The Bourne Conspiracy Review - 19/08/08

Probably not the strongest licence you'd ever find, but a good premise for a decent action game nonetheless. Does that convert to the gameplay or is it another case of tie-in terror?

This is separate from the books and indeed the movie, despite featuring Robert Ludlum's name in the title to make the game sound a lot posher than it is. Sort of a hybrid, this is the kind of thing EA would churn out stamped with Ian Fleming's Bond franchise in a Pierce Brosnan-like chiselled overcloak. It looks very good, and first impressions are great, despite not sporting the oft confused-looking stylings of Matt Damon. Don't get me wrong, the main character here also looks like he's in a midlife crisis, rather appropriately under the circumstances, but the game doesn't try too hard to live up to the licence in that it's more of a general action game than any sort of tie-in. With that said, it corresponds with the first movie and features some of the plot elements in there. Bourne fans will be able to enjoy it as an accompaniment to that, but then may well argue that without Matt Damon there's little point in it being based on Bourne at all.

The biggest and best feature is the combat system. The game is exclusively single-player so you would expect a nicely robust engine and Sierra and developer High Moon Studios have delivered. It won't be everyone's idea of a rip-roaringly fun action game, using quicktime events to simulate the heaviest hitting moves in combat, but once you pick up the pad it's damn good fun! You get basic punch and kick attacks and blocks, and after stringing them together you can whip out a special move which interacts very impressively with the scenery. Sticking an enemy's head into an electric light, throwing them off buildings, putting them through windows, destroying the environment with their pure body mass all frequently feature in combat situations. Buttons flash up on screen to signal when you need to intervene in these special attacks. Miss the window and the enemy can counter. Bosses and stronger grunts are able to perform these moves on you too, and again, you can counter if you press the event button indicated quickly enough.

Bourne had even forgotten he had lasers for eyes!

The adrenaline bar which fuels these special attacks also works for ranged weaponry. Simply shooting guards fills it up and eventually allows you to pull off one-hit-kill moves on anyone in range. The adrenaline bar is tiered, so if you save more up you can use it to despatch more enemies in spectacular multi-faceted moves that really look like something straight out of the films. The game fits in well with the ethos of the name, with action-packed, fast-cutting and scripted scenes, linked in with pacey combat sections. While the hand-to-hand stuff is far more enthralling than the shooting, it gets tired after a few levels, while still encouraging you to use adrenaline to see the different scenery interactions. You end up longing to use adrenaline just to get fights over with quicker in fact.

The problem is that while these sections are initially very fun indeed, showing off both the flashy graphics of the Unreal Engine and the games tightly choreographed moves, they get old rather too quickly. It almost feels as though they should have made this into a third-person, 3D beat 'em up. The hand-to-hand combat is great, but gets bogged down by fiddly controls and unnecessary mechanics. For example, the cover system is passable, but ultimately flawed and unnecessary (most of the things you can cover behind can be destroyed almost instantly). The shooting, while relatively enjoyable to begin with, gets tiresome fast and really, you'll find yourself sprinting at enemies just to get into the hand-to-hand stuff again.

Driving sections break up the combat.

Frustratingly you can be shot by other enemies while in hand-to-hand combat, despite the camera shifting rather coolly to show off the close-up detail on characters' faces and the great fighting animation. Of course, this is realistic, but then again we are running through dozens of enemies and absorbing multiple bullets in the process without taking death-encouraging amounts of damage. Punchy thuds accompany close-quarters combat, as well as shudderingly effective bone-breaking noises.

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High Moon Studios