Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Conspiracy Review for Xbox 360 (X360)

Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Conspiracy Review for Xbox 360 (X360)

A Lesson in How to Treat a Licensed IP

When dissecting a character, it’s important to zero-in on the important parts and cut away the extraneous portions that have more to do with subjective preference rather than what makes the protagonist unique. Jason Bourne’s traits – a keen awareness of his surroundings, fine tuned combat abilities, and constant drive toward an objective – are what make him an identifiable character. This all makes Bourne a perfect video game candidate for the action genre.

Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Conspiracy screenshot

Bourne is quite a traveler – his career (so far) has spanned five books and three movies. The temptation would be to make a movie-based game following one or more of the cinematic offerings. The Bourne Conspiracy takes a hybrid approach. Putting you in control of Bourne, you play out extended parts of the first movie along with flashback levels that flesh out Bourne’s career as a lone assassin. This back-and-forth approach to storytelling allows for more gameplay possibilities (for instance, you get to see some of Bourne’s shady top secret work before the failed assassination in The Bourne Identity), and gives the protagonist a more well-rounded feel.

It’s necessary to view each level in the game as a mission. There is always a goal at hand, and the linearity of the levels play to this fact. The HUD is very minimal, and the one constant is the radar – you always have a bead on where you need to go next, and rarely will you be walking – the game has a dedicated sprint button (similar to holding down the action button in Gears of War) that you will find yourself pressing a majority of the time. Playing on the objective-based nature of the game’s design, the other mechanical constant is the Bourne Instinct button. Pressing it drops a sepia-like tint over the screen and illuminates key items with glowing colors as well highlighting the newest way point on your radar.

Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Conspiracy screenshot

The game’s action component is split into three sections: hand-to-hand combat, gunplay, and driving. The first is the most fleshed out. By running near any enemy, Bourne will engage in a brawl. If the enemy has a weapon, running close enough disarms them and starts the fighting sequence. Keeping things simple, the hand-to-hand mechanics boil down to three buttons: a light and heavy attack, as well as blocking. This makes combat a rhythmic affair – there are no combos to learn; you wait for your turn when the enemy seems open and proceed to deal out the hurt. Standard attacks are punch-based, while holding down the same button unleashes a kick.

Hand-to-hand combat is when you’ll first encounter the game’s hyped “takedown system.” Takedowns correspond to your adrenaline meter (which has three tiers). By pressing the appropriate button, Bourne will start a takedown. These animations are quite visceral as well as environmentally sensitive – initiate a takedown near a book, and Bourne will slam it into an opponent’s face; stand near a pen, and Bourne will jam it in their hand. If you’re not standing near any key objects, Bourne will pummel the bad guy with a quick combo. Takedowns not only garner more damage, but also help you regain health – a nice bonus. However, even with the impressive visual nature of the takedowns (it takes a while to see them repeat) they become a crutch for the game’s fighting system. After a while, you may feel like you’re just mashing on the basic attacks until you have enough adrenaline to initiate a takedown.

Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Conspiracy screenshot

From the shooting sections it’s obvious to spot the game’s use of the Unreal Engine. By pressing the action button, Bourne can bind to a piece of cover and proceed to pop out to deliver a few rounds. Consequently, cover is absolutely essential – if you stay out in the open during a gunfight, you won’t last very long. If you use Bourne Instinct while in aiming mode, Bourne will initiate a semi-auto lock-on and direct the targeting reticule to the nearest enemy. This is a nice feature, but occasionally it doesn’t work right. It seems to work better on stationary enemies hiding behind or near cover, rather than mobile ones. Perhaps the biggest problem with gunplay is hit detection. While it’s not necessarily off, it seems the hit boxes aren’t balanced. In true FPS fashion, a head shot is an instant kill, but shoot a baddie anywhere else, and they seem to take an entire clip before they go down.

Driving is where the game trips up. Running just one level long, the Mini Cooper race through narrow city streets is a messy affair. The controls for this portion definitely have a tight, arcade-like feel, so you rarely have to hit the brake – its pedal to the metal the whole way through. The goals are simple: avoid the police and make it from one way point to next. It almost plays like a cross between a cop chase and a rally racer. All this runs along at an enjoyable pace until you hit your first car – the Cooper slams to a dead stop and suddenly three cop cars box you into an area. There’s a potential for this portion to be a fun addition, but it feels like a thrown-in extra.

