The Bourne Conspiracy
Genre: Action Spy
Developer: High Moon Studios
Release Date: June 3, 2008
The Bourne Identity was to put it mildly, a fantastic movie. It gave me a whole new appreciation for what a spy movie could be about. No super fancy gadgets like Bond, just out witting your opponent and when required beating the stuffing out of him. Of course the sequels disappointed due to too much caffeine in the cinematographer, but I’m not here to pass judgment on those. So how does this game play out? Is it fast paced and action packed like the movie? Absolutely. Is it deserving of the mantle? Follow me as I tell you a tale.
The Bourne Conspiracy is both prequel and present day, as it were, when it comes to the source material of The Bourne Identity. Conspiracy tells the story of what Jason Bourne is recalling when he is struggling with memories during the movie, while also telling the tale of Identity. I think it’s actually a pretty clever way to introduce new elements into the story. I guess that’s the bonus of source material that deals with amnesia.
When powering up The Bourne Conspiracy for the first time, you notice they’d didn’t get the main star, or his image. Matt Damon, whose career was solidified by the movie, apparently decided he didn’t want to be in the game. Either that or the game developers decided they didn’t feel like paying for his likeness. Either way, don’t go into it expecting MAAATT DAAAMON, as Trey Parker and Matt Stone like to refer to him. Now then, having established that, on with the show.
The game starts out well enough. You are on the mission that eventually finds you left for dead floating in the middle of the Mediterranean at the beginning of Identity. During this mission, which acts like a training ground for new players, you will discover how the game mechanics work. You will find that while you are armed, the preferred way of dealing with enemies is man up and kick ass.
You can do this either by stealth or by anything but stealth. You have two attack buttons and a block button. From these two attack buttons you are supposed to string together fantastic combos. Sadly I could never pull this off. Perhaps my Bourne Fu is weak. Either way, what these fights lead up to are finishing moves, basically. You earn “adrenaline”Â by successfully landing punches and “kicks”Â, which will then give you the opportunity to do a one shot kill kind of thing, either with your fists, or your guns, or should you be fast enough, while running. This is possibly the most enjoyable part of the game, as Bourne will react with whatever is handy to deliver a fatal blow.
Sadly it’s also among the most frustrating things in the game, as once the “super”Â move is complete, the weapon will be dropped. Why? I don’t know, maybe Bourne is hardcore, and weapons are for girly men. So in those instances where you happen to be fighting multiple enemies, and trust me, there’s no lack of moments where you’ll be surrounded by more than one guy, you will fend off one opponent with whatever is handy, and then simply drop it to face the next guy. Yes it’s true that you can combo the super moves if you happen to have enough of the adrenaline, but when it comes down to it, WHY DROP A SHOVEL WHEN ITS BEEN SO EFFECTIVE? This is especially galling when fighting “Boss”Â characters. Basically Bosses are all the assassins the CIA sends after you to kill you during Identity, plus whomever they thought up for Conspiracy. You see, Boss characters don’t go down after one finishing move. They don’t even go down after 3. Most take at least 5 plus all the punches in between. And does Bourne keep that weapon handy against the highly skilled enemy agent who will no doubt pull a weapon of his own shortly? No. Of course not. In fact, just to be sporting, he even lets the big bad agents get back up after knocking them down. Can’t be killing them in cold blood now can we. It wouldn’t be proper. Maybe they should have called it The Marquess of Queensberry Conspiracy.
Anyway, this wouldn’t be too big of a problem if the fighting engine in the game were in any way intuitive. Yes you have a light attack and a heavy attack, so far everything is standard. You can string together a few punches in a row. There might even be an actual combo system, but I couldn’t find it. There’s no mention of it in the system menu or the in the manual. But yes, you can punch quite easily. If you wish to kick however things become awkward. You have to hold down the either the light attack or heavy attack button long enough to tell the game that you want to kick. And of course for the most part this takes longer than it does for your opponent, especially boss opponents where a powerful kick might prove to be useful, to attack you. This is something that can be worked around, occasionally, by keeping your distance from the enemy. If you are far enough away you can succeed in delivering a kick before they deliver one themselves. The one problem being that you can get out of your own range very quickly, and leave yourself exposed to further attacks.
