Publisher: Sierra Entertainment
Developer: High Moon Studios
Release Date: June 3, 2008
One can't help but be surprised that Jason Bourne hasn't been the star of a video game until now. He's got all the makings of the ideal video game hero: a reluctant übermensch with a dark past, uncanny fighting skills, a boatload of enemies, and a habit of getting into high-speed car chases and brutal hand-to-hand fights. He's a guy who's meant to kick butt on your Xbox, and yet it's taken nearly six years for him to find his way to your home console. Luckily, The Bourne Conspiracy is clearly in the hands of people who know what they're doing. High Moon Studios, developers of the cowboy-vampire first-person shooter Darkwatch, have taken on the challenging task of converting Bourne's eclectic fighting style and convoluted history into playable form with The Bourne Conspiracy.
Bourne is the government's biggest mistake. A super-talented Black Ops assassin and spy, he was the best the government had to offer — it cost well over $30 million to train him. Unfortunately for the government, Bourne went rouge for unknown reasons and vanished during a crucial mission. He ends up as an amnesiac hobo wandering the streets of European cities until his past catches up with him during the events of Robert Ludlum's first novel, The Bourne Identity, and his training and past continue to haunt him through a series of further adventures. The Bourne Conspiracy is an attempt to link those various adventures together. Set in the period of the "Bourne Identity" movie, The Bourne Conspiracy places players in control of Bourne during his time as a government assassin and as a wanted fugitive, mixing scenes from the novels and movies together with new and unique sequences never before seen by Bourne faithful. Be warned that this isn't a game that is going to be particularly coherent if you're not a fan of the franchise; the plot exists mostly to provide fan service to series veterans and to explain some of the lingering questions that still exist.
As a multimillion-dollar human weapon, Bourne is an unmatched melee fighter, and this translates to The Bourne Conspiracy almost perfectly. Controlling Bourne in combat is a very simple three-button process: The X button performs a quick attack, the Y button a strong attack, and holding the A button blocks. Different combinations of X and Y unleash different combo attacks, and mixing up your combos prevents enemies from blocking them quite as easily. You can pound the X button until your controller breaks, but the more often you use the same combo, the easier it is for an enemy to see it coming and make Bourne pay for his laziness. You can also hold either X or Y, and Bourne will perform a very slow but powerful charge attack that is great for breaking through defenses, although it leaves Bourne open to enemy attacks. The good news is that like so many video game heroes nowadays, Bourne has a regenerating health bar. Being out of combat — and even certain events in combat — will refill his health, so he can take a licking and keep on kicking.
While Bourne is a skilled hand-to-hand fighter, there is one thing that turns him into a force to be reckoned with, and that is his talent for improvisation. He has a talent for turning everyday objects into deadly weapons that would make MacGyver blush. We're not talking about Jackie Chan-style "using ladders as nunchucks" improvisation here; we're talking pure, unrelenting violence. If there is something in the area, Bourne will make it into a weapon, whether it's something as simple as a book or as complex as another enemy.
In The Bourne Conspiracy, this ability is represented by Takedowns. When Bourne is fighting, his three-tier adrenaline meter will slowly build up. The more tiers that are filled, the more options he has to kill his enemies. A one-tier Takedown is activated by pressing B at any time and will cause Bourne to unleash a brutal attack on the unlucky enemy who's nearby. These attacks are all context-sensitive. Bourne will do things such as dunk an enemy into a sink full of water and hold him under, toss him over the side of a boat, slam his face into a neon sign, or even throw him into the path of friendly fire. Against regular enemies, these Takedowns are instant kills. Use a Takedown, and whoever you're fighting is gone. Against the end-of-stage boss fights, however, Takedowns represent crucial super-moves that allow Bourne to get an advantage over his adversaries. His regular hand-to-hand combat skills do minimal damage to these foes, and fighting a war of attrition against them is a good way to get your butt kicked. Instead, these fights revolve around building up your adrenaline meter and using the environment to its full advantage to turn the tide to Bourne's advantage.
Beyond his impressive hand-to-hand skills, Bourne's training has gifted him with a number of other abilities. While many of the foes he fights are going to be up close, it's impossible for a trained assassin like him to avoid all firefights, so he's naturally a crack shot. Compared to hand-to-hand combat, firefights may seem a bit boring. In most situations, it's a matter of ducking behind cover and popping out to nail a few headshots. Bourne's gift for improvisation comes in handy in gunfights, too, although admittedly not as often as in fisticuffs. He can shoot propane tanks, fire extinguishers, street signs or other environmental objects to take down multiple foes at once, defeat a tough-to-hit enemy with a single shot, or distract a soldier long enough for Bourne to move to more solid cover.
