Nick's Gaming Blog

Retro Review, Reminisce, Relevance: The Bourne Conspiracy

Once again, I’ve taken it upon myself to create another series of posts that I will likely never continue. If I recall my track record to this point, I have yet to follow up any categorization of a post with a second entry. Actually, to be more honest, many of my posts probably fall into the same vein, but due to the time between posts, I have failed to recall just what the original series was called.

Reflecting on The Bourne Conspiracy

It happens all too frequently; an above average game, not one set for surefire greatness or “top ten” lists at the end of the year, not one set to find itself bracketed in “Platinum Games” cover art, simply disappear. Oftentimes the publisher simply doesn’t send a second shipment, wanting to run away with its minimal gain or pulling even. The game may have merit of some sort; a fantastic graphics engine, an innovation in gaming physics, an inspired design aesthetic, or an unparalleled story to tell. But because reviews were short of unbridled praise, and copies failed to fly off supplier’s shelves, these titles were fated to live on in the obscurity of “bargain bins.” The Bourne Conspiracy is a poster child of said movement.

US Embassy? Check. Red backpack? Check. Inability to acquire rights to Matt Damon’s likeness? Check fo’ sho.

For those who believe in history repeating itself, The Bourne Conspiracy could easily become “exhibit A.” High Moon Studios, the developers put in charge of the abovementioned title, had only published an equally “above-average, but nonetheless forgotten” title several years before with Darkwatch. One would think that a marketable film franchise and a top-tier publisher could turn these circumstances around. Sadly, The Bourne Conspiracy appears to endorse the theory that, to paraphrase, “you’ll be damned if you make the game of an endorsed intellectual property” and damned if “you choose to create your own franchise.”

The first misstep was the inability to secure the likeness rights to Matt Damon. Damon felt that where the game was going was “too violent” (again, remember, this is from the man that acted out said violence in a film of a similar name) and was hoping that the game would instead go in the direction of Myst. And yes, he quite literally said Myst. That’s like asking Street Fighter to aim for Tetris. Wait, they did make that Street Fighter puzzle game for the GBA. You get my point. Due to the fact that High Moon Studios felt that being a “30 Million Dollar Weapon” did not involve listening to ambient noise, and clicking through a glorified powerpoint presentation, they declined Damon’s offer.

Secondly, High Moon Studios was easily culpable of going outside their knowledge base. There’s a reason Free Radical (Timesplitters) has stuck to shooter games, and Naughty Dog has, with few exceptions, yet to make anything other than Action/Platformer titles (Uncharted, Crash Bandicoot, Jax and Daxter). Video games, like any other field, favors specialization. Like the age old adage says, “The Jack of all trades, fails to be the master of any.” High Moon Studios could have made The Bourne Conspiracy all about the fighting, and simply skirted over the Mini chase in Paris by turning it into a cut scene. Problem solved. Instead they enacted one of the larger unspoken taboos of game development: unless you’re making a driving/racing/open-ended game, AVOID driving segments!

Is this Grand Theft Auto? No. Is this Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit? No. Should there be a driving sequence in this game? Nope.

I’ll be honest with you about this, reviewers are anxious, above all, to excessively praise a game. There is a reason few “perfect” scores are ever given out, and that magazines are writing in their fine print that just because a game got a “10″ does not, in fact, make it perfect. We’re all in this field for one reason or another, and I’d like to think that our love of video games is a primary one. Still, even when we play a game we love, we’re still looking for that one imperfection, subtle or mile-high, so that we can give it its due, and move on to the adoration. Driving levels in a brawler/action game naturally attract this unwanted attention, and even if the experience is flawless: collision detection, handling, damage, physics, the sequence may still be admonished for taking the player away from the “bread and butter” of the game.
Another thing that reviewers target is the severing of the firearms/close combat dichotomy. Simply put, there’s a reason that fighting games and shooters have developed into their separate camps. Those that attempt both usually appear as having “tacked on” the other element. As for the guilty party in Bourne, that would be the firearms element

Yes, there’s no denying that the Bourne films and novels did include him being an expert marksman, but perhaps not as trigger-happy as this depiction of him

Small problems aside, The Bourne Conspiracy stands as one of the finer examples of a third party developer utilizing the Unreal 3 engine. Above everything else, the graphical engine is quite solid, and the art design, while not wholly inspired, didn’t have much latitude to work with anyway. One can only go so far with an established franchise, a pre-determined storyline, and something so grounded in reality as Bourne is. The level design suffers from “linearitis,” there’s very little breathing room when it comes to methods of achieving objectives, but the set pieces do not disappoint. After all, throwing people into neon signs, or slamming their head on a table counter, or bringing the hurt with an oversized tome is all greatly satisfying. This all culminates in some of the best boss fights in a while, you’ll go back just to see all the different objects in the environment that one can utilize.

Some will say that the combat engine is too basic: heavy and light attacks, blocks, and large kicks, accompanied by the takedowns, which will differ depending on the sort of takedown one selects. And…well…it is. But it’s intuitive, and harkens back to the old side-scrolling beat-em ups, and looks amazingly fun. People will complain that by the end, it’s nothing more than a glorified “block-fest” and while this is hard to deny, one must remember that Bourne isn’t built like the disproportioned characters of Street Fighter II with biceps requiring their own town hall, he’s tactical, opportunistic…you know? Well, you’re not buying it, but that’s okay.

Story-wise, Bourne satisfies, but all of the missions are of two varieties: playing through the events of the first film AND through missions in your past, a storyline that was specially written for the game. The new missions don’t connect with the main story much, but are a legitimate excuse to introduce some of the more firepower-heavy and generally over-the-top levels, without tampering with the plot of the tried and true The Bourne Identity.

In closing, The Bourne Conspiracy is a good looking example of the Unreal Engine that can provide a cathartic form of stress relief in the form of generating massive beatdowns. The controls aren’t complex, but you won’t be left stumbling remembering the thirteen button sequence to Hadouken or perform some disturbingly odd fatality. However, as is the case with far too many games, the starting price point was far too high.

1 Comment

    You should know I’m reading your blog instead of working on my SIP that’s due in a week and a half.


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