The Bourne Conspiracy Hands-On Preview (Xbox 360, PS3)

The fate of a fourth “Jason Bourne” film may hang in the balance after the third and final Robert Ludlum-penned novel featuring the agile super spy was adapted for the silver screen. But the adventure is poised to continue videogame form via an all-new story presented by Bourne theatrical screenwriter Tony Gilroy, Ludlum Entertainment and game developer High Moon Studios in Sierra Entertainment’s upcoming summer release The Bourne Conspiracy on Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.

The Bourne Conspiracy story is a fusion of events from the first Bourne novel and film, The Bourne Identity, and Gilroy’s newly penned storyline. It begins two days before Jason Bourne is left for dead floating in the Mediterranean Sea with the receipt of ongoing instructions to eliminate targets from Bourne’s operator via an earpiece, and progresses through the events that forever changed Bourne’s life by stealing his memory.

Familiarization with the in-game HUD map and special “Bourne Instinct” mode is required in order to progress through any level, be it the first or last. Bourne Instinct is achieved easily via a single button tap that slows down the action on-screen, highlights enemy targets, highlights points of interest within the currently occupied space, and adds markers to the map of the next checkpoint to reach. Fortunately Bourne Instinct is not capped to hinder locating points of interest at any time.

First and foremost The Bourne Conspiracy is an action game with the majority of gameplay time spent partaking in either hand-to-hand or gunplay combat. Other elements such as evading pursuers, beating the clock to reach a checkpoint, completing context-sensitive button pushes, and driving through the streets of Paris (not available in my preview build) offer some combat relief. Ultimately, Jason Bourne spends the majority of his time fighting for his life, and High Moon Studios has effectively mixed up Bourne’s fighting options within each level so neither treads in staleness.

When engaging in hand-to-hand combat, the camera angle switches from a typical third-person behind-the-back and over-the-head perspective to a more cinematic side-by-side view best described as resembling a boxing or fighting game. There is no way to exit a fight or avoid entering one should an opponent be within a close enough proximity to trigger it.

Only fast or heavy attacks and blocks are available to use in hand-to-hand combat, with many combos achievable through mixing up use of the heavy and fast attack buttons. Stronger chargeable attacks are available by holding the fast or heavy buttons for approximately two seconds, but leaves Bourne defenseless during the charging process.

Differentiating hand-to-hand combat in The Bourne Conspiracy from legions of similar games is an adrenaline/takedown feature for finishing off an opponent. Adrenaline builds into a three-tiered meter as you connect blows, with each tier allowing for one takedown. The meter lets you know when you’re clear to execute a takedown, which turns into a pre-animated move that slams the victim into the closest object to inflict damage. One such forced hand-to-hand moment sees Bourne toss multiple opponents down an escalator with the takedown move, only because I was within the escalator’s proximity when activating it. Another moment allowed me to take out three opponents in a single “move” because my adrenaline meter was full and the opportunity presented itself. In the case of boss characters, upwards of five or more takedowns are required to put them out of their misery.

Takedowns also apply to gunplay where the addition of a single context sensitive button push will see Bourne aim his weapon and take out the targeted bad guy with a single shot. This feature comes in handy when available cover is non-existent, limited to destructible crates or signage, or limited to cars the opposing gunmen can explode with well-placed gunfire resulting in fricassee of Bourne.

The in-game engine cinematic camera angles featured in takedowns, hand-to-hand combat and context-sensitive button pushing situations embedded within cut-scenes (don’t take a bathroom break!) work to emulate the feeling of playing within a movie for the most part. There are times when duking it out with an opponent the camera will swing directly over the bout, making it hard to maintain a rhythm with blocking and attacking.

Whether this camera move is intentional to jack up the difficulty is debatable, but the inclusion of Bourne film shaky cam-style moments are not. The passing of a train, explosions, rocking of a boat and other environmental effects will make targeting an enemy harder than remembering to take out the garbage every week.

The downside to the cinematic view in hand-to-hand combat is you’re relegated to fighting a single opponent at a time, regardless of how many are on the screen. In cases where a small army is ready to take you on, the others stand around in a circle like they’re at Fight Club placing bets. Only when your current opponent is dropped does the next come in to take his place, save for a rare cheap shot when your back is turned to someone standing behind you.

Being locked in hand-to-hand combat can also result in a swift unavoidable death if a nearby enemy is armed with any type of a gun. They can literally walk right up next to you and fire away while you’re stuck bloodying your fist on his mate. This only happened twice in about 3 hours of gameplay, but was highly irritating when it did surface.

My preview build unfortunately ended before having a chance to drive the Mini Cooper through Paris in a high-speed chase ala The Bourne Identity. But it did end in style. Bourne was tasked with assassinating a target who escaped into an airport after being freed from captivity. The chase begins in a parking garage, then moves into a terminal, down to a tram station, through a moving tram, onto the tarmac, and finally onto an escaping cargo plane. The level ends in an extremely tough hand-to-hand match with the target who brandishes a knife and moves a lot faster than any previous combatant. I’m dieing to know where Bourne ends up next.

Curiosity is a big reason why playing within the world of Jason Bourne is so much fun. You never know when the new Conspiracy story is going to weave into The Bourne Identity story or what familiar characters will enter Bourne’s life.

What The Bourne Conspiracy lacks in brains it makes up for in brawn, at least for those who love a *lot* of action in their games. Just don’t expect to be figuring out puzzles or unraveling a mystery first-hand. Stepping into the shoes of Jason Bourne is all about kicking ass, taking names, and then kicking some more.

– Dan Bradley

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