(Originally posted on Retro Retreat before its hiatus.)
Binary Domain, American McGee’s Alice: Madness Returns, Anarchy Reigns.
If this generation has proved anything as we go into the next, critical reception on anything under the “Good, but not flawless” banner has been much louder than those who accept titles under that banner for what they are.
PROS: Nice Visuals. Swinging mechanics are fun.
CONS: Direction isn’t always clear. DOA Multiplayer.
SAY WHA?: The “Oh come on” surprise in the storyline.
Bionic Commando is one of the games this generation where this has never been truer. Developed by GRIN, (Who would cease to exist shortly after Bionic Commando’s release) Bionic Commando seems on it’s face to hit all of the bullet points third person action fans would come to expect. It has really nice visuals. It gets the swinging mechanic the series it continues is known for right.
It has some fun action, and mechanics. It has a stock action movie story done in the way one might expect. It has notable voice actors like Steven Blum attached to it. Like most action games, it even puts in a pretty fun multiplayer mode.
Giving players all of these things would lead one to believe nobody would take any serious issues with the game. So just why did this game get such a bad buzz three years ago?
Bionic Commando (For those who skipped it) is a third person action game that attempts to continue the mythos set up by the original arcade game, and it’s NES port.
In the original game players took control of Super Joe, and with his grappling hook snuck around vast levels as waves of enemies came from all sides. In this game, several years have passed, and a new Bionic Commando named Nathan Spencer is on death row. A mysterious attack that vaporizes Ascension City occurs however, and Super Joe is able to negotiate Nathan’s release by convincing the authorities he’s the only one who can figure out why the city was destroyed, and by whom.
As the story progresses the game essentially becomes a cut, and paste Government betrayal B Action movie plot, but it is done entertainingly, and Steven Blum is as fun as ever playing the role of Super Joe.
The gameplay is broken up between bits of platforming, stealth, and shootouts. All of which will require players to master the game’s swinging mechanics. The swinging mechanics are a lot of fun, and are easily the best part of playing Bionic Commando. Nathan can swing from point to point like Spider-Man. He can reel himself in, and as the game progresses perform signature attack moves. Swinging cars, or forklifts, or boulders into giant mechs, or groups of foot soldiers becomes an awesome experience.
Other times you will have to sneak up upon snipers through alternate routes through stages as going gung-ho will probably get you killed. Within each level are also certain collectibles you can seek out. Collecting them all will unlock concept art, special moves or other secrets.
The game has a radar system that points you where to go, but it isn’t always clear on how to get there. It’s here where one of the main criticisms those who didn’t like the game fairly bring up. Stages have borders on every axis. Going too far out the stage leads Nathan into radioactive clouds of doom, and a Game Over screen. On the positive side this does prevent players from trying to cheat their way around levels by going above or around everything. On the negative side
is the fact that the outskirts of the levels aren’t always apparent. So in some stages you may find yourself restarting several times as you try to figure out just where exactly doesn’t lead to a restart. All of that being said, it still isn’t anywhere near as bad as they would have you believe.
The campaign does line up into a structure (Including a few nice training missions to help you master the controls) Most stages involve getting to a few check points through the platforming sections, then doing some light combat in between. Checkpoints are veiled as radio beacons that have to be hacked in order to progress, and to give you background exposition you can read if you’ve become vested in the storyline. Certain points in the game will have you using specialized weapons from shotguns, to sniper rifles, to rocket launchers. Gunplay seems fine with not much to gripe about, although some players may wish they could attack with their bionic arm more than resorting to the weapons. Interestingly one classic game element Bionic Commando brings back to action fans are Gibbs. Ballistics, and explosives will sometimes dismember the enemy grunts bringing one back to the classic days of scoring headshots in Unreal Tournament.
It doesn’t add anything to the gameplay mind you, but with so few games doing it this generation, it is one of the small touches you will likely remember. Environments do change a bit here, and there throughout the campaign to keep you from getting bored hanging out in a destroyed metropolis too. Including underground caverns, and forests. Boss battles are actually a lot of fun, as they require the use of precision swinging as well as whatever weapons the game requires you to use to beat them. Again, some will decry the fact you can’t do it all with the grappling arm, but again it doesn’t make for a terrible game.
Multiplayer at this point is dead so going to attempt it is pointless. But upon release would have made for an honestly interesting variant on the typical Deathmatch modes. Maps again, like the single player bosses required good players to be able to balance shooting, with swinging, and stealth. One can only hope a future developer can make the idea work for Capcom as a Bionic Commando title or another developer as a competent multiplayer shooter.
Unfortunately with no multiplayer to give it longevity the entire game has to be judged by it’s single player campaign. Be that as it may, Bionic Commando isn’t a bad game by any means. It certainly isn’t flawless, and there are certain advantages or disadvantages between versions. On the Xbox 360 you have your usual achievement system, but there are some minor clipping bugs. On the Playstation 3 you get pretty much the exact same game as the Xbox 360. Buying the Windows version will net you much nicer textures, and a higher resolution. But there are no achievements, and using the mouse, and keyboard will still display the button layout for the Xbox 360 pad. So those picking it up on Steam will probably want to use the 360 pad despite the faster response times of mice.
Bionic Commando was one of those titles that was killed by an undeserved bad reputation. It’s a shame that GRIN’s follow up Terminator Salvation which really was a bad game, outsold it before the studio was forced to close. At $10 on Steam it’s worth seeing what you missed if you never gave it a shot upon release. For those on consoles it can also be found fairly inexpensively.
Final Score: 7 out of 10 (Pick it up. It’s a fun weekend in.)