MI6 guest reviewer Glenn Scully compares Nintendo DS versions of the new James Bond games "Blood Stone" and "GoldenEye 007"...

Blood Stone / GoldenEye Nintendo DS Review

22nd November 2010

When Activision told the world that November 2010 would finally produce the much-anticipated remake of the Nintendo 64 classic shooter "GoldenEye 007", with Daniel Craig firmly implanted in the lead role and presenting a modern 21st Century reworking of the 1995 story, the videogame community collectively began holding its breath. Would it sully the great GoldenEye name? Would it be warmly nostalgic, or cause blood to drip down the review pages of websites and magazines?

For fans of James Bond, another question was also forthcoming: while owners of the Nintendo Wii system would enjoy the first-person shooter remake, those on the PlayStation3 and Xbox360 platforms would be treated to a wholly original Bond adventure, entitled "James Bond 007: Blood Stone". A third-person cover-based shooter, with elements of driving sprinkled throughout, it promised to deliver much the same experience that was delivered with the 2004 multi-platform videogame, "James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing"... namely, that of an interactive Bond film. The aforementioned question, therefore, became one of comparison. Which would be better? Would the remake be a safe pair of hands, or should Bond be braver and go new?

Comparing videogames across different videogame systems, each boasting vastly different abilities, is grossly unfair. For every HD pixel produced by the PlayStation3, there exists a fan of motion-controlled gameplay. Therefore, for every fan of Blood Stone, there would be a defender of the new GoldenEye.

Only in one place can even ground be discovered. Granted, it is the least powerful and most limited of the platforms and, judging from early sales, it also seems to be the most overlooked by gamers and fans alike. It does remain, however, the only console upon which both Blood Stone and GoldenEye can be played. So, in an effort to answer some (or all) of the questions posed above, the Nintendo DS Lite has been fully charged and the two new adventures fully completed.

It’s Daniel Craig versus... well, actually, Daniel Craig. Let the Battle of the Bond begin.

 

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Storyline
Arguably, Blood Stone boasts the most Bondian of the two storylines on offer. Having been written from scratch by Bruce Feirstein specifically to suit Daniel Craig’s interpretation of the famous spy, it captures the spirit of the latest two big screen films nicely. Realistic terrorist leaders, rather than deformity-sporting megalomaniacs, make up the majority of your targets and the globetrotting follows a plot dealing with information about a biological weapon. There’s no plot to blow up the moon, no nuclear warhead hidden under London... rather, Bond is fighting a very modern war in the age of intelligence and business. Granted, this does make some of the characters somewhat forgettable, due to their lack of insane exaggerations, but it fits the feeling and tone of "Casino Royale" and, more accurately, "Quantum of Solace".

There is one original character that stands head and shoulders above the tidal wave of Russian billionaires, Mongolian extremists and Eastern European arms dealers. Played by Joss Stone (who also contributes the original theme song, “I’ll Take It All”, used in the end credits in the Nintendo DS version), Nicole Hunter is a wealthy socialite turned part-time MI6 agent who appears frequently throughout the plot. She’s richly developed, charming, amusing and forms a genuine relationship with Bond. The various twists and turns that lead to her fate will definitely keep you hooked to the storyline, even if you’re not a fan of the modern Bond style represented accurately here.

The more classic Bond style, although heavily tweaked, is on hand to offer some sense of balance in GoldenEye. Once again, Feirstein lends his pen to the proceedings but his hands are tied by the existing storyline from 1995. So while some characters are given a decidedly 21st Century update, and some geographical locations are switched around, it still all boils down to a weapon of mass destruction mounted on a satellite in orbit, being fired by a madman. It worked for Pierce Brosnan, and all too often for Roger Moore. There is, however, something that just isn’t right about seeing a female assassin who uses her thighs to squeeze people to death face off against Daniel Craig. Not to mention the ending, where a breathless Natalya embraces Bond, who proceeds to shove his tongue down her throat. To anybody who’s seen "Quantum of Solace", in which Olga Kurylenko escaped with a peck on the cheek, prepare to roll your eyes.

