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Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Conspiracy

The Bourne movies have been a rare case in cinema history. Each movie has been progressively better received than the last, recognized and praised by critics as some of the best action movies in recent years. I always felt it odd that a series as linear as Bourne didn’t have a video game tie-in – after all, the plot revolves around a virtually superhuman assassin kicking the asses of other virtually superhuman assassins in a world tour of mystery and mayhem. Still, given the general status of movie games in our industry, it may have been a good thing that nobody cashed in on a Bourne game. It was with baited breath, then, that I plopped The Bourne Conspiracy into my 360 – after all, the pedigree of one of my favorite film series was on the line.

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“The stand-in does an admirable job – the character looks the part, and the voice actor doesn’t try to imitate Damon, opting for a different but perfectly acceptable tone.”Right off the bat, it’s clear that High Moon Studios tried their best to match the atmosphere from the movies. The cutscenes embody the same documentary-style camcorder look that the films used, and the music is lifted directly from them as well. It’s a little off-putting that this Bourne adventure comes sans Matt Damon, considering how every other element of the films made it into the game. However, the stand-in does an admirable job – the character looks the part, and the voice actor doesn’t try to imitate Damon, opting for a different but perfectly acceptable tone. Once fans have gotten used to the new Bourne, the rest becomes entirely familiar. Just like the agent on the silver screen, Conspiracy‘s Jason Bourne is a fast and deadly weapon. The game plays like a combination of Gears of War and Streets of Rage. While that may seem like a bizarre mixture, it certainly works, and the transitions between shooting and fighting keep the game fresh and exciting all the way through. There is a car chase scene which unfortunately doesn’t live up to the other two gameplay styles, but thankfully, it’s relatively short and nonetheless very exciting the first time through.

The game goes a bit beyond the films, however. Jason Bourne has passports and aliases from all around the globe, and players get the chance to play some of these missions in flashbacks. These levels, taking part during Bourne’s military-espionage days, are firearm heavy, and filled with head-on action scenes featuring Bourne running towards danger. This is a great contrast to the “present day” gameplay, which focuses on hand-to-hand combat during the time period where Bourne tries to avoid killing most of his opponents, and is running away from the government. This creates a decidedly cat and mouse progression of gameplay; one level you are the aggressor, and in the next, a victim. The strongest portions of the game are the hand-to-hand heavy levels, simply because they feel the most like scenes from the films. The combat engine is simple: by mixing light and heavy attacks, Bourne can perform combos on enemies and build up his adrenaline. With enough adrenaline, players can perform literally hundreds of finishing moves on foes. Every part of the environment is fair game for a unique set of animations, each one as brutal and exhilarating as the next. Whether Bourne is slamming people’s faces into computer monitors or kicking them down stairs, the game is extremely exciting, even though the actual control system is fairly simple. Don’t mistake simplicity for ease, however; even on the default difficulty, it’s easy to slip up. Jason doesn’t have very much health, and chase sequences often feature timers that add to the urgency of each level. Conspiracy is challenging, but when played right, it looks every bit as fast and tight as the movies.

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“If Metal Gear Solid bores you with its long cinemas, then Conspiracy will undoubtedly confuse you with its speed.”The campaign is fairly robust, but unfortunately, it lacks coherency. The Bourne Conspiracy assumes the player has seen all three movies, and skips over massive plot points that are, nonetheless, assumed to have happened later on in the game. It’s almost as if the developers were afraid to make anything other than an action game; while the fights and chases are nice and meaty, actual story cutscenes are few and far between. The pieces of plot that do appear in cutscenes barely scratch the surface of the actual goings on of the Bourne film saga, and feel rushed. If Metal Gear Solid bores you with its long cinemas, then Conspiracy will undoubtedly confuse you with its speed. Conspiracy captures the momentum of action perfectly, but unfortunately, it fails to display the drama and introspection that the movies were filled with. It’s a shame that the translation from movie to game left out these elements, but it’s still a marvel that the other pieces made it perfectly intact. If you’re familiar with the story, you won’t have any problems. Those who are new to the Bourne series will be totally confused.

“When using the adrenaline mode finishing moves, practically everything around the scuffle is an opportunity for a unique move.”Graphically, The Bourne Conspiracy is excellent. Since the game focuses so heavily on up-close melee fighting, the animation is impressive; the sheer variety of moves in the game is staggering. When using the adrenaline mode finishing moves, practically everything around the scuffle is an opportunity for a unique move. It’s admirable to see so much work put into spicing up such a simple mechanic, essentially masking the game’s blatant linearity by mixing up animations and situations. Jason Bourne himself looks fantastic, with expressive facial animation and fluid combat moves. Other characters are also nicely detailed, even though nobody from the films reprised their roles. Overall, the visuals are attractive, although a few ugly textures and lazily built models show up – the car chase is particularly unimpressive looking compared to the rest of the game. The sound design is just as good as the video end of the package, with John Powell’s memorable score used in perfect harmony with the onscreen action, and there are a few new tracks from famous trance musician Paul Oakenfold. Most of these songs fit well within the game, although a few shorter repetitive tracks grate on the nerves after a while. In the end, though, it’s clear that The Bourne Conspiracy received every bit of polish it needed before it went out of the door.

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It’s rare to see a movie game that is enjoyable in its own right. Even without the Bourne license, Conspiracy would be a great action game. It blends two totally different gameplay styles together and delivers them in quick, intense bursts. What it lacks in storytelling finesse it makes up for in genuinely entertaining gameplay, and it is clear that the audiovisual design was given proper treatment – rare for a licensed property. Considering the game is singleplayer only, it may be a tough sell to gamers who aren’t already fans of the Bourne trilogy, but they should definitely pick it up – and those who aren’t familiar with the series should at least check it out to observe the impressive mix of genres.

8 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in October 2006.

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