The Bourne Conspiracy” promises gamers the chance to be Jason Bourne, but it’s more like the chance to see Jason Bourne and push a few buttons along the way. Developer High Moon Studios did a phenomenal job capturing the look and feel of the “Bourne” books and movies — everything from the fighting moves to the camera work to the overall mood. But too many of the best moments are almost entirely out of players’ control in this heavily scripted and disappointingly unresponsive game. Add in a number of technical glitches, and “The Bourne Conspiracy” will end up being only lightly pursued.
The game tracks the plot of “The Bourne Identity,” but adds in a number of past missions via flashback to flesh things out to around 15 hours of play time. Some flashbacks, such as Bourne’s assassination attempt on a boat that landed him nearly dead in the Mediterranean at the beginning of the film, add depth. But others have no connection to the main plot and only confuse the throughline.
Though Matt Damon didn’t lend his voice or likeness to the main character, the game nails most of the films’ best elements. That’s particularly the case in fights, where Bourne and his adversaries engage in martial arts brawls in a variety of styles designed by the films’ fight director Jeff Imada and translated with stunning visual fidelity. Sound effects are intense, and the camera shakes close in just like Paul Greengrass’ in the last two movies, but without ever making it difficult for players to see what they’re doing. If there were an award for cinematography in a videogame, “The Bourne Conspiracy” would be a lock.
Awesome production values aren’t enough in an interactive medium, however. Control-wise, “Bourne” is a frustratingly sluggish affair. Though the U.S. government’s perfect weapon has an impressive array of fighting moves, pulling them off is a chore, since the game doesn’t respond reliably to player input. Shooting is similarly frustrating, since Bourne is barely mobile with his gun drawn and players can’t see where he is aiming when he takes cover.
In either case, the action really comes alive only when players build up enough adrenaline to pull off one of Bourne’s signature takedowns. These include throwing an enemy into a glass table, taking out three guys at once with a brutal series of hits or bringing down a target with one perfectly aimed shot. The more creative takedowns are exhilarating, though seeing Bourne pound an enemy’s head into whatever’s nearby may eventually lose its appeal for some.
Pulling off awesome moves with a single button just isn’t that rewarding, however, and it’s a recurring problem in this vidgame. A number of the most exciting sequences, including sniper shooting, fast-paced foot chases and diving to avoid enemy fire, rely on the game taking total control and the player just pushing a button that appears onscreen to keep the action going. Too often, it feels like High Moon was more interested in animating action scenes than making a game.
The only level that avoids this problem is a car chase sequence in Paris. Game artfully re-creates the experience of avoiding police on congested streets and almost never takes control out of the player’s hands. Instead, the player can use Bourne’s adrenaline to slow down the action and drive precisely through otherwise unavoidable obstacles.
“The Bourne Conspiracy’s” physical world is just as restricted as the action, giving players almost no choice in where to go and at what pace. Jason Bourne may be the ultimate fighting machine, but altering his path by stepping over a velvet rope is apparently beyond his abilities.