Bionic Commando
by Polly


Game Screenshots nicked from GameSpot


Go! Go! Bionic!
Swedish developer Grin brought more than a well...passing grin to my jaded little gamer face last year with the release of the next-generation remake Bionic Commando: Re-Armed. Oh, how stupidly happy I was. It's a game that became an addiction that's probably never really let go, as I still quite enjoy playing it. Even a year later when I've done fucking everything in it, including finishing Super Hard mode and clearing every Challenge Room, I can still manage to have fun putting it on once in a while and running through a few stages.

Included with the game was a teaser trailer for an all-new Bionic Commando for the next generation. A fully-3D affair bringing the swing and shoot mechanic into a new dimension for the first time. Though I'm always skeptical of these kinds of moves, Bionic Commando is so far drilled into my psyche that I desperately wanted this game to be fantastic. It looked so ridiculously fun in all the videos and reviews I'd seen and this past weekend I was finally able to snatch up a copy for PS3 and see if my expectations could possibly be met.


It's Not Rad Anymore, Just Nathan
Bionic Commando despite taking the original game's name (God, why do they do this?), is a sequel to the original game after all these years. It takes place ten years after the events of the original during the middle of a Bionic Purge, wherein Bionics users are hunted down and ultimately disposed of. Nathan Spencer is, of course, on this list as well, but the detonation of a nuclear device smack-dab in the middle of Ascension City by terrorist group BioReign, puts a stop to that shit in a hurry and Nathan, along with radio aid from Super Joe, set out to give Bionics a good name again. Even if nobody's left alive to see it.

The story plays out mostly through radio chatter between Nathan and Super Joe with some small cutscenes sprinkled in here and there. It's about on par with any old 1980's action movie, so if you've ever seen one, nothing that happens in this game's story will really surprise or awe you. Though it would have been nice for the world to be a little more detailed or the story to make a bit more sense, it's not entirely necessary. Story in a game like this just gets in the way of all that swingin' 'n shootin' anyway!


Dark 'n Gritty
Last year's Bionic Commando: Re-Armed featured a cartoony and stylized look that helped give everything that appeared on screen a large amount of character. Bionic Commando goes the other direction, opting for a more gritty and modern look most games go for and I can't help but feel the game suffers because of it. The visuals of Ascension City and all locales within it still look great, but aside from one or two areas the predominant colors are brown and gray and the whole thing lacks life. I guess from an artistic standpoint that makes sense given that a nuclear device just went off and everything is in shambles, but something just feels like it's missing.

In terms of models, the work that went into updating Nathan's look is top-notch (though you can still play as old Rad Spencer if you own BC:R). The most interesting part of this update is finally seeing the Bionic Arm fully-realized in 3D and it really is quite a nice piece of machinery to look at...


Even if it's stuffed full of hot dogs.


Enemy soldiers, on the other hand, are fairly boring to look at and their animations look strangely "fluttery." It's hard to explain, but they don't really look like they're walking or running around, they just kinda flutter about on the ground. Mechanical enemies and bosses, however, clearly got the better end of the deal. They're big, menacing, and stylish all at the same time, but they're never quite as common as the grunts you'll be disposing of most of the time.

The audio department sees even more new revisions of the original's tunes plus some nicely done new tracks. This time around most of the tunes sound more like they're from an action flick rather than a video game, opting for a more orchestrated sound than last year's drum 'n bass influenced background tuneage.

While the soundtrack is both immersive and enjoyable, the sound effects are in a word, blaaaaah. In a game that wants to be as over the top as this one does, the weapon sound effects do nothing at all to achieve that. They're all so puny and lack any kind of punch, which in turn makes every weapon in your arsenal feel and sound more like a glorified squirt gun than a grenade launcher or shotgun. It's something I rarely ever complain about, but again, I think it hurts the overall atmosphere of the game since Nathan is essentially supposed to be a loud and angry "Contra Dude".

Finally, the voice acting in the game is alright, but given that the story's really not all that important, it's only worth mentioning in passing. Though I will say, Mike Patton of Faith No More fame makes for a damn good Spencer with his cheesy one-liners and cynical exchanges with his commanding officers.


Swinger's Club
Alright, time to rip this game apart to see what works and what doesn't...

Not surprisingly the Bionic Arm swinging mechanics work great. They pretty much had to or the game would be a total loss from the get-go. But just because it's great, doesn't mean that it lacks any kind of difficulty. In fact, your first two hours of the game will likely be spent trying to get over its somewhat difficult learning curve. This isn't due to any kind of problem with swinging controls, it's just that the mechanic is likely different from what you're used to in terms of getting around.

The Bionic Arm can latch onto almost any surface and so long as you keep the Bionic Arm button held down you'll automatically latch onto the next surface you swing to. The hardest part of this system is learning to use the camera to focus your view onto the new surface as you fly through the air. If you keep the Bionic Arm button held down during flight, Nathan will latch on to your next stop. Once you're good with focusing the camera, the rest is just timing your swings, which the game helps you do as well by providing a little "swing now" type icon to indicate the best angle to release. As with the original, it just takes practice.

