|System: PS3, X360||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Hugh Noon Studios||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Vivendi / Sierra||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: June 3, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Teen||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Jason Lauritzen
When dissecting a character, it's important to zero-in on the important parts and cut away the extraneous portions that have more to do with subjective preference rather than what makes the protagonist unique. Jason Bourne's traits - a keen awareness of his surroundings, fine tuned combat abilities, and constant drive toward an objective - are what make him an identifiable character. This all makes Bourne a perfect video game candidate for the action genre.
Bourne is quite a traveler - his career (so far) has spanned five books and three movies. The temptation would be to make a movie-based game following one or more of the cinematic offerings. The Bourne Conspiracy takes a hybrid approach. Putting you in control of Bourne, you play out extended parts of the first movie along with flashback levels that flesh out Bourne's career as a lone assassin. This back-and-forth approach to storytelling allows for more gameplay possibilities (for instance, you get to see some of Bourne's shady top secret work before the failed assassination in The Bourne Identity), and gives the protagonist a more well-rounded feel.
It's necessary to view each level in the game as a mission. There is always a goal at hand, and the linearity of the levels play to this fact. The HUD is very minimal, and the one constant is the radar - you always have a bead on where you need to go next, and rarely will you be walking - the game has a dedicated sprint button (similar to holding down the action button in Gears of War) that you will find yourself pressing a majority of the time. Playing on the objective-based nature of the game's design, the other mechanical constant is the Bourne Instinct button. Pressing it drops a sepia-like tint over the screen and illuminates key items with glowing colors as well highlighting the newest way point on your radar.
The game's action component is split into three sections: hand-to-hand combat, gunplay, and driving. The first is the most fleshed out. By running near any enemy, Bourne will engage in a brawl. If the enemy has a weapon, running close enough disarms them and starts the fighting sequence. Keeping things simple, the hand-to-hand mechanics boil down to three buttons: a light and heavy attack, as well as blocking. This makes combat a rhythmic affair - there are no combos to learn; you wait for your turn when the enemy seems open and proceed to deal out the hurt. Standard attacks are punch-based, while holding down the same button unleashes a kick.
Hand-to-hand combat is when you'll first encounter the game's hyped "takedown system." Takedowns correspond to your adrenaline meter (which has three tiers). By pressing the appropriate button, Bourne will start a takedown. These animations are quite visceral as well as environmentally sensitive - initiate a takedown near a book, and Bourne will slam it into an opponent's face; stand near a pen, and Bourne will jam it in their hand. If you're not standing near any key objects, Bourne will pummel the bad guy with a quick combo. Takedowns not only garner more damage, but also help you regain health - a nice bonus. However, even with the impressive visual nature of the takedowns (it takes a while to see them repeat) they become a crutch for the game's fighting system. After a while, you may feel like you're just mashing on the basic attacks until you have enough adrenaline to initiate a takedown.
From the shooting sections it's obvious to spot the game's use of the Unreal Engine. By pressing the action button, Bourne can bind to a piece of cover and proceed to pop out to deliver a few rounds. Consequently, cover is absolutely essential - if you stay out in the open during a gunfight, you won't last very long. If you use Bourne Instinct while in aiming mode, Bourne will initiate a semi-auto lock-on and direct the targeting reticule to the nearest enemy. This is a nice feature, but occasionally it doesn't work right. It seems to work better on stationary enemies hiding behind or near cover, rather than mobile ones. Perhaps the biggest problem with gunplay is hit detection. While it's not necessarily off, it seems the hit boxes aren't balanced. In true FPS fashion, a head shot is an instant kill, but shoot a baddie anywhere else, and they seem to take an entire clip before they go down.
Driving is where the game trips up. Running just one level long, the Mini Cooper race through narrow city streets is a messy affair. The controls for this portion definitely have a tight, arcade-like feel, so you rarely have to hit the brake - its pedal to the metal the whole way through. The goals are simple: avoid the police and make it from one way point to next. It almost plays like a cross between a cop chase and a rally racer. All this runs along at an enjoyable pace until you hit your first car - the Cooper slams to a dead stop and suddenly three cop cars box you into an area. There's a potential for this portion to be a fun addition, but it feels like a thrown-in extra.