Last week, a US$30 million weapon made a transition from movie trilogy hero to video game star. Sierra Entertainment has now given gamers a “license to kill” with its newest release, “Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Conspiracy.”
Action, adventure, intrigue, deception and violence litter the Bourne landscape; sadly, though, this new edition to the franchise is ultimately one more mindless regurgitation of already overused gameplay elements. There is little to distinguish it from others in the action genre besides its premise.
If you’ve seen any of the movies in the Jason Bourne series, the game’s plot line will come as no shock. It begins with Bourne floating face-down in the Mediterranean Sea. However, “Conspiracy” does more than simply retell the movie. It actually begins with the back-story — events leading up to his attempt to assassinate an African dictator named Wombosi, which resulted in his watery near-death. This is accomplished through the use of flashbacks and cutscenes that are sometimes playable.
The blurring of past and present in “Conspiracy’s” gameplay coincides perfectly with Jason Bourne’s amnesia and eventual “malfunction.”
Because the story has already been developed, the combat aspect of “Conspiracy” is where we see (or don’t see, in some cases) the most freedom. Jason Bourne is, first and foremost, a weapon, and this is clearly represented within the combat system. Nowhere in the game is violence and brutality more evident than in the takedown system.
The in-game health meter also contains an adrenaline gauge. When Bourne strikes opponents, the gauge records adrenaline level increases, and different sections of the meter are filled. When any one of the three sections is filled, Bourne can unleash a powerful takedown that will kill, incapacitate or seriously injure his opponents. When all three bars of adrenaline are filled, Bourne can unleash his violent “Treadstone” training on multiple enemies, and his combo fighting style turns into a precise sequence of timed button inputs.
When Bourne is close enough to real objects in his environment, he will use them in any way possible to injure his enemies. From bashing someone’s face in with a book to stabbing someone repeatedly with a pen, there are endless interactive variations available in the “Conspiracy” environment.
Other than the innovative takedown system, though, combat can get repetitive. Normal combat consists of blocking and stringing together combinations of punches and kicks. Although enemies learn which combos are used more often and adjust to defend against them, Jason Bourne is still reduced to a maximum of three punches per combo.
Based on the difficulty level you’re playing on, the combat can become either impossible or really a joke. At higher difficulties, enemies exploit every gap in each attack and pummel Jason into the ground. When I played on this setting, the most common thing I saw was the reload menu, so players beware!
The shooting aspect of the game needs serious improvement. The targeting sensor displayed on the screen is a small white dot and, while Jason will normally shoot at that exact spot, fluidity of movement is lacking. The execution-style shooting takedowns are graphically beautiful and entertaining, but engaging multiple enemies from long distances seems futile.
Sierra’s attempt at redeeming this ranged combat difficulty is to let the gamer activate the so-called Bourne Instinct. This allows Jason Bourne to cycle through his enemies and actually move the targeting sensor. Although it’s a serious necessity for gameplay, I found myself overusing the Bourne Instinct and kept it active most of the time.
On the other hand, the Bourne Instinct allows the gamer to see important objects, objectives, and enemies on the GPS locator at the bottom of the screen. This very easily allows the player to create a stealthier Bourne who can sneak up on enemies.
Camera angles play a huge role in the fighting system and general gameplay of “The Bourne Conspiracy.” The player has the option of placing the camera over Jason’s right or left shoulder — those are the only options available. There is little freedom to move the camera, which can sometimes cause you to miss important weapons on the ground or that enemy hiding behind a wall.
Because of the lack of camera mobility, I spent most of the game watching cutscenes or staring at Jason Bourne’s back as he runs through parking lots or crowded streets. A first-person camera option would have been incredible, and, coupled with the use of the Bourne Instinct, it could have created a more realistic and lifelike experience.
When I think about “The Bourne Identity” as a movie, I immediately think about the car chase in Marie’s Mini Cooper through the streets of Paris. Sierra’s re-creation of this in “The Bourne Conspiracy” has its pros and cons. Most notably, the graphics are visually stunning and realistic. The Mini Cooper itself looks exactly like the Mini Cooper from the movie, complete with peace stickers and clothes in the backseat.
The cons, however, outweigh the pros significantly. The steering was the first thing I noticed when I started driving. The stereotypical “go-kart” handling of the Mini Cooper has been taken to the extreme. Making a 90-degree turn at 90 miles an hour is no longer impossible. Over-steering is incredibly common, and I shortly got used to ending up completely turned around in the wrong direction.
Unbeknownst to the real world, the Mini Cooper has also been turned into a tank. Regardless of how many police cars hit you at full speed or how many building you plow through, the Mini Cooper remains relatively unscathed. Driving ability did not decrease with car damage, and no one flew headfirst out of the car when I hit a wall at 75 miles an hour.
Like the combat experience in “Conspiracy,” driving gets large benefits from using the Bourne Instinct. When activated, the world slows down to a standstill.
After we’ve avoided police and sped through Parisian streets, Sierra gives us one of the most impressive interactive cutscenes in the game. Similar to the execution of a complex takedown, this cutscene asks us to execute a series of button commands to help avoid trucks, tankers and dangerous one-way tunnels.
This game accomplishes exactly what it intended to do. While still remaining true to the movies and books, it adds an interactive combat element.
However, the lack of freedom in the development of the storyline and the forced interaction and style of fighting create a locked and inflexible gameplay experience. The ranged combat and driving aspects of “The Bourne Conspiracy” aren’t on par with other action/adventure games.
The visuals are irrefutably awesome, but if what you are looking for is a purely interactive and uninhibited action game, this is not the choice for you.