Note: This is excerpted from a review I attempted to write, but pulled back as I didn't complete the game. Some of you asked if I was willing to share my opinion of the game anyway. Last week, Brian reminded me of the strict conditions we have to do a full review, which are as much to protect the site's credibility as the writer's. But he also said that impressions are still fair game if the game hasn't been completed. I haven't, probably won't and with that caveat, here are some thoughts on The Bourne Conspiracy. It is not a full review and it's a month after the game's release. Take it for what you will.
Off the bat I wanted to like High Moon Studio's The Bourne Conspiracy because it was a movie adaptation, but released about a year after the most recent film. That meant someone decided to do this game for a reason other than the obligatory game adaptation. And though it lacks Matt Damon's likeness (gameplay Bourne more resembles Rob Lowe, cutscene Bourne is huskier), by itself that doesn't deep six a good concept.
The game is touted as becoming Jason Bourne - a man who knows neither his identity or his past, only his present, and his capacity for killing others within that present. That kind of immersion is an ambitious goal, and the game doesn't quite get there. It never felt like my goal was to piece together Jason Bourne's past, or even inhabit his persona. In the end it's an action game with a story that doesn't get in the way, but no a-ha moment where you transform from just a guy with guns and deadly hands into someone truly special.
Where this game shines is in its hand-to-hand combat. The "takedown" is the game's showpiece, and most everything in your combat is geared to triggering it. You earn one after filling an "adrenaline meter" to a certain point (or more, to take out multiple enemies). Then by slamming a button, you get to watch a very entertaining cutscene in which you take a part your foe, and there's nothing they can do about it. By the time you get into your fights, you have so much hostility welled up that slamming someone's head into the edge of a toilet is eminently cathartic. The game will improvise flawlessly with the available environment.
Unfortunately, as you wade through bad guy after bad guy, you get to a point where you just want the combat over. It then becomes a process of executing three combos, throwing up a block, and combo-blocking until you finally get the magic button that puts an end to what are typically overly long encounters with minor foes. Rarely was I able to string together more than four combos, and the devastating kicks require plenty of lead time, you'll rarely use them on tougher settings where your assailants are faster.
The takedown conditions you in other ways too; your enemies can perform a takedown, and you'll notice one's coming when a certain sound rings in your ears and the screen slows down. Then you have a simple one-button task to parry or reverse the attack. This same procedure is repeated for certain cutscene cinematics. In other words, you really shouldn't put your controller down and watch at any point, because you never know when you'll be called to hit the correct button (it always changes) and get your ass out of trouble. I could have stood to see these button cues a little more complicated, to be honest.
But the game has seriously flawed gunplay mechanics. There's no other word for it. It's abysmal. If you are a highly-skilled FPS or third-person free-aimer, you might have less of a complaint than I do. But whatever your skill level, this game is least fun when a gun is in your hands. The game encourages you to use your "Bourne Instinct" - a non-bullet time spider sense - to find your targets, but it is not a true lock-on, unless your target is stationary. Also, at higher levels, you drain "adrenaline" using this. Ambushes will require you to run it out completely.
The lack of weapon variety also hurts the game. You can carry a handgun and a long arm, but I never sensed any difference in weapon types beyond rate of fire. There's no incentive to scan your environment for a particularly deadly rifle or a sidearm with pure stopping power. There are also no melee weapons nor grenades, which I suppose is not entirely necessary for this genre, but would be great at breaking up the repetition of the combat.
I played midway through on Agent setting, then again partway on trainee, getting roadblocked each time at Vilnius trying to take out the tank. Controller-throwing fits. Am I a bad gamer? Is this a bad video game? Both are probably unfair characterizations. It's not good enough for a complete review, but I made the decision that suffering through that round for another 20 deaths spread over an hour would not change my impression that The Bourne Conspiracy is a novel concept for a linear shooter that accomplishes one thing well, and is hamstrung by the rest of its controls. Lots of folks have said this is a great rental, not a great purchase. That's a pretty fair grade.