Despite my undying love for James Bond, even I have to admit that Activision's first 007 game, Quantum of Solace, has a lot going against it. For one thing there hasn't been a must-own Bond game since Rare's 1997 hit, GoldenEye 007. There's also the issue of this being a movie-based game, a classification that generally means certain doom. But despite all of the forces working against it, Quantum of Solace proves to be an enjoyable first- and third-person action game that manages to retain the pure joy of James Bond, all while offering us an action-packed story and beautiful locations.
Contrary to its name, Quantum of Solace is much more than just an interactive retelling of the upcoming blockbuster James Bond movie. Sure it features elements from the movie it's named after, but it also tells the (mostly) complete story of Casino Royale. The game starts up soon after the events of Casino Royale, with Bond seeking revenge for the death of his lover, Vesper Lynd. He does this by abducting "Mr. White," who reveals the organization which blackmailed Vesper to steal Bond's casino winnings is far more complex and dangerous than anyone had imagined. As you might imagine this sends Bond on an international mission to take down those who wronged him and (most importantly) find a new love interesting.
For the first hour or so the game seems to hit on most of the action scenes from the Quantum of Solace movie, including a shootout at the opera house, a foot chase on the rooftops of Sienna and the rocky conditions of a mountainous sink hole. However, mid way through the game switches to flashback mode, offering up levels straight from Casino Royale. For the next two or three hours you are stuck playing through all of the big set pieces from the 2006 film, such as the construction site, airport, Montenegro train, casino and even the big wrap up in Venice. By the time you have completed the game's fifteen locations you will have sat through a slightly abbreviated version of both Daniel Craig Bond movies.
To accomplish all of this, developers Treyarch decided to use the Call of Duty 4 engine, which shouldn't come as a surprise considering they are also using the engine to power the upcoming Call of Duty: World at War. While it would usually be unfair to compare a spy/espionage game to an all out war game, there are enough similarities in the gameplay to warrant such a strange comparison. For one thing, the two games have almost identical control schemes. Even though this is primarily a first-person shooter, you don't have the luxury of running and gunning. Like the Call of Duty series, to have a chance hitting your targets you have to hold the left trigger down to bring the gun up to your eye, helping you to aim. You also run the same way and have the same basic moves. What's more, the whole campaign mode is set up in a similar fashion, all the way down to the load screens and how you can go back to whatever mission you want at any time. Fans of the Call of Duty series will feel right at home with this latest Bond adventure.
The biggest difference between Quantum of Solace and Activision's other big budget first-person shooters is that this Bond outing offers the ability to take cover behind objects and plan out your attacks. In a lot of ways this is like Rainbow Six Vegas. You play in the standard first-person perspective when you're walking around, however the moment you take cover or climb a ladder the game switches to the third-person point of view. As you can imagine, the levels are set-up so that you can easily hide behind just about everything (cars, walls, office desks, you name it) and take easy shots at the enemies. Once you've shot enough enemies to advance, you leave your hiding spot and run to another one, then rinse and repeat. Much like the Call of Duty series the game has a checkpoint every few feet, so dying is generally not that big of a deal.
In fact, the complaint I have about the level designs is the exact same complaint I have with all Treyarch developed first-person shooters. Instead of giving you a few different paths to take, Quantum of Solace keeps you on an extremely linear path from beginning to end. While this allows the developers to offer some amazing over-the-top effects, it's a shame that you are never given the ability to try these levels in different ways. About the only variety you get from this game is whether you want to sneak around (constantly using cover) or try and kill as many guards and bad guys as possible. Either way you're still going to be going through the level exactly the same way, almost to a fault.
