Written July 2008 shortly after the game’s launch.
In many cases in life, judging something by the first five minutes of the experience is a good way of gauging the quality of said item. You’re probably doing it to this review without even thinking, and you almost certainly do it with every person you meet, and in this example, every game you play. Often you’re lucky enough to find that initially the game doesn’t seem as good as it eventually turns out to be. Unfortunately, in The Bourne Conspiracy’s case, it seems much, much cooler in the first five minutes, than it actually is.The game starts out much like the first film with you as Jason Bourne floating in the sea shortly after your failed mission to assassinate the African tyrant, Wombosi. However, this game is no retelling of the film; instead it switches between key memorable scenes from the first film and explains parts of Bourne’s career that haven’t featured in films previously. For fans of the series, this game is already a success. For gamers…well the jury is still out.
Initially things seem very promising, very slick and very movie-like. It’s pretty clear that a lot of effort has been put into the presentation of the game. The cut-scenes feel very cinematic (although I have seen better facial graphics) and there are some brilliant examples of dramatic devices being used to keep your attention. Even the fight choreography has had extensive work done on it by the man who did the choreography for the films, and it shows. It looks painful in places, and it looks damn cool. Unfortunately while everything looks exciting and fresh, the gameplay has suffered slightly.
There’s very little actually wrong with the technical side of the gameplay, only the odd moment of dodgy collision detection or strange AI. The problem is, it’s just not very interesting after a while. The hand to hand fighting system looks brilliant albeit simple. One button for a strong attack, one button for a weak attack, one for blocking and one for the takedown move. The takedown move being an impressive looking way of beating your opponent up that bit more, usually resulting in their defeat and a broken bone or three. These are achieved by building up your adrenaline bar, which is done by using the attack buttons a number of times first… which is where the problem lies. Almost every fight results in block, hammer a few attack buttons, block, a few more attacks, then takedown. Even the bosses demand very similar tactics, they just take longer to takedown. Some of these takedowns involve ‘weaponising’ the environment, essentially using an object that’s lying on a table or nearby, or whacking your opponent’s head through a window. Again, it looks cool, but it still involves the same buttons and the same level of limited interaction.
Sometimes the opponent tries to use his own takedown move on you, to avoid this you enter a quick time event (you’d better get used to these) where you have to press a button that shows up on screen in time so as to avoid getting hit. It’s all very predictable after a while, functional but predictable nonetheless. Perhaps the most annoying part of hand to hand combat is due to the way the game separates your abilities, you can be stuck in hand to hand combat with one enemy, while another enemy is shooting at you from a distance and there is absolutely nothing you can do about them until you’ve defeated the initial enemy hand to hand style. Sure, you can move yourself to try to hide behind a wall while still fighting the original enemy, but why should you be forced into hand to hand combat like this? You’re Jason Bourne, if you want to shoot someone at point blank range, you can, or at least you should be able to!
Of course there are many segments where you can shoot at range, and in some later levels you will have literally 30+ enemies to shoot, almost one after the other. The aiming is slightly clunky, it reminded me of an old PlayStation 1 game I used to love called Syphon Filter. It is forgivable though, it just depends how much of a perfectionist you are. One thing that felt slightly less forgivable was the amount of times that opponents managed to survive shotgun blasts to the head at very close range. Much like in hand to hand combat, there are shooting takedowns. Once you’ve built up your adrenaline sufficiently, you can activate the takedown, complete a very brief quick time event, and bang, your opponent is shot dead immediately. At least these are nowhere near as vital as in hand to hand combat though, as providing you aim carefully, a headshot kills instantly. I found the shooting sections not overly enjoyable, despite the flaws of the hand to hand combat, I much preferred that and would always try to enter hand to hand combat instead when I had the choice. The weapons are fairly unimaginative so that doesn’t really encourage play. There’s not even the ability to pick up a sniper rifle, well not truly. You can ‘use’ a sniper rifle in certain segments of the game but the action is controlled through a quick time event so it all feels very detached and there isn’t the same satisfaction as there could have been if you had some real control over the weapon.
The Bourne Conspiracy is in no way a bad game, it’s just not one of the best either. For a fan of the films, it would undoubtedly be highly enjoyable; being able to re-enact various scenes yourself. Some of those scenes are fairly impressive (in particular an exploding distillery level) and both frantic and gripping. But those scenes just feel too few and far between. It’s just a little too repetitive in places once the novelty wears off and it feels a bit lacking in imagination. There are only so many takedowns you can see before they get dull and predictable. The same can be said of the shootouts that initially require quick thinking but ultimately become the same thing over and over again. There is a brief driving level, placed almost as if the developers realised you needed a break from the same actions, however it’s not very good; again not terrible, just mediocre.
Overall this game just screams ‘middle of the road’: a good opportunity that hasn’t been fully taken advantage of. Having said that, if you have a spare weekend free and fancy a game that doesn’t involve too much brain power and won’t take you long to complete, then this is the ideal rental, but nothing more.