I'm late to the Bourne party; I shied away from the books and from the movies. I can't quite remember the reason, but about three weeks prior to getting my review copy of the game this Saturday I sat down and watched all three Bourne movies, one per day, until I'd kind of caught up. I figured that it might better help me get a tag on the game, so I also read one of the Bourne books and yeah, those are different compared to the movies just as the game is different compared to the movie: the Bourne Identity.
The Bourne Conspiracy fills in some of the film gaps and gives you a chance to become Jason Bourne, the malfunctioning 30 million dollar human weapon. An assassin for a mysterious agency deep inside the US government nicknamed: Treadstone. If you're familiar with the movie then you'll know that Bourne wakes up on a fishing boat with no idea of what he's done and what he's capable of. He can speak several languages fluently and he hasn't got a clue of who he might be. He just has a Swiss bank account number embedded in a laser device in his leg.
The game takes a turn from that and gives you the events that lead up to Bourne's eventual discovery and allows you to find out what Jason did, before he ended up in the drink and on the run from everyone, everywhere.
There are three distinct gameplay types prevalent in Bourne. Third person shooting, hand to hand and a single, fairly long, driving section set around the events of the infamous Mini car chase in Paris. The third person section of the game is the most prevalent and runs through the majority of the story, but it's not all about shooting, at times (just like Bourne) you'll be running away from a superior force and only using hand to hand as a last resort when you're trapped and running out of options.
In the 'escape' sections, you'll be against a timer and the pressure really mounts as you use Bourne's 'instinct' to navigate the corridors of the infamous Embassy escape and so on. When shooting, Bourne has access to the expected tricks of a third person shooter, there's a little bit of stealth if you're clever enough, you can do takedowns and you can use headshots with a silenced pistol to eliminate enemies in earlier sections of the game.
The Bourne Instinct gives you a highlighted view of enemies, environmental hazards and allows you to lock onto targets that you normally might not perceive. Using these special tricks allows you to eliminate enemies quickly, efficiently and most importantly with style. Bourne can swap out his own weapons for enemy ones, if there's no ammo crate around and if push comes to shove, the game switches you into the brutal hand to hand combat system if you get close to an enemy with a gun.
As you're shooting and battling, you'll build up an adrenaline meter on the right hand side of your HUD. You can store up to three bars of this and it can be used in a variety of ways, from sprinting takedowns to full on three way takedowns, where you're given a quick series of buttons to press to eliminate your foes in quick and violent succession. These quick-time events pop up now and then and you'll be notified by the game, as a sound plays just before the first button appears. Be ready to press the corresponding one to avoid some in-game element and once again, these are integrated seamlessly and never seem out of place.
Worked into the hand to hand combat system, are environmental takedowns too. These are often used in boss fights against tough enemies and can be the only way to defeat them, smashing a hapless foe into a fire extinguisher, or smashing a TV off their head. The game allows you to use almost any surface in one of Bourne's movie-style trademark takedowns, and it's extremely visceral and satisfying. Watch out for enemies and bosses using takedowns on you as well, you're given a quick-time button to press to avoid it and reverse the move if you're successful.
The strength of the Bourne game is in the presentation, it's slick, cinematic third person action at its finest with numerous set pieces from the movie and bone jarring knuckle bleeding fights, the combat system is easy to learn and rewarding as Jason Bourne uses skill and power to beat his foes. It has numerous hidden little tricks, like being able to use an enemy to block a foe's bullets taking him out of the fight with a quick tap of a button. If you're under enemy fire in hand to hand, build up some adrenaline and press B, you'll find Bourne uses the bad guy as a human shield in some way and rolls out of harm's way, great stuff.
There are firearm takedowns as well, with enough adrenaline; Bourne can dispatch multiple foes from a distance in a series of cinematic takedowns. The driving section can take a little getting used to, the controls are more arcade than anything and the emphasis is definitely on using quick-time events to escape set situations, Bourne Instinct to slow down time to pull off sneaky escapes and driving moves. Again, most of these are against a timer and once you get the hang of the driving system, like the hand to hand and third person shooting, it's a fairly satisfying experience.
The controls are well thought out, there's no blind fire option, but you can peek over cover and so on. In hand to hand, the combat system doesn't suffer from complication, its straight forward and various button presses lead to impressive attacks. It's all about timing and not just button bashing either. Enemies vary in intelligence and sometimes they might do something stupid, but, overall the AI in Bourne is a decent enough challenge with the foes providing capable opponents in hand to hand and shooting.
The graphics of the game are excellent; Bourne looks the part being based on Jason from the books since Matt Damon cried out of doing the game due to issues with the amount of violence. I didn't miss Damon at all and the game's Bourne is the one I prefer compared to the movie version now. There's enough eye candy in the game, a solid physics system and some excellent animation, with the star of the show being Bourne's takedowns and violent finishing moves. The level design is pretty inspired and the pace is frenetic from section to section, with very little time to catch your breath before something happens, someone comes after Bourne or you run against a timer as in the Embassy Lockdown sequence.
The sound effects are spot on, the weapons sound effective and the music is scored by Paul Oakenfold, who provides a perfect counterpoint to the movie soundtrack and gives a great sense of drama to every piece in the game. The signature Bourne theme is there and ramped up for some of the game's more stunning moments. Even the voice work is decent and the lines are delivered with precision. Bourne sounds like the emotionless machine he is, evolving over the course of the game as he learns more and more about himself.
If I were to pick faults with the game, I'd say that it's too short. I managed to complete it in around 8 hours or so of play, and there's no real reward for extended play. This is a game you should get if you're a fan of the movies and you're looking for some more backstory, you might also want to pick it up if you want to see a smooth combination of cutting edge combat, animation and stunning set pieces that are a joy to watch as well as play. There are no noticeable glitches and game's frame-rate, combat, shooting all ran smoothly, load times were acceptable and it's a fun game.