I haven’t even gotten to the gunplay aspect of the game. And I will in a few moments, but first I have to continue my diatribe on the punch kick portion of the game. Most of the time Bourne is armed with a gun. I want to know why I can’t simply pull a gun a shoot a bitch, Indiana Jones style. OK fine, maybe the fight is too fast. Or maybe it’s against the rules of engagement. Something like that. But it can’t be against the rules of engagement, because to get to the Boss I had to shoot a battalion of bad guys. I think I started WW3 in Lithuania. And the fight can’t be too fast, because in other portions of the game, Bourne can pull a gun and blast someone in between the eyes without a millisecond’s hesitation. I don’t ask for much, just a consistent set of rules for the game world.
Anyway, onto the gunplay. In truth most of the gunplay in the game is pretty solid. You are armed with a smallish selection of weapons. You start off with a standard pistol, either silenced or non, and you pickup whatever you can find as you move along in the game, be that in weapons cabinets or from nearby fallen enemies. Weapons can be anything from shotguns to assault rifles to submachine guns. They vary in effectiveness, but really this is fairly standard stuff. Shotgun up close, assault rifle for distance. Completing the game will unlock new weapons to be used in future run throughs. I have no qualms about the selection or handling of the weapons.
What I do have to take issue with though, is the speed at which you move your weapon around while looking for targets. Even at its fastest setting, the character feels sluggish. At the standard setting it’s as though he is moving in water while aiming his weapon. Again, this is unacceptable for a super-agent who can seemingly shoot faster than Wild Bill Hickok. There is something of a targeting button in the game, using the adrenaline meter to let you use something similar to Spidey-Sense. When pressed at the appropriate time the character will automatically target another opponent so long as your adrenal glands hold up.
Add to this sluggishness in aiming the very real threat of your enemies in game, who will not hesitate at all to pump you full of the bullets required to make you a corpse the US Government denies all knowledge of. Thankfully there is a cover system. For the most part anyway. You can take cover behind some objects, but sadly not ALL objects, and good luck finding one when you can’t look around fast enough to see one before you die. There is also no way of running to cover and sliding into it, similar to GTA4 or even Gears of War. This may seem minor until you realize that you have to run to cover, then if it’s a box or a car, press a button to make Bourne crouch, and this can leave you exposed long enough to take a bullet or two in the head. Basically this all amounts to a lot of dying on your part. When you do happen to take cover in time, your health will return in a fashion similar to Gears of War.
Of course, you can raise or lower the difficulty of the game. There are three difficulty settings, Trainee, Agent and Assassin. Or as I like to call them, Normal, Retarded and I don’t even want to know. I played through about half of the game on Agent, until I got to the first Paris Boss. It was challenging up until that point, but I enjoy a challenge. I always do my best to play all my games on the normal setting, but especially any game that I’m reviewing. This usually works. There are some games that you truly have to learn before you are competent enough to play on more difficult settings. Ninja Gaiden was one such game. Then there are games which are hard for no good reason. Or perhaps the designers are trying to prove a point, that being a trained CIA killer is not something one simply picks up and plays. I don’t know. What I do know is the moment the first Paris Boss crashed into my apartment window; the game got retarded hard really fast. Essentially you fight the fight that is choreographed in the movie. You fight and fight, wearing him down, and then he pulls a knife. You have to disarm him by stabbing his hand with a pen if the desk you are fighting near happens to survive until that point. Only, your attacks do very little damage to him (I mean miniscule), and he could deal an abundant amount of it to me in no time at all. This led to repeated deaths on my part.
