Until Mr Craig came along with his knobbly face and killer's stare, the James Bond series was becoming more than a little stale. Pierce Brosnan was a capable Bond, but his character belonged to the old order of suave, wise-cracking secret agents who would just as soon bed the local floozy as take a beating for Queen and country. The whole franchise needed a revamp and a swift injection of fresh ideas.
The same scenario exists for Bond's foray into games. Across pretty much every format, 007 has trundled along the same generic path of clichéd design for far too long. The recent silver screen reboot could be just the inspiration needed for game developers to turn out fresher takes on MI6's finest.
While Quantum of Solace brings enough fresh ideas to the table to match up to the cinematic revival, however, it seems to forget the core values of even the worst Bond films. All of them (even Die Another Day) flow effortlessly from unlikely intro to overblown finale, and all are never less than well constructed pieces of light entertainment. Quantum of Solace, by contrast, is a struggle.
The tutorial level introduces you to each of Bond's abilities at a fairly sedate pace. Holding the DS like a book, almost everything is controlled with the stylus, except for a single control button of your choosing which is used as a context-sensitive combat command. Moving Bond, who occupies the centre of the touchscreen, is as simple as touching and holding in the appropriate direction. Interacting with objects is a matter of approaching them and touching the icon that appears at the top of the screen.
Skulking around the levels with the tense music playing along in the background is where Quantum of Solace is at its best, with a decent mechanic in place for stalking enemies and laying them out cold. It's when it comes to the head-on combat that matters become muddied a little.
Using your gun involves holding the command button mentioned above, then touching where you want to shoot. Step in close to an enemy and the context-sensitive button will pull the viewpoint close over your shoulder for a spot of fisticuffs. Now dragging the stylus across the screen in various directions gives you access to a modest array of punches and grabs, while a touch and hold to either side will initiate a block.
The hand-to-hand combat is the weakest link, with the game struggling to keep up with swift attacking transitions and often failing to read your commands. It's also downright glitchy in places, with the throw command frequently sending enemies through solid objects, only to crudely reposition them at your feet. One instance saw us access the finishing move command prompt - whereby the enemy is dazed and open to a combination of brutal attacks - only to have them miraculously continue attacking, robbing us of our last bit of health.
But you can work around such faults. What really grates is the rather awkward transition between attacking modes. Quite early on I found myself struggling when surrounded by several goons, with another standing behind cover taking pot shots at me. The game engine and controls just didn't cope fluidly enough with flicking between hand to hand and ranged combat, resulting in a number of frustrating restarts. There's a stuttering, stop-start rhythm to the action-oriented levels (which is most of them).
On a positive note, there's a nicely implemented inventory and upgrade system, where playing cards and casino chips found scattered around the levels can be utilised for powering you up. The playing cards can be placed onto a casino table-like grid, with each card enhancing your abilities slightly. The neat part is that putting together poker hands (such as a full house or a straight flush) will boost their effects even further. It's a slightly fantastical feature for the new, grittier Bond, but it's undeniably a fresh and interesting inclusion.
The casino chips allow you to cash in and spend points on enhancing each of your attributes, such as increasing your accuracy with a firearm or increasing the likelihood of obtaining items from downed enemies. Again, it's a welcome feature that adds a little depth and personality to the game.
The story is swiftly and adequately told, combining elements of both Craig-fronted films in a whistle-stop tour of the major plot points. It concentrates on what Bond might have been up to just prior to the cameras rolling, as it were. The scenes themselves are competently narrated, if a little wooden in their delivery, and at the very least never outstay their welcome.
Despite some original ideas, though, Quantum of Solace fails to capture the kinetic energy and style of the two films it's based on. The clunky hand-to-hand combat and a few too many rough edges rob the game of momentum which, as the new free-running Bond would tell you, is fatal.