Previews

The Bourne Conspiracy

Hands-on impressions from Bourne's spying game

Matt Damon's just given you the finger when you asked if you could digitise his mug; you've been charged with weaving together the Ludlum, Van Lustbader and Hollywood Bournes - which between them add up to a billion-dollar industry; and you're faced with adding a new dimension to this most reluctant of heroes. Just who'd want to be standing in the shoes of Conspiracy developers High Moon Studios right now?

Well, endlessly enthusiastic Lead Designer Rory McGuire, actually. Despite the high-profile absence of Damon's chiselled chops, he waxes lyrical about how key figures in the Bourne franchise have all chipped in to give Conspiracy some much-needed licensed clout. The resulting high-octane action, he argues, far surpasses your average movie tie-in fare. From our hands-on session this issue, we're inclined to nod our heads furiously in agreement.

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Conspiracy is a companion piece that regales the story of the original Bourne Identity movie then embellishes it with Jason's murky past as an amoral Treadstone assassin - all the while explaining just why he ended up in the brine with a mental meltdown. Trouble is, for some reason (McGuire isn't telling) Treadstone's intelligence is well dodgy - meaning our heroic amnesiac constantly finds himself up to his ribbed turtleneck in guns, henchmen and muuuuurder.

Embassy No. 1
We got to go hands-on with three levels: 'Escape from the Embassy', 'Eliminate Orandelin' and 'Zurich Car Chase'. We'll breeze over the (admittedly thrilling) embassy escape; we've been there, done that a couple of times now. More interesting was the second mission; an action-packed flashback gig set underneath and around a bustling Zurich airport - which tipped its hat towards Gears of War with some rock solid over-the-shoulder blasting and impressively slick cover mechanics. The shooting felt crisp and accurate (certainly a step above, say, Kane & Lynch) while we soon acquired a shotgun and a machine gun to complement our pea-shooter pistol. Mow down a few foes and Bourne's takedown meter fills up, so press b and if you can pass a simple minigame you'll take up to three foes out with a one-shot kill.

Spend too much time blocking or ignore multiple enemies though and your slipshod play will come back and bite you on the arse, as enemies can also counter moves and force you to conquer a QTE to save losing a big chunk of health. Generally though, fights - while essentially fairly repetitive - hark back to the likes of Assassin's Creed, in that they make you feel like a martial arts superman when in actual fact you're just mashing a few buttons.

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Plane Amazing
The mission finale took place in a cargo plane soaring amongst the clouds - sort of like the Tyrant boss fight in Resident Evil: Code Veronica - with Jason hurling his opponents to a 10,000 ft grave. Takedowns are satisfyingly brutal - and almost all are context-sensitive, from thwacking somebody in the mug with a fire extinguisher, snapping arms like twigs and using grunts as human shields. It's all good, violent fun.

Then, DRUM ROLL... it was time for the big reveal - driving levels! Although developed by a splinter cell from the main team, they're very much a vehicular recreation of the on-foot missions, full of QTE daredevil stunty bits and more cop dodging than an episode of The Wire. Taking control of a snazzy little Mini Cooper S, you'll smash through windows, take short cuts down back alleys, plough through lampposts and phoneboxes and leap over ramps, with your side-kick Marie alternatively ranting at you and dishing out advice.

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