Its sad that the end of Bizarre Creations happened the way it did. Once at the top of the pile leading both of Microsoft’s first two consoles out of the gate with the excellent Project Gotham Racing series, a shift to Activision in 2007 saw it release a number of games to little commercial success before being shuttered in 2010. It was a loss for the industry, but also for people whose experiences with the Xbox brand in particular had been shaped in some form or another with by a game sporting the Bizarre Creations logo. Be it Geometry Wars or Project Gotham Racing, Bizarre Creations were consistent purveyors of electronic masterpieces.
While PGR4 may have been the last game the developer made under the Microsoft Game Studios umbrella, the change in publisher did little to tarnish the quality of its output, and while the powers that be had changed the appetite for quality software was not gone. 2008’s The Club was an interesting attempt at changing the direction of the third-person shooter, while Blur was a solid if uninspired attempt at merging the arcade gameplay of Mario Kart with the real life car worship brought out through its own PGR experience. But its biggest challenge came in the form of being handed the licence to a much beloved MI6 superspy and lady’s man. It was a challenge that whether they accepted it with open arms or not they embraced the subject matter entirely and set out to do justice to the man they call Bond. James Bond.
And Bloodstone is flat out the best Bond game I’ve played, no hard task given the last I played in earnest was the Spy Who Loved Me for the Amiga 500, I’ll admit. Bond has had a storied history in gaming, from the heights of Goldeneye of which I can only attest to its appeal as a multiplayer game amongst groups of teenage boys, to the lows of Legends which unfortunately is fresh in my mind as both the last game to brandish the Bond name and perhaps the biggest pile of garbage starring Daniel Craig’s likeness to hit our screens. And while there has been merit in many interactive 007 experiences, none of them from my experience, captured what it was to be the man that Britain denies exists. Bizarre Creations changed that with a game that was equal parts brawler, shooter and joyride; but mostly an interactive experience that is as close to playing through a film as the titular hero as it can get. In terms of what I want from a Bond game you really can’t get much better than that.
A third person shooter isn’t necessarily, on the surface at least, the genre that does the Bond licence the most justice. Bond is at times trigger happy, but most of the time he’s a watcher, sneaker, undercover agent – and if caught – a close-quarters brawler. So while the new Bond is less gadgets and more gusto, he’s still not the type of run and gun hollywood hero video games so often pay homage. Luckily the developer thought of very clever ways to keep the action flowing while still being true to the source material. While the moment to moment action, on foot at least, mainly entails moving from cover to cover and taking opportunistic shots at the enemy, the way the game encourages you to engage in fisticuffs seeks to ensure you play Bond the way he is meant to be played. Melee or stealth kills will earn you focus shots which are code for direct one-hit kills for any enemy you target. Having a few of these on hand will make life a hell of a lot easier in tough situations and so you’ll constantly be looking for ways to clock your enemies in the jaw or sneak up behind them for a stealthy choke-hold. While its not necessarily the most original idea – Splinter Cell: Conviction had a similar system – it gives Bloodstone an extra level of depth that made it feel all a bit more Bond and less Booker.
It’s no surprise though that while a majority of the game is blasting your foes away with high powered rifles and shotguns, it is few the driving sections where Bizarre Creations have really shown their skills. High speed chases through cramped European city streets and daring escapes against all odds across crumbling ice roads are exhilarating and break up the more standard shooting fare. The controls are tight as they should be and, in much the same way as both Reflections’ and Paradigm Entertainment’s entries in the Stuntman series, the high speed action is all choreographed almost to perfection. Of course like those games the need for precision can often lead to frustration, but the feel of getting behind the wheel of an Aston Martin DBS V12 is so spine-tingling that any misgivings will be left in a trail of smoke and rubber. It may not be Project Gotham Racing 5 but there is enough high speed driving in Bloodstone to remind you that Bizarre Creations were one of the best in the racing business.
Of course all of this is covered in a very classy and well-choreographed cinematics and action sequences, including a brilliant opening animated sequence complete with an excellent track performed by English singer/songwriter Joss Stone. Sure cutscenes should never be the main attraction, but in this case they go a long way to making Bloodstone feel like a worthy James Bond adventure. It may not have the strong writing of a Casino Royale or Skyfall but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t look and feel the part.
Bloodstone was Bizarre Creations’ last game, and while its not the way I would’ve liked to have seen them go, it was a nonetheless a polished and well crafted experience that both proved the developer’s chops outside of the racing genre and did justice to Ian Fleming’s British superspy. Bizarre Creations weren’t just racing genre stalwarts, they were unbelievable game designers that could apply their craft to anything they put their mind to. Crafting a game based on an established licence is never easy but Bloodstone manages to be both an excellent addition to the Bond canon and a worthy action game experience.