I'm not what you would call a typical 'Bourne' fan. I haven't read any of the books and didn't see any of the movies in the theater. In fact, it took a friend to sit me down and force me to watch all three of the Jason Bourne movies before I realized that I have an affinity for super-violent amnesiac. Now that I've fully come around on the series, I was excited to see what Sierra Entertainment could do with the very first Bourne game. After all, this is one franchise that is a perfect fit in the interactive genre and the type of game that could spawn a long-running series. Could they possibly match the frantic pace of the movies? What could they possibly do to flesh out the story? Needless to say, I was excited to see what Sierra Entertainment came up with.
Despite its name, The Bourne Conspiracy is not an altogether new story in the Bourne mythos. At its core this is basically just the video game retelling of The Bourne Identity, the movie/book that told the story of a mysterious man who is shot and left for dead in the middle of the ocean. Lucky for him, a fishing boat happens upon this man and nurses him back to health. Unfortunately nobody knows who this mysterious man is ... not even the man. This sends him on a global journey to find his true identity and figure out why he was shot and left for dead in the ocean.
As luck would have it this mysterious man actually has a dark history, one where he was an assassin who was schooled in all kinds of fighting styles. The good news is that he can remember how to kick butt, even if he has no idea who he is. Actually, it turns out that maybe that's not such good news after all. You see, for some odd reason there are people after him, so he's constantly having to fight, run and acrobat his way out of sticky situations.
Fans of the recent film trilogy will remember all of this from the first movie. But The Bourne Conspiracy has a few tricks up its sleeve that actually makes this more than just another movie game. You see, only half of the game is the story from The Bourne Identity. Taking a page from Rockstar Games' brilliant fighting game The Warriors, Sierra has decided to tell us the story of why Jason Bourne was shot and left for dead in the middle of the ocean. And not just that, we also get a bunch of interesting flashbacks that tell the story of Jason Bourne before he's struck with amnesia. There's actually a lot of new material in this game, making this a must-play for any Bourne fanatic.
Thankfully the game itself is a whole lot of fun. In a lot of ways The Bourne Conspiracy works like a lot of other action games; there's a lot of fighting, there's plenty of gun play and there may even be a high speed chase in there somewhere. The game is played on a very linear path, with you running from one checkpoint to the next shooting at bad guys and getting into fights. On top of that, you will also have to deal with bosses, flee a crime scene with a Mini Cooper, pretend to commit suicide and much, much more.
What High Moon Studios managed to get right was the fighting mechanic. And that's a good thing, because a big chunk of this game involves you taking on enemies in a one-on-one fight to the death (or at least the knock out). The combat is simple; you have a button for the light punch and one for the harder punch. On top of that you have the block button. Like any 3D brawler, you string combos together using these two buttons. It's all pretty standard stuff ... except for one thing - the adrenaline meter.
As you hit your opponent your adrenaline meter will quickly fill up, allowing you to pull off some sort of game-changing counter attack. This adrenaline meter is the one thing that makes this game look exactly like the movie, because all of a sudden you'll go from punching some guy in the nose to slamming his entire face against a bathroom sink. And it's not just one or two animations, either. Practically every part of the world can be interacted with, from shoving a pen in your opponent's hand to throwing somebody down the stairs to using a library book to knock somebody out. Half the fun of this game is just going around and finding out what objects in each room can be used as a weapon, and it's always easy to pull off these moves because you're constantly getting the adrenaline boost.
At its best The Bourne Conspiracy looks almost exactly like the movie, especially in these fights. There's something about the way the battles are filmed, it almost looks like the whole thing was done handheld. These adrenaline attacks are full of quick-cuts and look exactly like the kind of thing you see in the actual films. On top of the cool camera work, the backgrounds interact the way you would expect them to. When you ram somebody's head into a jukebox that machine is realistically destroyed. When you throw somebody up against a locker the door will open and the contents will fall out. When you smash somebody's face against the sink it breaks and water shoots out. It all looks fantastic and adds to the realistic look.
