Sierra’s new game doesn’t revolve around the popular Bourne films starring wooden-faced action star Matt Damon – instead, they’re based around the original Robert Ludlum novels and, as such, contain a few differences from the flicks we’re used to seeing on the big screen.
The plot, for instance: instead of following the events of the third film, Identity, you begin the game floating in the sea – but endeavour to fill the gaps in the back-story, instead, through the ever-popular medium of flashbacks.
While the plot may try to eke a new twist of the well-worn Bourne formula, the gameplay mostly follows the standard action pattern. Hand-to-hand combat features heavily but, most of the time, it’s relatively staid and uninspiring. There’s a handful of combos available but fights degenerate into frenetic button-bashing, as connecting as many hits as possible is the best way to fill up your adrenaline meter. There’s little point trying to remember elaborate button combinations when hammering X and Square is more effective.
Luckily, the mediocre combat is spiced up with Bourne’s ability to perform a ‘takedown’. Fill up your adrenaline meter and press the Circle button and you’ll perform a devastating, brutal move that quickly finishes off your enemy. Impressively, there’s a fair amount of context-sensitive adaptation to the takedowns: engage a foe in a bar, for instance, and you can ram his face into the top of the bar, leaving a healthy dent. A boss fight later on requires you to battle near a neon sign, so a takedown in this environment tasks you with filling him full of neon. There’s a fight in a stairwell later on, for instance, that is also full of these context-sensitive triggers.
This is the high-point, though, to a combat engine that’s resolutely simplistic everywhere else: gun-play is hampered by imprecise aiming. Weapons seem to lack accuracy so, after carefully lining up a headshot on a target, you’ll often find that the temperamental weapon has scythed a bullet through a civilian’s head instead.
It’s necessary in a 3D action game for the camera to be intelligent enough to move in such a way that it shows you what’s going on without you having to intervene. In Conspiracy, though, it’s often not: the gritty, often claustrophobic style of the movies hasn’t translated well to the game, and you’ll find yourself manually adjusting the camera more often than should be necessary.
There’s a couple of selling points to Conspiracy, too, that attempt to lift this above the realm of mediocre action title. The game is littered with real-time events – that ask you to press certain buttons at certain times to perform certain tasks before, inevitably, the end of the world – but, as they’ve been used in almost every action game of the past few years, it’s not as innovative here as Sierra Entertainment might think.
There’s also a system called Bourne Instinct which, in theory, slows the world down and improves your vision, which highlights enemies and potentially interesting areas on your radar as well as giving you a little more time to plan attacks. It’s badly implemented, though, with no regulation as to how and where you can really use it. Instead of it being metered and you having to decide if it’s really worth using in a particular situation, it’s often completely free, so it’s far too easy to employ the Instinct to get yourself out of a tricky spot that having to fight your way through.
Graphically, Bourne is a good-looking game: the environments are suitably evocative – whether you’re fighting through gritty Marseille, The Hague or a luxurious art museum. Animation is also superb, with the various takedowns oozing pain – it’s just like watching a stunt from the movies.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that there’s not a huge amount of longevity here and, apart from playing on a higher level of difficulty, not much to go back to when you’ve ploughed through the 12-ish hours of the game’s main plot.
Despite the great, atmospheric graphics, there’s too many niggling issues here to make Conspiracy anything more than a vaguely decent action title. The simplistic combat, poor camera, lack of longevity and mis-managed Bourne Instinct ability harm the game and, although you’ll be able to look past them if you enjoy solid action titles, this is probably only worth a rental rather than a full purchase.