The Bourne Conspiracy is a title that blurs the traditional lines between movie tie-in and pure homage to the filmmakers. After all, there is no 80 million ‘Bourne Conspiracy’ celluloid vehicle in existence, and yet this is a title that’s about as direct a translation of the cinematic inspiration as you’ll ever find. Those of you expecting another lackadaisical movie franchise cash-in would only be half way correct however, with developer High Moon Studios concentrating on aping some of the best moments from the original ‘Bourne Identity’; weaving a tale of interspersed flashbacks and prologue exposition that explains some of the gaps and implied knowledge that the film didn’t have time to visualise. It won’t be the best game that you’ll play this year, but if you’re a Bourne fan, it’s all that you need.
No Matt Damon?
At the end of the day, fulfilling fan expectations is probably the most important role for any game carrying a recognisable franchise on the front cover. The Bourne Conspiracy does an excellent job of creating an atmosphere that matches up to that of the films; from the snowy and atmospheric European setting through to the musical score that contains the same theme used throughout the trilogy; Bourne fans (including those of you that read the original books) will undoubtedly appreciate the effort here. The only disappointment is the lack of involvement from Matt Damon, but after a few levels it doesn’t really matter so much. This is Bourne.
The game begins a few moments before the original film picks up, retelling the events that lead up to the fishermen pulling our protagonist out of the sea, and explaining the Treadstone involvement in the assassination of Nykwana Wombosi on-board his yacht (briefly touched on in the film). Indeed you’ll actually get to play through these early missions as the fully death-dealing agent in his pre-amnesiac state, unafraid to use a gun and ask questions later. In contrast, the sections set in the present day scenario (escaping the embassy, paris etc), rely heavily on close quarters combat, with Bourne unwilling to murder in cold blood on behalf of his employers.
$30 million weapon
As it stands, the hand-to-hand sequences make up a large part of the experience here, and fortunately they turn out to be one of the better gameplay mechanics. Whilst you won’t experience a huge degree of control (you’re only able to utilise light and strong attacks, and one block), the level of brutality and the jarring non-specific combat style is almost lifted directly from the movie choreography, creating an action dynamic that’s at once familiar and also relatively innovative within the videogame medium. As with all good fighting games, the large variety of animation is a key factor for prolonging the experience, and High Moon have to be praised on that front, as you’ll be seeing new moves thrown into the mix through to the very end.
However, a lot of the variety is dependant on the environmental special attacks that Bourne utilises against particularly troublesome enemies. As you fight each opponent, you’ll slowly fill an adrenaline meter that can eventually be unleashed as a ‘takedown’ manoeuvre that’ll often dispatch the basic grunts with one activation. Each of these is a suitably nasty combination of blows, taking into account the position within the environment and whatever objects are laying to hand. Trigger one next to a pen and you’ll see it stabbed into the arm of a foe before smashing them to the ground for example, or you might want to see what happens with that table lying suggestively in the corner.
You can store up to three of these attacks at once, and they can even be utilised in combination against a group of enemies, triggering a short quicktime sequence that’ll see you dispatching the group in a choreographed fashion (often using them against each other in the process). It looks absolutely fantastic, and thanks to the quickfire editing and camera positioning, never comes across as gratuitous in any form. After all, outside of the sense of tension, this is what the movies did best; and it’s great to see the fluidity of combat lovingly transferred here.
Unfortunately the rest of the cinematic influences haven’t been transferred quite so well. Third-person gunplay sections are numerous within the confines of the flashback levels, and whilst they serve a purpose, they simply can’t hold a candle to the best examples of the genre. The cover system is too slow to react for the most part, and the general lag in control makes for a frustrating experience. Aiming is imprecise and sluggish, and you’ll frequently end up dead after not being able to spin around quickly enough to get the drop on your enemy. On top of that, if you don’t manage a headshot, you’ll be spending an inordinate amount of ammo to stop even the most basic of grunts. It all looks a bit silly when set against the pseudo-realism of the close quarters combat, and unfortunately makes for a large portion of the game.
The epic car chase sequences that were so energetic and unique within the confines of the cinema are also direly represented here in one lonely level, with shoddy vehicle handling and mercifully short sections that usually involve tearing around the same section of city until the means to escape arises. General action sequences are also represented as ‘Dragons Lair’ style quicktime event sequences that frequently frustrate, and usually necessitate replaying time and time again. It isn’t that the actual button timings are difficult here, but the game design commits the cardinal sin of randomising the order at which they appear, meaning that a sequence that normally relies on memorising a rhythm just spirals into an increasingly frustrating reaction test. The payoff to these is normally a short animation or the triggering of a cutscene, but it rarely feels worth the effort.
Nothing to see here
Indeed the storytelling and production values could also have done with a little more effort overall. The in-game visuals seem to be a mixture of assets from a last-generation title combined with some of the standard super-waxy bump-mapping and fancy lighting from a current generation game, with the end result being a jarring mixture of quality. There are times (especially during back-lit scenes) when Bourne looks fantastic, but there are far too many others when you’ll look at the model for a car or another inanimate object in disbelief. The cutscenes are well produced and serve enough of a purpose in advancing the plot, but they certainly don’t waste any time in doing so.
All of which might sound like it’s a little too damning to recommend, but whilst there are elements of the game that undoubtedly need a little more polish, the obvious love for the source material shines through in the end to create an experience that any fan of the series will enjoy. There are faults for sure, but none of them is significant enough to derail the experience completely, and for everybody else, you can expect a thoroughly average action game that’ll fill a few hours before something better comes along.