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Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Conspiracy

Not to sound too Jerry Seinfeld, but what’s the deal with artificial barriers? It’s 2008. We have PlayStation 3s and Xbox 360s that can play high-definition DVDs, download full games off the Internet, save all of our games to massive internal hard drives, and, for some reason, we still encounter video games that think it’s a good idea to corral us through poorly designed levels with invisible barriers and knee-high rubble. It’s always a jarring experience when I’m playing a nearly photo-realistic game and I’m really into the illusion and it’s ruined for me as I crash my car into a magical invisible force field blocking a road.

I’ll give a lot of developer’s credit – they’re improving. The only reason I’m really bringing this up anyway is because it’s particularly problematic in The Bourne Conspiracy to the point that it inspired me to scrap my previous introduction and instead focus on this glaring defect instead. Don’t get me wrong: there are lots of other problems with this third-person fighting game, including its shallow combat, glitches, and short gameplay, but this problem stood out so much because it contrasted so much with both the high production values and the series on which the game is based so much that it hurt the game more than artificial barriers would most other games.

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We all know the Bourne series. The movies are mega-popular, and though this game is based on the books, you’re probably not interested in this game because of your love of the novels. The plot of the game is an unorganized mess and not nearly as interesting or entertaining as the movies. Most of the game takes place in flashbacks. Jason Bourne is still an amnesiac struggling to figure out what he did in his past. You basically play through his past missions as he recalls them in the present day, which is shown through cutscenes that are all style and no substance.

“The plot of the game is an unorganized mess and not nearly as interesting or entertaining as the movies.”All style and no substance is an appropriate way to describe the entire game, really. The plot does little more than give Bourne an excuse to be in Paris or Eastern Europe or the Mediterranean Sea where he’ll fight wave after wave of thugs on his way to assassinate some leader. While I was always led to believe that Bourne was a silent and efficient assassin, there’s not a whole lot of stealth in this adventure. You’ll trek through incredibly linear levels, moving like a rat through a maze from point A to point B fighting every goon in sight, regardless of the attention it attracts. Sure, there’s a time and a place for making a scene, but the developers seemed hell-bent on keeping you in combat for a majority of the six-hour experience. By the end of the first mission in the game, I was certain that I’d killed more goons than Bourne has in all of the movies combined.

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This would all be fine for me if the combat was actually decent, but there’s no depth to it. There are two attack buttons and you’ll spend the entire time mashing them as you fight the endless barrage of goons. There are no combos that you can really do. The only thing that I found exciting was the special attacks that you can perform after you land a certain number of hits and fill up Bourne’s “adrenaline meter.” With the press of a button, the game goes into a cinematic mode and you watch Bourne as he dispatches a foe in a particularly brutal manner. These are OK to watch, but I quickly found myself relying on it just because I didn’t want to actually fight anymore and I don’t think that was the intention.

Each fight also takes way, way too long. Bourne is supposed to be this super-awesome assassin, but for some reason, it takes him three minutes to dispatch a random goon guarding a dock. Yeah, I could sneak up on him and get a stealth kill or use an adrenaline attack to take out my target quickly, but a regular brawl with rent-a-goons takes way too much time.

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The developers also made a couple of really stupid design decisions that make fights a lot more complicated than they need to be. For starters, you can’t retreat from a battle once you’re engaged with a foe. You also can’t draw your gun after you’ve started hand-to-hand combat (which is triggered by simply getting close to them). You also can’t change your target. This is especially frustrating because when you approach a group of thugs, sometimes one will still be firing at you while you’re punching his friend. You can’t shift your focus to him, or pull out to shoot him, so you just stand there like a jackass getting shot full of bullets not able to do anything. And since you can’t retreat, you can’t back away to get into a better position and fire back. It’s just stupid to believe that a trained killer would let himself get shot or not use every weapon at his disposal to protect himself.

But don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all bad. I actually did enjoy a couple of levels. One, an escape from an embassy that will be familiar to fans of the film, was rather exciting. I just don’t think it’s good that the best level in an action game is the one where you do the least fighting, though. There were a lot of levels that I could have lived without. The first real mission of the game takes place on docks and I thought the entire battle just went on for way too long (though, there was one good boss fight in the middle of it). There was also a car chase through the streets of Paris that was incredibly boring and way, way too linear. This is where the artificial barriers really bugged me most. Invisible walls keep you from turning down side streets. That would be fine, but computer-controlled cars pull into and out of these roads, which in my mind led me to think that I should be able to go down them, too. The city was also extremely small and the whole level was so poor that it seemed to be included as an afterthought. And why on Earth it took me so long to complete, I’ll never know.

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As I’ve mentioned throughout this review, The Bourne Conspiracy does look very good. The motion capturing is very impressive and the outdoor levels on the streets of Europe also looked very realistic. I was also very impressed with the music in the game which really set a cinematic tone. But, I would have appreciated the aesthetics a lot more if I hadn’t been frustrated with the limited design of the rest of the game. It also didn’t help when I had to restart the game not once, but twice, because of broken scripts that failed to run. I really liked sitting there for five minutes waiting for something to happen only to check the FAQ to find out that something a script didn’t trigger.

“All style and no substance is an appropriate way to describe the entire game, really.”When you sit down and play The Bourne Conspiracy, you can feel that the developers wanted to make a cinematic game. They wanted you to be playing a movie and made design decisions to restrict you in a manner so that they could control the flow of the game to help create that experience. But that’s not what I want. I don’t want to be corralled through certain paths, limited in my decision making, or to be forced to play a game a certain way. Additionally, by taking that route, they ruin what they the source material as well for fans. The Bourne movies are all about Bourne responding in the heat of the moment. You never know what he’s going to encounter next, what decisions he’s going to need to make to survive. Not here. Since everything is so rigid, scripted, and planned, you know exactly what to expect and the magic is lost. While there are some positive moments, this is not the game that it should or could be.

5 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in February 2003.

Gentle persuasion

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