IGN Review of Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Conspiracy
Hollywood and video games have frequently had a love affair with government agents because agents' jobs seem to be packed with action and danger. Not only do they travel to exotic locations and carry out missions to save the world, they are essentially free to use any means necessary to accomplish their goals. This virtual "license to kill" allows them to wreak havoc, creating intriguing action sequences and fast paced moments that keep the viewer (or player) on the edge of his seat. The most recent title to adapt this concept is High Moon Studios and Sierra's Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Conspiracy, the newly released action-adventure title that lets players unleash their inner Treadstone agent. While stepping into the shoes of the 30 million dollar weapon with a serious case of amnesia is an engaging task, particularly with the hand to hand combat, some of the technical issues attached to the title pull the game back from being as excellent as it could have been.
If you've seen the movie The Bourne Identity, you already know a majority of the plot behind The Bourne Conspiracy. The game starts with Bourne floating in the turbulent Mediterranean Sea shortly after his attempted mission to assassinate Wombosi, an African dictator. However, Conspiracy doesn't simply retell the movie, throwing in action sequences and button mechanics randomly. Instead, what it does is attempt to tell the backstory of Bourne prior to the assassination and continue through the end of the movie. It does this with a series of unique flashbacks, typically triggered by a passport or other items, which bring players back to prior events in Bourne's career when he was still paying attention to Conklin, his mission handler. By doing so, you get a sense of how effective Bourne was at his job -- as well as how dangerous he was when he started "malfunctioning."
Of course, because much of Jason's life rests within combat, the combat system attempts to impart a sense of his power, speed and improvisational destruction that Jason causes within a fight. He has both fast and heavy strikes attached to the Square and Triangle buttons respectively. Tapping either button triggers a punch while holding a button down charges a fast or heavy kick. By stringing these presses together in one of eight combos, you can cause serious damage to an opponent. Each successful strike will boost Jason's adrenaline meter, and when one section of the meter is filled, he can perform a takedown on an opponent, breaking their arm, shattering their knee or even turning their own weapon against them. The more you fill up your meter, the more opponents you can take out at the same time, which means that you can easily eliminate up to three soldiers at a time with a full adrenaline gauge.
These takedowns aren't simply for a brutal effect. They can also be used to "weaponize" the environment, giving Bourne a new way to inflict pain on an enemy. For instance, based on how close you happen to be to a desk, your takedown may involve grabbing a laptop or a book on top of it and smashing the object into your enemy's face, or it could be bouncing their skull off the corner of a table, leaving that section broken in pieces. Performing these attacks makes you feel that you're truly deadly, and that just about anything in your hands can be used to kill. As you go through the game, you'll discover that this is much more than a simple gimmick; instead, it becomes a vital battle technique, especially when you start to face off against some of the stronger fighters and Treadstone enhanced assassins sent to eliminate you. Once you realize how necessary maneuvering Jason around becomes, you'll constantly keep an eye out for objects surrounding you so you can hurt your enemies and quickly move forward.
However, while trying to max out your adrenaline meter or performing takedowns might seem like the game would simply degenerate into a button mashing festival, you'd be surprised at how well the fight sequences play out. For one thing, the enemies that you face off against are intelligent enough to block, parry or avoid your attacks if you constantly pull off the same move over and over again. What's more, they'll look for gaps during your attack and attempt to counter you if you simply attempt to pound the same buttons, meaning that you'll quickly find yourself on the ground and forced to reload the game. This is further emphasized when you realize that enemies will also perform their own takedown sequences on you, attempting to perform specialized throws or attacks. Fortunately, you're given the ability to escape or counter the blow, but these strikes can be just as deadly as the ones Jason can perform. That will definitely keep you on your toes and make you strategically approach each fight when you want to strike and when you want defend yourself, especially because hitting the right button to counter an enemy takedown will provide you with extra adrenaline for your own takedowns.
That brings up an interesting twist to gameplay that The Bourne Conspiracy features: the title hosts a number of interactive cutscenes that require you to hit the proper button within a certain amount of time to get a corresponding effect. These quick time moments are nothing new to games; in fact, they've been used so frequently in the past few years that you practically expect them now within many action titles. However, the use of these moments are typically restricted to those elements where Jason is attempting to showcase his preternatural speed, reactions to incoming threats, or counters to attacks sent his way. As a result, it winds up working much better than other games in the genre, because it gives you more of a feeling that the actions that you perform by accurately hitting the right button reflect the accelerated pace that Jason seems to live and abide by.