So I had to make a choice. Do I sit here, futilely trying to finish this fight and making my frustration build to the point where I need a new TV? Or do I swallow my pride and accept the fact that maybe the High Moon Studios definition of trainee is different from mine? Well, I’m writing this review, so you know I’m not still stuck fighting that boss. Yes I went back and played it on Trainee. I finished the game that way too. I actually found the game to be more satisfying on Easy. Enemies don’t survive multiple head wounds from a shotgun in Easy. They don’t continue to get up like some sort of modern day Black Knight on Easy. And lastly the Boss fights aren’t nearly as frustrating on Easy.
Aside from fists and gunplay, there is one other style of gameplay found in Bourne. One of the more enjoyable parts of the Bourne Identity was the car chase through Paris. Maybe High Moon Studios decided that you would complain if they didn’t include it in Conspiracy. So just after that boss fight in Paris, you hop into the chicks Mini Cooper and start rocking along the streets of Paris trying to escape. After all, a body just fell out of your apartment window. That’s bound to get noticed. As in the other modes of the game you Bourne Sense/Bullet time reactions while driving. By using your adrenaline you can maneuver your car quickly around obstacles and avoid oncoming cars etc. Or at least that’s the theory. I found that the game moved just fast enough for me to be too slow to react to the need to use the adrenaline, but too slow for me to slip into Burnout mode and play the entire level like a Burnout race. Combine that with a car that felt like you were steering using the back wheels (it doesn’t, but it felt that way) and Police cars who have no hesitation in trying to ram you off the road, and you discover two things. Driving is fairly frustrating in this game if you are already frustrated with the game, and your car is apparently indestructible, as I believe I managed to smash into every wall and car on the roads of Paris. In order to be fair I went back to try the driving level again after some time had passed, and I found that while still a bit annoying. Your mileage may vary.
One of the major gameplay elements in the game are quick reaction events. Be it on foot when exchanging fisticuffs with the enemy or in the car escaping the Paris Gendarmes, you can expect at some point to have to drop whatever it is you are doing and press one of the four face buttons. The game warns you, or at least attempts to, by sounding something of an alarm when a QRE is upcoming, but when you are concentrating on avoiding traffic or landing a combo with your fists, you may not notice the incoming event in time. This isn’t usually too bad though. Normally the required button sits on screen for a second or so before you “miss”Â the opportunity and suffer the consequences. And those consequences can be irritating. There is a level fairly early on in the game where you must fight your way to a train that is leaving a station. No small amount of effort goes into this. Much depleted uranium is spent trying to accomplish this. And let me just state right now that the levels in Bourne are vast. Finishing some levels can take upwards of an hour or more, depending on how patient you are and how well you can shoot. But back to my point. After defeating a small regiment of soldiers while trying to get to this train, it went to a in game movie. I figured the level was over. But NO. QRE. I had to board the train. And of course I’ve missed the button. Was there a check point? PLEASE let there be a checkpoint, preferably right at the start of the in game movie, but I can live with maybe a tiny bit farther away. Just don’t make me do all that again. Did they? What do you fine readers think? Actually, they didn’t put me to far away. But it was far enough that my inner hulk wanted to smash. What made it so annoying is you are attacked almost immediately after reviving by 3 guards who feel they can handle you with their fists. So you have to fight through these gentlemen again. Again and again if you foolishly just charge onto the platform afterwards. As I said before, you will die if you run around in Rambo fashion.
I’m not sure if there’s anything else worthy of being talked about. The graphics are solid but not spectacular. As I mentioned above the levels are nice and long. Could have done with some more checkpoints, yes, but maybe for the Bourne Supremacy?
Control and Gameplay: Below Average
Addictiveness: Below Average
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
Miscellaneous: Mediocre FINAL SCORE: Mediocre
Short Attention Span Summary:
Not horrible. Not even bad. But there are better spy games on the market for the Playstation 3 at the minute. Flesh out the hand to hand and the game probably becomes a really interesting take on the genre. Or maybe High Moon should stick to Vampires in the Old West.
About The Author
Based out of Toronto Ontario, Michael is a long time reviewer and columnist for Diehard Gamefan, as well as being one of our International Correspondents.