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Review: Quantum of Solace

Bond is back in action, and he's got issues. Quantum of Solace is the first video game to feature the Daniel Craig version of 007, which trades in the gadget wielding playboy from older films for a tougher, more reckless one. The game parallels the events of the movie, so it also picks up right where Casino Royale left off. Unfortunately, there isn't much of a recap, so people who either didn't see Casino Royale or have a foggy recollection of its events get thrown straight into the fight without a full understanding of what's going on. This feeling doesn't go away after the first mission. Even after sitting through each mission briefing in its entirety, we spent most of the time wondering why we doing half the things the game expected from us.

To be fair, Quantum of Solace embodies pretty much everything you'd expect from a movie-inspired game. It's a short, linear game that closely follows the movie plot. There are one or two elements thrown in to make players feel like they have some sort of free control over Bond, like choosing between blasting through or sneaking in, but the game doesn't deviate from the straight and narrow plot. As a result, the game puts players into a strange limbo, where they're not sure whether they're playing a game or watching a game being played. A prime example of this happens at the end of the intro mission, where players must stop Mr. White from escaping, but his helicopter was already starting to take off as we approached. What would Bond do? He would shoot the bodyguard and leap onto the helicopter to either pull Mr. White out or get into an exciting mid-air fight for control of the aircraft. It turns out nothing that thrilling happens. In fact, Bond - famous for jumping out of burning buildings, dodging bullets, and narrowly escaping explosions - couldn't hop over the foot-high gate blocking the landing pad. We stood in front of the tiny gate and randomly shot at the helicopter out of frustration until the cut scene kicked in, where the aircraft goes out of control and crashes.

The game is filled with "What the...?" moments like these, where things switch between movie and game logic without cluing the players in to either one. While making his way to the back stage of the Opera House, Bond must find a small ramp to get up onto the dock instead of simply climbing over some nearby pipes. Later on, Bond uses a camera equipped with a long range microphone to find out who the key members of the Organization are, but the game doesn't reduce the Opera House background noise, so it's hard to make out what the villains are saying. Next, Bond blows his cover by talking into a secure radio taken off a guard, causing all hell to break loose around him for seemingly no reason. So, we ended up having to dodge bullets and explosions without really knowing why. It wasn't until the movie released that we found out it was meant to startle targets into facing the window for a picture.

Everything about this game comes off like an exercise in automated control. There's no sense of immersion, just a feeling that you're going through pre-determined motions. Instead of being put in the polished shoes of an international superspy, you're stuck with the unshakable realization that you're (as funny as it sounds) just playing a game. Hacking a security system involves walking up to a computer or control box and holding down a key for five seconds. Getting into melee skirmishes with foes triggers quick time events, where players must move a circle into a larger circle and click. This minigame is so trivial and easy that there's hardly a point. It just becomes an annoying sequence where players are clicking on the screen just to watch things happen instead of participating in an actual brawl.

The features big explosive action sequences, but at the same time, it reduces others into boring cut scenes. There's one part where Bond must jump out of a burning plane that's being pursued by attack choppers. He only has one parachute, so he apparently catches his companion, Camille, in mid-air before releasing it at the last possible moment. We say "apparently" because we don't actually see or interact with any of it. Instead of an adrenaline pumping action sequence, players are treated to a mundane cut scene showing satellite tracking footage, where everything is either an icon or dot. Players aren't even clued in on who Camille is, how she ended up dodging gunfire with Bond, or why she's so important. The game simply assumes that you'll go see the movie to find out, and then marvel at how well the actors' likenesses and different locales were recreated.

Artificial intelligence hardly counts as "intelligent." Oftentimes, Bond will have to fight off waves of oncoming soldiers. Although some will try to flank players, they don't really work in any coordinated fashion. Furthermore, they'll do ridiculously stupid things like take cover behind glass or a chain link fence. Since Bond movie minions are usually about as effective as cross-eyed Star Wars Storm Troopers anyway, we quickly learned to embrace the dumb AI. Ultimately, even if you stumble through and trigger every single alarm in the game, the opposition can be easily taken out. The ample supply of conveniently located explosive materials also helps quite a bit.

Between the short movie-based story, linear levels and barely intelligent foes, Quantum of Solace can be finished in a single afternoon. You just need the patience to sit through it. There's a decent variety of multiplayer modes, including the famous Golden Gun game. Online gameplay is handled by the recently revamped Games for Windows Live, but there's no cross play between consoles and PC's. Still, the multiplayer puts some much needed life into the game. Otherwise, Quantum of Solace ends up being just plain soulless.

Check out the Quantum of Solace Demo

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