Growing up, I loved the Bourne movies. Well, actually, I genuinely do feel like I could marry Doug Liman and live a good life with the man after what he produced with The Bourne Identity. Paul Greengrass would be relegated to side-chick for his super-wobbly action scenes that still me the Treadstone headache.
Once the franchise wrapped up – or so we thought until Jeremy Renner had a go and an ageing Matt Damn came back for one more movie – it seemed like the natural way of keeping the franchise alive was via a video game. Why not? People compare Jason Bourne to James Bond all the time, and the walking STD has had enough video games, so why shouldn’t Bourne get one?
He did, eventually, in the form of High Moon Studios’ The Bourne Conspiracy. However, while it’s good, it’s also a letdown on a few fronts, the biggest being the deviation from the under-the-radar killer to a Nathan Drake wannabe. Not just in his body count, mind you, but in his looks, too.
Matt Damon didn’t want his face in a video game – why the hell not? – so we’re left with a Jason Bourne who has the face of a thousand Hollywood leading men. The gold standard template for the late 00s and early 2010s. White. Brown hair. Probably does Crossfit four times a week. You know the drill.
Still, I got over the lack of Matt Damon quite quickly, but what I couldn’t shake during my recent playthrough is just how different this Bourne is to the one in the movies, or even in the books.
Instead of being shown as a resourceful, intelligent operative who works best when he’s blending with the crowd, The Bourne Conspiracy’s hero is more comfortable with a gun in his hand. Matt Damon’s interpretation of the character was notably against guns, and we were often shown his Bourne dismantling and dumping of firearms to show that he was beyond certain aspects of the life he was trying to rediscover.
The Bourne Conspiracy has no problem putting a wide array of firearms in Bourne’s reach, nor does it mind giving players waves of bad guys to shoot at. I can’t remember off the top of my head, but I swear that Matt Damon only killed a handful of enemies with a gun in all four mainline Bourne movies. Within the first half an hour of The Bourne Conspiracy, the amnesiac hero has filled a village graveyard, and come the end credits, he’s up there with the best white psychos that gaming has to offer.
Still, I understand the need to make the game appeal to as wide an audience as possible. By the time The Bourne Conspiracy came out, stealth games were on a rapid decline whereas third-person cover shooters were on the rise. The smart move is to go with the trend, and that’s what High Moon did, though they did manage to break the mould a little and actually throw in a few features that other games would incorporate later on.
For example, the adrenaline meter that fills up as Bourne smashes and shoots bad guys can be used to take out one or more enemies with some cinematic one-shot kills. Sound familiar? It will if you played Splinter Cell Conviction or Blacklist – that’s the mark-and-execute feature, lifted right from a licensed game, of all places.
Licensed games aren’t usually the place to go looking for the next big thing, or small thing, actually, but The Bourne Conspiracy stood out as a fairly decent, if awkward, retelling of one of the best movies the spy genre had come up with in a long time. You have to remember, when The Bourne Identity came out, James Bond was still super shite and had yet to get the Nolan-esque gritty reboot. A game based on such a mature movie was, and I suppose still is, a real rarity.
For a game that retold and expanded the original movie with the very unoriginal storytelling tool of flashbacks, The Bourne Conspiracy wasn’t a bad effort. It was confused at times between being a real mature spy thriller and a balls-to-the-wall action game. But here I am, 15 years later, almost, still wondering what could have been if a sequel game was given the green light. Where could Jason Bourne have ended up within the gaming landscape? Was there, and is there still, a place for quick-time centric melee combat in a video game based on a licensed property? That’s quite specific, but Bourne wouldn’t want anything less.