The Bionic Arm isn't only limited to making your way around stages. You can now use it as a full-on offensive device should the situation be optimal for it. Nathan can latch onto enemies and reel himself in to kick them to the ground, swing the wire around him wildly and incapacitate nearly all foes close to him, and of course he can pick up objects and throw them into enemies. This actaully works fairly well, as the game helps to lock your thrown objectts onto enemies making things a little easier. You've also got a good deal of non-Bionic Arm-related maneuvers at your command, such as deadly punches that can send objects and enemies flying hundreds of yards away and the always satisfying Death From Above maneuver which involves Nathan falling hundreds of feet from the air and landing in the middle of a group of enemies sending them flying like human bowling pins.

Weaponry other than your arm and special maneuvers is lacking quite a bit. Nathan's got a decent'ish arsenal of guns to play with, but you'll likely find yourself armed with your dinky pistol and grenades most of the time. You've got standard weapons you can find along the way such as a shotgun, a sniper rifle, and a grenade launcher, but these weapons are few and far between and ammo for them is ridiculously sparse, limiting your use of them to very specific situations.

The one time that your weapons don't feel tacked on or useless are the large set piece skirmishes with mechanical enemies and boss fights. These fights manage to make great use of the environments you're in, the swinging mechanics, AND your weapons. They're an absolute blast to play, but are so few and far between and over so quickly that they get buried under everything in the game that's lacking.

Up until now, I've been mostly positive about the game, so you knew it had to come crashing down at some point, right? Well, here it is...

Bionic Commando's biggest crime may be its false sense of freedom. With a device as versatile and fun as the Bionic Arm at your disposal, you'd think there'd be some element of exploration and strategy to it, but the game is painfully linear. You can go out of your way to acquire some pick-ups scattered across every area, but it feels like pointless busy work for achievements/trophies and I don't give a fuck about either. Yes, the game has you in a stranglehold the whole way through making use of something even shittier than invisible walls from a design standpoint...


THE BANE OF YOUR MOTHERFUCKING EXISTENCE!


Get used to seeing that a lot. It's the developers way of kindly saying, "Hey fuckhole, you went the wrong way, go back the other way next time." Any area that you can see that the game doesn't want you to go to (which is about 80% of any stage) is blocked off by large blue clouds of radiation. Step into it and you're done for. There's little to no reaction time for you to try and pull out, so once you're in, you're done for. It's all too painfully obvious that radiation is utilized to make you play the game one way: The developers' way.

In most areas if you get too close to the ground, you're consumed by radiation. In other areas if you climb to a rooftop the devs didn't want you to go to you're, again, consumed by radiation. In a large portion of areas, radiation consumes both the sky and the ground...which MAKES NO FUCKING SENSE WHATSOEVER! I'll never forget times I was flying through the air, accidentally swinging too high and choking to death as I was coming down. Needless to say, deaths by radiation go a long way toward making the game downright frustrating.

On top of radiation, you also have water to deal with. Predictably, if Nathan lands in water he drops like a fuckin' 8-bit Belmont under the weight of the Bionic Arm and is rendered 99% immobile. In a design choice, which is clearly the developers laughing at the player, Nathan is given an oxygen gauge that depletes in all of 3 seconds and he dies. While submerged you can feebly attempt to make use of the Bionic Arm, but by the time you've hit bottom there's rarely ever anything around to pull yourself out and it's another lost cause. Seriously, just kill me when I hit water above my head, okay guys? You're WASTING MY TIME!

Another blemish on the game as a whole is the gunplay. It's quite simply not very fun or engaging. Other than severely limited ammunition and uninspired designs of the weapons, there's not a whole lot wrong with them, it's just that there's far more fun to be had using the Bionic Arm. To be fair, you can use your special abilities to get by a lot of the time. It simply has to do with being aware of your surroundings and making use of objects around you to throw or a well-aimed Death From Above. The times you'll be forced to use guns are some of the lowest points of the game though.

Bionic Commando is hard. Played on the Commando difficulty, this game will ream your ass out good. Don't be an idiot like me and play on the hardest difficulty the first time. Traipsing back through Normal on my 2nd playthrough now, I feel most of the complaints below are still valid.

Unfortunately, to me, the game always feels like a generic hard rather than a challenge a lot of the time. Putting aside the lame-ass radiation and water deaths (and you're going to see a lot of them), enemies just always seem to have a bead on your position and can fire at you with staggering accuracy from ridiculous distances none of your weapons can even come close to hitting. Your health does regenerate if you can find some cover to hide behind for a few seconds, but enemies can and will overwhelm you on a number of occasions, forcing you to replay entire areas of the game many times, because some checkpoints are simply too damn far from one another.

Over And Out
It's hard not to be a little disappointed with Bionic Commando. For every one or two things it does right, it balances itself out by doing something incredibly stupid. It's not that the game has problems code-wise, it's just bone-headed design choices. So many parts of the game are so slapped together and unfinished that it feels way too uneven. You can feel a truly awesome game in there trying so damn hard to claw its way out, but it can only seem to get an arm or a fist through before falling back down and having to climb up again. Bionic Commando is a game definitely worth checking out. I know I've said a lot of harsh things about it, but there is an element of fun, it just comes and goes. If you want a fun spin on the third-person run and gun shooter, I'd suggest either renting it or waiting for the price to drop a bit (I got it for $20 on a sale). If you're a Bionic Commando head like me, this may warrant the $40-50 price tag.






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