The Bourne Conspiracy: Feel What It's Like to be a Human Weapon

June 11, 2008


Pop culture properties don't normally equate to good--or even average--video games. The most insipid are the neutered retellings; the best are prequels and side-stories, which try to supplement more than complement the mythos. Either that or it's GoldenEye. And now the world is graced with the Bourne Conspiracy--riding the wave of the film trilogy and book series. Will it prove that franchise folly is a conspiracy theory or help cement the thesis?

You take the role of Jason Bourne, but not the Matt Damon version. He's been subbed out for a generic secret agent, but one with no less flair for the dramatic. A $30 million human weapon who speaks half a dozen languages, Bourne has quite a collection of passports. And he kills people. He also has amnesia, but the blank slate is filled in with wisps of memories, which you get to act out as Jason tries to get out of whatever he was entangled in.

The story may come across as disjointed to those uninitiated in all things Bourne, but it fills in the gaps of the first movie with flashbacks, including the fateful night where he was shot, left drifting in the sea, and awoke with all of his skill but no identity. From there, the action plays out in Western Europe, covering the hot spots of the first film. The voice work and pacing is keen, and it's not hard to piece together who the bad guys are. Beware some cutscenes: the affected look is trying to recapture the shaky cam-style of the film, but can come across as skittish.

Jumping through Jason's mind, you'll end up having a sense of déjà vu. Through 11 levels and a little over five hours of play, you'll be doing a lot of the old "punch someone in the face if you can't get a headshot first." The levels, while distinct in look, give little in leeway of exploration or play variety, and with the Bourne Instinct, a gameplay device that highlights targets, usable items, and waypoints, it's difficult to become lost. Some exploring remains like looking for passports strewn through the levels for unlocks, but it's a very A to B journey, filled with fighting and firearms. The occasional switch-up occurs including a touch of stealth, a mid-game car chase, and some boss enounters. Otherwise it's one series of punch, punch, bang after another.

There's no multiplayer, and beyond the passports, replay is low, with changes in difficulty amounting to inflated health loss instead of smarter enemies. Your reward for combat is in-game adrenaline, which you can use for takedowns-- stylish one-button finishers that utilize the environment. It's quite amazing how many animations there are for all the various surfaces, furniture, and modern art that people can get slammed into.

And of course, the modern action-adventure game staple is here: quicktime events. One false move can lead you to a loading screen, but they're here, they're quick, and they don't seem to be going away anytime soon.

The game is linear, filled with bullets, mad dashes, and some fairly inspired scenery. It's not as “out there” as Stranglehold, but it's not as fun, either. We do have to commend the game for allowing you to control some actions sequences that would be non-interactive cinemas in a lot of other games.

The two cores of the game are fists and guns. One is decidedly better than the other, but each has its own surprises. The fighting has you locked onto your main assailant where you can block and deliver a heavy or quick attack. The game chides you to string combos, but it's really a glorified game of Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots. You can even stop thumbing the analog stick in some cases, unless you want to lead your prey to some interesting takedown spot to deal some damage. Just land some blows, block through the enemy's routine, counter their own takedowns, and repeat. Once you've built up your adrenaline you can perform a takedown or just cold clock them. It can become rote, and some odd camera angles don't help, but the sweet takedowns help to soften the bl

The gunplay has a full-fledged cover system, with some nice details like switching shoulder stance and easy-to-hug surfaces. The reticule attempts to tell you when your aim is true, and the Bourne Instinct can assist with some auto-aim. The real issue is if you're not landing headshots, the bullets might as well be butterflies. These guys can suck up some lead. Making matters worse, the hit detection for their craniums isn't always accurate.

They'll take cover and you can flush them out by destroying it, but it's often better to let them cycle through their animation pattern so you can get a bead and try to take them out with a single bullet. Get too close and you're back to the fisticuffs. Gun takedowns exist as well, but they're kind of silly considering you could have done the same thing at long range with a lot less risk.

The driving portion is short, and has you doing some impressive stunt driving. While the controls are loose, they're easy to get a grip on, and you can even slow down time. And hey, with Need for Speed dropping the boys in blue, you can get your fix in gay Paris.

While the old adage goes, “the whole is sometimes greater than the sum of its parts,” here there's a strange equilibrium. The shooting and cover works well, but they're marred by suspect hit detection and bullet sponges for enemies. The fighting can often amount to drawn-out button mashing, but the great finishers make up for it a bit.

The set pieces are the winners--especially the takedowns. Characters will swing and smash, sending plaster and pixels flying. Enemies have a wide variety of animations, but their models appear a bit unproportional and android-like during fist fights. While blood sprays, don't expect anguish or even anger to creep onto faces as they're basically emotionless. The music deserves a nod, with Paul Oakenfold's tracks hitting all the proper cues and the voice acting is great. Camera, clipping, and corpse oddities make an appearance, but for the most part, it's a good-looking game.

The Bourne Conspiracy walks the line between pander and cater, giving an accessible roller coaster ride to anyone with rudimentary hand-eye coordination. It's a nice mix of gameplay styles that allows you to play it however you want, but all the niggling issues eventually pile up. At $60, it's hard to recommend, but like a blockbuster movie you missed in the theater, you can always give it a rent. Fun yet flawed, this franchise-based game could be a lot worse.