The Bourne ConspiracyQuick Facts
Platform: PS3, Xbox 360
Developer: High Moon Studios
If you’ve seen any of the Bourne movies (or read the books), you’ll know how fleshed out the narrative and, more specifically, character, is. Jason Bourne is the antithesis to James Bond in almost every way. He has no gadgets, wears no suits and woos no ladies – he kills indiscriminately and has a drive to get the job done unlike anyone else in his particular field of expertise. And the scary thing about all of this is, for the most part, he can’t even remember his own name.
Robert Ludlum’s Bourne character translated to the modern age so much more easily than Flemming’s Bond, who for all intents and purposes, was more a product of the Cold War and post WWII propaganda. Bourne is highly trained, highly skilled, and far easier to relate to for his amnesia. Despite his seemingly super-human abilities, not knowing who he is or why he can do the things he can gave Bourne a vulnerability that didn’t alter his strengths, it just made him more real
As you’re more than likely aware, last year saw the release of The Bourne Ultimatum, the third (and apparently last) film adapted from Ludlum’s Bourne series of novels. It was also revealed a game following the events of all three films would be released and so High Moon Studios were put to work on creating a game licensed off one of the most kinetic
film experiences in recent times.
Last week Vivendi Games put on an event for us to get hands-on with the latest build of the game across both Xbox 360 and PS3 as well as ask High Moon Studios some questions. In attendance from the developer was, High Moon Studios Chief Creative Officer, Emmanuel Valdez, while VP and Design Director, Paul O’Conner, would be attempting
to join us via Skype for a look at the writing process and to talk about the challenges of turning something utterly passive into something fully interactive.
Before all this we were shown a few demo levels of the game in action with insights from Valdez, just to fill us in on a lot of the intricacies of recreating this fervent series in interactive form, without losing any of the trademark imagery captured within the films.
One of the key things to elaborate on this is, from the outset, High Moon Studios had an uphill battle keeping this experience authentic (see box out). With no Matt Damon in sight, they had to create a Jason Bourne from scratch and still make it feel
like the movies. No easy task. Especially when you consider the number of film-to-game translations that have gone wrong.
No Matt Damon
When High Moon Studios were given the green light for The Bourne Conspiracy, one of their key objectives was to secure Matt Damon for obvious reasons, however, after a while he decided to decline the gig citing wanting to leave the series at the three movies and end it there. We all know how that turned out now though, don’t we...
Just a few days before our presentation, both Matt Damon and director, Doug Limen announced they’d be working on a fourth movie. Unfortunately production on the game was too far ahead for anything to be done.
Cue Team America “Matt Damon” line.
Thankfully I can say, despite being Matt Damon-less
, they’ve still managed to pull it off thanks to a dynamic real-time cinematic camera system, an interesting hand-to-hand fighting system, and a balanced mix of gunplay, quick action events and mild exploration (the latter coming into affect for fighting tools, but more on that in a bit). It’s all as authentic as it’s going to get, and according to O’Conner, much of this came through working so closely with the Ludlum Estate (and more specifically, the series' key film writer, Tony Gilroy).
“I found them [the Ludlum Estate] quite feasible and flexible in terms of what we could do with the property,” O’Conner said via our dodgy Skype connection. “They certainly set out some guidelines outlining what we could and couldn’t do with the character and the franchise, but we had a lot of flexibility and creative discretion in the way we attacked the property.”
This can be seen in a number of key areas such as the introduction of other Treadstone agents you’ll encounter (which are essentially the game’s boss battles). High Moon were also given the nod to create tangent memory unlocks as well as give us Bourne missions not at all related to what we’ve seen in the films or read in the books. However, working closely Tony Gilroy also helped the studio keep the game’s direction in line with the character he
helped flesh out for the movies, as Emmanuel explained when we lost connection with Paul.
“There were two main principles that really came out of our meetings with Tony,” Valdez revealed. “The first principle being that when he designed Bourne, he designed him to always have a target and an objective. What that told us as game designers was that this game shouldn’t be about a sandbox world; a place where Bourne goes out and explores and discovers missions. He always has a plan and always has an objective - so we took that to heart and it really helped us write a good pace script to the game. The other principle is that he [Gilroy] said Jason Bourne is not
Gucci, so in other words, he’s not
James Bond. He doesn’t have gadgets, doesn’t carry a bag full of weapons and doesn’t drive fast, expensive sports cars. That was really important to us and helped us think about his interaction with the
game-world and other characters.”
This concept is best experienced during the close combat sequences where Bourne doesn’t
shoot from a pen-gun or use a watch laser; instead, he uses the environment to his advantage. Emmanuel showcased the context and environmentally sensitive take-downs you can perform which are pretty damn dynamic. An example saw Bourne fighting with a soldier in an office. Behind the soldier was a generic old moveable whiteboard (remember, like the ones from school on wheels), and around him desks, chairs and a few other bits of decoration. Through moving towards any one of these background pieces and building up his take-down meter, Valdez would then perform a take-down (basically another word for ‘counter’) with a different animation and result each time.
