Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3 - Xbox 360 version reviewed.
I guess I never should have sneared at Matt Damon. The star of the Bourne movies apparently steered clear of any involvement in the Bourne video game because he was more interested in making a Myst-style puzzle game than a shooter. At the time, I thought I couldn't imagine anything more boring or less suited to the high-octane action of the film trilogy, but now I'm not so sure. It's not that The Bourne Conspiracy is a disaster, or that it's been made without any idea about what makes the Bourne films tick. It's just that we've been left with a game that looks good, plays like a reasonably competent action title, but captures little of the ingenuity of the character or the pace and tension of the source material.
Within the space of the first few levels you can see much of what High Moon Studios has got right, and most of where the team went wrong. Despite having three Bourne books and three Bourne movies to work from, The Bourne Conspiracy concentrates on the events of The Bourne Identity, but slips in additional or reworked material to basically dumb-down and action-up the game. As a result, the aborted assassination attempt on the African dictator Wombosi is now preceded by the equivalent of World War III in the docks of Marseille, while Bourne's arrival in Switzerland triggers a handy flashback to a hit on a terrorist leader that plays out more like Die Hard 2 than The Bourne Ultimatum. If you were expecting anything in the way of puzzle solving or clever improvisation, think again. The Bourne Conspiracy is linear action all the way, with mindless violence and a body count to match.
This wouldn't particularly worry me were the action great; I might even have coped with a Bourne does Solid Snake or Bourne does Splinter Cell adventure. The main problem is that The Bourne Conspiracy has been designed to ape the look and style of the movies at the cost of pretty much everything else. Make no mistake: this is a thoroughly decent looking game. Sure, we get some nobody instead of Matt Damon and those grittily realistic environments could have done with a little more excitement, but the Unreal 3 engine does a fine job of rendering the characters, the animation is smooth and effects like pouring rain and exploding scenery are used quite well. Sudden changes of angle, rapid cutting and a shaky pseudo-handheld camera are used effectively to capture the aggressive, hard-edged style of the films. Watch Bourne in hand-to-hand action against one or more assailants, and it even looks like High Moon has replicated the fighting style of the trilogy. Listen, and the music and the dialogue make the experience even more convincing.