The Bourne Conspiracy Review
In a season already sullied by movie-based mediocrity like Iron Man and The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, it’s refreshing to play a licensed game that isn’t lame. Granted, Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Conspiracy’s had a bit of an advantage over those guys; it's production schedule wasn’t restricted by being tied to a current film release—it’s based on the first film and includes original flashbacks—and, unlike most movie-based fare, it didn’t have to share development costs with beefy paychecks actors receive for lending their likeness and voice (Matt Damon’s mug is nowhere to be found.)
In fact, it’s worth mentioning Bourne actually benefits from replacing Damon in the starring role. Famous faces often get in the way of a game by breaking the all-important immersion factor; anyone who slogged through Iron Man will tell you, despite Robert Downey Jr. looking and sounding pretty close to the real deal, there was just something creepy and robotic about his in-game presence. Bourne’s neck-snapping uber-agent is only familiar in that he resembles Uncharted’s Nathan Drake and possesses moves that make Sam Fisher’s killer instincts look downright tame. So, you’re never critiquing him against a real-life person like, say, in the Lost game, where the sometimes laughable performances killed the buzz. From start to finish, Bourne’s main man keeps you in the action and interested in his story—by the time the closing credits roll, you’ll have forgotten Damon was the dude who introduced Bourne to the movie-going masses.
Delivering a proper protagonist is just the beginning, though; what really makes this title tick is its amazing cinematic presentation and accessible, yet engaging gameplay. The visuals are fantastic, easily keeping pace with the current crop of great looking games. Environments are packed with details—look closely at outdoor café’s heat lamps, and you’ll see a realistic hazy distortion emitting from them—and character designs are equally impressive. Bourne, himself, banging out more costume changes than Hannah Montana (not that we’d know) looks awesome; from a fleece parka resembling something pulled from an L.L. Bean catalog, to his super-stealthy black get-up, he looks more like an action movie star than a bland videogame avatar.
Soaking in the detail-drenched environments and sharp-dressed characters will only get you killed, though. Bourne’s lethal action charges you like a freight train, affording few instances to catch your breath. Similar to the films, the experience is frenetic, choreographed chaos. Specifically, the game’s fighting segments do an excellent job of delivering the rapid-fire style Bourne is famous for. Using a simple set-up of light and heavy attacks (the X and Y buttons) players unleash brutal melees easily comparable to Bourne’s big-screen beatings. While these simple fist-based attacks, as well as powerful kicks let loose by holding X or Y, soften up your enemies, it’s the game’s takedown system that really captures the character’s essence. Following a few well-placed kicks and punches, you’ll fill an adrenaline meter, which in turn allows you to perform extremely eye-pleasing animations. Just like his cinematic counterpart, Bourne’s adrenaline-triggered kills include the use of anything and everything in the environment. He’ll crack a skull with a stapler or laptop, go for the groin with a pen or baton, or just bitch slap like crazy with a book. Just as cool, though, is how he’ll smash heads through glass tables or knock them on a variety of stable objects—be sure to drive a skull into a boat railing for a satisfying “bonk.” Early on these moves appear to provide more style than substance, but as you progress you’ll discover luring bad guys to the right items yields a better damage-inflicting payoff. For example, when facing off against bigger bosses, you’ll want to spy your surroundings with a strategic eye; could you kill a guy quicker by ramming his head into the bar, or should you take him by the fireplace for a nice poker-to-gut takedown. Gamepad assassins looking for a little help can even use Bourne’s item-highlighting instinct to identify useful items and navigation points. But be warned, using this nifty trick sucks your adrenaline.
The pain-bringing options are endless, and it’s great fun to see what environmental objects yield the best results, both visually and lethally. And, if you want to go for the bone-breaking jackpot, max out your adrenaline meter—it contains three bars—and go for the trifecta, felling multiple goons simultaneously with stylistic flare to spare. As great as the takedowns are to execute and watch, they’re not perfect. For one, you’ll be doing lots of them, and, despite their variety, Bourne’s fight focus does grow repetitive. Additionally, fights are auto-triggered when you’re in close proximity to an enemy, so once engaged, you can’t run away or even pull out a firearm. These are more design decisions integrated to support the cinematic presentation, than flaws, but gamers accustomed to more freedom may find fault.
When you’re not smashing faces, freeing baddies of their weapons—and using them against them—or weaponizing the environment, you’ll be utilizing a variety of guns to get the job done. While the weapons themselves aren’t anything new, they generally deliver fast shootouts complimented by some great death animations and slick sound effects. The targeting is a bit loose and baddies can absorb bullets like a sponge, but this just makes one-shot-kill headshots all the more rewarding. Adrenaline takedowns can also be used during gunplay to unleash a quick projectile-whizzing cinematic similar to those in John Woo Presents Stranglehold. Upping the immersion even further is a nice cover system, easily sticking you to bullet-blocking objects, and a shoulder-switching mechanic that makes it easy to get a bead on the bad guys. Also nice, and keeping with Bourne’s film-worthy presentation, are the destructible objects; wooden crates splinter, propane tanks explode and cars smoke shortly before becoming engulfed in flames. These potential hiding spots also play into your strategy by only providing temporary safety; you’ll quickly learn an automobile riddled with bullets is more a ticking time bomb than a good place to hide out.
Your Treadstone soldier takes a break from the fisticuffs and firefights for one car chase—we wish there were more— based on the Mini Cooper scene from the first film. The controls here are loose and a bit frustrating, but the presentation and fun-factor far outshine the shortcomings. And really, this holds true for the bulk of Bourne, as gameplay depth, tightness and freedom are generally shelved in favor of delivering a seat-of-your-pants experience. The shooting isn’t as tight as Gears of War nor the fighting as honed as a focused brawler, but the combination of simple, satisfying mechanics coupled with quality-oozing production values shoot this one to the top of the movie-licensed heap. We dare you to charge a low-on-ammo Bourne towards a pistol-packing henchman, and see if the results don’t drive you to the edge of your couch cushion.