Quantum of Solace doesn't exactly roll of the tongue but we've become accustomed over the years to odd names for the James Bond franchise. This latest instalment is Daniel Craig's second outing as the iconic British Secret Agent code-named 007 and his first foray into the video game industry and its murky movie tie-in troubles. The good news is that QoS is almost as good as Goldeneye N64 in terms of raw gameplay and out-and-out fun. Normally film to movie games are a bit of a let down, there are usually annoying driving sections shoe-horned into numerous gadget ridden gametypes and none of these segments work.
Well, QoS presents James Bond without the numerous gadgets, there's not a single car chase in sight, though, and those of you who remember the movie Casino Royale will get a sense of Bond-nostalgia as the game takes place at the end of Casino, during Quantum and during Casino again in some flashbacks. The story kicks off with a bang and from then on in you're given a mix of action and some stealth, stealth is not mandatory however and if you feel you can take a greater challenge you can trip camera signals to your hearts content.
The game is powered by the Call of Duty 4 engine and has a cover system akin to Gears of War. Bond can take cover against a variety of objects, blind-fire and shoot with pin-point accuracy. He can dash from cover to cover effectively and move around corners without breaking cover. Lastly you can switch from side to side between gaps. The controls are intuitive and people familiar with Call of Duty 4 will soon feel right at home in this first person shooter.
The game switches (ala Rainbow Six Vegas 2) to a 3rd person camera in cover and when interacting with ladders, balance-beams (where you must make sure that Bond doesn't tip over) and hand-to-hand take-downs.
Bond can also disarm and sneak-attack enemies, there are several ways to do this. Moving in a slow crouched position will allow 007 to get the drop on the bad guys, click in the right stick and press the indicated button in time and you'll take them out of the fight in a dynamic context-sensitive action depending on a few variables. If you're close enough and you're not crouched, you can still click in the right stick to perform a take-down move in the same way.
Finally, if you sprint at an enemy it gives you the opportunity to take them down as well in a similar manner. Except that there's no need to click the right stick, you just need to press the correct button.
The game is short, there's probably around 8 hours play on the easiest setting and a little longer if you play on the hardest. What is delivered however is highly polished and a great deal of fun with each mission bringing with it a new challenge, whether it's chasing down the bomber from Casino Royale or sneaking through an Opera House to eavesdrop on a secret meeting, it's all pulled off perfectly in theme and the controls/game mechanics make the game a pleasure to play. That is such a rarity for most film-to-game efforts.
There are objects in each environment that Bond can use to explosively dispatch his enemies, or trigger a small in-game event that sends a giant bell crashing down to crush a few bad-guys. Scattered throughout each level are cell-phones that contain information (listen for the ring-ring) and vital clues, these are also tied to an achievement (as always). There are cameras to patch in to, disable and a lock-hacking mini-game that is simple enough to perform.
Married to the solid gameplay and controls is a high level of graphical detail and polish. In terms of level design the game is presented as a linear format but you are given a few places where you can approach an obstacle from a different vantage point, such as taking a slightly round-about route that will give you the drop on the guards rather than face them head on. There is a great attention to detail in terms of architecture and design with each location looking superb and offering numerous tactical positions in terms of cover.
The character design for Bond is excellent, with the likeness of Daniel Craig being captured near-perfectly. The rest of the character designs are likewise extremely well done, from minor characters to major, the game brings them to life. Dame Judi Dench as M and so on lends her likeness and voice to this project as well.
The animation is excellent, from taking cover to the enemy movements. Synched well with the AI that knows the environment and can use cover, ladders and other vantage points. It will attempt to flank you and can hurl grenades with a devastating accuracy. The whole package in terms of animation and AI is beautifully delivered by the tweaked Call of Duty 4 engine and provides a decent level of challenge. Even the weapon animations are well done; reloading is solid and the weapons including the Walther P99 are animated beautifully.
Sound design is solid in the game with good spot effects and ambient effects. The music is of course drawn from a mix of Quantum and Casino, with a few surprises here and there. The voice acting is excellent, Daniel Craig and Dame Judi Dench throw themselves into their video game roles with the same kind of gusto they do on the silver screen. The rest of the cast delivers a surprisingly good performance as well.
As one might expect from the Call of Duty 4 engine, the game maintains an excellent frame-rate throughout and there are only a few minor glitches that are hardly worth mentioning. There was a moment where the game froze during the first mission when I opened Bond's cell-phone map and that was the last I saw of that glitch for the entire play-through. The game check-points fairly regularly and since it uses a regenerating health-meter, as long as you can find cover you don't have to worry about dying overly much on the easier difficulties.
Outside of the single-player game of course, there's a rock-steady multiplayer element that's familiar to the players of Call of Duty 4. There are of course various game modes that are available and themed towards James Bond. Golden Gun mode sees the return of Scaramanga's trademarked Golden Gun, the model and design taken from the very gun that graces the original book cover. There's a mode that allows a player to play as Bond as he's hunted, there's tonnes of weapons to buy/upgrade and so on. Quantum of Solace is pretty packed in terms of multiplayer content and of course coming from the Call of Duty 4 engine which set the standard for online multiplayer, much as Rare's excellent Goldeneye N64 did for Bond games and first person shooters in general this is to be expected.
It's just a pity that the singleplayer segment of the game is so short. A hardcore and dedicated gamer could probably blaze through it in a shorter time than I did and I wasn't exactly taking my time either.