In addition, similar to close-range combat, Bourne can perform Gun Takedowns. Depending on how full his adrenaline meter is, Bourne can unleash a volley of super-accurate gunshots that can instantly kill up to three nearby gun-wielding foes without any fuss. Since you recover health while hiding, the Gun Takedown is primarily used for situations where Bourne is massively outnumbered. If you're surrounded by six or more soldiers with heavy machine guns, peeking out for cover for more than a split second is suicide. If you use a Gun Takedown against three of the six guys, suddenly the fight becomes a lot easier. There is, however, a disadvantage to using a gun over your fists: While taking out foes with a pistol or shotgun, Bourne only gains a minimal boost to his adrenaline meter. If you focus too much on gun combat, you won't have anything left in the adrenaline meter for a tough situation.
Not all of Bourne's skills are related to killing. Black Ops assassin or no, he still has some limits and morals, and that means there are times when he has to avoid violence, or at least realize that shooting and punching his way through everything won't work. This is where Bourne Instinct comes in handy. Anyone who's played Assassin's Creed will find the concept very familiar. By pressing the Y button, Bourne enters a state of heightened sensory perception where enemies, important objects, possible improvisational weapons, and hidden items are all highlighted, while unimportant background material fades into black and white. This ability is useful in a number of ways. It shows the optimal way to handle combat situations by highlighting explosive or otherwise useful objects, ensures that you know where enemies are at all times, points you in the right direction to advance in the level by adding a waypoint to your in-game map, and even points out where hidden collectable Passports are in the stage! It also allows Bourne to see if enemies are civilians or bad guys, which is also quite handy.
Bourne may be a die-hard assassin, but that doesn't mean he's a cold-blooded killer. Unless he's facing obviously black-hearted individuals, he isn't going to accept killing someone just because he's in his way. Shooting a civilian is against Bourne's code and will incur penalties. Depending on the situation, Bourne can occasionally use his hand-to-hand skills to take out a particularly persistent civilian, as long as he doesn't use lethal force, but that's the exception, not the rule. Most of the time, Bourne will have avoid, not kill, any good guys who are after him. Bourne can escape on foot or in a car, depending on the level, but either way, his training comes in handy. On foot, Bourne can quickly pick locks, bash open doors, and even perform special Sprinting Takedowns, which instantly defeat a foe without causing Bourne to stop — a handy ability against good and bad guys alike.
The driving levels are a bit different. Bourne has to cruise through the streets, avoiding the police, or whoever else might be chasing the reluctant assassin. These levels are fairly simple, using the right and left triggers for acceleration and braking, respectively. The real fun comes in how Bourne Instinct changes in these levels; instead of just pointing out objects, the ability runs off the adrenaline bar. By activating it, Bourne enters a bullet time state where objects are not only highlighted, but you also have more time to dodge through tight spots and avoid deadly crashes. The same rules about adrenaline apply here: If you overuse it, he might find himself in a tight spot where Bourne Instinct would have come in handy.
The Bourne Conspiracy is built around the brutally realistic style that makes Bourne's fights so memorable, and that is really showcased in the graphics. The environments are almost completely destructible, and the aftermath of a massive fight is definitely noticeable. Tables will be smashed, windows broken, the walls cracked and crumbling, and various fluff is scattered across the floor.
Not only do the environments show the wear and tear of combat, but so do the fighters. Bourne and his opponents will both begin to show the effects of a prolonged fight, with scraped faces, black eyes and bloody noses that grow worse and more painful-looking as the combatants continue to beat the living daylights out of one another. One interesting thing to know is that Matt Damon does not reprise his role in The Bourne Conspiracy, so the character's design is far closer to his novel interpretation than the fresh-faced Damon.
However, in the build we played, there were a few issues outside of melee combat. In gunfights, enemies and Bourne alike barely seemed to react when they were shot, never even flinching as bullets tore through their defenses. This leads to very odd gunfights, where enemies would absorb entire clips without so much as moving and then fall over, unless you went for a headshot that took them out instantly. The big problem here isn't so much that the gunfights are bad, but that they don't feel like Bourne. They're sterile and lacking in the same gritty and brutal style that makes the close-quarters combat so memorable. Still, there is plenty of time for this small problem to be fixed before The Bourne Conspiracy hits shelves, and considering how well High Moon Entertainment has captured the feel of the rest of Bourne's world, it's difficult to believe they won't do as well with gunplay.
Between the intense car chases, brutal combat sequences, and the overall one-man-versus-the-world concept, The Bourne Conspiracy has been a surprisingly long time in coming. Bourne has already been the star of three action-packed movies, even more novels, and has even more adventures coming out soon. Luckily, High Moon Studios has a good grasp on what makes Bourne tick, and The Bourne Conspiracy is looking to be a worthy addition to the series' legacy. Fans of Ludlum's amnesic hero or those in the mood for some brutal melee combat will most certainly want to check out The Bourne Conspiracy when it hits stores this June.
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