Pew! Pew! Preview!: Quantum of Solace: The Game

Before visiting Treyarch’s studios a few weeks ago to check out their upcoming James Bond title, Quantum of Solace, I hadn’t seen many Bond films. It’s embarrassing to admit that I hadn’t even seen Casino Royale, the series’ recent cinematic reboot starring Daniel Craig. Perhaps I went into this preview less than a man.

So my first look at the upcoming first-person/third-person hybrid action title was a bit of a crash course, if you will. You see, Quantum of Solace‘s narrative covers both Casino Royale and the upcoming film that shares the game’s name. Because the details of the new Bond adventure are under tight wraps to avoid potential spoilers, the levels we saw were all from the Casino Royale portions of the game … which were spoilers for me, anyhow.

The action I saw looked cool, though, regardless of my ignorance of the subject matter. The game’s producer, Garrett Young, even pitied me and offered me a copy of Casino Royale on DVD (which I refused). So before I sat down to write this preview, I decided it was necessary to watch the film. Now that I’ve finally seen it, it makes sense: Treyarch are definitely on track to deliver a kick-ass interactive Bond experience, true to the source material.

Hit the jump for our first-look details.

The PR line that we heard over and over again during our presentation is that this “new” Bond was a more cunning, more physical, and more dangerous Bond. Daniel Craig’s interpretation of Bond — which apparently follows more closely with Ian Fleming’s original novels — is definitely a more vicious, in-your-face secret agent. As such, Treyarch wants to play up these aspects of the character in Quantum of Solace.

But early in development, focus tests concluded one thing: most gamers wanted to be Bond, to see through his eyes. Yes, big surprise — they wanted a first-person shooter. But a few — including Treyarch — thought this Bond was a cool enough character that the player could benefit from seeing him in action. The result is a first-person/third-person hybrid that works in a way that’s not unlike Ubisoft’s Rainbow Six Vegas.

While the game’s engine — Infinity Ward’s powerful Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare tech — was built for first-person action, Treyarch was able to make some additions and tweaks to fit their needs. Most of the game is played through the traditional first-person perspective, but when moving into cover, engaging in quick-time event melee combat sequences, or climbing objects, the camera pulls out to show Bond in action. This isn’t really groundbreaking game design — we’ve seen it in the aforementioned Rainbow Six Vegas, as well as games like Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, and to a lesser extent, Retro Studios’ Metroid Prime. And it works rather well for Quantum of Solace, providing a more visceral and intimate Bond experience.

After Treyarch boots up a debug Xbox 360, the first level we’re shown is actually one of the final sequences in the Casino Royale film. For fans of the movie, you’ll remember a sequence that involves some bad dudes, Bond’s love interest, and a building collapsing into the waters of a Venice channel. I hesitate to give more information, because it’s a huge spoiler for anyone who hasn’t seen the movie (thanks for ruining it for me, Treyarch!), but it’s one of the film’s key action sequences, and is impressively brought to life in the game.

This gives us a good idea of how Treyarch is leveraging and tweaking the Call of Duty 4 engine for its own needs. Being one of the film’s major action scenes, Treyarch knew they’d have to nail it, and thus had to make some obvious major additions to the engine. Wood breaks as the house collapses and foamy liquid rushes in. The environment tilts and sways, and water quickly rises, leaving Bond no choice but to flee upwards. The visuals and audio are impressive, even at this early stage of development; the wood creaks and groans, and debris rolls across the floor as the house tilts. As Bond makes his way through new paths opened up as the house collapses, water splashes against walls and dust plays in rays of light pouring through cracks in the ceiling, creating impressive shadows across the environment.

Gameplay-wise, it looks like a mixture of Rainbow Six Vegas and Gears of War on secret agent streroids, with its quick action with momentary breaks to find cover and catch breath. When Bond snaps to the wall, the camera pulls out to show off the Daniel Craig in-game model, an eerie representation of the actor, complete with his piercing baby blues and rippling 007 man-muscles. (That’s just an observation, guys; no funny business.) A quick tap of “A” would make Bond quickly hop from cover to cover, and sneaking up quickly towards enemies gives Bond the opportunity for a quick takedown.

Pushing forward and up through the collapsing house, Bond fires shots at enemies through wooden boards which crack and fall. There’s some environmental interaction shown, when a lift is activated with the “A” button as Bond ascends to escape the encroaching water. Everything looks like it’s going to perfectly capture the intensity of the film’s original scene, taking creative license where necessary to benefit the gameplay.   

