realistic, they're gritty, and the cars have a real weight to them," says Lockie, "and that all came from being a driving studio."
"It's something that's kind of new for us but it's also been something really exciting for us to have an original James Bond story written in time with the game."- Bizarre's Sandy Lockie
Bizarre isn't just leaning on its expertise, though. The development team is eager to take on the challenge of designing a game around an original story (penned by GoldenEye screenwriter Bruce Feirstein no less) -- a departure from the studio's typical high score-driven gameplay experiences. "It's something that's kind of new for us," Lockie admits, "but it's also been something really exciting for us to have an original James Bond story written in time with the game; so the gameplay reflects the story and the story reflects the gameplay. It's a blessing for a character-based shooter."
Finally, Bond catches up to the villain's car and blows it up with a well-placed shot -- roll credits! As co-star Joss Stone's "I'll Take it All" theme song plays, I'm struck by the strange sight of Bizarre Creations' name atop a set of Bond credits. The studio promises to take this game beyond just shooting and driving, teasing the inclusion of "more things we haven't shown yet" and an adventure that spans not just Athens, but Istanbul, Monaco and Bangkok.
Though still in its alpha stage, Blood Stone impressed me with an excellent mix of fast-paced shooting and exciting racing segments. Bizarre is a studio with experience in a few different genres, and Blood Stone looks like it can tie them all together in a nice 007 package.