Robert Ludlum’s novel based trilogy is, in my opinion, one of the best action series available. So alongside some fantastic films, they are famous for blinding their readers and keeping them in the dark, just like Jason Bourne himself, as he finds out about who he is and why he has such amazing abilities. Is the game as brilliant as the film series? Read on to find out.
The Bourne Conspiracy is an over-the-shoulder 3rd person “experience”, where the player is in control of the amnesiac super-spy himself, Jason Bourne. With the game roughly covering the unfolding story around Bourne’s past and the conspiracy surrounding Treadstone (his past organization), can the developers break the mold and take the amazing visuals, action, pacing and confusion of the movies and translate it into game play?
In one word: Kinda. For anyone who has seen the movies, the game’s story is pretty straightforward. It opens with a flashback to the beginning of the first movie, the Bourne Identity, where Jason is floating unconscious in the middle of the Atlantic. Soon after, he is ordered to complete the mission that ultimately finds him there, and this is where the game begins.
The plot is, for fans of the books/movies, actually quite interesting. It fleshes out a lot of the questions that were probably cut out of the movies for time purposes. The game reveals some new information through cutscenes and dialogue about Treadstone and Bourne’s involvement in it.
If anything, the cutscenes do provide that same feeling of speed that the movies drilled along on. The scenes look like they are shot with the same multiple angle, shaky handheld cam, quick cut feeling which at the very least pulls you in. The voice acting is alright, but it’s a terrible shame that none of the actors provided their voices for their characters. Whether they were asked to or not is unknown, but it makes the game feel a little rough as a result.
The game is divided into 6 chapters, which basically revolve around hand-to-hand combat, shooting, and driving elements. As Bourne, of course, whether racing a mini through the streets of Paris, or trying to escape from an embassy in Zurich. Chapters are either flashbacks or based in the present day, and the game does a reasonable job of tying them together.
So, you’re asking, “how does it play?” Well, it does a great job of making you feel like Bourne. The first, and probably most advantageous ability is the “Bourne Instinct”. Basically, hit a button and you will get a few seconds of clarity – you can see where you need to go next, highlight enemies on the screen, get some auto-aim, and if you’re lucky, get the chance to quickly drop a nearby enemy.
Hand to Hand fighting is definitely the highlight, and you’ll most likely go out of your way to play that way. By hitting either the Square or Triangle buttons, Bourne will do a strong or weak hit. You can string combos together, or block incoming blows with X. There is also an “Adrenaline” meter, which when filled, allows Bourne to do “Takedown” moves. Essentially, you hit O and Bourne will take advantage of his ability to snap both your opponents arms in a couple of seconds.
It’s really fun to see the many different ways enemies can be ripped apart by Bourne, especially when you take into account the different parts of the environment he uses to his advantage. The only complaint I have with the hand-to-hand is that you are limited to a range of moves. It feels a bit formulaic after a while, doing the same combos until your meter fills and proceeding to initiate a smackdown. Also, the game will randomly through quicktime events at you with VERY little notice, which won’t break the fight, but it’s irritating.
Shooting is when the game takes a definite dive. To break it down, it’s boring. The controls are too rigid, and while the cover system is good, it doesn’t make you feel like a super-spy. The enemies are also amazing shots and while you have an advantage with the “Instinct”, if you happen to get into a hand-to-hand fight in the middle of a shootout or get stuck against a wall, you’re pretty much dead. The guns are stock standard fare, ammo is reasonably plentiful and you can do a “Shooting Takedown” against multiple enemies, but its a quick time event (Surprise, Surprise) and requires absolutely no skill at all.
Driving doesn’t fare much better. The car feels like its sliding on ice, and the levels are ridiculously easy. Thankfully they represent a very small amount of the game (only one level) and most of the time you’ll just be taking on the hoards of henchmen. There are a couple of scenes that I really enjoyed playing, particularly the escape from the US Embassy in Zurich, but most of the game plays the same way. Kill some people, get to the checkpoint, kill some more people, get to the checkpoint. Cutscene, QTE. Checkpoint. Boss Fight.
But ultimately gameplay’s significant flaw is that there are far too many quicktime events. Cut-scenes will throw them at you, boss fights will drop a couple in as well. Some take-downs require them and most of the time if you stuff them up, you “get caught” and its back to the last checkpoint. It’s like the game doesn’t trust you enough to actually DO anything yourself, by relying on single button presses to activate the moves you wish you could do yourself.
Graphically, the game isn’t anything special. It’s very gritty and very dark. Most of the animations are done well, and I only noticed a few issues with clipping and teleporting enemies. It hums along at 60fps without any fuss but at the same time, the developers didn’t really force the Unreal Engine to work all that hard – textures are pasty and not very detailed. Level design is uninspired and completely linear, which isn’t really a surprise in action titles like this one.
In all, the game has about 11 levels, which could be finished in around 4-5 hours. As well, the game doesn’t offer much in the way of longevity. There is no multiplayer, no unlockable content, and only a couple of difficulty settings, neither of which do anything more then make enemies hit harder. The game is over far too quickly, and you’re left feeling a bit underwhelmed at the end of it all. Why couldn’t there have been some sort of multiplayer? Some unlockable weapons, moves or combos or an extra mode could have made a second run more enjoyable or interesting.
When it comes down to it, The Bourne Conspiracy is a great romp for those looking for a fun run and gun action title. It doesn’t rock the boat nor bring anything new to the genre. That said, the sheer amount of QTE’s take too much away from the player, turning a lot of amazing sequences into interactive cutscenes. The gunplay and driving sections could have been improved with a bit more effort, but it’s enjoyable enough to waste a Sunday afternoon on. Just make sure you allow 15 minutes for the mandatory install!
Reviewer’s note: The Xbox 360 version was tested for this review
A lack of studio involvement plus forced installation removes a lot of the packages gloss.
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Melee combat is definately the highlight here, with the rest of the gameplay let down by lazy QTE elements.
Aside from a great background score, most of the sound effects and voice acting are very average.
Outside of a few extra difficulty levels, there is basically no reason to play through twice.
The Bourne Conspiracy doesn't do anything new, but it does offer a few hours of mindless fun.