The second scene we’re shown is very different from the fast-paced action of the first, and takes place in the Hotel Splendide. This particular sequence expands on the narrative of the film, where Bond must protect Casino Royale’s big-bad, Le Chiffre, from some even bigger-bads. In Quantum of Solace, there are a few ways to make it through areas, with some obviously better than others. The first demo run-through ends in failure, as Bond tries to go in guns blazing, and is quickly taken out by patrolling guards.

The second walkthrough goes a bit smoother; Bond pulls up a map detailing enemy locations, and quietly makes his way through the hallways, engaging in hand-to-hand takedowns when necessary. Treyarch says there will be north of 30 takedowns, with some being context-sensitive — in one area, Bond takes out an enemy from behind before violently tossing his body from the hotel’s balcony. At one point, Bond hops on a ledge and shimmies past a window — the camera angle tilts to get a more dramatic view, and the screen splits so we can see the movement of the enemies in the room as Bond passes by.

After some more careful sneaking (including a Half-Life-esque sequence that involved Bond crawling through a vent), a firefight eventually erupts. It’s not long before the hotel is torn to bits, with large chunks of pillars crumbling to the ground, and lifeless bodies littered across the floor. At one point, Bond fires at a chandelier, which brings it crashing to the ground, toppling and scattering enemies. It’s clear that Bond’s “physical” and “dangerous” side plays just as an important role in Quantum of Solace as his “cunning.”

The final gameplay sequence we’re shown is actually one of the first you see in the Casino Royale film, with a Bond driving a bulldozer into a construction site that starts one of the craziest on-foot chases in cinematic history. In the game, Bond walks up and balances on the arm of a crane — the camera switches to third-person perspective, and balance is provided with the analog sticks; Treyarch may implement SIXAXIS support in the PlayStation 3 version “if it feels really good.” This sequence is more about the chase than the shooting, with camera angle changes and split-screen action to better show off the action of the chase.

Treyarch also hints at “boss” battles, but they stop short of showing us any in action. I’m able to pull a few details from them when the public relations hounds aren’t looking: the game will feature a number of third-person interactive boss fights, which feature quick-time events similar to God of War’s button-pressing mechanic. The dev team is currently working on tweaking some of the camera angles for these scenes to deliver the same, dramatic experiences from the film. The game will feature roughly four to five of these “big bosses” when it ships.

In the films, it’s said that Daniel Craig does a lot of his own stunts. In the Quantum of Solace game, that’s not entirely true — motion capture was done by Ray Park, best known for his work as Darth Maul. But the character model for Craig is spot-on; Treyarch went through a pretty detailed and technical demonstration of how multiple photos and scans of the actor were taken to bring his digital likeness to life. Insert a bunch of technical mumbo-jumbo about texture passes and lighting here. The bottom line is that the Bond in the game looks like the Bond in the film. Period. The same can be said about the game’s environments, which were painstakingly detailed after on-film sets and reference photos provided by the filmmakers.

One thing Treyarch was not showing off was the game’s multiplayer, but rest assured it’s in there. Saying that “it’s going to be cool” and that it will be playable online with multiple modes was about as deep as they were willing to talk. But if they can translate the intensity of the third-person/FPS hybrid into multiplayer, along with some slick multiplayer level design, they might have a winner.

It’s understandable if you’re hesitant about a new Bond game. Has there really been any Bond game since Rare’s Nintendo 64 classic, GoldenEye, that’s truly delivered the goods? During a one-on-one, I push Quantum of Solace: The Game’s Executive Producer Garrett Young to tell me why his game would be different, and why he thinks others failed. In good form, he’s hesitant to speak bad about the work of others, only saying that he’d “played the games” and “seen the reviews.”

“I’ve been making games for 13 years, and that experience makes me think that maybe [developers of some other Bond titles] tried to do too much, and stretch themselves too thin,” he says.

He’s quick to point out that he wasn’t involved in the development, so he didn’t want to speak on it too much, but he did offer some insight on Treyarch’s design philosophy, and how that would ensure that their final product met the strict standards of both Bond fans and gamers.

“We’re really focused on delivering on the core experience,” he explains. “And this new Bond is more realistic, more cunning, more physical, and more dangerous. That’s cool. That’s fun. Let’s not muddy it with a bunch of other stuff that forces users to play stuff that’s maybe not so great. Let’s not do a lot of stuff very thin and not [give it] enough time; let’s do a few things and try to get them very right. I just think that makes for a better experience.”

So far it’s looking like they’re on the right track. Treyarch is directly developing the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of Quantum of Solace: The Game; Beenox is handling the Wii and PC ports; Eurocom the PlayStation 2; and handheld wizards Vicarious Visions will be developing a title for the DS. All of the games are set to ship this fall.

Nick Chester