Especially since the aforementioned Natalya is rewritten to be a helpless piece of skirt in this modern reworking of the storyline. In the original GoldenEye, she was a strong and feisty female lead. Here, she’s reduced to begging for help and waiting around in a lot of cars while Bond has all the fun. Adding her to a cast without any major recognisable talent makes her bland and near-faceless (and the same can be said of Alec Trevelyan, unfortunately. Only the gaudy obviousness of General Ourumov’s new costume sets him apart from the others who share his generic Russian voice actor). Nevertheless, the plot keeps all the important elements, and so tank chases merge nicely with climactic fights in huge satellite dishes and leaps from gaping dams. All very old-Bond... and ultimately makes you wish they never bothered trying to update the story in the first place.

Above: "Blood Stone" Nintendo DS screenshots.

Gameplay
We all know what GoldenEye is, so perhaps the more surprising and pleasing revelation is the variety of gameplay styles which Blood Stone brings to the table. Especially when compared to the HD console version of the game, which managed to convey a grand sum total of two gameplay styles, the handheld Blood Stone comes out on top. There’s third-person cover-based shooting as the main staple diet, with a healthy dose of driving side salad, but buried away in some of the more interesting missions one comes across a detailed and intricate Texas Hold’Em poker simulator. There’s also an on-rails shooting gallery in two boat-based events. Even the electronic hacking, present in the HD console version as a simple QTE, becomes a wonderful variety of minigames: everything from cracking the dial on a safe to rearranging scattered pieces of a photograph to form your next important clue... and the most impressive bit?

It all works well. Granted, some of the driving is a little slow, and only one of the control schemes available is of any use (whatever you do, avoid trying to steer the wheel with the stylus. Somehow it makes the Aston Martin as manoeuvrable as a milk float) but it certainly keeps things fresh and interesting to actually participate in a chase, rather than just watching one. Otherwise there are absolutely no complaints. Levels are linear, for sure, but just as linear as GoldenEye and there’s certainly more variety in your actions. There are even one-off, environment-specific takedowns that are reminiscent of the old Bond Moments in the Electronic Arts series of videogames - complete with cute little golden 007 logo and fanfare.

These also exist in GoldenEye, but they’re nowhere near as dramatic and there are a mere half-a-dozen that reappear in multiple environments. That’s not to say that the gameplay in GoldenEye is bad: on the contrary, this is perhaps the most impressive first-person shooter available on the Nintendo DS. Indeed, thanks to the graphical limitations of the handheld console (more on that later) this game comes dangerously close to feeling like a faithful port of the Rare original. The gameplay variety here comes from how one decides to tackle the environment that confronts them, rather than from constantly switching the gameplay mode away from the core engine.

So, there’s the all-guns-blazing route (which is risky as, outside of his iron sights, Bond appears unable to hit a barn door at twelve paces, whereas the enemy will invariably drain your regenerative health with a few well-placed bullets) or the stealthy assassin route (where you come over all Solid Snake and use the rather fun takedown system to sneak up behind people and mug them... but again, tricky, as the AI can go one of two ways: either, they’re blessed with x-ray vision and near-telepathic foresight; or they’re suddenly struck blind, deaf and dumb). The third route is the Double-Oh route, and involves using the aforementioned environmental hazards to cause chaos. While very staged in places, there is a certain sense of satisfaction in ringing somebody’s phone to make them look the other way, allowing you to sneak past undetected.

Above: "GoldenEye 007" Nintendo DS screenshots.

Graphics
Having both been developed by n-Space on behalf of Activision, you can’t blame either game for using the same Daniel Craig character model and basic visual style. Everything in Blood Stone and GoldenEye looks as you would expect it to look on the Nintendo DS, and where the first-person shooter subsequently gains some reminiscence towards the original, the third-person adventure brings to mind Tomorrow Never Dies on PSone (albeit with better controls, better gameplay and better everything else, you’ll be pleased to hear). Both games push the limits of the cartridge and produce some truly impressive graphical moments with flourish and obvious care.

