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Looking back on preview coverage from this and other sites, there seems to have been a lot of excitement from critics leading up to the release of Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Conspiracy. After playing through it from start to finish, though, it's hard to understand why. The Bourne Conspiracy is aggressively average, offering up an adaptation of The Bourne Identity that - while mostly enjoyable - fails to do anything that plenty of other games haven't already done better.
Oh, sure, it's stylish. If there's one area Conspiracy excels in, it's replicating the rapid, brutal pace of the Bourne films, with tightly directed interactive cutscenes and lightning-fast, visceral martial-arts action. As amnesiac super-assassin Jason Bourne, you'll constantly be thrust into ambushes, races against time and sudden, life-or-death quicktime events, all designed to keep you on your toes. But the polish starts to wear off when you realize just how repetitive it all is.
Let's start with the fistfights. Easily the best part of the game, these throwdowns are triggered whenever you get rushed by unarmed enemies, at which point you're forced to battle them one at a time, like in an old kung-fu movie. (This'll also happen whenever you meet a boss, or whenever you rush and disarm a gun-toting enemy - which can be a bad idea if his buddies still have their guns.) These look flashy, and the shaky camera gives them a satisfyingly brutal feel, but eventually the coolness wears off and you'll settle into an even ebb-and-flow of busting out simple, three-strike combos with two buttons, and then blocking while your opponent unleashes his own three-hitter. You can hold down a button to execute a powerful kick, too, but these only add so much.
The real fun comes from Takedowns, context-sensitive attacks that you can use once you've landed enough attacks to fill one of the bars on Jason's adrenaline meter. Tough enough to instantly destroy a lesser enemy (or up to three, if you've filled your meter enough) or deal serious damage to a boss, these cinematic moves will frequently use whatever you're standing next to, meaning you hurl enemies face-first into vending machines, the edges of desks or down flights of stairs. And if you see any glowing objects nearby, you can inch your way over to them, pick them up and use them to beat your opponent's face in.
True, you're not actually controlling these beatdowns - you just push a button to make them happen. But they still look awesome.
Some of your enemies can pull Takedowns off as well, at which point you'll be thrust into a brief quicktime event that - like all of the game's quicktime events - is telegraphed by a distinctive whistling noise. And once you know to listen for it, escaping a massive beatdown is as simple as getting ready to hit a single button - which, again, is all that most of the game's quicktime events require.
While it's the best part of the game, though, the hand-to-hand fighting is really there to provide a break from all the third-person shooting. You'll spend most of Conspiracy guiding Jason through linear environments, ducking behind cover points (a lot of which are destructible) and popping up to trade shots with a wide assortment of interchangeable goons. Sometimes they won't notice you (at which point it's possible to sneak up behind them and administer a stealth Takedown), but most of the time you'll be ducking hails of bullets, waiting for the right second to pop up and squeeze off a shot.
It's fun, but it's pretty bare-bones stuff, and it's nothing we haven't already seen in games like Dark Sector, Rainbow Six Vegas or Gears of War. Unlike those games, though, Conspiracy confines your arsenal to just two guns at a time - a pistol and a rifle-type weapon - with no grenades or other alternate weapons.
That's not to say you won't have an edge over your opponents, though; Jason can use his "Bourne sense" (which also slows time and reveals waypoints and weapons on the onscreen map) to see the outlines of enemies and automatically draw a bead on the nearest one. Also, build your adrenaline here and you'll be able to perform a long-range Takedown, which can safely and instantly kill up to three baddies in one burst. Your enemies will also frequently be dumb enough to cower behind cars, which can conveniently be turned into giant bombs with just a few shots.
Actually, your enemies are pretty dumb in general, and are almost as likely to stand out in the open, perfectly still, while they shoot at you as they are to run for cover. That said, they do tend to be excellent shots, able to shred your flimsy cover in a hurry. Even with Bourne's quick-to-regenerate health, you can expect a lot of frustrating, bullet-riddled deaths if you're not careful.
There are some highlights to all this, like a farmhouse level in which you'll need to guide Jason's love interest, Marie, to safety in the cellar by moving furniture to block the windows, thereby protecting her from a sniper known as The Professor. But these are rare, and are offset by levels in which the designers lazily created narrow paths by just strewing the ground with insurmountable knee-high obstacles.
There's also a driving level - that's right, just one - which you'll get to tear through late in the game, and which puts you in charge of escaping Parisian police in an indestructible Mini Cooper. Like with the rest of Conspiracy, it's entertaining, but there are plenty of games out there (*coughGTAcough*) that do it better. It's also got its share of inexplicable, artificial obstacles, like a tunnel that remains blocked until you've led the cops on a chase for a minute or so, at which point the truck that's blocking it decides to suddenly drive away.
Plotwise, Conspiracy is a Matt Damon-free adaptation of The Bourne Identity (the movie, not the book), which follows Bourne as he struggles to regain his memory and break away from the shadowy government agency that trained him. As it retells the story, Conspiracy spikes its narrative with flashbacks, which take over for the main story every time Jason sees something that triggers his memory. These original bits, which take the form of assassination missions in Jason's past, feature a few cool moments - like a savage battle in the belly of a cargo plane - and they pad out the game's runtime nicely. But they also make for jarring distractions from the central storyline, which can make things a bit confusing if you haven't already seen the movie.
As far as differences between the PS3 and 360 versions go, there really aren't any, except for one: the PS3 version requires a whopping 13-minute, 5GB installation. It's a minor irritation, but considering that the game isn't huge or particularly outstanding, it seems excessive.
For all its flaws, though, The Bourne Conspiracy is still a decent game - it just doesn't do enough to differentiate itself from all the other games like it. And while it's true that those games don't blend martial arts with duck-and-cover shooting, Conspiracy's approach to both of those things is just too shallow and repetitive. You could wring some fun out of this over a weekend, but - with GTA IV still reigning supreme and Metal Gear Solid 4 little more than a week away - why would you want to?
June 3, 2008
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