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Played in 2023
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Went through the training and the first real mission just fine, had some fun, kicked ass. Then the Tet Offensive happened and I got smoked for an hour straight by infinite Vietnamese soldiers popping out from every angle. Can't bandage my squadmates without getting jumped on. Very realistic!
Played on PC, with the fan-made "Definitive Edition" mods pack installed.
You know what, this is way better than I thought it would be. Sure, it doesn't compare all that well to the GTAs of the time (especially San Andreas that was released in the same year), but I think the different ways this game approaches similar concepts makes it at least just as interesting to play and/or think about, even if it often feels half baked or not fully polished.
Let's get this out of the way first: the story sucks. It's plot driven but the plot is not worth thinking about. There's no good characters to latch on to either. At least the cutscenes are mostly short and decently directed.
The biggest addition to the series' formula is that there's a lot of on-foot combat gameplay, which I am sure was in response to GTA. Honestly, these are only slightly worse than GTA's combat back then. There's the same awkward feeling in the shootouts, especially with maneuvering around cover, since the enemies can quickly end you if you just stand still in the open. But most of the shootouts are decently designed, with checkpoints to help minimize the frustration. Still, these are the least interesting part of the gameplay.
On the other hand, I think the driving handling and physics holds up real well. Each of the different car's characteristics are communicated quite well, and most of the chases that they designed are pretty fun. The handling feels weighty, but responsive. Sometimes the physics can respond in a way that you might not expect, and that can be slightly annoying, especially in some of the missions later on, where the tolerance of error is so small. But in my experience, it usually only adds a bit more tension and chaos in the moment, and it didn't make me fail the mission. Compared to the on-foot combat sections, the driving sections are usually much more exciting and varied as well. One of the best missions is about rushing across the map to steal three cars, and then quickly storing them in a big truck that is continuously driving across the map.
My favorite part of the game is having three entirely distinct cities to explore. Despite having not much to do, each of them have their own vibes which is portrayed well enough through the art direction. I think it speaks volumes to the quality of their vision, when I was just awestruck by how beautiful the cityscape looks at certain times (especially at dawn and dusk), even with the game's suboptimal technical aspects, like the horrendous object draw distance. It has stronger cinematic look and feel than pretty much everything else in the genre. I was reminded of films like Paris, Texas and Heat. Also, it's cool as heck that most of the game is in non US cities! Being in Nice and Istanbul felt like a gust of fresh air.
Lastly, the soundtrack of this game fucking rules. I'm especially impressed by the percussions, they feel so eclectic and energetic. I would recommend everyone to check the soundtrack out, especially if you're a fan of old crime action movies.
I can't say that Driv3r stands out all that much in the genre, but there's clear signs of the developers trying to do just that. Ultimately, a handful amount of issues and jank hold the game back, and yet every once in a while, there are glimmers of the beautiful heights this game can reach.
Blood Stone is perhaps one of my personal favorite 007 games. As somebody who is particularly fond of PS3 era cinematic cover shooters, there's enough slickness to this game's combat and set pieces that impressed me back when it came out. Revisiting it now, I realize that there's a lot of flaws, particularly unevenness, that holds it back. But I can't say that I don't love it still.
The game starts with a pretty solid set piece sequence. "Stealthy" infiltration goes terribly loud, and a epic chase ensues. It's a nice vertical slice of the games' main gameplay loop: start slow, throw in a couple shootouts in the middle, (try) to end it spectacularly, and start all over again.
The problem is that some sections are noticeably weaker than others. There's a particularly egregious part right in Act 2 where you're exploring a drab, gray, snowy refinery area that lasts way longer than it should, and there's nothing particularly interesting about it. It's sandwiched by a luxurious night time casino heist mission, and a legitimately great set piece sequence that is hands down my favorite part of the game. I also don't care for the final half of the last act, it pulls off 2 of my least favorite gaming tropes. Thankfully most of the game is at least decent fun, but these sections sour the experience a bit.
Putting that aside, there's a handful of neat things that the game does. They did a good job of mimicking the first two Daniel Craig 007 movies in terms of presentation: there's a decent Bond AMV intro, the soundtrack is a decent imitation of the movie soundtracks, and the mannerisms of 007 is very much in line with how Craig portrayed him. He doesn't talk that much, which is kinda refreshing considering the state of modern gaming's chatty protagonists. It also means that the game barely has any crazy gadgets to play with, other than your Detective Mode-copycat smartphone, which is a slight shame.
I do like that they tried to translate his aggressiveness to the gameplay. You can earn "focus points" by doing close quarters takedowns (which are probably the most well-animated actions in the game), and they're used to automatically lock to an enemy and kill him in one shot with any weapon. You can only hold three points at a time, so the game clearly wants you to keep closing in to enemies to do takedowns and use the ability frequently. But the enemies are not that aggressive (even on Hard), and they don't have a lot of ways to push you out from cover (like throwing grenades), so most of the time you will match their tempo and keep your distance as well. Despite somewhat botching the execution, I do appreciate the attempt. Doing John Wick-style gameplay by shooting enemies in the leg, taking them down up close, then using your focus points to cleanly kill farther enemies is pretty sick.
On the other hand, I really think that the stealth sections could be done better, and there's a simple solution for it: just introduce sections where you'll be meaningfully penalized if you break stealth, and it will make these sections much more meaningful and intense. Instead, they feel mostly flat, since there's no real stakes for making mistakes. Usually you'll only be noticed by the enemies in the immediate vicinity if you break stealth, and there are rarely more than 5 enemies at a time in these sections.
There's also vehicle sections, which are mostly about chasing another vehicle while dodging hazards like incoming traffic, and they're pretty fun. The level of crazy stuff happening on screen reminds me of something like Split/Second, although it's not quite as insane. The vehicle physics can be a bit bouncy sometimes, but it's nothing too fatal.
Lastly, I have to say that the story and characters are barely worth mentioning. The game just doesn't spend any time to properly flesh out any interesting detail, which works out well for the gameplay pacing but doesn't do the story any favors.
It kinda hurts seeing the "James Bond Will Return" tagline at the credits. The game sets up a sequel with its ending, and I would love to see a bigger, better direct sequel. But at least it's easy to be optimistic about the future of 007 games now, I believe IO Interactive will hit it out of the park. Until their game comes out, I should just try out the other 007 games. I wonder how well Everything or Nothing holds up....