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Jason Bourne blasts through the TVG office window, takes our accountant hostage and demands that we review his game...
- Well integrated "Quick Action Events".
- Stylish camerawork.
- Fighting gameplay with depth.
- Short campaign.
- Poor driving section.
- Could do with more stealth to break up the action.
Let's cut right to the chase: I'm sure what you all want to know is will The Bourne Conspiracy make you feel like Jason Bourne; will it bring the fast paced action of the films to game consoles? Thankfully, it does. Most movie licensed games fail to do this; they fail to give you a piece of the silver screen experience in the respective game. High Moon Studios has crafted gameplay that demands the split second reactions of Bourne the fugitive, and the fighting skills of Bourne the trained assassin.
This all starts with the "Quick Action Events", which are built around the same premise of interactive cut-scenes in other games, although they also run through the main gameplay in The Bourne Conspiracy. These events cater for everything from taking out a group of enemies (with guns or bare fists), to reversing your car out of trouble after being T-boned by a bus, or even jumping across the balconies of Switzerland's American embassy. You'll encounter them in all corners of the game and although we've never been fans of interactive cut-scenes, we've got to admit that they certainly work in this instance.
There's never a moment during the game where you don't feel like you're under fire or being pursued by a bunch of trained killers, and the biggest driver of this feeling is the Quick Action Event. The feature is used extensively during the cut-scenes, but it's most immersive usage is during the game's many fire-fights, bar knuckled brawls, or escapes from the authorities/enemies. During these escapes, there's usually a time limit in which you have to make a getaway and you'll often find yourself hanging off rooftops, tight-roping across courtyards, or avoiding sniper fire. It's here that the Quick Action Event pops up, requiring you to press the right face button with split second reactions to keep the escape going.
Working in tandem with this feature is the game's camera, which is quite simply one of the best examples of camerawork that we've seen in a next-gen game (perhaps only Heavenly Sword comes close). Particularly evident during the fighting sequences or cut-scenes, High Moon Studios' game recreates the innovative style of Paul Greengrass' direction in the film trilogy. Greengrass used handheld cameras that were always right on top of the action, with each shot displaying a small part of the whole scene that bought together a full picture when cut together at lightning speed.
When a similar premise is applied to The Bourne Conspiracy's fighting sequences (coupled with some brutal sound effects and controls that feel very weighty), it depicts two assassins fighting to the death with the utmost clarity and in a way that's faithful to the movies. Likewise, the films' fast cut style is also applied to the game's cut-scenes, ensuring that the action doesn't waver for a second. You're glued to the screen from start to finish and there's never a moment where you're wandering around, figuring out where to go next as Bourne Vision is always on hand to show you where the next objective is. In most cases you'll be running to the next checkpoint, following Bourne from a Gears of War style shaky cam (made all the more familiar by the Unreal 3 Engine powering the game), further cementing that sense of urgency that drives the gameplay forward.
But it's not all showy camerawork and engaging cinematic sequences. The gameplay's depth is also well thought out, with the combat in particular requiring a lot of mastery. On the Xbox 360, X and Y buttons deal out light and heavy attacks respectively, while the A button is used for blocking. There's also an adrenaline bar at the bottom left of the screen that builds as you perform attacks and is split up into three cells. Each cell denotes a takedown move on your adversary when you press B, treating you to a well choreographed and invariably brutal cut-scene. If you're surrounded by two or more enemies then you can even perform multiple takedowns - as long as you've filled up two or three of the adrenaline cells - with your success on each KO move being determined by a Quick Action Event (there's a similar feature for the shooting sections as well, but more on that later).
The key to getting the most out of the combat system, though, is linking attacks into three button combos and then chaining these combos together to batter enemies into submission. Some of these combos chain well together, while others are more jarring. For example, if you get the timing right then the following chain can be pretty useful (XYY, followed by XYX, and finally YXY). Others don't mix quite as well and have the effect of slowing your rhythm, which must be kept steady with controls that have been purposefully made to feel weighty in order to put an added emphasis on well timed attacks.
Getting these combo chains right is certainly as hard as it sounds, and you will need to master the technique in order to kill some of the harder bosses in the game. The main assassin's from the Bourne Identity movie (e.g. the Professor and Castel) are all present in the game's story and make no mistake, these bosses are rock hard. The level featuring the Professor is particularly worthy of note, recreating the same sense of being hunted down that was present in the movie where Clive Owen's character was eventually struck down by a shotgun blast to the chest.
While The Bourne Conspiracy's plot does follow the events of the first film, there are also a lot of story arcs that serve as flashbacks to previous missions that Bourne undertook as a CIA agent. The first couple of levels in the game, which tell the story of how Bourne gets onto Wombosi's ship, are a particularly good example of this and playing through the additional story content is certainly enjoyable. However, you do get the feeling that some of the other flashbacks have been added as padding and because they don't have the film's depth of plot to fall back on, the stories behind them do end up feeling a bit shallow and lifeless.
What's also pretty lifeless is the Paris Chase level where Bourne drives his recently acquired accomplice, Marie, through the streets of Paris while avoiding the Parisian authorities. Driving sections in third person action games have a history of being pretty bad, and the Mini Cooper's brick-like handling in The Bourne Conspiracy makes no exception. The upside of this is that it's quite easy and you can drive through it in a matter of minutes, while also having some fun with the car's bullet time feature along the way (now, does that come as standard with all Mini-Coopers, or is it an optional extra?)
Also of a distinctly average feel is the gunplay in the game. There's something undeniably Kane and Lynchian about it all, with a white dot as the targeting reticule and aiming that fails against long range targets and is never quite as silky smooth as you'd like. Headshots are the order of the day, with NPCs requiring far too many body shots before dying. To make matters worse, the weapon sets are also bog standard (e.g. no grenades and very standard firearms), while the balancing of the shotgun is a bit off as it's a little too strong for its own good in comparison to the rifle, sub-machine gun, and pistol. You can unlock further variations on these guns with cheat codes that are dished out on completion of the game, but the phrase flogging a dead horse comes to mind unfortunately.
In hindsight, we would have been perfectly happy if the shooting sections in the game had been downplayed a bit and some stealth sections had been added in to replace them. Jason Bourne is an assassin after all, and you'd expect a bit more stealth in the game than there was. As it is, there's the occasional scripted opportunity to perform a stealth kill (where you creep up on an enemy in a crouched position before pressing B to initiate a stealthy cut-scene) but their inclusion in the game is limited.
Another concern is the game's length. On the medium difficulty setting there's about 8-9 hours of gameplay at your fingertips, which isn't too bad, but with no multiplayer options this does limit the game's content somewhat. The game is replayable (because the more well-honed you are at the campaign, the more you begin to think that you're actually Bourne himself), but it's worth bearing in mind that the medium difficulty setting is pretty hard and you will die a lot. The hard, or Assassin difficulty setting really does set the men apart from the boys, so be prepared for some frustrating moments if you do start down that path. On the upside, there are a lot of checkpoints in sensible positions which does make harder sections a bit more bearable.
Epic's Unreal technology has been put to fairly good use by High Moon, with some of the character models and environmental textures presenting a fair amount of graphical razzle-dazzle. The Bourne Conspiracy is certainly as good as most other shooters that utilise the Unreal 3 engine, but it's no Gears of War. Instead, it's a thoroughly competent display of some top of the range next-gen tech.
If it weren't for the dulcet overtones of Paul Oakenfold's original soundtrack to the movies, then this game would be distinctly average in terms of its musical score. As far as the voice over work is concerned, without the original cast of the movie lending their talents to the game, the dialogue in The Bourne Conspiracy sounds decidedly flat.
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