Reviewed: June 22, 2008
Released: June 3, 2008
Consider this. In 1973 you could rebuild a mangled astronaut with state-of-the-art bionics for the bargain price of $6 million dollars, so what can Jason Bourne do that Steve Austin cannot that justifies his $30 million dollar sticker price? It’s quite simple actually. Adjusting for 4.68% annual inflation since 1973, Steve Austin would cost $29,729,577.46 if you had to build him today. But wait…Jason isn’t part machine and he doesn’t have a nuclear power core so what does this super-spy really have?
Apparently, $30 million is what it costs to train the next generation of super-spy-assassin, master of hand-to-hand combat, sharpshooter, and a one-man fighting machine totally in touch with his keen senses of situational awareness and intuition. Created by Robert Ludlum for those who still read books, and brought to life on screen by Matt Damon in three action-packed movies, High Moon Studios has seamlessly blended the books with the original movie and created one of the more original and energetic games you’ll play this year.
Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Conspiracy is a mix of action, fighting, shooting, driving, and even a bit of exploration. It blends all of these genres into one of the most engaging cinematic games I’ve played in a long time. With relentless suspense and non-stop action, anyone who picks up the controller and starts to play this game will find it impossibly hard to stop. But when the experience is over you'll likely realize that the reason this game is so sweet is that the ratio of icing to cake is definitely in favor of the frosting.
The Bourne Conspiracy doesn’t require that you have read the books nor seen the movie, although it will certainly help you appreciate the game more if you have at least seen the first movie, which is basically what the story of the game covers. But even for fans of the film, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to see just how much the designers have incorporated into the gameplay and narrative.
First, you’ll get to play several flashback missions that allow you to experience Jason in his prime, before the amnesia. These missions are interspersed through the linear mission structure of the main story. The Bourne movie meets up with Jason as he is being rescued from the sea by a fishing boat after a failed assassination attempt that we only see in the film as brief flashbacks. You’ll actually get to play out that event as a full mission and find out exactly how Jason ended up in the water and on that fishing boat.
The game covers many of the films key locations and events including the embassy escape, the Paris car chase with the Mini Cooper, the apartment assassin battle, the encounter at the farm house, and the final battle at the Treadstone safehouse, but it also manages to change things up and add some surprises that will challenge gamers who think they know what to expect.
The action in The Bourne Conspiracy is a hybrid of weapons shooter and melee combat with a focus on the latter. Even when you are heavily armed there are certain encounters that will demand the use of your martial arts training. These start of simple enough with fast and slow, light and heavy, attacks that you can mix up for various combos. As you inflict and receive damage your 3-stage adrenaline meter will slowly fill allowing you to perform amazing feats of combat or marksmanship or even slow down traffic. Adrenaline also fuels your Bourne Instinct, which works a bit like Predator vision, allowing you to pick out enemies from a crowd or see environmental points of interest or even lock-on with a weapon.
Takedown moves are especially brutal and fun to watch, and if you can lure your opponent towards certain objects in the environment you can do contextual takedowns. The number of interactive elements in each of these fight situations is staggering, and even after playing some fights multiple times I am still finding new ways to inflict damage on my foes.
Melee and shooting takedowns all incorporate the use of quick reflexes by tapping the corresponding button, or sequence of buttons (God of War style). You’ll also need to input these buttons sequences to defend yourself against enemies who attempt their own takedowns. The buttons randomly change with each replay making it impossible to memorize the patterns or consult a strategy guide.
As the game progresses and the enemies and bosses get impossibly tough you’ll soon learn that you can only damage an opponent through an adrenaline attack. This means that fights, especially boss fights, become insufferably long and drawn out as you pummel them for no damage, but only to fill your blue adrenalin arc. And near the very end of the game the amount of damage the enemy inflicts on you versus the damage you do to them is totally unbalanced. And a word of warning for those who like fighting game and never use the block feature – get used to blocking a LOT.
There are several WOW moments in the game; usually the first time you see something new like a double or a triple takedown or your first shooting takedown, and the interactive environments always offer something new and unexpected. The designers tried to mix things up by including a driving level, which seemed a bit out of place. The Unreal engine is perfectly capable of accomodating vehicles, but for whatever reason it just didn’t work for the driving sequence and it felt like I was playing that old Midtown Madness game from the 90’s.