Well... there is one difference. Blood Stone just manages to get the edge on its rival by being clever about environments. You see, in GoldenEye, several moments find Bond out and about in outdoor places, most memorable of these being a thick African jungle. Thanks to the limitations of the Nintendo DS there are invisible walls and an ugly, flat slab of Generic Jungle Texture #47 fences in the terrain. When indoors, neither Blood Stone nor GoldenEye can claim to best the other, but Blood Stone ventures outside in Burma towards the conclusion of the storyline and it manages to look infinitely better by cleverly using mist to cover the seams and avoiding trees altogether. Perhaps it seems cruel to point out this drawback for GoldenEye, as the original was just as bad and it hardly mattered, but thanks to seeing Blood Stone using the same graphics and textures (and using them twice as well) one can’t help but notice the difference.

Variety & Immersion
Again, this section might point out a few factors that seem cruel. After all, GoldenEye is and has always been a successful first-person shooter and so pitching it against a game that boasts four gameplay styles and a plethora of detailed minigames is rather like saying “Well, comedy-drama is better than comedy as it has drama too.” In other words, it would be stating the obvious to say that Blood Stone is more varied than GoldenEye. The only moment where the latter does anything other than fiddle with weapons is the tank chase through a hectic St. Petersburg, and even then the control scheme is near-identical to the running and gunning. So variety comes in different ways.

For example, in one section, the lights are switched off and Bond finds a flashlight. Using the flashlight gives away your position to the guards, but without it, finding your objective becomes tricky. In another section, there are no guards at all, only proximity mines and camera turrets, and Bond must negotiate them to reach five computer terminals. Boss fights are also on hand to spice up the otherwise endless trudging towards your yellow destination marker. The best of these is Bond’s encounter with Xenia in the jungle, during which you turn her own missile system against her helicopter while fending off waves of soldiers. Many of these moments feel very Bondian and will definitely bring a healthy grin upon successful completion.

Unfortunately, a corridor is a corridor no matter how you slice it, and Blood Stone has less of them to negotiate. Not only that, but cleverly using cover and adding a hand-to-hand clash system helps to make the environments feel less repetitive than some of the identikit walls and doors of GoldenEye. You’re never doing the same thing for more than five minutes and that is definitely where Blood Stone triumphs over the first-person system of gameplay. Because while the first-person perspective may have been invented to make the player feel like the character they control, the brilliant number of different tasks on hand in this game bring you much closer to feeling like James Bond.

No mission sums this up better than the casino in Monaco. You’re tasked with sneaking through the gardens, keeping a low profile, to gain access to the building. Once inside, you meet up with the lovely Nicole Hunter, who in turn introduces you to the diabolical gangster Pomerov. You end up playing poker against Pomerov, turning his loss to your advantage. You gain access to his upper office, managing to crack his safe before a firefight ensues. You escape the casino under a hail of bullets. And there’s no coincidence in the fact that every sentence in that description starts by recognising “you”, because you end up doing it all. Not only can you see Bond, but you are Bond... and that’s where GoldenEye may have shot itself in the foot by accurately capturing the feel of the original. Because, at times when Daniel Craig isn’t talking, you can be forgiven for expecting to see Pierce Brosnan appear in the next cutscene.

Above: "Blood Stone" Nintendo DS screenshots.

