There was a time when James Bond was all about the finer things in life; about supping Martinis as he watches the sun set on the Monaco harbour, or of bedding improbably named and impossibly beautiful ladies. Since Daniel Craig's taken on the role, though, it seems he likes nothing more than cracking skulls against door frames and crushing the necks of construction workers with his python-thick thighs.
So it's this brutal blend of combat that's front and centre of James Bond 007: Blood Stone, Bizarre and Activision's game that has Craig reprising his turn as the secret agent. It's certainly the foremost part of the all-new demo that's being shown off, in which Bond sulkily stalks a construction site snapping necks and grinding faces into concrete with violent efficiency.
The action takes place in Istanbul early on in Blood Stone's campaign, and the first thing to notice is how far Bizarre has brought the game since we last laid eyes on it. Back in July it was all looking a little underwhelming but now it looks well beyond competent; there's a solid sparkle to the game thanks to a pass on the visuals that's been supremely effective. The city backdrop is riddled with neat little details from the NPC citizens and their sprinkling of incidental conversation to the wear and tear on the stoned walls of the street.
Bond's here having picked up the trail of a super-villain who's particularly sloppy in his wet work – here, a few too many laptops containing incriminating data have been left lying around the construction site's portakabins, and to top it off there's the body of a bio-chemist from Stuttgart who's been missing for three weeks lying limp and deceased in a wheelbarrow to really send suspicion levels through the roof.
What's more interesting is how Bond gets the info. His main tool is a smart-phone with a built-in ARG function and once activated it scans the environment for information, downloading dossiers to be scanned at leisure - and unfortunately it's not anything that's coming to the App Store any time soon. It's one of the only real gadgets afforded the player in Blood Stone, but Craig's Bond has never really been about the tech.
What he has been about – aside from contorting his pouts while having his nuts habitually whipped by thick knots of rope – is pounding the bejesus out of the opposition. That's something that Bizarre have truly revelled in putting into every facet of Blood Stone, and it's something that plays out spectacularly in both of the two play-throughs we see of the Istanbul level.
One's described as the stealthy approach and the other as the more direct, though truth told they both end up with the same result – a good couple of dozen construction workers left broken-boned and barely breathing around the site. The first involved sneaking from pillar to pillar and indulging in Blood Stone's stealth takedowns.
They're deliciously violent and context sensitive as Bond uses whatever's at hand to serve as an impromptu skull-cracker, and each one is delivered with cut-churning crunches and snaps. Each one of these fills up one of three lights in Bond's focus meter, a Splinter Cell Conviction-esque feature that unleashes quick-fire takedowns. It's familiar, yes, but it's brilliantly suited to the Bond universe and rattling off a series of headshots in swift succession does look supremely satisfying.
The more direct option plays out much the same - though with Bond running straight for his enemies rather than skulking from cover to cover the takedowns are far more aggressive and the ensuing crunches much more wince-worthy as heads are piled into door-frames and tables are vaulted over feet-first, Bond's gleaming size nines flying straight into people's faces.
Either approach has the same outcome: a little light platforming that's done under heavy pressure as a gargantuan drill chases Bond through some crumbling catacombs. A quick cutscene comes at the climax as the mark is met, though soon after it's segued seamlessly into a driving section behind the wheel of the iconic Aston Martin DB5.
It's a chase scene as you've come to expect from a series that's always taken great pride in turning iconic city centres into stunt courses and then grinding expensive machinery through them, and to Bizarre's credit it seems to have nailed the chase side brilliantly. Al fresco cafe tables and chairs are gleefully smashed through, stone stairs juttered across and tight town squares drifted around, and all the while the scenery eats itself up in an escalating series of explosions with first an oil tanker and then an entire petrol station going up in flames.
It's all a little hectic, but it's soundly trumped by the next section we see, a level drawn from much later in Blood Stone's campaign in which an entire Siberian oil field seems to spontaneously combust. The Aston Martin DB9 is the charge this time, and the extra grunt is certainly needed to stand a chance of out-manoeuvring the vast number of obstacles thrown Bond's way; there are oil-tankers to dodge, a helicopter to swoop under and missiles to slip past.
As if that wasn't enough, there's a train to be tailed and fall beyond a certain distance and it's curtains. A tough task, and one that we struggled to meet but one that was most definitely enjoyable. The Aston Martin feels sturdy and robust, and there's much pleasure to be wrought from flinging it about. What really impresses is how Blood Stone relates different surfaces through the handling – it starts out on grippy tarmac, but move to the extremities of the road and the snow banks can elicit drifts.
Half-way through the level the floor's literally pulled from beneath the player's feet, plunging them to an ice covered lake that signals the start of the real challenge. There's an achievement for doing the entire section with the accelerator maxed out, though doing so requires resolve we'll admit to not possessing.
It's not surprising that Blood Stone's automotive action is reminiscent of another driving game that took Hollywood as its inspiration, but comparisons to Split/Second are surely a good thing and Bizarre has stayed faithful to the action and excitement of big-screen Bond. If it can maintain the pace and mix its disparate elements well enough, this could be one worth keeping an eye out for. Expect more on Blood Stone in the coming months.