Crispy Gamer

Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Conspiracy

It's dangerous to get too close. Fictional character Jason Bourne learns as much in "The Bourne Identity," when on a mission to kill African dictator Nykwana Wombosi the ruthless killer flinches. Bourne finds his target surrounded by his children, whom the assassin knows he'll have to snuff as collateral damage to make Wombosi's killing seem like an inside job. Bourne can't bear to pull the trigger and that's when all his troubles begin.

I'm beginning to feel similar pangs about High Moon Studios, the makers of the forthcoming Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Conspiracy game. Over the course of a couple months I've met a handful of the people behind the game. I've shared meals with them and tipped drinks. It turns out that High Moon's Director of Business Relations Meelad Sadat and I share an old friend -- a former games journalist who crossed over to the game development business. Chief Development Officer Chris Ulm is, like me, a serious board game geek. Senior Game Designer Rory McGuire -- the dapper sort who sports jaunty brimmed hats when he goes out for a night on the town -- reminds me of my first magazine editor. I genuinely like the High Moon crew and it makes me doubt my ability to pull the trigger if circumstances were to call for such desperate measures.

Luckily, I won't be finding myself in that position any time soon, because the three levels of The Bourne Conspiracy that were previewed for me will be available as a playable demo sometime this month. You don't need to take my word that they're slick, cinematic and visually stunning. You'll be able to play them soon enough.

The first sequence takes place in an American embassy -- it's a chase sequence punctuated by fist-fights. Bourne is unarmed and not the kind of guy, anyway, that would kill American MPs just for getting in the way. Much of the sequence is spent hauling ass -- a sort of roadie run -- as bullets tear up the building around him. Intuitive quick time events help Bourne slide under a falling security gate. The agent pauses for a brief moment of stealth, then dives into a brawl with a commanding officer, brutally bashing his skull against a white board. This is one of Bourne's many context-sensitive takedowns. There are dozens, if not hundreds of these brutal attacks hidden throughout the game, more than can be experienced in a single play through.

The demo gives players a taste of an extended car chase, familiarizes them with gunplay, and throws them into a boss battle. In the cargo hold of a massive airplane Bourne goes toe-to-toe with a villain. Again, the super-agent uses the environment to bash his opponent to hell, but this rival can turn the tables and use similar killer moves on him. Like I said before, you won't have to take my word that this is one slick action game. Screenshots, so far, haven't done the game justice.

If you're as doubtful as most sane folks are that a licensed game can be good, maybe I can help assuage some of your doubts. The Bourne Conspiracy isn't timed to coincide with the release date of a movie or a DVD. The game hasn't been rushed out. This is a huge risk for both publisher and developer. Usually a game like The Bourne Conspiracy piggybacks on the larger ad campaign of a related movie and sells gangbusters, regardless of positive or negative reviews. To make up for this disadvantage, High Moon recruited Paul Oakenfold to create the game's soundtrack. Alone, this news wouldn't be worth stopping the presses, but the game's main theme song "Falling" -- a collaboration between Oakenfold and Gnarls Barkley singer Cee-Lo Green -- has a shot at making up some of that lost ground.

That's all the star-power you'll see in The Bourne Conspiracy. Matt Damon's likeness won't be seen in the game. In fact, none of the characters look like the celebrities who played them in the movie. Meelad Sadat told a handful of journalists at the Sierra Spring Event that Damon wasn't interested in being involved with a violent videogame -- and that's why High Moon reimagined the looks of all the characters. I can't help but suspect that Damon's silly preferences freed Sadat and company up to focus more on the things that matter. More than once Sadat referenced working with Jeff Imada, the fight coordinator from all the Bourne films. The collaboration is evident in the brutal fights. Sadat also frequently mentioned the influence of director Paul Greengrass' camera work. Look closely and you can feel the cameraman flinch when Jason Bourne shotguns a parked car, flushing out enemies when the engine explodes.

Meelad gave me and a handful of other journalists an exclusive sneak peek at another game level -- one you won't be experiencing in the demo. Bourne is on a mission to kill a villain named O'Connor in Marseilles, France. As Bourne makes his way across the Mediterranean rooftops, Sadat points out that the docks in the background are part of another scene. That's where Wombosi's boat is. Eventually Bourne confronts O'Connor and spars with the Capoeira-trained fighter on a rooftop. Using a takedown, Bourne bashes his enemy against a neon sign. One of the letters smashes loose and dangles by a wire. Another slam further damages the sign. Meanwhile, the beautiful city of Marseilles, slightly gray with rain or maybe dusk, is there in the background. Somewhere out there is Wombosi -- the guy that Jason Bourne just can't bring himself to kill.

Having played and seen my fair share of The Bourne Conspiracy, I feel fully confident in my decision not to take High Moon Studios down with a bullet in the brain. Never mind all those drinks and late-night bonding moments. These guys, the same bunch that made Darkwatch for Pete's sake, look to have made a great game. If you don't believe me, that's fine. Play the demo and find out for yourself. I'm backing out of this assignment.

I'm on my own side now.

Preview based on an unfinished build of the game as seen at Sierra's Spring Event and a Bourne Conspiracy event held in Miami.