Impressions: The Bourne Conspiracy

Illustration for article titled Impressions: The Bourne Conspiracy

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.

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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.

Illustration for article titled Impressions: The Bourne Conspiracy

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.

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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.

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Illustration for article titled Impressions: The Bourne Conspiracy

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.

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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.

DISCUSSION

Chances
Chances

This entire post is based on playing the DEMO of the game - I did not blow money on buying or renting this thing. This post is actually a Frankenpost - two of my posts from the PA forums that I clipped up for here. It's the longest Kotaku post I've ever made and I apologize for its near-offensive length.

I wanted to like this demo so much. I told myself it's been years since a decent movie-to-game game (Enter the Matrix), and the combat in that one was wicked fun! You sprint up to an inept guard, give him a quick kick to the pistol and bring your foot back across his face in one smooth motion, then smack him twice, uppercut him into the air and jumpkick him away. Maybe this one can be good too...

I'm not asking for matrix-style combat in a Bourne game, but the combat in this game... bloody sucks. The takedowns always look awesome - they're beautiful. But having to pull off 4 incredibly boring and repetitive combos to get to do one is just... sucky.

The gunfighting is awful. "Let's take the behind the shoulder tank-like controls of RE4 and a rudimentary cover system like they had in that Gears of War game..." in theory is a sound idea. In execution, not so much. The two reasons I hated the shooting level:

(1) The cover system in GTA IV is better. Let that roll over on your brain for a second: GTA did shooting better than this.

(2) So I accidentally get too close to a dude while a bunch are shooting at me. Bourne automatically disarms him and locks on for some truly mediocre fisticuffs. Unfortunately, there are still a few guys standing around who aren't disarmed, and because there is no way to change my target or disengage from the hand-to-hand with this dude, I have to hope I can get off three or four of those combos so I can do a takedown before his three friends shoot me in the head. (I can't.) Maybe I'm off base here and there is some way to disengage combat, but I couldn't find it. Eugh.

By this point I was prepared to not even try the driving. I don't think we had any expectation that the driving in this game be truly awesome - just acceptable.

Whatever - the combat and the shooting are not acceptable. Maybe GTA IV (which did so much so well) has spoiled me for other games. Do you hear me, Bourne Conspiracy?! All you had to do right was combat and shooting - and they both suck!

Yes, the best thing about the game (though not, perhaps, the movies) is the awesome and brutal takedowns. But the pain of getting to these wicked mini-cutscenes isn't fun.

EtM works because it gave you so much freedom in how you take down the group of enemies. Bourne doesn't seem to give you any choices. Bourne goes here, does that, and then this. "What if I want to try this-" THAT IS NOT WHAT HAPPENS! Bourne goes here, does that and then this! So you better sit there and like it! It tries too hard to be the movie (though I hear they tried to ignore the movies and reference the books), and ends up being neither a watchable movie (oop! quicktime event - better try that two more times to see what happens next!) nor a decent game.

Good call comparing it to Dragon's Lair. But in Dragon's Lair's defense it stuck to QTEs and didn't have an awful combat system.

The running was alright - it gave you a real sense of momentum. But be honest - weren't you disappointed when it starts up and Bourne does an awesome disarm on the first guard, it goes into the game and you discover you don't actually have control over any of Bourne's awesome moves? You can tell him to attack, you can tell him to block, you can tell him when to do a takedown. But you can't write your own little awesome scene of choreographed violence - the devs have choreographed everything they want already, and you have to let them show you the good shit when they're good and ready.

I say go one step further. If the whole game was only quick time events of slamming people's heads into various objects and running around, that woulda' been acceptable. Not great, but acceptable. When you take a beloved property like Bourne, give it beautiful graphics and mediocre gameplay, it's not acceptable. It's a real goddamned piss-off.