Quantum of Solace
Imagine developing a game. It seems hard, doesn’t it? Critics, reviewers, journalists – whatever you call them – have the capacity to bash these labours of love mercilessly. They don’t know why or how each decision in the process was made, the extent of constraints placed on the team, whether or not Barry the art director’s mother died the week he had to submit the final character models or, basically, anything else about the blood, sweat and tears that went into the final product other than the fact of their existence. Imagine further, then, that you’re developing a game in a series that isn’t your own. Bethesda, picking up the reins for Fallout, must have felt at least awkward and more than likely utterly daunted by the older games’ legacy. What if it was a first person shooter based on the latest Bond film? GoldenEye casts a long shadow over all console shooters, never mind those in one way or another following it up.
A further dilemma faced by any prospective challengers to its crown would be 007 himself. Does the player want to be him or see him? Pick the first and you risk losing the feel of the universe, which the N64 classic proved possible – if difficult – to avoid. Pick the second and you might as well be watching a film, but if framed as a third person adventure it could keep the aforementioned from weighing too heavily on its critical reception. This also keeps the guys upstairs happy, who’d be rather annoyed if their multi-million dollar investment in an exact digital replica of Daniel Craig’s perennially unsmiling mug were to be wasted on trailers alone.
So where does Quantum of Solace (the video game) land? Right down the middle.
There’s potential for a halfway decent compromise in there, or at least a reasonably entertaining if flawed romp. Is it a good Bond game? Not a chance. Is it a good shooter? No. In fact, it’s not only not a good shooter, it’s an actively terrible one. The Bond element only adds insult to injury in the throes of a definitive masterclass in bad FPS design.
That’s not to say it wasn’t an utterly captivating experience from beginning to end. That overplayed slow-motion car crash or train wreck analogy seems deliciously close to hand – Quantum of Solace is fascinating in many ways, and what will compel players through its four total hours is evidenced in what it does so horribly wrong. The lack of aptitude in nearly all areas of design is, quite truthfully, majestic.
Perhaps the most pervasive and egregious of its crimes is inconsistency. We expect to be able to traverse a game-world with relative ease unless the opposite effect is explicitly intended. Quantum of Solace (most of which is actually composed of seemingly randomly chosen stages based on Casino Royale, but we’ll let that one slide) makes basic movement an awkwardly twitchy chore. Littering stages with two foot high obstacles is one thing, but making one or two a level both surmountable and part of the critical path is another entirely. To really take the piss though – to really make the people who have paid to play your product feel like fools – why not randomly assign which of these phenomena can be cleared by a largely impotent jump button and which must be lined up perfectly to do some kind of arthritic forwards flail both of which, I cannot stress enough, are assigned to the same button? Great idea guys!
There’s obviously a place for big, dumb action games. If you’re going to funnel players down an arbitrary path, at least make the action in some way dynamic. Halo, for instance, is typically very good at this, and even the average shooter attempts to do something to ensure a handful of tactical directions are available. Quantum of Solace yet again gets it spectacularly wrong. This is one FPS in which tunnel vision isn’t limited to just the perspective, but the levels themselves are effectively (and sometimes very literally) one way streets. Weapon choice doesn’t matter a jot, and the stealth is so laughably inadequate that immediately alerting all enemies to your presence is by far the best option. The inclusion of a cover system possibly sums the entire experience up. For one, it’s pilfered from other, better shooters and still executed badly. Secondly, its primary function appears to be showing off Craig himself. It’s hard not to laugh when the player surmounts a ladder only for the camera to be wrenched five feet backwards in order to afford us the luxury of watching a middle-aged Englishman climbing some rungs.
One of its other major problems, as if it didn’t have enough, is that it’s constantly too loud and stupid to be either a decent Bond game or indeed modern shooter at all. It’s pretty agonising even by the standards of Killzone 2 – a title crammed with patronisingly overblown set-pieces – which at least had the decency to calm down on occasion. This game is self-consciously bad, and it attempts to disguise its insecurity by throwing explosions in the player’s face every ten seconds. Worst of all, one can always, always, always see it coming with the inevitability of Fern Britton’s gastric band. Its biggest, most meta and all encompassing failure, in fact, is its absolutely abominable sense of pacing. There’s no strategy, no nuance, no let up and, in narrative terms, an entire film’s worth of content sandwiched between the two halves of its sequel.
And what else? Well, there are QTEs, today the hallmark of lazy, bandwagon-hopping design. Thanks a lot, Shenmue. Levels are also shamelessly and also very obviously gated. Often, the player will come to a dead end with a door which will not budge. Suddenly, two dozen guys flood the area through which he or she has just passed and to progress through the mystical gateway they must be dispatched. Treyarch don’t even attempt to hide it, as if brandishing their atrocity in our faces. So as to further emphasise their point, the enemy AI is horrible. It’s hard to comprehend that this game is even running on the same engine as Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Oh, and the singular of “enemy” there is very much intended. Those two dozen guys? All identical.
Does it do anything well? To be fair, it looks nice. It looks very nice, actually. The only other positive is that, when you wrap your head around it and realise that, yes, this is using the same tech as Infinity Ward’s masterpiece, there’s some sort of small resemblance in the combat. Relish these moments, for they’re few and far between.
As outlined, short of observing the entire development tenure of any given title, we can’t understand what lead the team to each decision. That’s no excuse, though. GoldenEye hanging over your shoulders like an infatuated orangutan? Tough. A minimum level of competence when handling such a series is expected – nay, required – and to produce something of such flimsiness; something that has abjectly refused to acknowledge any and all worthwhile lessons of the last ten years and seemingly gone out of its way to include only those that should have been ignored, is a stunning achievement in itself. Quantum of Solace is the lowest common denominator; it’s not even broken, it’s just bad. If the score below is meant to be a recommendation, mark it up by eight points if you’re an aspiring developer and play it inside out. Everyone else? Avoid this travesty at all costs.