Each one is dynamically based on the move performed, the way in which the victim is heading towards the object and so on. So a take-down near the desk meant Bourne slammed the soldiers head onto it, near the whiteboard, a kick (not canned, but chosen
by the demonstrator) saw him flying back into it, cracking it in half. You can slam victims into doors, windows, ceramic pots, fences, computer terminals, vehicles, crates – the works.
Moreover, as mentioned earlier Bourne has no gadgets to use, only his wits. If you remember the first major fight-scene from the first film, you’ll remember Bourne used a BIC pen to ward off an attacker armed with a knife. This style of fighting has also been seamlessly implemented into the overall game with every day objects such as fire-extinguishers, books and more all thrown about the environment for you to utilise to take down your adversaries.
The two level play-throughs we were privy to were great examples of the game both paralleling the films and equally branching off on its own. The first sequence was derived from the embassy escape from The Bourne Identity. Here most of the gameplay is based on quick action events (like God of War’s “hit this button… now!” style of play), which had both hard and soft fails to be experienced (a hard fail means restart the level, a soft means fight this guy, or try another route).
The second level was more of a duck and cover experience where you’re pursuing someone through a subway tunnel. Every so often you run across a few bad guys impeding your path. Here we saw usage of weapons fire and the like and how you can use your surroundings and take-downs from behind a gun (more on all of this shortly). This level finished up with a seminal boss-battle aboard a plane which ended pretty spectacularly. All in all the controlled stuff gave me a pretty warm feeling about stepping into the forgetful boots of one Jason Bourne.
Behind The Controller
Getting hands-on with the title was a bit less intuitive than I thought. It's not difficult to grasp, and won't take you long, but it's by means the smoothest
ride out there. Apparently the hand-to-hand fighting system was co-developed by the films’ fight choreographer, Jeff Imada, and the speed and intensity of the game’s myriad of take-downs is immediate testament to this. However, it’s still a videogame and as such the actual ‘stand-off’ between combatants is quit stiff. It’s a simple case of block, punch and kick. There are light and heavy versions of each and as you’d expect combos to perform as well. Successfully landing blows, avoiding and blocking will go towards filling the three tiers on your adrenalin bar, which can then be used to counter blows, ‘weaponise’ the environment (ie use the every day items previously mentioned) and finish the baddies more quickly and easily (and with style
As you biff with opponents you’ll be thrown controller button prompts on-screen. Successfully nailing one of these usually leads to an awesome power hit, or avoid and counter. It all works seamlessly and doesn’t interrupt gameplay as you might expect it would. In fact it heightens the experience thanks to sharp editing and snazzy camera work not at all dissimilar to the films.
Gunplay, like hand-to-hand combat, is based heavily on working within the realms of videogame interaction and development while calling upon the real thing to help parallel the movie experience. Headshots count for an instant kill, while the environment comes alive at the actions of your trigger finger. Almost anything can be shot up and utilised to take out the enemy, even to the point of being able to fire away at their cover until they dive out from behind it lest you find a weak-spot.
Once again, you’re given on-screen button prompts to perform stylish attacks, and doing well will fill your adrenalin meter making you far more difficult to deal with. In both cases (hand-to-hand and gunplay), running with a full adrenalin meter and hitting buttons at the right time will reward you with instant take-downs adding to the fervent nature of some levels and maintaining a consistent pace similar to the films.
There was also a driving segment of the game I only had a short amount of time with. These felt more out of place than anything else, and while I respect the Bourne series has some great chase sequences, what was demoed here didn’t really prove it works with this gameplay model. That said, it was a very small level and I didn’t get as much time playing with it as I’d have liked, so here’s hoping the final iteration of this portion of The Bourne Conspiracy lives up to the kinetic and enjoyable nature as the rest of the game has so far.
It’s still early days for this game, and things could definitely be worse for wear, but I was pretty sated in what I’d seen. There are some AI balancing issues, but we were having a look at demo levels designed for an occasion such as the one we were in. The biggest concern you might have right now is the track record film adapted games have after big name titles, and the Bourne series of movies could be no exception. Before he was cut off though, Paul O’Conner did have something pretty reassuring to say that in regards to their game being *cough* borne *cough* of a film and book franchise.
“I know 90% of licensed games out there are crap,” O’Conner said with good humour. “But there’s a good 10% that are good. They did some great Lord of the Rings games and some great Harry potter games, so it’s not automatically a death sentence if you’re doing a movie game – what we have at our advantage is I don’t think the Bourne Conspiracy is a movie game. Here at High Moon we’ve been treating this like an IP, so we’re using the movies as a springboard for us to present our own take on the franchise, on the character and on his world. We look at the whole thing as three shelves; on the top shelf you have Mr Ludlum’s books, on the middle shelf you have the films and on the third you now have our game, which is different to
the top two shelves in as much as they’re different from each other and us equally.”