Sierra have published High Moon Studio’s The Bourne Conspiracy, one of a number of shooting or action based titles now available on the mainstream consoles and PCs that sports very up to date graphics. Promising a third person ‘intense, fast-paced action experience’, Conspiracy lines itself up in the crosshairs of every mature gamer waiting for a chance to get their teeth into something non-Disney, meaty and chunky. As a mature gamer turned casual, I was looking forward to reviewing something that I didn’t have to pretend I was five in order to ‘be fair to’. Picking up the Xbox 360 copy of the game and a pad, it was time to see if I really could kill grown men with vases or newspapers, like Jason Bourne.
The first thing I noticed was the protagonist, Jason Bourne, looks very little if anything like his movie likeness Matt Damon. I’m thinking this is a good thing, no offence to Matt. Jason should just look that little bit meaner, that tiny bit crazier and above all, believably kickass. In this game, he does appear to be more believable than many of us found Matt Damon’s presentation of him. So here I am, taking this tough guy out for a spin. How do I find it?
The Bourne Conspiracy expects you to quickly master a number of different control options, the learning curve being satisfying for veterans of FPS/third person titles on a console and quite steep for those who, like me, are used to executing multiple button command inputs on a PC. If you’re playing this on a console, bear in mind that not everyone is going to find this a simple thing to pick up and play. It’s probably not one to buy your kid sister who has never played an FPS on a console before, basically.
The music score and camera motion is all very ‘Bourne’, leaving lovers of the trilogy appreciating the attention to detail. The game’s GUI (graphical user interface) is mature and detailed too; guns empty their chambers in the bottom left corner of the screen, not obstructing your view or flashing childishly. The mini map/radar and health bars are located to the lower right.
The whole game is one interactive, totally 3D environmental brawl with Bourne. Cut scenes are practically non existent, dealing well with the transition between levels. Everything flows without seams, entering a new area is an interactive ‘movie’ more so than a cut scene, with action on you almost before you know it. The downside to this is that in reality, the coders were never going to code an infinite set of options for you at all points in the game, meaning that there’s only a set number of combos and things you actually can do, though the environment is destructible. If you perform a takedown in a certain part of the fighting environment (which itself is made pretty small for bosses), you’ll end up doing a certain thing to the bad guy. This gives the illusion of choice where there is some … but not as much as it first feels like.
As you make your way through the game, you’ll suddenly be faced with an interactive challenge, such as a bomb under a van or an enemy attacking you with a special move, and be expected to press/tap a random button – or you’re dead. Players of the Dreamcast title Shenmue may recognise this approach to sudden challenges. If an event catches you out, you won’t have that far to travel to get back to where you were because of the automatic checkpoint system.
The game deals bravely with the issue of radar – have you ever wondered why all your rivals in just about any game with a radar seem to be helpfully carrying transmitters? Realistically, you wouldn’t detect a stim pack or an enemy around the corner, would you? Rather than show you everything on the radar, the game deals with this by giving you a ‘Bourne Instinct’ button which uses adrenaline, one of two meters that relates to your survival, built up by kicking lots of buttock. Pressing it will reveal (for a short time) any objects of interest in the surrounding area. Bourne can tell what’s of interest because he’s a kick ass ninja assassin…not because edible health ups are broadcasting radio signals. Even then he uses adrenaline. I know it may sound picky, but games where everything appears on the radar for no reason at all just annoy me.
There’s the odd invisible wall issue not yet solved, and probably others where I didn’t need to go, so I didn’t notice them. Despite all the modern graphics, the fact remains that the levels are all programming and if you’re not supposed to fire through a certain pane of glass, it won’t let you. If you aren’t intended to get into that little niche, wall-jumping Bourne won’t be able to hop over a few cans of paint. Annoying in any game, this game presents itself having not solved the issue but no worse than any other title.
Playing through The Bourne Conspiracy, you’ll be forgiven for thinking that after the first few scenes (calling them levels seems wrong since there are no real transitions between most areas), the action becomes repetitive. You’d be right; there’s a whole 25 minutes of shooting the same soldiers, running through nearly identical dock sets and having repetitive fisticuffs. The only reason for possibly doing this is for plot forwarding, which happens on and off over your radio as you overhear things or make a brilliant plan to make the enemy think you’re dead. Brilliant, except that trying to perform this plan would kill any normal human being. Press onward and the game begins to change again, but there’s a certain ‘run, shoot, fistfight, hear radio, run…’ to the whole experience that cannot be denied. Sub questing has perhaps been overlooked because it’s often seen as filling space and repetitive itself. Rather than hearing everything on your radio or through eavesdropping two inept guards, it would have been nice to have the odd sub quest of ‘let’s find a networked terminal and look up the boat schematics’ or ‘find an explosive to get through this metal barrier’.
Character models are repeated through the game, but not any more than you’d expect. In fact, the variety is reasonable enough. Unless you’re very interested in playing a short game with nothing that ever looks the same twice, you shouldn’t find this a problem. Certain characters of specific interest are very nicely animated, right down to the facial expressions and the eyes. Graphically, The Bourne Conspiracy is nice to look at on a HD TV.
Most of the game you’ll spend either running, shooting or fist fighting – there’s a driving bit but Bourne cannot enter vehicles the rest of the time, so to call it a ‘game where you can drive’ isn’t true. During the fighting bits (of which there are many), you can achieve a variety of results and also effect what your opponents try to do. Combos build up your adrenaline, which leads to the ability to perform takedowns – enough to kill beginner level baddies. Later ones will take more, and building up three takedowns on your meter will enable you to unleash a Batman-esque can of whoopass on up to three, fresh enemies. Very satisfying to watch, especially with bone-crunching sound effects and an environmental factor – if you perform a takedown in front of a mirror, you’ll drive the guy into it and smash it. Perform the same move facing in a slightly different direction, and the guy is bowled over a railing. In another direction, he’ll shatter a partially blockaded window, or go through an open doorway. Your violence is your own, and this means that gamers will experience the fun of performing kills differently if they want to, or just rushing through if they’d rather. However, as already stated this is somewhat an illusion of choice where there is in fact, only a few.
If you’re willing to look past the repetitive nature of the run-shoot-fight experience, the fact that there’s very little else to do other than these three things and some questionable collision detection, you will find a nice looking, gritty third person with guns and lots of hand to hand fighting. Like all movie licences, this game suffers from being driven by the brand in question and not by a game developer or publisher working hard to create a cutting edge piece of gaming. There are better looking games out there, and the unreal engine was merely brought in for use. Add to this the fact that there’s no multiplayer or online game play, and what you’ve got is a situation where you’d be better off buying Call of Duty 4 and simply renting this game for a few ‘wow’s at the unique violence. Not the worst game I’ve played recently, but certainly not on my shopping list. It did make me want to break out Max Payne again, though.