This works extremely well, but it's contrasted with some disappointing facets of play. For example, while Jason is supposed to be just as deadly in hand to hand combat as he is with a firearm, the shooting is rather poor in the game. While you have a reticule that will be highlighted with color when you've accurately aimed towards an enemy, the lack of accuracy that most of the weapons display makes it much easier to miss your targets or waste a large number of bullets taking them down. This is particularly true if you're leaning out from cover and trying to take down an enemy before ducking back and avoiding incoming fire. The weakness in shooting is also reinforced by the weak lock-on system, which is tied to the "Bourne Instinct" mechanic that draws from Jason's adrenaline meter. Since the Instinct only works for a few seconds each time you trigger it, you're constantly wasting adrenaline to try to lock onto some enemies, but it's not always as accurate as you would hope this heightened sense would be. It's easy to still miss enemies, especially when you're changing your aim from one target to another.
Then again, the Bourne Instinct is somewhat of a weakly-used element throughout the majority of the game, because while it will highlight enemies or items, it won't impact fistfights or cutscenes (those appear to run on their own Instinct speed). In fact, the only time where the Instinct seems to truly help is within the driving sequence where you tear through the Parisian streets in Marie's Mini. While triggering the Instinct will slow down some of the traffic that is on the roads, giving you a chance to possibly swerve around some cars, the car nonsensically is a mix of a tank and a car with loose handling. On one hand, Jason can miraculously tear through buildings, cars and other objects as if he and Marie were driving a Hummer or a much larger car without it affecting the car's condition in any way, shape or form, which makes absolutely no sense. On the other hand, cornering and turning through some of the streets or avoiding some cars is extremely difficult to pull off without potentially hitting something and getting spun like a top. Not only will you find yourself facing the other direction many times, you'll be surprised how driver and passenger could get such atrocious handling from such a little car.
Fortunately, the visuals don't suffer as much from these weaker elements, although they do have their own issues that hamper the title. The Bourne Conspiracy does look extremely good, particularly with the large character models and the detailed environments that you'll find yourself fighting through. This is particularly important when it comes to heightening the action that you find from the battle sequences, which look just as good as they do in the Bourne movies. You'll discover that the ability to pick up items or smash environmental objects and leave a trail of debris is an impressive feat (and a laudable use of the Unreal Engine). The same can be said about the breaking of cover, such as wooden boxes or destruction of statues from gunfire. However, it's apparent that there are plenty of elements that you aren't going to be allowed to interact with or use, which makes it rather apparent which items you'll use in a fight and which ones are bland set pieces.
While this is a minor issue, there are three larger problems within the visuals that really stand out. The first is a significant issue of collision detection and clipping that will occur, so you'll frequently find either bodies that will protrude from walls or through doors, or attacks that will send an enemy through an object that it shouldn't. This means that you'll see an enemy get kicked through a dumpster or a desk at times. That leads to the second problem, which is that there's plenty of warping between characters that you'll see, primarily during hand to hand fights. It's as if a few frames of animation that would carry Jason and his opponent to a specific area were dropped. This is particularly true if you prepare to launch a series of kicks and you watch them flicker into view. In a way, it seems attributable to the camera, which can sometimes be too tightly focused on the game action. Not only will character models disappear from view, but you'll sometimes find yourself disoriented as to where your enemies are. It's obvious that the developers tried to keep the claustrophobic camera that was used in the movie, but it doesn't work that well when you're relying on a decent camera angle for a battle.
Luckily, much of the sound effects and musical presentation is rather solid. While High Moon wasn't able to secure the cast for their likenesses or their voices, the vocal performances are decent. The same can be said about the musical selections for the game, which feel as though they were ripped direct from the movie soundtrack. These really make you feel as though you're playing some different sequence of the movie, which is an excellent touch. Sound effects are quite nice as well.
As far as the PS3 version of the game is concerned, it has a mandatory 4.5 gig install which took close to fifteen minutes to complete. Strangely, however, it didn't really affect the load times of the title that much. While a few reloads after Jason died were slightly faster than that of the 360 version, they were only in the range of a second or two, and even this rate was erratic. There are still plenty of sections of regular gameplay, however, where a "Loading..." icon will pop up on screen, freezing the action and making you wonder just what the space on your hard drive is being used for. The only other downside that I can see with the title comes in the replayability, which feels practically non-existent. While there are three difficulty levels, you can easily unlock just about everything there is by collecting all of the scattered passports around levels. This will let you access cinematics, music tracks or concept art, as well as give you an opportunity to replay boss battles. However, once you've beaten the game in about 10 hours or so, you don't really have much of an incentive to return outside of gathering accomplishments that you might have missed. This excitement will probably wane very quickly because you can acquire many of them in this initial play session. When I beat the game and gained three accomplishments in a row, I doubted that I would return for one more session.
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