Apparently being Jason Bourne requires little more than fast fists and a gun…
Fighting with wicked-fast kung fu speed, advanced knowledge of specialized gadgetry and following through on world-saving missions are only a few of the qualifications listed on the job description for a 30 million dollar human weapon. Thanks to Hollywood and “I’m f***ing” Matt Damon, Jason Bourne is a recognizable clandestine assassin. Sierra’s High Moon Studios brings the classic book-to-film character to a new medium in Robert Ludlum’s: The Bourne Conspiracy. Although the game pulls cut scenes and few key segments from the films, it isn’t a straight licensed project. Instead, the goal is more to capture the action and feeling of Bourne from both the films and books. Unfortunately, there’s not much substance to make the game a worth title little more than a rental.
You’re not playing the movie, completely…
If you’ve read the books or (especially) if you’ve seen the movies, then you already know how the game ends; no big surprises here. However, don’t expect to play through the exact sequences of the films. Instead, you’re given glimpses into some of Bourne’s pre-amnesia days, including the Wombosi events leading into The Bourne Identity. There are 10 missions to play which take you across familiar European locales, including participation in the car chase through the streets of Paris in Marie’s Mini.
So, uh, what do we do exactly?...
And 10 missions are really all you get with The Bourne Conspiracy. The game is an entirely single-player, third-person action game, where you switch between bits of fisticuffs and corridor shooting. Sure, there are a few extras to unlock (boss fights, concept art and music), by finding all of the 70 hidden Passports, but there really isn’t any need to replay the game once you’ve spent six to seven hours on it—unless you’re desperate for some tedious Achievements.
Purely-narrative, single-player only games aren’t something to stay away from, necessarily. However, The Bourne Conspiracy is a deceptively shallow experience; and without any kind of other distractions to accompany the now-familiar story, even the hardcore Bourne fan might lose their jaded awe of the game, only to discover its limited offerings. You play some of Jason’s past, but there’s no meat to story past “go here and kill that guy,” or, “survive as you go from point A to point B.” Where are the tense moments of discovering who you are? Even the more action-laden sequences are tied to quick-time events that require nothing more than pressing a button.
Okay, so I can punch and shoot people, what else?...
The first mission will introduce you to the nuanced mechanics of the game, which give it a fairly unique feeling—though it is really similar to the Enter the Matrix game of last generation, just with less bullet-time effects—but it all becomes repetitive and eventually disappears into the milieu of the genre. Although later stages will require you to use a standard cover system to shield you from a barrage of bullets, by a somewhat competent A.I., the emphasis is on hand-to-hand melee fighting.
In a completely linear experience, you play through each level and transition between one-on-one to one-on-three fighting, and gunplay. Melee combat is interesting for the first couple of times, but it becomes evident that it is based on a completely arbitrary system of a limited number of combos, counters and instant-KOs.
By tapping the X and Y buttons you throw punches, while holding either of them unleashes an unblockable, but slower, kick attack. There are about eight different combos to use, but the enemy will incessantly block almost anything on the harder settings, or be open to easy assault on the easier difficulties. However, if you manage to open up a can your opponent, or block for too long, the computer will initiate a quick-time event where you have to time pressing a button to counter their Takedown.
That was sweet, but that’s it?...
Takedowns are a cinematic, visceral, environment-engaged attack which helps separate the game from others. Done like a Hollywood action scene, each Takedown turns into an animation with quick cuts in the editing and camera angles. To complete either a Fighting or Shooting Takedown you first have to build up your adrenaline, which is done by landing punches, non-lethal suppressions or headshots. There are three levels of adrenaline you can build up, allowing for a maximum of three simultaneous kills. The great thing about the Takedowns is the interaction you get with the environment: throwing people against walls or rails, destroying panels or glass, or hitting enemies with chairs or books.
Takedowns are one-hit knock outs, and with any as sweet as that, you have to earn them. The limited nature of the mechanic makes you want more, but building up to them involves boringly-long battles, complete with the aforementioned arbitrary blocking and counter moves, and makes melee combat a struggle to fight through. And you’ll have to do it over, and over, and over again. Brawls are started by the computer, and fighting only a few character models per level can get extremely tiresome; all of the boss battles also use the set-up, so there’s no escaping it. The Takedowns are a fun, action-heavy element, but they quickly go from “awesome effect” to “gimmick” all too quickly.
Also using the adrenaline system is Bourne Instinct. By holding onto Y the screen loses its color, with key items (weapons, Passports, action elements and goals) turning into brightly glowing beacon. The feature is nice when you’re hunting hidden objects, or looking for where you’re going—if you happen to get lost along the one-way plot and level design.
A government-bred assassin has got to at least look good…
Even though the story is ridiculously linear, with wholly-scripted events, and the gameplay becomes repetitive, you can’t help but marvel at the great art direction for both levels and characters. None of the film personalities are in the game—which can be a little weird for those use to seeing and hearing Matt Damon as the assassin—but the Unreal engine fits in well with the action and destructible environments; almost no cover is completely safe as benches, pillars and railings have pre-defined destructibility.
There are a few technical hiccups like bullets clipping through cover, bodies partially clipping through walls and some drop in frame rate when there’s a lot of action on screen, but since there isn’t much chaos throughout the game, you won’t experience problems very often. Though, there are dead sections where you have to wait for the game to load between level sections.
The main issues come in the form of extremely resilient enemies, and an indestructible Mini-Cooper. With the exception of a single headshot, you’ll have to pump enemies with bullets or completely beat them into submission to incapacitate them. Also, since when can a Mini drive out of an infinite number of collisions, but is barely able to drive up a slight incline?
More Splinter Cell, less Winback, please…
In all, what we’re left with in The Bourne Conspiracy is a game which tries really hard to capture the action of the films, while not completely selling out Ludlum’s novel character. It was rumored that Damon backed out of the Bourne role due to the game’s violence, and while there isn’t an outrageous amount of it (by today’s standards) the repetitive sections of shooting and fighting makes the game less about secret agent stealth, and more about pure brutality. The films had some great action, but Bourne was also about intelligence gathering and sly maneuvering.
You can basically breakdown a solid looking game, with a top-notch soundtrack and suitable voice acting, into two parts: Takedowns and shooting. Along with the lack of replayability, there’s not much to encourage anyone to more than opt for a rental.
+ Awesome soundtrack, spot-on with the films
+ Destructible, interactive environments
+ Looks great
Oh, hell no:
- Arbitrary enemy blocking and counters
- Repetitive gameplay