Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Conspiracy

Re-Bourne.

Bound to be rubbish, right? Let's see. The Bourne Conspiracy is a bit of an anomaly in the world of movie-licensed titles. There's no movie of that name in existence, for a start - and although some of the game's sequences are taken from the first movie, The Bourne Identity, it's described as a companion piece to the existing series rather than a re-telling. There's also no sign of Matt Damon, or any of the movie's stars; Bourne himself is a re-imagined, brown-haired everyman with piercing eyes and a nasty line in lethal combat.

Moreover, The Bourne Conspiracy passes one of the key tests for quality in a movie-licensed game, in that it's not actually coming out remotely near to the movie. Nothing screams shovelware like a tie-in game that launches alongside a film; built to an incredibly short schedule, with an eye to release windows rather than game quality, they're almost uniformly awful (for example, last Friday's Jumper: Griffin's Story, which we suspiciously haven't been sent). The Bourne Conspiracy, by comparison, is appearing significantly after the last film in the cinematic trilogy disappeared from multiplexes. That's a good sign.

Bourne Again

The Bourne Conspiracy, as mentioned, follows the events of the first movie to some degree - but then takes the opportunity to explore Bourne's memories as they return to him, running through his previous operations as a merciless Treadstone assassin. As such, some of the famous scenes from the movie make an appearance, but much of the game is concerned with Bourne's past as a perfect human weapon, rather than his later adventures as a remorseful assassin on the run.

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Up a bit. Idiot.

Several different types of gameplay make an appearance as you progress through the game. There's a high-speed, Burnout-style car chase through the streets of Paris, which holds together surprisingly well given that the game isn't a racer (High Moon chief creative officer Emmanuel Valdez tells us that the Unreal Engine 3 made building the technology for the racing section surprisingly easy). There are shooting sections, where Bourne's heightened abilities allow him to slow down time momentarily or perform "takedowns", player-triggered quick-time events that pop caps in multiple miscreants at once. There's even a high-speed chase through the American embassy in Zurich, a race against the clock full of hand-to-hand combat and quick-time events.

The beating heart of this game, however, is the fighting - a hand-to-hand combat system that's brutal, bloody and given additional spice by Bourne's ability to use his environment to perform bone-crunching, eye-watering takedown movies on his foes. Frequently, combat is a group affair, with Bourne taking on three or four henchmen at once - more high-powered takedowns allow him to hammer as many as three hapless bad guys simultaneously using stylish martial arts movies.

The highlights, however, are gruelling boss fights involving multiple takedowns - and the bosses, who range from security chiefs through to other Treadstone assassins, can also try to perform takedowns on Bourne, which he needs to dodge in quick-time button-press sequences. These fights can last several minutes, and generally see both characters getting visibly badly beaten up - not to mention resulting in badly smashed up environments. They also offer an opportunity for the game to show off its brutal credentials, neatly capturing the sound of someone's skull clunking with vicious force against an iron railing.

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I warned you not to call it a cardigan.

Valdez is something of a veteran of fighting games, having previously worked on the Ready 2 Rumble boxing series. For The Bourne Conspiracy, however, he called in the best professional help that Hollywood has to offer - the services of legendary fight choreographer and stunt co-ordinator Jeff Imada, who was visionary behind the fight sequences in the Bourne movies (and in almost every other action movie you care to name, frankly, with an IMDB credit list longer than a gorilla's arms).

"When we looked at the design for the hand to hand combat system, we knew we wanted the distinctive style that Jeff Imada created for the movies," Valdez says. "That was the look, but the feel was that we didn't want to make a hardcore fighting game - because the Bourne fan-base goes beyond hardcore gamers."

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