The game has its fair share of quirks. For instance, Bourne can’t vault over cover or objects. This comes off as strange considering he’s a highly trained government agent. It’s understandable in a sense – the developers have a set path they’re funneling you through – but it also can be a little silly. During the airport level, you’ll notice a series of tiny travel bags block your path. Instead of vaulting over, you have to run entirely around them. Also, the synthesis of the game’s mechanics can sometimes falter. Going from hand-to-hand to shooting works well, but it’s odd you can’t decide to opt out of hand-to-hand and pull out your gun – once you’re locked into a fist fight, you’ve got to finish on those terms. Enemies will wait their turn to attack, but sometimes their compatriots further across the screen will opt to shoot you, and there’s no way to dodge their fire because you’re engaged in a knuckle brawl.

Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Conspiracy screenshot

A core element of the game is the use of Quick Time Events (QTE). QTEs rarely catch you off guard – before each one, you’ll hear a whistle sound to denote its triggering. The most pervasive way they are used is to advance important level segments. Sometimes, this simply requires pushing one or two buttons to advance Bourne over a rooftop, while other times, you’ll be pressing several buttons in successive order to pull off a daring escape. Obviously, you’ll trip up from time-to-time, and the game is gracious with its fail system. Fail a QTE that’s not too important, and you simply take damage (for example, when an enemy tries a takedown on you), but mess up on a significant one, and it’s back to the last checkpoint. Thankfully, the game is liberal with its doling out of checkpoints, and aside from one or two levels (such as the Zurich airport), rarely will you find yourself thrown too far back in the level.

The game has detailed character models, maintains a smooth framerate, and has great lighting effects. These are all enhanced by the dynamic camera – it shakes when Bourne is taking fire and quickly zooms in-and-out during fights. The development team has replicated the feeling of having a Handycam constantly with Bourne. It’s too bad the two versions of the game don’t compete on a level playing field – the 360 version comes out on top, with the PS3 falling behind. Not only does the PS3 version require a 5 gig hard drive install (which doesn’t make it load any faster than its 360 cousin), but it has a lower maximum resolution (only 720p version versus 1080p on the 360) and suffers from a look that’s a little rougher around the edges. Pairing with the video, the sound production comes off quite well. All the action details – explosions, gunfire, cracking bones, etc. – sound great. Conversely, the voice acting gets the job done, but feels a little forced for some of the characters.

Bourne’s adventure, while action-packed, can be completed in one or two sittings. Weighing in a bit shy of five hours, it’s not a lengthy affair. To keep players coming back, there are the obvious achievements (called accomplishments on the PS3) as well as hidden passports. Collecting these unlocks concept art, pre-rendered cinemas, music tracks, and the ability to replay boss battles. Beating the game on a different difficulty unlocks a set of cheat codes that do things like swap out manual for automatic weapons.

By breaking all the assumptions that normally come with a movie-based license (such as using the film’s actors and pushing to do a simultaneous game-film release) High Moon Studios has crafted a solid action game.

High Moon Studios has put the Unreal Engine 3 to good effect. It’s a shame the PS3 version runs a few clips below its 360 counterpart. 4.3 Control
Targeting can occasionally go amiss, and it’s a shame that the developers didn’t include the option to move from one piece of cover to another. Otherwise, it’s a responsive and tight control set. 4.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The soundtrack, explosions, and ancillary sound effects are first-rate. The voice work, while good, feels a little off for certain characters. 3.9 Play Value
While the main game is rather short, and there are no multiplayer options, the unlockables should encourage some players to hop on for a second go-round. 4.0 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.

Game Features:

  • This thriller combines the depth of spy novels with the aggressive style of action blockbusters.
  • Action-packed original missions and sequences inspired by The Bourne Identity.
  • Sequences seamlessly blend shooting with hand-to-hand combat.
  • Pull off heart-pounding escapes, memorable fight moves, acrobatic gun play, and devastating takedowns.
  • Employ signature techniques to weaponry; improvise and you’ll always survive.
  • Screen Resolution: Up to 1080p (Full HDTV, Widescreen).

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