It’s safe to say most consumers’ first, if not only, exposure to Jason Bourne was the series of Bourne films starring Matt Damon. Sure, Robert Ludlum may have written a few novels, but Hollywood reigns supreme when it comes to mass-media action, and, well, Matt Damon’s version of Jason Bourne is 100 percent action. With that in mind, it’s a bit disconcerting to fire up The Bourne Conspiracy for the first time on the good ol’ next-gen console, because Jason Bourne is (gasp) not Matt Damon. However, that doesn’t mean Jason Bourne as he appears in The Bourne Conspiracy is any less of a badass. In fact, he may even be more of one.
The story presented by theatrical screenwriter Tony Gilroy marries elements from the first Bourne novel and film (The Bourne Identity) yet still places gamers in a world where new adventures await. This provides numerous opportunities to explore “old favorite” moments such as the high-speed car chase while still allowing events and situations that are penned with an interactive game in mind. From what we’ve played, the formula is succeeding rather well.
As strong as the story seems so far, our hands-on time with The Bourne Conspiracy does show some gameplay work lies ahead. For instance, considering he’s a $30 million weapon, Jason Bourne is decidedly inept when it comes to guns, at least at this stage in development. Targeting can be a bit challenging for console-bred gamers, as the aim-assist is either non-existent or minor at best, and the enemies seem to be either bullet sponges or made of Kevlar. Fortunately, there’s still time to fix the aiming and bullet sensitivity.
On the other hand, this may have been a deliberate move on the part of Sierra and High Moon Studios, as the hand-to-hand combat in The Bourne Supremacy is a blast. In many respects, The Bourne Conspiracy takes a page from the playbooks of many traditional fighting games. Success with the game’s melee combat lies in switching between heavy attacks and fast attacks, a staple of the fighting genre, while attacks can be “charged” by holding the fast or heavy buttons for a few seconds, leaving Bourne prone for a while but deadly if unharmed.
But the biggest fighting-game similarity is by far the inclusion of “finishing moves,” which are available once players fill up one or more of Jason Bourne’s adrenaline meters. These meters fill with adrenaline as you dole out punches, and any time you fill one of the three, you can unleash a devastating takedown. These finishing moves involve everything from environmental kills to nasty mano-a-mano takedowns, and they have a certain rewarding feel not unlike what we all felt when we first “Finished Him” in Mortal Kombat. Each meter allows for one kill, so if you’ve amassed adrenaline in all three, Bourne can be a particular badass in a room full of enemies. Takedowns also apply to weapons, with Bourne able to take out an enemy with a single shot, a useful feature when Bourne finds himself in a room without much cover.
The only real downer with this fighting-game similarity is that the camera angle changes when you enter a fight from behind-the-back to a view that’s next to Jason Bourne. This is a cinematic move and makes The Bourne Conspiracy “feel” like a fighter, but it’s also one that draws you out of the game as you regain your bearings with each camera swing. In addition, Bourne is “locked in” to a given fight once one starts with given enemy, leaving him prone to attacks from surrounding foes. There’s also no way to pull out your weapon if desperate, which feels a bit forced. If the developers really want to free gamers to be as powerful as Jason Bourne, giving a bit more literal freedom would be nice.
Another minor annoyance is the inclusion of combat-themed minigames such as timed button-press sequences to have Bourne block a punch or fire an extra round. These can be great crutches in battle, but failure can also mean massive damage or death. I’ve never been a big fan of forced button-press sequences, whether in a Spider-Man game or Heavenly Sword or God of War, and I don’t like them here, either. If the purpose of the game is to immerse me in the world (and life) of Jason Bourne, why yank me back out with a reminder that “hey, dude, you’re playing a game. Hit A, now!”?
But much like Jason Bourne’s own adventure to discover his identity, The Bourne Conspiracy is a work in progress. The preview build we’ve played is just that, a preview build, and High Moon Studios still has time to work out the kinks and do some playtesting. The foundation they’ve laid with The Bourne Conspiracy is certainly strong, but there’s still some work ahead to make the game live up to its obvious potential. Here’s hoping they can do it, because if all goes well, this could be the one Bourne experience that makes consumers forget all about Matt Damon. Well, male consumers, anyway.
— Jonas Allen