Bourne to lose

Action, but no thrills, in this Conspiracy
By MITCH KRPATA  |  June 10, 2008
1.5 1.5 Stars

DUCK AND COVER If only it were as much fun to play as it is to look at.

Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Conspiracy | for Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 | Rated T for Teen | Developed by High Moon Studios | Published by Sierra
The Bourne Conspiracy is a video game not directly based on the Bourne films starring Matt Damon — a fact its makers have taken great pains to obscure. The æsthetics and the attitude hew closely to the cinematic style defined by director Doug Liman in The Bourne Identity and perfected by Paul Greengrass in the two sequels. Bourne is an unflinching man of action, knocking heads with grim efficiency as he hurtles from one picturesque city to another in search of — well, whatever it is. There’s a plot in there somewhere, but the main purpose of the game is to showcase action scenes like the ones in the movies, and the result is a lot of fun to look at.

If only it were as much fun to play. “Play” may not even be the right word for much of what you do over the course of The Bourne Conspiracy. The game is unapologetic in its embrace of Quick Time Events — cinematic sequences in which you’re prompted to press a random button in order to advance. When done well in an action-adventure game, QTEs can expand your character’s repertoire of actions. When done poorly, as in The Bourne Conspiracy, they are your character’s repertoire. Oh sure, during fistfights you can choose between a quick strike and a hard strike, but the real money comes when you unleash a “takedown,” a context-sensitive move in which Bourne enlists nearby objects to bash some bad guy while you sit there and watch.

Fighting isn’t all you watch Bourne do. You also watch him shoot a whole bunch of people. For all the effort that must have gone into constructing the wealth of different takedowns in the game world, the design here seems to encourage gunplay instead. Much of that consists of crouching behind crates and blasting at brainless foes who can absorb upward of 10 bullets each without demonstrating any ill effects. It’s your typical current-gen duck-and-cover stuff, complete with exploding propane tanks and cars that blow up if you fire enough shots at their bumpers. Just as in real life!

Both gameplay types get repetitive enough that it’s almost a relief when a vehicular level appears. Usually that’s the Achilles’ heel of games in this genre. Racing through the streets of Paris in a Mini Cooper actually comes closest to giving you the experience of the Bourne films without making you feel you’re only watching one of them. Still, something doesn’t feel right about the cars’ weightless handling — once you master the emergency brake, it’s like driving a slot car.

In short, The Bourne Conspiracy has no ambition beyond resembling the films. Matt Damon decided not to contribute his voice and likeness to the game because he’d wanted it to be puzzle-based and cerebral, almost like Myst. How we laughed at poor naive Matt! Thing is, he was right. The Bourne Conspiracy could have been a much more interesting game if only it had aspired to be. Instead, it’s a joyless plod through the same drab airports, parking garages, and subway tunnels that always appear in games of this type. (Think of another movie tie-in, Stranglehold, whose star didn’t have the good sense to stay away.) Bourne’s espionage comes down to picking locks, which you accomplish by holding down a button for a few seconds, and ripping control panels out of walls. Is that all it takes to become a great spy these days?

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