Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Identity was one of the most thrilling movies to grace the silver screen in the past few years. It simplified the story from the novel quite a bit but it still managed to retain the central premise of a government killer gone rogue. However the movie cleaves out a lot of the back-story and generally simplifies the story to the point that even the most ADHD college frat boys could follow it. With this in mind you would think that the game, which draws more from the movie than novel, would have no problem translating the movies story. Well my friends you would be wrong.
It's not that the game couldn't tell a very interesting story. This is one of the better modern day spy stories even in its stripped down form. However the narrative is far too jumpy and focuses on all the neato things that Bourne did before the present day. So you spend lots of time killing arms dealers and other such undesirables while shooting up lots of grunts who get in your way. However you spend almost no time in the modern day which is where the story happens. The end result is a jumpy narrative that focuses on everything except for the interesting story.
When the main storyline does show up it is almost like a side story with how abrupt and heavy handedly it moves all over the place. Perhaps the developers didn't want to spend too much time on story and lose those who are only here for the combat. However this doesn't entirely seem to be the case either. Anyone who has seen the movies knows that Jason Bourne is a certified badass in combat. Watching him beat someone's head in with his bare hands and a book or pen is a sight to behold and this is going to be one of the biggest draws to play this game. So why exactly did they choose to make you spend at least 85% of the game gun fighting with grunts?
Let's talk about the details for a moment. When you manage to get into hand-to-hand combat you have two attack buttons, a light and heavy attack that can be mixed up to create a number of combos used to bash your foes in. As you take people out you will slowly but steadily build up an Adrenaline meter that can be used to perform Takedowns. These can range from a flurry of blows that leave your foe with a broken arm and leg to environmental Takedowns where you smash a foes face into a wall, busting it up. These are a sight to behold and are the highlight of the game.
Just don't get too used to seeing them. Throughout the game there are approximately two levels devoted to hand-to-hand combat and it pops up rarely the rest of the time. The rest of the time is spent in levels that are essentially extended gunfights that leave it feel like you're playing Gears of War more than what is really a spy story.
This is where the game truly begins to falter; the gunplay is just pretty horrible. The cover system works fine, which is great in those sections of the game that involve you running from enemies, but shooting from cover is an exercise in frustration. When you pop out of cover your targeting reticule is never where you might expect. In most cover based games when you come out of cover the position of your reticule can usually be guessed at. Not so in the Bourne Conspiracy, expect the unexpected. Generally this means that you will have to hop out from cover, adjust your aim, hope the enemy doesn't move while you heal up from being shot to heck and then jump out and try to take them out. It's neither fun nor thrilling, it's ponderous and annoying.
If the challenge was that enemies were smart then it wouldn't be so annoying but they aren't. Enemies move around just enough to cause you to miss a lot, have enough health to be bullet sponges and be a nuisance. The only way to really fight most enemies is with a headshot since that only requires a single shot to kill anyone. The problem with this is that trying for head shots while dealing with the spotty aiming is incredibly frustrating and generally will leave you missing more than is comfortable.
There are a few shining points within the game. The American Embassy level anyone who saw the movie should be familiar with is a blast. Running through hailstorms of bullets, hiding from soldiers, running from snipers and trying to escape the lockdown is all incredibly thrilling. However these levels are too few and far between and they're counterpointed by some truly bad levels. For example the Paris chase scene is just really bad. It controls like a go kart and putters all over the place. There are a few times in almost any level where you will have fun but this level is just pure annoyance and they tend to go on for far too long.
Moving away from the negatives the graphics are top notch if not exactly stellar. While the lip synching is pretty bad the game controls fluidly, you never have any frame rate issues and it runs smooth as butter. Even better is many of the levels are destructible so while you hide behind a pillar in the middle of a huge gunfight you can watch the concrete blow up and chip away under the hailstorm. While the graphics aren't the greatest on next-gen consoles, consistant frame rates are far more important than uber graphics.
The audio is just as good as the graphics. The voice acting is all pretty well done even if Bourne only gets a dozen or so lines. Plus if you listen carefully you can pick out a few more popular voice actors like Steven Jay Blum. All of the weapons, especially the automatic weapons, sound and feel pretty realistic. Their retort can be felt through the television. One thing you may not notice at first is the rather subdued soundtrack. It's there but it's very easy to miss since it's so soft and low which is a shame. There's some pretty good music to be heard that almost always fits the theme of the stage you're in.
When buying the Bourne Conspiracy you have to be aware of what you're dealing with. If you're like myself and are expecting a huge game of awesome hand-to-hand combat you will be disappointed. However if you understand what this game really is and how it doesn't really innovate all that much you will enjoy yourself just fine. Worst case it's worth a rental at least, a fun game that just so happens to be really rough around the edges.