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Platform

Playstation 3

 

Genre

Action

 

Publisher

Sierra

 

Developer

High Noon Studios

 

ESRB

T (Teen)

 

Released

June 3, 2008

 

 

- Excellent production values all around

- Seamless transitions from ranged to melee combat

- Builds up the Bourne universe instead of ruining it

 

 

- Occasional clipping/camera issues

- Limited replayability

 

 

Review: Uncharted: Drake's Fortune (PS3)

Review: Ninja Gaiden Sigma (PS3)

Review: Dynasty Warriors: Gundam (PS3)

 

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Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Conspiracy

Score: 8.5 / 10

 

One of best action movies series to appear in the last ten years has been the big screen version of Robert Ludlum's Bourne novels, giving us good old-fashioned spy thriller action while keeping things relevant to the present day.  The character of Jason Bourne was complex enough in the Cold War-era novels, and the films breathed new life into him after Tony Gilroy gave him a post-9/11 surveillance society flavor.  With a hagiography like that, and the generally disappointing track record of games based even loosely on movies, one would think that High Moon Studios would be absolutely crazy to try and bring Jason Bourne to the consoles.  This time, the skeptics are wrong.  High Moon's The Bourne Conspiracy moves with the speed and violence of its title character and accomplishes its mission with excellent results.

 

bourne conspiracy          the bourne conspiracy

 

The Bourne Conspiracy is at once a game retelling of The Bourne Identity and a detailed prequel that probably could be adapted into a standalone novel of its own.  High Moon Studios didn't approach the game with anything resembling apathy or frenzied panic.  The developers went all out and got in touch with Tony Gilroy (screenwriter for the three Bourne films), Eric Van Lustbader (the novelist who continued Bourne's adventures in print), and Robert Ludlum's estate to bring 

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all the action and intensity of the movies with as much of the character nuances as they could pack in.  For those of you looking to play Matt Damon's version of Bourne, prepare to be pleasantly disappointed.  None of the actors from the three films are present here, nor are their likenesses present, which helps get the player into the mindset 

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of playing as Jason Bourne, not playing as Matt Damon playing Jason Bourne.  High Moon's rendition of the character is a bit harder edged, a little more scarred physically and mentally, and yet remains recognizable as the amnesiac assassin on the run from his Treadstone handlers.

 

Between iconic moments from the novels and films, such as the escape from the American Embassy and the bone crunching showdown between Bourne and Castel in Bourne's Paris apartment, The Bourne Conspiracy gives us a series of missions which help flesh out the character and lead us up to the moment where Bourne goes for his little swim in the Mediterranean Sea after failing to kill the exiled dictator Wombosi.  It's a study in contrasts which help pull the player into the game.  Flipping between Bourne the amnesiac and Bourne the assassin makes for great playing, giving us the motivation to see what happens next.  In this regard, The Bourne Conspiracy manages to accomplish the seemingly paradoxical task of fusing the frantic pace of the movies with the page turning "just one more chapter" magnetism of the novels.

 

bourne conspiracy          bourne conspiracy

 

Visually speaking, the game does quite well.  High Moon takes the current Unreal engine, drops it into the PS3, and delivers character models that are expressive and highly detailed, vehicle models that feel perfectly accurate for the settings they inhabit, and all manner of neat little lighting tricks, which add to the cinematic feel of the game.  Capturing the explosive style of handheld camera work which has become a signature of the films would seem to be a hellishly difficult task for a video game engine, but High Moon pulls it off nicely, keeping up with the character when moving through a level and capturing the flashes of devastating violence when Bourne neutralizes an opponent, both with his hands or one of the numerous firearms in the game.  There are a few clipping problems here and there, and the camera can get a bit wonky when the characters are pushed up against a wall with the camera rotated a certain way, but these are minor problems which don't cause a persistent issue in the game.  (There may be some technofetishists who will grumble at the fact that the game only supports a 720p HD video output.  It's a detail of infinitesimal importance and does not detract from the game in any way that I was able to observe.)

 

Equally impressive is the game's sound and music.  Weapons fire sounds accurate, right down to the clink of brass on the floor or ground, ambient sounds are very well done, explosions are properly booming, it's just not really possible to fault the game on the sound effects side of things.  High Moon made a very wise choice, in my opinion, by taking John Powell's music score from The Bourne Identity and getting assistance from both Powell and trance/electronica artist Paul Oakenfold.  The result is a musical score, which connects you to the films but stands on its own as an excellent piece of scoring.  Like any good musical score, it sits in the background just beyond the level of consciousness and helps guide the moods of the game as it changes from silently tense to rip-roaringly lethal.

