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PS3 Attitude

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Memorable? The Bourne Conspiracy review

I'm drinking a lot more tea than I used to.

Partly, this is due to the fact that more and more games require me to wait for ten minutes before I can begin playing them. The Bourne Conspiracy is one of those games.

During the ten minute initial install, you are not treated to any entertaining anecdotes, messages or smoking characters, so the only thing left to do is put the kettle on, and wait.

Of course, initial HD installs have become a standard on the PS3 because the HD is a fast way of accessing data compared to the speed of the Blu-ray disc. Games like Haze make great use of this fact with zero loading times throughout the entire campaign - creating a seamless experience for the player.

This means that when we endure the ten minute install, we are now expecting a payoff. Load times need to disappear at the very least. But let's focus on the game for a while before we come back to this point...

A third-person adventure/shooter game, The Bourne Conspiracy follows the story of Jason Bourne, a special agent that has lost his memory and is fighting to regain it. The game follows the Bourne books and movies in places, whilst still being an original telling of the story.

As you play through The Bourne Conspiracy - or TBC as we'll call it from now on to save precious key presses - you feel a number of different emotions. Elation. Surprise. Satisfaction. Frustration.

TBC does have some great ideas. As you play through the early levels, you are treated to a whole slew of set pieces. When you hear the 'cinematic sound effect', you know it is time to focus on the bottom of the screen to see which button you need to press in order to progress. Going through the game, these cinematic elements become more complicated and require quick reactions if you want to continue without restarting from the last checkpoint.

Whilst a lot of gamers don't like these 'Simon Says' elements, such as the many that littered Heavenly Sword or any God of War game, they do add variety to the gameplay. In TBC, the successful completion of these sequences results in a Hollywood-style payoff, some of which will make you say 'Wow' out loud - especially if you complete them first time.

Of course, everyone is out to get you in TBC. You have two ways to remove enemies from your path. Shoot, or fight.

Shooting is made easier through the addition of a first-person view, and headshots do exactly what you would expect them to. As per usual in games, the levels are embellished with exploding barrels and other incendiaries to help defeat troops and other, larger foes.

Finding useful objects and enemy positions is made easy with the Bourne Instinct, an option that shows where key locations, weapons and helpful additions exist. In the normal and hard modes using your Instinct costs some of your adrenaline - but more on that in a moment.

Fighting is initiated in one of two ways. Either you will be forced into a fight due to a pre-determined enemy appearing from around a corner, or as a boss, or you can run up to a shooting enemy to engage them in a bout of fisticuffs.

All the fighting is handled using three buttons. One blocks, the other two offer a quick or hard blow. Press for a punch, hold for a kick.

But this is no Tekken. Button-bashers won't find a lot of joy within TBC. The key to winning is pressing the right button at the right time, and blocking - lots of blocking. In the early levels, the fighting is over almost before it begins. Later on, you really have to hone your skills and timing if you want to progress.

In addition to these three buttons, you have one extra trick up your sleeve. When you have filled up your adrenaline bar, you can execute a finishing move that takes the enemy down instantly. Bourne will use whatever is close to him to achieve this. You literally can smash an enemy into everything and the kitchen sink!

The adrenaline bar has three levels. Fill up all three and you can engage and take down three enemies at the same time. Doing this initiates the cinematic element once more, and you are required to hit the right button at the right time to complete the triple takedown.

Other adrenaline-fueled options include the running takedown, which allows you to remove an enemy without stopping (useful when running away), and the shooting takedown, which give you the ability to sharp-shoot up to three enemies at once in quick succession.

On the plus side then, TBC delivers with varied gameplay options, great cinematic moments and a good storyline.

But as with Bourne's fractured memory, not everything in the game is right.

Some people will be upset at the lack of a multiplayer element. In a world where promising titles are being canned due to the lack of online play (yes Eight Days, we're looking at you), this may be one of the last PS3 titles that is single-player only.

There are several times throughout the game where it will pause, even in the thick of the action, to load the next checkpoint. Given that I already had an extra cup of tea whilst waiting for the initial install, it was a disappointment to see loading screens in-game.

The other issue with TBC is the difficulty level. After a few hours, the fight difficulty ramps up so fast that it becomes way too hard to progress without dozens of restarts. Fights become even harder as enemies start to pull out un-blockable knives.

This is the one area where TBC doesn't make sense. If I'm fighting a boss and they pull out a knife, why would I bother fighting them hand-to-hand any longer. Surely, I'd do an Indiana Jones and just shoot them with my gun!

The controls in TBC, whilst intuitive, don't lend themselves well to this level of difficulty. In a game such as Ninja Gaiden Sigma, at least you know you can combat the toughness of the game with well-timed combos and actions. The cinematic elements in TBC are fun, but because they pause the regular gameplay whilst they are played out, you occasionally find yourself initiating a combo before the game will register your button-press.

In fact, you don't even get to the driving element of the game until you've beaten two consecutive bosses, which is a shame as this is another fun addition to the TBC experience.

Driving sees you take control of a vehicle, racing through narrow streets and taking part in Stuntman-like sequences and movie-style set-pieces. It does seem a little 'bolted on', but it is well done and breaks up the gameplay.

But the real problem with TBC, the one that removes the enjoyment in the fighting and cinematic elements, is the camera. All too often the camera gets too close or repositions above Bourne so that you either disappear entirely or you have to coordinate your move in 'plan view'.

When the going gets tough, you really need to be able to see what is happening - Bourne's impromptu invisibility act really hampers your progress in places.

TBC reminds me a lot of Stranglehold. It has enough unique elements to make it fun and interesting for a while, but some poor design choices (the camera especially) stop it from being a really great title. The sheer difficulty also detracts from what is clearly a title that has had a lot of loving care and attention pure on it from the team at High Moon Studios. If they continue developing titles like this in the future, and sharpen up the gameplay along the way, they are going to produce something pretty special for the PS3 before long.

Gripes aside, TBC is good fun and the differing gameplay elements do stop it from being as overly repetitive as Stranglehold was. We particularly remember the reaction of the gamers at Live when they saw TBC for the first time, and it was certainly one of surprise at how good the game had turned out. You couldn't drag some people away from the demo...

Some people may be put off by the stop-start nature of the cinematic sections, but they do give the game it's unique Identity. It someone put us on the spot and gave us an Ultimatum, we would concur that whilst TBC isn't slated for gaming Supremacy, it is certainly a title you'll want to play through at least once (Ed: see what we did there?).

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