As odd as it may sound, given the franchise's life span, Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace mark the first pair of James Bond films to feature connecting plots. Treyarch is taking advantage of Bond's newfound ability to remember the past by balancing the action in Quantum of Solace (the game) with equal attention paid to Quantum of Solace (the movie) and its predecessor, Casino Royale. We recently took a look at this upcoming first-person shooter to see how developer Treyarch is aiming to bridge these two films.
Rather than provide you with a chronological series of levels, Quantum of Solace plays fasts and loose with the Bond timeline, swapping scenes from each movie to keep you on your toes. It seems fitting, then, that our demo consisted of two out-of-order levels. The first was based on the upcoming film, and the second was based on 2005's Casino Royale. To keep spoilers to a minimum, the first level was light on plot but heavy on action, and it featured a chase between James Bond and a mysterious character in a suit.
This chase begins deep underground in a flooded tunnel and continues up to the Roman rooftops of Sienna, Italy. Bond begins in a first-person view as he runs through the underground tunnels, but soon pops into a room full of enemies seemingly hidden behind every last bit of cover. At this point, you can hit the cover button and switch to a third-person view. This perspective gives you the usual options of looking down the iron sights of your gun for a precise shot, blind-firing, and quickly shuffling over to another area of cover. In our experience, navigating through all of the options available to us while in cover was a simple and frustration-free process. It's the actual transition into cover that might provide the greatest challenge. The process of switching from first-person to third-person views so quickly and often takes a little getting used to.
A big focus for Treyarch is giving you the opportunity to avoid blasting away each and every foe. To achieve this goal, the developers have scattered a multitude of interactive objects throughout each level that can alter the flow of shootouts in a number of ways. However, they're not all of the "shoot red barrel for massive explosion" variety. Some of them, such as the fire extinguishers mounted to a wall, will merely blind enemies, giving you the opportunity to take them out from a distance or run up for a quick time-event takedown similar to The Bourne Conspiracy.
It's a good thing that Treyarch gives you opportunities to take out the bad guys in bunches, given that holing up and shooting each thug one by one isn't the best idea with the game's fleeting cover. Thanks to the help of the Call of Duty 4 engine, Quantum of Solace is able to render the effects of surface penetration to keep you from feeling too safe behind every downed wooden table. It helps with the visuals, too; Quantum of Solace is a slick-looking game, with impressive realism present in everything from Sienna's colorful backdrop to Daniel Craig's permanent frown. The similarities to Call of Duty don't end there; the gun combat from the first-person view felt very familiar when we took hold of the controller.
Our jaunt through the Quantum of Solace level ended with Bond leaping from rooftop to rooftop in Sienna. The frantic tempo and rapid movement was a welcome change of pace from the lengthy shootouts that we engaged in while underground. The way that Bond deftly leaped from roof to roof and ran in and out of people's homes was a fun little twist to the usual pacing found in a shooter.
The next level brought us back to Casino Royale, and specifically to the point in the film when Bond takes a break from the climactic poker game to go spy on his buddy Le Chiffre. Whereas the first level was all about running and gunning, this one gave us the option of testing out Bond's stealth abilities. You can crouch to sneak around, and when behind an enemy, you click the right stick to engage a stealth takedown. It's not quite as stylish as the aforementioned Bourne Conspiracy's hand-to-hand kills, but Bond definitely flashes some martial-arts skills during these Simon Says sequences.
Another way that you can avoid all-out gunfire is by taking the road less traveled, which in this case involves going from room to room through the outside windows rather than the heavily trafficked hallways. Bond can shimmy along ledges, and when a guard is standing near a window, the screen splits into two sections: your view of Bond and the guard's view of the window. This gives you the chance to time your ledge sidling and avoid being spotted. It takes some patience, but it's all worth it when you sneak up on a guard who's taking a smoke break on the balcony to give him a quick and deadly shove to the ground below.
Going back to the idea of interactive environments, there's a big focus on puzzle-solving to progress through certain areas of the game. In the Casino Royale level, we ran into a roadblock and weren't sure where to go next. A little hunting around the hotel revealed an employee's cell phone lying unattended. A text message on the phone sent from hotel management mentioned the need to fix one of the noisy air vents in a nearby bathroom. In a Professor Layton-like moment of clarity, we took that to mean that a loose grate was available so that we could sneak through the air ducts. Sure enough, this was exactly the case. A moment later, we popped down right into a firefight, ready to take on a few more armed guards.
It's clear that Treyarch doesn't want to create a first-person shooter in which all you do is shoot. Quantum of Solace certainly has its moments of action, but we were surprised at the amount of actual spy work that James Bond was required to do. So far, it looks as if those disparate elements are coming together rather nicely. The combat has a snappy pace to complement its myriad methods of offing enemies, and the spy work provides a nice little break in which you can stretch your cerebral muscles. It certainly helps that Quantum of Solace employs the use of Call of Duty 4's engine to help drive things along, as well. We'll see how it all comes together when the game is released on November 4.