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We Play ‘Quantam of Solace’

[IMG:L]When it comes to videogame “curses,” gamers always point to the “Madden” franchise, which has a history of seeing its cover athletes get real injuries that season. But the James Bond games have been cursed since 1997 — the year Nintendo released its superb first-person shooter for Nintendo 64, GoldenEye 007. Since then, there’ve been a slew of Bond games – all from Electronic Arts, none of them as good.

Well, now Acitivision has jumped into the game, and here comes Quantum of Solace, available for PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, PlayStation 2 and Nintendo DS. It’s actually a blending of Casino Royale and its sequel, with an emphasis on the original story so there aren’t too many movie-plot spoilers.

We played it. Here’s what we found:

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What’s Hot: Gamers will be familiar with the first-person action of Solace, since it’s powered by the popular Call of Duty 4 engine. That means it looks great, re-creating sequences from the films like Bond’s chase after Dimitrios in Miami. Even better, there are scenes cut from the original film, including a sequence that puts 007 in a speeding train with thugs shooting at him from passing trains.

But you’re not just shooting from inside Bond’s shoes. You can also pan to a third-person perspective whenever you take cover, say, behind a desk or wall, allowing you to see a virtual Bond and also use the environment to your advantage. And you can take out five enemies at once and conserve ammo by blowing up a gas tank or knocking down Leonardo da Vinci’s helicopter in a science museum.

Indeed, smart shooting will earn you credits that can be used to buy weapon upgrades that increase your accuracy and reload time and gadgets like flak jackets that increase your health meter.

Also on the plus side, the multiplayer options redeem a rather limited campaign mode. Beyond the standard Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch online modes, Solace offers a throwback to the GoldenEye game with a “Golden Gun” mode: There’s one golden gun that has explosive bullets, which everyone in the game is after. And there’s a variant of Capture the Flag, where each team has a Bond VIP that must be protected.

What’s Not-So-Hot: The story’s way too short, clocking in at about five hours in campaign mode — again, likely because they didn’t want to give any secrets away early, leaving much of the new film off-limits. Odd, when the game is called Quantam of Solace.

But there are other problems, not related to spoilers: There’s not a drop of blood in this game, which is strange given the gritty realism of the rebooted Bond film franchise. The enemies all look and behave the same. The realistic physics are cool the first 20 times, but seeing every bad guy go down the same way gets old quickly. The graphics are uneven — while Bond looks great, other characters don’t. And the explosions look horrible — a major flaw given that just about every room offers things to blow up.

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The Bottom Line: While not the Bond game to entirely break the curse and top GoldenEye, it’s not a bad first effort from Activision. Unfortunately, the timing is terrible. Sure, the new movie’s in theaters and Bond purists will want to play as Craig, but with Gears of War 2, Call of Duty: World at War, Resistance 2, Fallout 3 and tons of other big shooters out there – none of them hindered by a Hollywood license — Quantum of Solace isn’t worth much more than a rental.

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