 

As was mentioned before, no actors from the movies were used in the game for voice work.  That suits the game just perfectly.  Rather than try to imitate the taut and powerful performances from actors like Matt Damon and Chris Collins, the voice actors here are focused entirely on bringing their interpretations of the characters to life, and they nail the beats of the character arcs dead-on.  Character dialog doesn't feel stiff or forced in the slightest, and a good chunk of it is not only entertaining but also useful to the player to help remain focused on the immediate and long term objectives of the mission.  While the goons, terrorists, and spooks of the game don't generally have many distinctive lines, it's still worth standing around from time to time just to hear some of the long conversation pieces that help flavor the game.  After all, hearing inept guards talking about the trail of destruction you've wreaked is unquestionably a boost to the ego.

 

borne conspiracy          bourne conspiracy

 

The Bourne Conspiracy sits at the right hand to the gold standard of run-and-gun spy games: GoldenEye.  For a single player game, it delivers the goods.  The character is not only recognizable but exceedingly personable.  The situations are sufficiently death-defying to keep our interest and our adrenaline levels up, yet they're also frighteningly plausible for the most part.  Admittedly, this game takes some decidedly cinematic liberties when it comes to boss battles, but that's the point.  This game, more than any other, deserves to be called "cinematic" with the amount of work High Moon has put in and the level of detail they've gone for.

 

Bourne can carry one pistol weapon and one two-handed rifle or shotgun.  Though that particular formula has been around since Halo, here it makes a considerable amount of sense.  Firefights are tense affairs at pretty much any range, and the attention to detail for environment damage is incredible.  Boxes break open, glass shatters, potted plants fall away, and targets suffer injury commensurate with the bullets that hit them.  Even more startling, to my mind, is the way that firearms are employed in the environment.  Long-range work really does require a rifle, though a pistol can work in a pinch, which shotguns and sub-machineguns are best employed in close quarters.  You never run into a case where you're hunting for the biggest gun.  But when the bullets run out, or enemies get too close, dropping into hand-to-hand combat is absolutely seamless.

 

There's no action button you have to use to switch out from ranged to hand fighting, you just move in and do it.  Chaining attacks into three move combos is effective, but it's equally possible to use single attacks to get an opponent to drop their guard long enough to start whaling away on them.

 

Boss fights can be grueling affairs, and you can get your head handed to you quickly if you're careless, but they're dramatic and never so challenging as to make you think it's impossible to beat your opponent.  Whether itís ranged or hand fighting, context is absolutely key.  Cars and other objects can be made to explode with predictable results for anybody caught too close to the blast.  Copy machines, doors, ship bulkheads, desks, bars, refrigerators, neon signs, anything can be used to painful effect when you're working with your hands.

 

Takedown moves can be fiendishly inventive and make use of your surroundings in numerous entertaining ways.  And for anybody who thought that Jason Bourne was a badass for taking on a knife-wielding assassin with a ballpoint pen, there are opportunities to duplicate that move and others like it with special objects laying around during the boss battles.  The Bourne Conspiracy makes heavy use of quick action sequences similar to what you find in God of War, and it's a system that works just as well here, whether it's avoiding a bomb primed to explode or countering a boss character's takedown attempt.

 

For all it does right, there are a few shortcomings in terms of gameplay.  Controller sensitivity is adjustable, but it takes some time to find the sweet spot between fast enough to bring a weapon to bear on a target and steady enough to let you take your shot.  The game is relatively short and replayability is somewhat limited; a matter of finding all of the secret passports in the game to unlock all the bonus content goodies will keep most heavy-duty players going only about 20 hours or so depending on the level of difficulty.  I would have liked to see a few more usable items for takedowns, not only in the boss battles but against the thugs along the way.  And while multiplayer might have been a neat addition (a la Goldeneye), I think High Moon made the right call by not putting it in there.

 

For a first attempt at an established franchise, The Bourne Conspiracy makes good on its promises and gives us the chance to become the perfect weapon.  Code in and get ready for the ride.

 

- Axel Cushing

(June 3, 2008)

 

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