2002 was a momentous year for the spy movie. It was the year James Bond finally jumped the shark in Die Another Day, figuratively with that absurd invisible car, and almost literally in the laughable para-sailing sequence. It was also the year that Jason Bourne made his big-screen debut, anticipating a fundamental shift in the nature of espionage which ultimately led to the back-to-basics brutality of Daniel Craig's beefcake Bond in 2006's Casino Royale.
The public had tired of the sideshow antics of leather-faced Brosnan and the disastrous devolution of Bond's spycraft from the art of the possible to the farce of the impossible. The intelligent, gripping, just-plausible-enough fiction of Bourne seemed a perfect fit for the space old tea-face had left in his wake. The Bourne trilogy of movies, which concluded with last year's Bourne Ultimatum, then, were surely perfect fodder for the videogame treatment: but games came there none. Until now, of course, with a title not directly affiliated with any of the movies, but which nevertheless seeks to deliver the quintessential Bourne experience to players.
In its pursuit of authenticity, the team at High Moon Studios encountered a rather big problem early on: Bourne actor Matt Damon decided he didn't want anything to do with the game, apparently because of its violent, all-action style, expressing a preference for a Myst-style adventure.
Good riddance to the bed-wetter, we say. And, in truth, the only team this is a problem for is publisher Sierra's marketing department. Freshly unencumbered, High Moon could focus on the game, rather that getting sucked into the suffocating quicksand of image rights and celebrity approval. The videogame Bourne is therefore an unrecognisable, generic action hero in appearance. But, lest we forget, there is no one true Bond - as the worlds-apart depictions of George Lazenby in On Her Majesty's Secret Service and the mighty Roger Moore in A View To A Kill testify. And since the Bourne Conspiracy is not a direct translation of any of the movies, this works just fine.
The game overlaps parts of the action of the first Bourne movie, with Jase firmly in the cold, amnesiac assassin's role, before he turned into a whiny, guilt-ridden liberal in the later films. And it offers a familiar take on third-person action, with stealth-based infiltration, cover-and-fire, hand-to-hand combat, and high speed car chases.
We'll tell you exactly what we think very soon, with the game out on PS3 and Xbox 360 in Europe on 27th June. Before that, we've tied up James the Cameraman and tortured him into providing an exclusive video roundup of the game's early scenes.
1 - High Moon's attempt to give the game a distinctive stamp comes through the fabulously satisfying environmental kills - hit the 'takedown' button and Bourne automatically makes use of whatever's nearest to batter his foe, with wince-inducing results. The most divisive element is the decision to fill the game with quick-time-events: love or hate the mechanic, the team figured this was the best way to create a 'cinematic' experience. You'll see all of this in the opening sequence.
2 - A strapping young man in figure-hugging outfit, wandering around the docks at night is always liable to encounter action of one sort or another. Bourne's bedside manner must be appalling if the violent response of the guards here is anything to go by. More frenetic action here, plus a glimpse of firearm-takedowns and a boss fight.
3 - From the salty-air of the docks to the stale confines of an underground car-park. Bourne is tasked with taking out a target before the cops remove him via plane. You'll see a broad range of fist-based combos, gun-takedowns and a quite exceptional use of a vending machine.
4 - Ah, welcome back, action-sequence-on-a-train: we've missed you. Bourne carefully picks his way through carriages and tunnels in hot pursuit of his prey as he tries to escape on the plane. Hmm, now we wonder if that fire extinguisher could be put to any use?
5 - We're back to the water and sneaking straight onto a boat in our final clip. Some good examples of the utility of Bourne's spy-sense ability here, which allows him to pick-out useful items and objects in the surrounding environment. And it's all rounded off with an epic scrap on the main deck in the midst of a violent thunderstorm. No para-sailing, promise.
Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Conspiracy is due out on 27th June. Look out for our review imminently.