As much as I appreciated the way 2002’s The Bourne Identity restored some of the seriousness to international espionage that the James Bond franchise had been frittering away for so many years, anyone who called it a “thinking man’s action movie” was just covering for the fact that they loved watching Matt Damon outrun Parisian cops in a beat-up Mini Cooper and stick pens in dudes’ hands. Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Conspiracy doesn’t feature any of the actors from the film, instead replacing them with a cast of similarly stern-faced CG models and studio soundalikes, but it ably captures the feel of the first Bourne film, recreating a number of its memorable action set pieces. It can be a viscerally enjoyable experience, though it’s also a fleeting experience that, unlike the movie, offers little reason to come back to it.
The Bourne Conspiracy plays out like The Bourne Identity with extended flashback sequences. The game kicks off with government assassin Jason Bourne in Marseilles on his doomed mission to assassinate deposed African dictator Wombosi, which leads into the start of the film, with an amnesiac Bourne getting picked up by a fishing boat in the Mediterrenean. From there, the connections between the events of the film and the flashbacks turn into non-sequiturs–one moment Bourne is looking at a handgun, the next he’s reliving an old Zurich assignment. The Bourne Conspiracy does a bang-up job of recreating and expanding on some of the more memorable scenes from The Bourne Identity, but since the game basically wedges lengthy flashback missions in where there would normally be exposition or character development, the actual narrative kind of gets the short shrift.
What The Bourne Conspiracy lacks in coherent, compelling storytelling, though, it makes up for with the kind of calculated brutality that has been a defining characteristic of the Bourne movies. The gameplay generally alternates between a Gears-of-War-style third-person shooter and a simple one-on-one brawler, with loads of interactive cinematic sequences peppered throughout. Many of the best moments in The Bourne Conspiracy come courtesy of the adrenaline meter, which fills as you punch/shoot dudes in the face, and basically allows you to automatically take out an enemy while enjoying a quick brutal cinematic moment. These takedowns can look awesome, with Jason often improvising with objects in the environment or using an enemy’s own weapons against him, though they also start repeating pretty quickly. They also take much of the challenge out of the game–virtually any time there’s too much heat, you can just press B and watch Bourne execute his enemies with extreme prejudice, which is symptomatic of the game’s tendency to take control away from the player during its best moments.
Despite being jam-packed with some pretty spectacular T-rated violence, The Bourne Conspiracy seems to end before it even really gets started, clocking in at a brisk three or four hours. That’s fairly short, to be sure, though I’m not sure that the gameplay could carry the game much further. The gunplay is competent, and the AI can be pretty sneaky at times, but it rarely feels very dangerous. The hand-to-hand combat has bigger problems, in that it consists of a meager number of simple three-hit combos, and a number of the fights drag on for way longer than they ought to.
The general lack of depth in The Bourne Conspiracy is made somewhat forgivable by its great-looking visuals, with snappy animations that really help sell a lot of the close-quarters action; nicely detailed environments that are filled with destructible bits; and lots of really sharp elemental effects like fire and rain. It has some problems, too, such as some gritty skin textures, and there’s a persistent problem of textures taking far too long to pop in.
The Bourne Conspiracy is a short game that can be clumsy and repetitive at times, but it does it with enough style that I didn’t feel like it was a complete waste of time. For what you get, though, it’s still tough to justify the $60 price tag.