Delta One out.
At first glance, Jason Bourne does not appear to be much. Nonchalant wardrobe. Detached attitude. Above average build. Fair eyes. Short, clean-cut hair. Hands in pockets. Far from the luxury, the Armani suits, the state-of-the-art gadgetry, and the one-night stands of a James Bond superspy, he is an assassin who would walk past you on a sidewalk without any notice, who would need only a blink to tell whether you were a threat, who would break your collar bone in an instant, apologize in Swedish, and then continue walking as if nothing happened. Jason Bourne may not be elegant or refined, but that’s what makes him deadlier.
[image1]The Bourne Conspiracy does not appear to be much, either. Average shooter. Average beat-‘em-up. An over-reliance on quick-time events. Oversimplistic at times. Short. Linear. And worst yet, it’s based off a movie... how do you spell "disaster"? Yet despite all of its shortcomings, this reinterpretation of the critically acclaimed and popular movie series does justice to its cinematic brethren, and sets an example of how to make movie-based video games right.
Cutting to the essence of its silver screen counterpart, The Bourne Conspiracy captures the high-action sequences of The Bourne Identity without delving too far (or much at all) into the story. Each level either takes you through a sequence stripped straight from the movie or, created with the assistance of the movie’s screenwriter Tony Gilroy, a mission assigned to Bourne as a Treadstone agent prior to his amnesia.
As an interactive companion guide to the original script, the gameplay retains the borderline frantic, cat-and-mouse pace of the movie, excusing it for the lack of enlightenment into Bourne’s emotional and psychological states. No one needs to see Bourne brooding over his search for identity, and well, gut-wrenching soliloquies aren’t really the point. If there is any blunder the story makes, it’s that there aren’t enough cut-scenes for a person who hasn’t watched the movies to comfortably understand what the hell is going on, but most of the time, it’s not important.
All Jason Bourne needs to know is his next objective and his target – which is usually the way most action titles work. Shooting, sneaking, and pulverizing baddies from one goal to the next is linear almost to a fault, with pathways clearly blocked off by trucks, crates, and other solid objects that the “$30 million dollar weapon” Jason Bourne just can’t seem to jump over. It’s perfectly acceptable to have a straightforward concept, especially in paying homage to a straightforward film, but it wouldn’t have hurt if the paths were more varied and disguised.
In an effort to be approachable to even the most common moviegoer, the combat sacrifices a lot of depth and functionality to the point that Bourne doesn’t totally feel like the unstoppable force he’s supposed to be. With a standard third-person shooting scheme, you can carry one light firearm and one heavy firearm (but strangely not two of the same type), take cover along walls, crates, and most any flat surface, kill enemies with a hit to their head, and well, that’s pretty much it. It's simple, but it works.
Soldiers who manage to get close need to be handled with your fists in a side-view one-on-one brawler that shows off Bourne’s Kali-inspired martial art. Punches and kicks hit hard, with bodies keeling over and faces being mangled by the force of each blow. Grunts and pounding sound effects pair perfectly with the bruising and cuts that appear on character’s faces.
[image2]Bourne can also use takedowns, at the cost of one bar of adrenaline, that completely own regular grunts in one shot. The variety of takedowns is mind-boggling, most of which show Bourne incapacitating his assailant with nearby objects such as jukeboxes, neon signs, and air conditioners. And if there aren’t any objects in reach, he’ll perform a series of bone-breaking, foot-into-crotch martial strikes that would stop any man cold.
With such a high-impact system, though, it’s disappointing that the variety of moves is restricted to three-button combinations between a weak and strong attack, and two unblockable fierce attacks. For the movelist to rival Dynasty Warriors in selection is severely depressing, especially when Bourne should be able to perform grapples and submission holds, or at least be able to counter an enemy’s regular attacks with more skill than Altaïr. It’s strange that Bourne can parry only an enemy’s takedowns and can’t use weapons like a baton or a crowbar, when during a takedown against a baton-wielding enemy, he can force one out of his enemy’s hands and then, err..., use it. Now, his movelist doesn’t need to be and shouldn’t be as broad and overwhelming as those in Virtua Fighter, Tekken, or even Shenmue, but it should be at least more convincing if Bourne is supposedly an expert in close combat.
It’s even sillier that Bourne can’t just whip out his pistol at point-blank range and shoot. Whenever he’s engaged in melee combat, there’s no way to get into shooting mode without disposing of the attacker first. Enemies from afar will still shoot at him while he’s stuck flailing his arms and legs. Even more frustrating are quick-time events that force you to press a specific button within a certain frame; and not doing it in time often kills him. Over and over again.
That said, completing the game isn’t that demanding if you approach each situation with care. Even so, the odds are stacked in your favor. Crates with infinitely replenishing ammo are found everywhere. Checkpoints are frequent and usually conveniently placed. Not only will enemies refuse to gang up on you in melee combat, but you can hold down block to escape all of your enemy’s melee attacks. That's right, all. Winning a fist fight is simply a matter of patience. Furthermore, for a small hit to Bourne’s adrenaline bar, you can activate Bourne’s instinct, fading the world into black and white except for points of interest such as breakable objects, weapons, and a marker that shows you exactly where you’re supposed to go next.
But don’t be fooled into thinking that there’s nothing special about The Bourne Conspiracy. It’s rare to say this, because the cinematic direction of the shot is usually only appropriate during cut-scenes, but the camerawork is absolutely astounding. Transitioning between a behind-the-shoulder shooting schematic and a side-view Fight Night-esque brawler usually doesn’t happen as seamlessly as it does here. Also worth mentioning, the camera jitters about when Bourne is moving, as if a cameraman is running behind him. Yet the line of action is somehow always kept intact – a marvelous feat given that all of the camera angle changes could have been as erratic and vomit-inducing as those in the movies.
[image3]Complaints that the main campaign only spans eleven levels - one of which is strictly a boss fight and another which is an unexpected but throwaway car chase that mostly just has you to hold down the accelerator button - are valid. Still, on a level to level basis, no assets are recycled whatsoever. Let me repeat that in another way. Every level has a bevy of unique set pieces that you won’t find in any other level. Most of these details are hardly ever noticed - wall hangings, water reflections from puddles near a street sewer, the logo of a club, NPC conversations spoken in different languages - but they manage to create environments close to the real cities they are based upon. It’s enough to make you wonder whether the graphic artists are still punch drunk on Red Bull.
There may not be enough in The Bourne Conspiracy to make you completely believe you’re Jason Bourne, but there’s enough to make you feel like you’re in a Jason Bourne movie. Genuinely translating an action film is hardly done with as much effort as High Moon Studios has put into it. Although the combat suffers from a lack of refinement and complexity, it still keeps up with the vigorous pace and calculated intensity of Jason Bourne. Of course, I’m not going to tell him that he could be more sophisticated. Are you?