Robert Ludlum's Bourne franchise couldn't have been filmed at a better time. With the Bond movies reaching a peak in 1995 with the release of Goldeneye, a new hero was desperately needed - one who could shake out the starched shirts, dispense with the dry wit and knock back a beer instead of a cocktail. After all, who wants an armoured car with the price of petrol these days?
Jason Bourne is probably the hero of the decade, and with the film series grossing squillions, a video game adaptation was inevitable. As soon as you fire up the game, there's no doubt as to the qualifications of this title, as you're greeted with logo after logo - Unreal, Sierra, High Moon, Ageia PhysX and THQ all make an appearance. However, Matt Damon doesn't, as he's otherwise occupied elsewhere and couldn't be a part of the video game adaptation.
After selecting your difficulty level, a cut-scene sets up the first chapter in the American Embassy in Zurich. Some may remember this location from The Bourne Identity movie, and for those that do, it's faithful to the movie for roughly thirty seconds. After disabling the security guards on the ground floor, you must sprint up the stairwell and escape the building within a set time, with various tutorial tips informing you as to the best way to do this. In the film, Bourne must escape by edging himself down the exterior of the building, retrieving his bag at the same time. In the game however, a far more elaborate rooftop encounter takes place, complete with hand-to-hand combat and sniper fire.
Bourne has a number of attacks which are set up in typical style - you can choose between a conventional punch, or a more aggressive hand attack. Likewise, you can kick accurately, or go for the full Hollywood-inspired running kick with the potential to instantly take your enemy out. Of course, the harder you attack, the more vulnerable to counter-attack you become, so learning how to block effectively is a wise move.
Throughout each combat scene, cinematics are used to show the fast-paced finishing actions Bourne is capable of. These aren't intrusive in the slightest, and are probably the only way you could present the action, as otherwise you'd need three controllers in order to have enough buttons to do the spectacular moves. The frequency in which you can perform the more impressive take-down moves is controlled by your level of adrenalin, which in turn is dictated by how successful your conventional attack is.
Another interesting addition to this game is the requirement to quickly press a button on the controller prior to a cinematic screen in order to progress. At the beginning of the demo we played, Bourne has to make it past a steel gate before the building is locked down. When approaching the gate in a sprint, a cinematic takes over and a button is shown at the bottom of the screen - either X, Y, A or B on our Xbox 360. You must hit that button within a fraction of a second, or you will fail to complete the cinematic, usually resulting in your capture.
This certainly adds a heightened level of difficulty to what already feels like a pretty tricky game, and it will be interesting to see how this pans out in the final release - it's either going to be too frustrating to play for any length of time, or people will enjoy the challenge and look forward to the next cinematic. It's simply too early to say. Either way, it's fortunate that the checkpoints are numerous, and your progress is auto-saved - a moment's inattention can lead to failure.
Weapon combat suffers from the traditional problems associated with console shooters, namely controller accuracy woes, but it's not prohibitive and the AI difficulty does compensate admirably. Bourne can carry a number of weapons, so it would appear the trick here is to learn when your fists are preferable, and judging by the effort the developers have gone to with the hand-to-hand combat mechanics, perhaps it's a little inaccurate to label this as a predominantly gun-toting title just yet. You can switch between using a weapon and general hand combat extremely quickly too, something the developers have included to make the gameplay appear more faithful to the films.
It's unfortunate that Matt Damon decided not to participate in the game, because whilst the Ageia PhysX powered combat moves are accurate and entirely convincing, I couldn't help but think they might have looked just that little more realistic if they had been motion-captured from Damon himself. It's not really a major issue however; once you start landing some expert punches and slamming a few heads against walls it's just too much fun to be bothered by such trivialities.
A trailer showcasing Bourne's "instinct" ability has surfaced recently, so we've included it below. You can see how the developers have attempted to recreate Bourne's uncanny ability to tell when enemies are close, and where weapons are hiding. You can also see a bit of in-game content as well. The Bourne Conspiracy is due out soon for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, so if you're a fan of fast-paced close-quarter combat, this could be what you've been waiting for!