Sound & Music
To follow on from the previous section for a moment, Daniel Craig does indeed do a lot of talking, in both games. Even more so in Blood Stone, as there are longer cutscenes and more missions (and therefore more exposition and plot detail) in the handheld version than in the HD console version... yes, you read that correctly. Nevertheless, GoldenEye still boasts an incredible variety of dialogue from the leading man, all delivered with that no-nonsense emotionless grit that summed up his cinematic Bond so well. The ever-reliable Judi Dench is on hand as M in both games, too, and she’s always a joy to hear. Blood Stone does have the added advantage of Joss Stone, who actually surprises with a competent and interesting voiceover of Nicole Hunter. It adds to her character and also sits nicely alongside her belting of the theme song, “I’ll Take It All”, over the end credits. Unfortunately, everybody else outside of the big three names is shared between a small handful of voice talent that (while undeniably giving it some effort and probably eating their way through industrial amounts of throat lozenges) becomes blurred together all too easily.

Praise be, whoever the heck invented music. GoldenEye gets David Arnold to throw his professionalism and incomparable talent into crafting a nice selection of excellent modern tunes. They mostly ride on a techno vibe and help convey the atmosphere of the story and events nicely. While it seems a shame that there’s no vocal main theme on hand, it isn’t really a huge loss and only really matters when you realise Blood Stone has one. Richard Jacques, perhaps the greatest videogame composer in the entire world, lends himself to a fantastic orchestral score that, granted, sounds a bit tinny when coming through the Nintendo DS stereo speakers. Still, the tempo certainly gets blood pumping, and when the final mission is accompanied by a brilliant new rendition of the James Bond Theme... well, you’ll get funny looks if you play it on the bus.

Multiplayer
This is where GoldenEye will always triumph, not least because of the near-legendary status of the original game’s multiplayer mode. Friends with their own Nintendo DS and copy of the game can get together and experience a fierce four-player firefight, or those with a stable Nintendo Wi-Fi connection can take themselves online to shoot people in the head the world over. A word of warning: unlike Blood Stone, GoldenEye does offer an all-button mode of control that turns the A, B, X and Y buttons into a second D-Pad. While it works fine for the single player (where you’re in charge), taking it up against your friends would be suicide. Stylus at the ready, then, and everything works quite nicely. Just a shame about the lack of a Bond skin, but thanks to some crazy rule implemented back in 2002 by Danjaq he’s been absent from multiplayer modes for years.

All your classic modes are here, including Golden Gun and Paintball, and it makes an impressive roster that Blood Stone tries (but ultimately fails) to match. Here, you’re offered a healthy mix of deathmatches and various versions of capture the flag, king of the hill, etc. etc. but with a limited handful of arenas and an engine built around providing cinematic flair to your violent adventures, the choice is clear for sociable gamers. In multiplayer, speed is of the essence and GoldenEye just has the edge... just. What would have been excellent would have been some kind of online racing mode, using the driving engine for Blood Stone, but unfortunately the focus is entirely on the core of the gameplay and so those looking for multiplayer driving should stick to either of the major kart racing games available for the Nintendo DS.

Above: "GoldenEye 007" Nintendo DS screenshots.

Lifespan
In the final category, however, Blood Stone returns to the fore. This comparison is perhaps the closest to call. With a jaw-dropping eighteen missions making up the trip along the main storyline, and the sheer variety of actions taunting you with that just-one-more-go feeling, you’re more likely to be returning to the Blood Stone cartridge in the future (if only out of sheer curiosity, or in case pinching yourself to believe that so much fit on something so small gets too painful). The single player mode also takes longer to clear first time around, and there is a bonus for completing it again on the hardest difficulty setting, a task that will require practice and an earned skill. Once you’ve cleared a mission in the single player storyline, it becomes available on the main menu under Quick Play, which is essential in capturing the point of the handheld market. Snap open your Nintendo DS and within seconds you can be tearing through the streets of Istanbul or going all-in against Pomerov in that excellent poker match.

The only sour grape is the intelligence system. Both games have one, and the concept is simple and infectious: find a silver briefcase in a single player level and it unlocks a nice bonus for you. Blood Stone, annoyingly, centres these on the multiplayer and they all appear to be various different types of goon skin to wear. It would be nice to have single player loyalty rewarded with single player rewards or, on the flip-side, have a multiplayer mode that doesn’t require a trawl through hours of story to fully unlock. Still, that complaint is about as minor as the amount of bankers that are still trusted nowadays.