Aside from the adrenaline moves, Jason Bourne has a few other cool moves up his sleeve. We all know that Spider-Man has his "Spidey sense", The Matrix has "bullet time" and Stranglehold has "tequila time," but did you know that Jason Bourne has his own physics defying super power? It's true, and it's called "Bourne Instinct." Basically how it works is you push the "Y" button and everything will go dark and slow down. This will give Jason enough time to survey the area for guys, weapons and the checkpoint marker. Even though this game is as linear as it gets, the goals are not always as straightforward as they appear. Chances are you'll find yourself relying on this ability, if only so that you can quickly locate bad guys and extra ammo.Another big aspect of The Bourne Conspiracy is the "quick time events". Similar to Dragon's Lair, God of War and dozens of other action games, the quick time event is when a button will pop up on the screen and you only have a few seconds to push that button. You won't be able to escape the quick time events in this game; you're constantly having to do it while watching a cinema, fighting off bad guys or using your adrenaline move. Thankfully I didn't find it as daunting as some games, even though this gameplay cliché is starting to get a little played out.
When you're not fighting or running around like a mad man, you're holding back and shooting at anything that moves. Unfortunately this is where The Bourne Conspiracy starts to fall apart. For the most part the shooting mechanic is pretty basic, you aim your tiny little dot at the person you want to shoot and then pull the trigger. But everything about this the gun play feels very stripped down, almost as if this was thrown in at the last second. For example, in most gun games you can zoom in a little to line-up your shot, but not in this game. In The Bourne Conspiracy you have a tiny little dot and the only way to get a closer shot is to run towards the bad guy.
Another problem with the gun mechanic is the slow turning speed. Even when you turn the aiming all the way up, your character's speed leaves something to be desired. Turning around is a real pain, and so is shooting at something that is just to the right or left of you. Thankfully the game assists you as you aim your gun, but it would have been nice to have more control over your character's movements. Couple these problems with a complete lack of gun variety and you have the makings of a real disappointing shooter.
Outside of running, shooting and fighting, you will get to drive a car through the busy streets of Paris. While this is far from the worst car chase sequence in a game, this one level (which is over in only a matter of minutes) just isn't as thrilling as you would hope. The controls of the car aren't up the snuff and there are entirely too many repeated backgrounds to make this feel convincing. The good news is that it's over in a blink of an eye, unfortunately that's not fast enough.
From looking at the pictures below you'll probably notice one thing - that's not Matt Damon. That is indeed true; Matt Damon had no part in the making of this game. Going into this I wondered how attached I would be to Matt's likeness, would I get used to this new Jason Bourne or simply yearn for that talented Ripley boy to smile for the camera. The truth is that I barely missed Matt; this virtual Jason Bourne has the same sort of vibe, only with a different voice and look.
For the most part the graphics are pretty good. They aren't quite as polished as BioShock or Halo 3, but they are full of stylish flourishes here and there. What really sells the game's style is the camera work and the destructible environments, without those I don't think this would be nearly as fun to look at. Even better than the graphics is the music, which sounds like it comes directly from the Bourne movies. The score is fantastic and definitely fits with the mood of the game, especially in the final act. The presentation is certainly a lot better than I expected.
There is one big problem with this game that simply cannot be ignored. I'm of course talking about the length, which clocks in at around five hours. That's right, five short hours. I wouldn't be lying if I said that I literally beat this game in one sitting. Don't get me wrong, the five hours it takes the beat the game is worth it, but it's definitely disappointing to go through an entire $60 game without even getting up to go to the bathroom.
Of course, there is something to be said about having a short and sweet game. I would much rather have 12 stellar levels than 20 mediocre stages. However, The Bourne Conspiracy doesn't have nearly enough reason for you to go back through it. Completists will likely want to go back through it in order to find all of the passports and earn every achievement. But even then you're still looking at 11 to 12 hours, tops. If you're willing to pay the high price for those few hours of enjoyment, then you'll definitely find something exciting (full of back story you didn't get from the movie), but it really comes down to how much it's worth to you.
It's not easy turning a movie spy into a great video game (just ask James Bond), but Sierra Entertainment is on the right track with The Bourne Conspiracy. I like the approach taken here, especially with the added story, great pacing and fantastic combat. With a few more levels and a bit more replay this would have been a must-own, but as it is this is just one of those games you should go through. Maybe it's not worth full price, but The Bourne Conspiracy is definitely worth playing.