The good news is that the gunplay is rock solid. Even though I still have issues with James Bond as a first-person shooter hero (he's a spy, not Master Chief), it's definitely fun to sneak around and take out everybody that moves. One thing that Quantum of Solace has going for it is the wide variety of different weapons, most of which are actually fun to shoot. While there's nothing necessarily groundbreaking about the selection of firearms, they all look good and are a blast to use (slight pun intended). Better still, you can hold several weapons at the same time and alter some of them as you play (such as adding a silencer). The game also has a few grenade-style weapons, but they generally take a backseat to the guns. Like Call of Duty, Bond's guns are easy to aim and feel extremely powerful, which is just about all you can ask for from a gun in a video game.Unfortunately there are a few problems plaguing Activision's first James Bond game. For one thing the story doesn't come together like you would expect it to. Despite taking influence from two completely coherent movies, the way the game mixes the stories together is a little confusing and actually works against the overall narrative. As I said earlier in the review, you don't start playing the Casino Royale missions until an hour or two into the game, which doesn't make a whole lot of sense to begin with. Even worse is the fact that you spend so much time doing the Casino Royale missions that by the time you come back to the Quantum of Solace storyline you will likely have forgotten what it was you were doing.
And did I mention that the game is incredibly short? Well it is. A seasoned first-person shooter fan can go through the full adventure in around four hours, which is about the same amount of time it would take you to watch both movies back to back. Also strange is the ending, which ends abruptly. While playing through the game the first time around I had no idea that the level I was on was the last, which made the ending even more disappointing. I understand that this story is setting up the inevitable third chapter in the Casino Royale trilogy, but it's always nice to have some closure from your video game endings.
My other main gripe is that it feels like a lot of the best moments from the movies are only talked about and never shown. For instance, there's a scene in Casino Royale where Bond races away from the casino and ends up flipping his car several times to avoid running over the beautiful Vesper Lynd. This is a pivotal scene in the movie, something that literally changes the course of Bond's mission. In most games the developers would have spent time recreating this using polygons for some exciting cut scene, yet in Quantum of Solace you learn of this when M (played by Dame Judi Dench) tells you what happened during a loading screen. That's it, not cool cinema or even film clip, just a comment made in passing. This happens throughout the game, making you fill in the missing scenes with what you remember of the movies. Don't get me wrong, I'm not expecting Treyarch to recreate every scene from the movie, but there's something anticlimactic about just being told what is happening instead of seeing it unfold for yourself.
Even if you can get past the slightly disjointed story you still are left with only a four or five hour long game, which certainly doesn't feel long enough. Bond defenders will point to Call of Duty 4 and charge that it too was short, and they would be right. But the difference is that there was so much packed into Call of Duty 4's five hour running time that by the time you beat it you felt completely fulfilled. The same cannot be said about Quantum of Solace. Thankfully there are a few reasons to go back through the game, but none of these reasons are good enough to make up for the game's short length.
Beyond the game's short single-player campaign, there are also some fun multiplayer modes. Like Call of Duty 4, Quantum of Solace gives gamers a choice of nine different game modes, including standard deathmatch modes to more unique objective-based modes. We all know how good Call of Duty 4's multiplayer is, so it shouldn't surprise you that Quantum of Solace is also a strong contender. There are certainly enough modes, levels and weapons to keep you busy for quite a few months ... assuming that you don't get sidetracked by all of the other big multiplayer games flooding the market (including Treyarch's own Call of Duty: World at War, released a mere week after Quantum of Solace).
While I had a lot of fun playing through the different multiplayer modes, I was a little disappointed that some of the best elements from the Call of Duty series weren't brought over. For example, it would have been nice to see the perks or leveling-up system kept intact. This may sound like a small gripe, but the leveling-up system is what made Call of Duty4 the online multiplayer hit it was. Instead of perks and leveling we get play money, which you can use to customize your guns and purchase new weapons. This isn't a terrible trade off, but it's definitely not as addictive as Activision's past first-person shooters. Still, as much as I want this to be more like Call of Duty, I can't help but commend it for being a solid online first-person shooter.
Quantum of Solace has a lot of really great ideas and some untapped potential, I can't wait to see what Activison does with the Bond license next. This 007 game is certainly better than most of his other outings, but at the same time it's not quite up to the standards of the other first-person shooters on the market. I definitely like where Treyarch is going with this franchise, and there's no question that they have done more with this one game than Electronic Arts could do in close to a decade. If you're looking for a fun action game you'll find it here, unfortunately you'll also discover a short game with a disjointed story. Quantum of Solace is definitely the best Bond game since GoldenEye 007, too bad that doesn't say much.