And for those who like to scour every inch of every level you’ll be rewarded with numerous passports hidden around the environments. Not only do these add to your achievements, they also unlock some cool behind-the-scenes extras in the rewards section.
If I had to sum up the graphics in Bourne in a single word that word would be “cinematic”. The game plays out like you are being followed by an actual cameraman with all sorts of unpredictable angles and zooms and intentional shakiness that really fuels the energy of the gameplay and combat. Surprisingly enough, with all of the camera spontaneity the view always managed to keep me and the focus of my attention in the shot so I was never fighting an off-screen opponent or running into the unknown.
Another advantage of the handheld camera style is that the action is covered at much closer angles, allowing for larger and more detailed character models and incredible fight animations that are fully realized when you start to slow things down with the use of adrenaline. And, as previously mentioned, you are able to interact, weaponize, and/or smash just about anything you can see thanks to the Unreal and PhysX engines.
The cutscenes are excellent, and it often looks like they borrowed clips from the movie, but everything is CG and blends perfectly with the gameplay graphics and presentation style. The motion-capture work is perhaps the best we’ve seen in a video game to date. High Moon even went as far as getting the original fight choreographer from the movies to use as their motion-capture fight double. You’ve never seen moves this real or this deadly. You and your friends will literally cheer and groan as you watch these painful beatings unfold on screen.
I’ve heard complaints that Jason doesn’t look or sound like Matt Damon, but it was never the intention to remake the movies. This game is based on the literary works of Robert Ludlam and I was perfectly happy with the look of this Jason as well as the voice actor who portrayed him. In fact, all of the voice actors turned in convincing and very professional performances that really delivered on the cutscenes and crucial in-game moments.
Sound effects are also excellent including various and realistic weapon sounds, but the most painful effects in the game are the brutal sounds you’ll hear as you break bones and smash up the surrounding environments during melee combat. Glass shatters, wood splinters, marble cracks and breaks, fires crackle, and explosions are thunderous. Bourne opted for the FMOD sound system rather than a Dolby Digital mix. I have no complaints with the sound immersion or 3D effects, and the game is THX certified.
The soundtrack is equally amazing and totally cinematic and with contributions from Paul Oakenfold, what more could you ask for? This game gives off the same energetic vibe as the movies and totally carries the cinematic action and gameplay, especially in those sneaky stealth moments.
The Bourne Conspiracy offers no multiplayer – not really sure how it could – and there is little replayability assuming you found all the passports on your first pass. There are 49 Achievements and about 30 of them can be earned on a single trip through the game on normal difficulty. The Assassin mode is insanely hard. I started playing in this mode and gave up about halfway through when the game just got ridiculously difficult.
There are some fun and difficult challenges required to earn some of the achievements, like finishing off 200 guys with takedowns or finishing a level without using any takedowns, or how about finishing three missions with 90% or greater targeting accuracy. Many of these you’ll do naturally while others require a concentrated effort.
Bourne will take 10-12 hours to finish on normal and probably twice that on Assassin just from the sheer difficulty and having to repeat not only boss fights but even simple encounters that are painfully unfair and require more luck than strategy. The game checkpoints itself, but these aren’t always in the best place and are often stretched too far apart forcing you to replay long stretches of the game. At least the gameplay and combat unfolds differently each time, so replaying these sections isn’t as much of a chore as it is in other games.
I fell in love with The Bourne Conspiracy the moment I finished the 3-stage demo that showed up on Xbox Live a few weeks before the game shipped. I knew I had to play this game. If you enjoyed the demo then rest assured that the full game is a whole lot more of the same, only with more intense action and brutal combat. Sadly, the shooting elements of the game are implemented rather poorly with the exception of shooting takedowns, and the driving game stuck in the middle is out of place and not that much fun, but you know they just had to try - it was such a huge part of the movie.
And sure, all that fighting gets a bit repetitive after awhile, especially if you try to finish the game in two or three sessions, but compared to other fighting games, Bourne really does a great job of mixing things up and keeping the combat fresh and as inventive as you want to make it. High Moon had some really great ideas and most of them got successfully implemented in what I can only hope is the first of many forthcoming Bourne adventures.