GoldenEye does have a slightly better system for loners, but it feels cheap and a little pointless. Instead of a Quick Play option for their level select mode, players are given a Time Attack in which rushing through and recompleting in a certain time dishes out XP to spend on single player cheats. There are several things wrong with this system. Firstly, there aren’t that many levels to select in the level select mode to begin with, and secondly, it means you can’t pick and choose a random level to play on the train without being greeted with a ticking clock and the inevitable “try again, you took too long” screen upon completion. Perhaps worst of all, however, is the fact that the unlocked cheats are for Time Attack only, and can’t be taken along for the thrill of the single player storyline.

To add insult to injury, the intelligence system which it shares with Blood Stone is perhaps even worse, if that is even at all possible. Find a briefcase in GoldenEye and you can use it to unlock a single panel of a jumbled up, Catchphrase-style picture puzzle. Turns out it makes four pieces of exclusive concept art, but then you play Blood Stone again and realise that the whole thing is shamelessly ripped from one of Bond’s clues in Bangkok (right down to using L and R to rotate your panel’s image). Okay, at least they tried, but the lifespan of GoldenEye beyond the single player story depends entirely on your involvement in the multiplayer mode.

Conclusion
The result of this comparison should be pretty easy to guess. It was certainly a noble undertaking to tackle the almighty legacy of GoldenEye 007 and reinvent it for the 21st Century. It was certainly brave, too. For the Nintendo DS handheld system, Activision and n-Space should rightly be proud of what they’ve achieved. The new GoldenEye definitely has flaws, but then so did the original, and that never managed to stop it before. But if one can overcome the huge, overbearing shadow of the 1990s and the 64-bit cartridge with Pierce Brosnan on it, one should be applauded. Activision and n-Space have, and given gamers an entertaining and impressive first-person Bond experience that, above all else, has the novelty of portability in the already-strong arsenal of reasons to buy.

But when stood alongside such impressive competition, there’s only so far a shot of nostalgia can carry a videogame. James Bond 007: Blood Stone may be an interactive film on the HD consoles but, on the Nintendo DS, it manages to be a far better gaming experience and so for a handheld to beat all the glory of 1080p, Dolby Surround and Bizarre Creations it truly is something special. There is no shame in GoldenEye losing this comparative review to what is a spectacular and inspiring game. Overcoming the limitations of the Nintendo DS, which is soon to be overtaken by the next generation of handhelds, and delivering Blood Stone is the real success story this holiday season. Fans of good videogames and fans of Double-Oh derring-do alike should, if forced into a choice between either one or the other, head towards the vibrant red logo instead of the smooth golden finish.

Daniel Craig has beaten... well, himself, by playing to his strengths in a fresh and original adventure crafted for his take on the Bond character. While it was a diverting novelty to see him shoehorned into an older Bond storyline, there are other reasons for the existence of the new GoldenEye. James Bond 007: Blood Stone ultimately gets the girl. Or rather, keeping in character, it doesn’t...?

Verdict - Blood Stone
With all the variety of excitement that makes Double-Oh Seven such a smash hit on the big screen, the arrival of Daniel Craig’s first original videogame is a blessing for the Nintendo DS. From deadly firefights to exciting chase sequences, and a host of entertaining and interesting minigames and side quests, Bond has never looked better on a portable console. This deserves pride of place in your multi-cartridge holder wherever you end up taking it.

Verdict - GoldenEye 007
You’ll love it because you loved the original. You’ll love it because you recognise it manages to be an engrossing and impressive first-person shooter on a console not exactly known for them. You’ll love it because of the brilliant multiplayer. But if you think you’ll love it because you prefer it to some random, try-everything-once stab at the Bond franchise, be warned. It’s far from a disaster, but also realistically and objectively far from the Midas touch as well.

Many thanks to Glenn Scully.

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