|System: X360, PS3, PC||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: GRIN||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: CAPCOM||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: July 28, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-8||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Mature||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Jonathan Marx
Bionic Commando, a classic from the 8-bit era, was a rather unknown quantity to all but a handful of older gamers up to just a couple years ago. However, GRIN's Bionic Commando: Rearmed, arguably the best downloadable arcade title to hit the PC and next-gen consoles, changed all that. The exquisite, undeniably difficult platform gameplay was re-imagined to perfection by the Swedish developer. Not surprisingly, GRIN did a very nice job translating the addictive action of the franchise to their latest 3D adventure for PC, Xbox 360, and PS3: Bionic Commando. Still, a few key missteps hold the title back significantly, making this fun title one not everyone will enjoy.
Despite the game's retro-moniker, this is not a remade version of the NES title; this next-gen Bionic Commando is actually a sequel to it (and, subsequently, that of Bionic Commando: Rearmed). Of course, the franchise's flame-haired protagonist, Nathan "RAD" Spencer, is back and ready to dish out the pain. The story in Bionic Commando centers on a new threat, called BioReign, made up of remaining elements from the defeated fascist Imperials and rogue TASC operatives. You see, many TASC agents decided to go rogue after public sentiment concerning the use of bionics turned south in the wake of Spencer's folly. Nathan Spencer, the first Bionic Commando and hero that saved the world from Albatross, was convicted of treason following his denial of a direct order to eliminate two bionic prototypes. The political fallout that ensued is known as the Bionic Purge, as all bionics were mandated by law to turn in their bionic appendages or have them forcibly removed. Whilst on death row, waiting for execution, Spencer's life is saved by one-time friend and commander, Joseph "Super Joe" Gibson - the man that betrayed Nathan in the first place. Naturally, in a Rambo 2-like scenario, Spencer is pulled from his incarceration in order to go on a covert mission to save the world from the new threat in the wake of a massively destructive attack launched on Ascension City.
If this story sounds convoluted and ridiculous, that's because it is. In fact, the storyline in Bionic Commando is one of those missteps I alluded to earlier. The narrative never succeeds at driving players forward. While the franchise it's based on has always been known for its over-the-top plot, the humorous magic captured in the 2D versions falls completely flat in this 3D version. Despite the story's poor transition, I did enjoy the insertion of homage elements such as hacked relays, intercepted conversations and communiqués, radioactive areas, and not-so-subtle enemy weakpoints.
Thankfully, the gameplay in Bionic Commando is a ton of fun. What's more, it can be very difficult at times. GRIN did a great job of implementing the swinging, platform action in an interesting 3D world. At first, I was very worried about how difficult the controls seemed. However, after just about five minutes I was swinging around competently, and after an hour I was money - pulling off sick maneuvers that would make RAD himself proud. Truly, the grappling, vertical platforming is the game's greatest strength. Anyone who puts the requisite time into learning the control scheme will have a lot of fun with the mechanic. I found myself getting very creative in the way I was tackling objectives. Even though the progression in Bionic Commando is largely linear, the world is actually quite open, offering players myriad ways to skin the proverbial cat, due solely to the unique bionic arm element of the game.
Spencer's bionic arm is not solely an implement for grasping and swinging around the environment, it is also an effective weapon. In truth, players will likely use the arm for the vast majority of their kills, reserving standard firearms for specific situations. Performing simple moves such as zip kicks, rip kills, and kiting, as well throwing and smashing people and objects with the appendage never really get old. Moreover, once your Adrenaline Gauge is unlocked and advanced powers, such as the room-clearing whip spin and the mecha-demolishing finishing move, become available, it's hard to settle for hum-drum gun kills. Nevertheless, an assortment of weaponry will be made available to players throughout the game in limited quantities. The third-person shooting mechanic is simply implemented and easily mastered. In no time, players accustomed to shooters will be able to plink their way through sticky situations.
An excellent feature brought into the game is that of 8-bit collectibles, challenges, and rewards. Strewn throughout every section of every level are a set number of floating, pixelated orbs. Players will be tested by these goodies to not only beat the level's main objective but to master the art of using the wire to collect all of them. This not only encourages players to investigate and explore the world, it also feels like an honor to both the game's graphical roots and to the era in which the franchise was born.