Since the release of The Bourne Identity in 2002, Robert Ludlum's titular amnesiac spy has thrilled movie audiences with fast, brutal combat and tense action sequences. When developer High Moon Studios set out to create a game starring Jason Bourne, it drew on the electric choreography of the movies as well as the robust world of Ludlum's novels. Perhaps this is why The Bourne Conspiracy shakes off the mantle of disappointment worn by most movie tie-in games and proves itself worthy of entry into the Bourne canon. The exciting and deeply awesome hand-to-hand combat system expertly captures the pugilistic prowess of the 30-million-dollar weapon and, while complemented by serviceable gunplay and rich environments, is reason enough to get in on this conspiracy.
The plot of The Bourne Conspiracy follows Bourne's quest to learn who he is and why heavily armed men are after him, and it's structured around the key action sequences from The Bourne Identity. Interspersed throughout these familiar missions are playable flashbacks that hark back to the time before Bourne's amnesia when he had no qualms about leaving trails of bodies and bullets en route to his objectives. There are also video cutscenes between missions that, while well produced, just seem to drive home the fact that both Matt Damon and Franka Potente are much more attractive than the prerendered characters that replace them.
In The Bourne Conspiracy, as in the Bourne films, the hand-to-hand fights are fast, exciting, and brutal. The beauty of the combat here is that it doesn't demand any complex user input, so you'll be focused on the immediate action rather than trying to recall elaborate button combinations. There are two attacks available to you--light and heavy--and a block button. Attack combos consist of up to three consecutive light or heavy attacks, so there are only eight possible combinations. Throwing these combos down will make up the bulk of your fighting strategy, though you'll occasionally want to unleash a charged attack because the impact is just so satisfying. Getting the controls down is easy, but timing them is a bit trickier. Your opponents attack as vigorously as you do, so it's key that you focus on good fight flow. Interrupting your opponent's assault by blocking and then beating out a smooth cadence of combos on his head and torso is the quickest way to secure your victory.
This victory can come by straight-up pummeling, or you can use the adrenaline you've gained by landing successful blows to unleash a takedown. A takedown is a fluid, context-sensitive flurry of blows in which you finish bad guys off in signature Bourne style with efficient, improvisational brutality. It's when you finish your foe off by kicking him down a staircase. It's when you bounce his head off a desk, then punch his head right back down into the desk as he tries to get up. It's when you break a bookshelf, a vending machine, or a glass table with his broken, unconscious body. In short, it's a way to exponentially increase the amount of awesome stuff you can do in combat without increasing the complexity of the controls.
Takedowns are such an excellent part of combat that as you come up on enemies and engage in battle, you'll find yourself looking around for objects you could possibly use in environmental takedowns. Thankfully these objects are plentiful and range from a concrete pillar in a parking garage to a fully stacked bookshelf in a library. This is a testament to the thoroughness of the takedown implementation, as well as the richness of the environments. The levels look sharp and are very well populated with everyday objects, but they're not without their flaws. Any noncombatant you encounter is surrounded by an impenetrable invisible shield, and sometimes you'll maneuver an opponent toward a specific object for a takedown only to execute one of the many generic, open-space takedowns. To be fair, these are still pretty satisfying, but you'll notice the repetition as you progress further into the game. You can also charge your adrenaline meter up to the point where you can take down two or three opponents in one fluid sequence. Performing multiple takedowns in a row requires timed button presses, and though these animations also begin to repeat, multiple takedowns happen rarely enough that you'll probably just be psyched to have leveled so many foes so quickly.
Timed button presses will occasionally pop up with little to no warning, challenging you to evade a sniper's shot or an assassin's bomb. Getting ambushed by these events keeps the tension running high, and they are infrequent enough that they don't feel bothersome. These timed presses also factor heavily into one of the best parts of the game, the boss fights. Bosses are particularly talented brawlers that not only can survive multiple takedowns, but will try to perform takedowns on you. Boss takedowns can be thwarted with a quick tap of the appropriate button, but if you miss, be prepared to take some substantial damage. Bosses are more resilient than Bourne, and Bourne, who regenerates health when not directly engaged in combat, can regain health only by performing takedowns.
The bosses' toughness actually works in your favor because it gives you a chance to try out the more-plentiful-than-usual takedown possibilities in the boss arena. Each boss fight also features a unique weapon that can be used in a takedown. These are particularly nasty maneuvers inspired by the movies, and they involve such weapons as a pen, a shovel, and a book. Don't fret if you miss out, though, because you can unlock these encounters and then play them right from the menu screen. Unfortunately, to do so you'll need to collect the passports that are strewn about each level. It's not that they're hard to find, but rather that taking your time and searching thoroughly is so un-Bourne that doing so slows down the otherwise fast pacing of the game.
There's also a fair amount of gun combat, though it's not nearly as exciting as the hand-to-hand action. You can carry a sidearm (one of numerous pistol variants) and a larger weapon (shotgun or assault rifle), ducking in and out of cover as you mow your enemies down. Mostly you'll be free aiming, but engaging the Bourne Instinct will highlight your foes and will snap the target reticle to the nearest one. Gun takedowns are far less impressive than their manual counterparts and simply require a timed button press to pull off successfully. The highlight of gunplay is the sound effects, which give each gun a unique timbre and reward headshots with a sickly satisfying thud. While shooting definitely plays second fiddle to fighting, it holds up its part well and doesn't get tiresome until you replay missions trying to collect the passports you need to unlock the eminently replayable boss fights. There's also a car chase through Paris that, while fairly bland, does add a nice splash of variety to the game.
The production values of The Bourne Conspiracy are generally good, with a few notable hiccups. Sound effects are excellent, and you'll be pleasantly surprised by how many noises one man hitting another can yield. The music is also a standout, especially in boss fights, and it helps ramp up the tense excitement of your adventure with the taut urgency of the movie soundtrack. The character models are well detailed and respond to punishment vividly. The only production stumbles you'll see are the occasional camera glitches. For the most part, the camera does a great job of approximating the tightly framed, in-your-face style of the movies, but if it's forced into confined spaces it will sometimes cause Bourne and his enemy to disappear while it tries to reposition itself. There are other awkward hang-ups, like Bourne's inability to step around an obstacle while sprinting, but none of these issues are a great hindrance to your enjoyment of the game.
Translating the lightning-quick close-quarters combat of the Bourne films into viscerally satisfying gameplay is no mean feat, but High Moon Studios has done it and done it well. The adventure is a bit short, and the solid gunplay becomes tedious the second time around. Still, the combat system alone makes this game worth playing, and the dramatic moments it creates are the real treat. There's nothing quite like the end of a boss fight when you and your enemy are both bruised and bloody and on the brink of death with the music at a pounding crescendo, and you hammer him with a vicious roundhouse to the face before executing your final, brutal takedown. In exhilarating moments like this you feel like a real badass, and that's what being Jason Bourne is all about.