Bionic Commando Review
Monday, May 18, 2009 3:53 PM
Imagine Spider-Man, Fallout 3 and Gears of War rolled into one, except not as good as any of them.
Sometimes you just think a game is going to defy convention and really pull it out of the bag should it be re-imagined on a modern console. Plenty have tried and failed. Bionic Commando may have reinvented itself well, but despite a strong start and multiplayer agreeableness, it doesn't quite hit the target.
The screens are excellent. The concept is inspired. And yet, from the start of the game, nothing seems...complete. Even the storyline is a little shaky.
It all starts so well, too. The initial menu is attractive and control tutorials are well-embraced by loading screens, which allow you to press buttons on an on-screen animated controller, explaining everything in minute detail.
But then you start playing the game.
Videos start hitting you in the face almost immediately. Essentially, two factions are fighting one another. One side develops the aforementioned bionic commandos as a means of controlling everything, winning the battle.
They didn't learn from the X-Men's effects on society and culture, though; these cyborgs were soon stripped of their weapons and demonised by society as they weren't "human". Many fled, others were killed and a few were consigned to jail-like surroundings. One of them, Nathan Spencer, was about to face death row but then a bloody massive nuke-like bomb hit the coastal conurbation of Ascension City. Oh noes!
So he gets his arm back and unleashes havoc in a city that's largely radioactive and knackered. Still with me? Good, because it takes about three loads of the opening titles to get an idea of what the hell is happening.
The flight to Ascension City is one of the choppiest FMVs you'll see for a new title. It looks okay in terms of the models themselves, yet the framerate seems sluggish and painful.
Luckily, it doesn't last for long - the arm and Nathan are sent in separate missiles for no apparent reason, discharged into a building at high velocity. Now we hunt the arm! Jesus Christ.
We're then introduced to his in-game passing comments. Mike Patton, despite all of his good work with Faith No More, is not a good voice actor. He makes the lead character unnecessarily cocky and, ultimately, is about as funny as being slapped with a brick. As far as the gaming universe is concerned, he should've left his talents to Rock Band alone.
Everything seems fluid enough in principle - nice to look at, if not a little bland. The colour textures are reminiscent of Red Faction or Manhunt on the PS2. While these aren't visually arresting, the game's mechanics are a weak spot.
For example: evade is now becoming a staple of shoot 'em ups. In Gears of War, Marcus flies about the place, idly doing acrobatics that Olga Korbut would've been proud of at her peak. Nathan awkwardly throws himself into the floor to move the length of two paces, seemingly intent on breaking his own neck. It does nothing important for defence against bullets.
Shooting is a strange exercise too, something that's spray and pray without tapping R3 to aim.
However, it's the early tutorial that introduces a whole level of self-flagellation for someone playing Bionic Commando, as you realise just how cumbersome the more fancy controls can feel at times.
Firstly, it doesn't even try to interlink with the action in the game, instead taking the player to a sterile and austere environment featuring a different commando who resembles an early 90s Action Man doll (a bit like Bionic Commando Rearmed). You learn how to attach to surfaces, fight dolls and hack relay stations; a key part of the game (and a little formulaic).
While the ideas presented are genuinely interesting and fun, particularly those for fighting (like the brilliant Death from Above), it doesn't feel that well executed.
It takes ages to complete the swinging tutorial alone as the game seems to have absolutely no grasp of how gravity works. Timing when to let go and reattach to another surface during a swing is guesswork at best. It's even less fun when the game tells you "great jump!" as you plummet towards the hell-like pit below at high speed.
Luckily, this anger dissipates quite quickly, thanks to solid level design by the developers.
Exiting the building via a free-fall, which allows you to take control in a more open world, is well realised. It's like the famous Assassin's Creed tower jumps, except you have Spider-Man-esque swinging abilities to grapple onto the desiccated lampposts and street signs, as opposed to dropping into a bale of hay without breaking your neck. This doesn't let off, either - the environments seem to get better and better.
Despite the relative clunky execution of the attach and swing system, when you figure Bionic Commando's interpretation of physics, it becomes, well, fun.
And it's this which drives the multiplayer. While it's a flawed personal experience, the online environment is quite fun. The swinging is integral to battles and there are plenty of cleverly-crafted maps where hotspots develop, with the usual staples of multiplayer, such as deathmatch and capture the flag.
Sadly, given the timing of the release, the online environment was quite sparsely populated during the reviewing process, but many gamers had genuinely picked up some mad skills which is testament to some lingering addiction the game can give off.
All in all, it's far from perfect but worth a bash if you're bored, particularly the multiplayer, though it's hard to see this rivalling any of the more established contenders, such as Call of Duty or Halo 3.
There's something genuinely addictive about it in parts, with latter levels genuinely giving the player a reason to play through. To do this, you either have to get used to a questionable control system or learn game physics from scratch.
Still, if you want value for money and an experience worth remembering, get Bionic Commando Rearmed on Xbox Live, PC or PS3. It's under a tenner, has a better sense of humour and is more like the platformer we know and love.
Capcom have built the foundations. It may be a bit early to assume a second will follow or that it's even being considered, but they'll make a better job of it next time. It's Capcom, after all.