Bionic Commando is the long-awaited reincarnation of the classic side-scrolling platform shooter from Capcom, which was recently recreated as Bionic Commando Rearmed for Xbox LIVE and PSN. Developed by Swedish studio Grin, best known for the PC versions of Tom Clancy’s GRAW titles, Bionic Commando has received a complete overhaul, and now takes on a 3D third-person perspective. And it’s not a remake either; it follows the exploits of Nathan ‘RAD’ Spencer, the protagonist from Rearmed.
Before I get to the gameplay and other aspects of the game, let me get the story out of the way. Bionic Commandos are soldiers who once fought for the good guys (the government), and were instrumental in helping them defeat the bad guys (terrorists). Soon after the good guys won, they turned their backs on their bionic saviors. They lost faith in the bionic commandos and labeled them freaks. The government started rounding up these soldiers; some were killed, some escaped, few were captured.
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Fast-forward to the present, and the bad guys are back, this time as pro-bionic terrorists, and the good guys find themselves in a tough spot once again. And in their hour of crisis, they turn to Bionic Commando Spencer, rotting in prison and stranded on death row. A nuclear attack has taken out half of Ascension City, and Spencer is sent in to take out the terrorists. He finds himself in a ravaged concrete jungle and the only humans around are terrorists soldiers. As a result of the blast, parts of the city are highly radioactive and Spencer cannot venture into these areas; they act as boundaries to the game environment. The levels are as linear as they come.
The USP of Bionic Commando is the features of the bionic arm; all other weapons play second fiddle. As detailed in our preview, the arm has multiple uses. It helps Spencer get around by using the arm to swing across the environment, not unlike Spiderman. It can also be used as a weapon; you can either kite objects such as concrete blocks and cars and toss them at enemies or grab an enemy with it and reel yourself towards him in a drop-kick. As cool as it looks, this maneuvre inflicts a surprisingly low amount of damage. Once your adrenaline meter is full, the bionic arm can unleash a more powerful melee attack that will take out all enemies within a fixed distance.
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You can also use the arm to shake loose certain objects. This can help you break weak walls or drop monorail carriages on unsuspecting enemies below, both of which cannot be done with the other available weapons. You can also punch heavy objects into the air and roundhouse kick them onto enemies while in mid-air, similar to the kite maneuvre. To take out many foes at a time, there is Death From Above, an attack performed from higher ground, whereby Spencer lands hard, sending a shockwave through the ground and killing or wounding those in the vicinity. So there’s a lot the bionic arm is capable of. It’s offensive uses make it the weapon of choice, with all but the most powerful firearms merely used as backup.
You will spend a lot of time in the game swinging. Since the city is left devastated following a nuclear attack, there are many craters in the ground and getting around on foot isn’t an option. Even if it is, swinging across is a lot quicker, and once you get the hang of it, it’s a lot of fun too. Mastering the swinging mechanic takes a bit of time, and the training section, which will seem instantly familiar to those who’ve played Bionic Commando Rearmed, does a pretty good job of showing you the ropes. But the key is stringing these swings together and even after you’ve got the timing and the direction right, there is a fair amount of trial and error involved.
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Various sections of a level are broken up by minefields, which are basically electrocuted blimps suspended in the air that cover distances of a level where traveling on foot is impossible. You must defeat enemies that protect a computerised hub and doing so will allow you to hack into this hub and deactivate the minefield and progress further. Traversing these minefields though can often be frustrating, because even after you’ve mastered the timing of the swing, you’ll very often miss a blimp even though you’ve done everything right. When the minefields are large, this can get especially infuriating because you will have to do it all over again.
Adding to the frustration are the game’s long load times (on both platforms) and ridiculous checkpoint system. These combine to make the game’s otherwise 9-10 hour single-player campaign seem a lot longer. When you’re at a difficult boss fight, where you’re bound to die a few times, it would help not to have to swing half a kilometer to the boss fight location each time you die.
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But while the swinging mechanics are less than perfect, they are endlessly fun all the same and are particularly useful during boss fights, not only because the bionic arm is vital to overcoming these bosses, but because it lets you move around a lot faster and gets you out of tricky situations. The boss fights themselves are a lot of fun and quite varied too. Firstly, there are the mini-bosses, which are human-controlled mechs called Biomechs, and flying killing machines called Polycraft. One-on-one they’re easy to take out, but when the game throws two or three at you in a confined space, you will have your task cut out for you. And to make things more interesting, you’ll also have snipers gunning for you. The bigger bosses are quite a handful and as boss battles should be, finishing them off really feels like an achievement.
The common theme here is that the game is meant to be played at a fast pace. While you can take your time across the minefields, once you’re in the thick of the action, you have to keep moving to survive; taking cover is rarely an option and the bionic arm is the key. Besides swinging, you will also need it to climb objects (it works strikingly similar to the wire controls in Lost Planet) and pull yourself out of a tough spot.
Next page: The verdict