Bionic Commando Review (PS3)

Swing and shoot. Thatís pretty much everything you need to know about Bionic Commandoís core gameplay mechanics, and itís hardly a surprising summation given that the arcade version from 1987 and the1988 NES original (which this has more in common with) can be summed up using the same three words. With the NES version remade as Bionic Commando: Rearmed for PSN and XBLA, this ties-in as a direct sequel set ten years after the events of the previous instalment.

During these ten years, it transpires that bionics have been outlawed, leaving protagonist Nathan ĎRADí Spencer shorn of his mechanical appendage, betrayed by his own government and falsely imprisoned. Also in this time, terrorist group BioReign have taken over Ascension City, following the detonation of a highly destructive weapon that has left the area a predominantly submerged, radioactive, post-apocalyptic wasteland, which prompts Spencerís release. Emerging from his cell looking like a steroid fuelled Mick Hucknall, complete with mop of red dreadlocks, but voiced by Faith No More frontman Mike Patton, Spencer is reunited with his bionic arm and with Super Joe, who now acts as your commander with helpful voiceovers out in the field. Inevitably, the fate of Ascension City rests on your single robotic shoulder as you venture out into the ravaged urban nightmare and take on the despotic BioReign faction.

Getting your swing momentum just right is very rewarding. Hitting the invisible ceiling at the peak of your swing isn't.
Visually, Bionic Commando is actually rather accomplished although some locales can become a tad samey. The depth of field effect is very nicely done though.

Initially, we thought Bionic Commando was going to be an open-world game, with your swinging antics unencumbered by boundaries and limitations. In reality, the game is resolutely linear, with the streets and vertiginous heights hemmed in by radiation as indicated by a symbol and Geiger counter clicking sound whenever you attempt to breach the boundaries. Wander too far into the limbo of these noxious radioactive zones and youíll be dead within seconds. Similarly, the majority of Ascension City is beneath water and should you plunge beneath even a few feet of the wet stuff, the weight of Spencerís arm will drag him below the surface unless you can quickly find a way to tether yourself to safety amid the panic of drowning.

Annoyingly, this can become a regular occurrence, as sometimes itís difficult to gauge whether or not you can make a particularly ambitious leap without missing your grappling point entirely. The way in which the grappling system has been implemented is for the most part excellent however, giving you a context sensitive crosshair that goes grey if youíre not close enough to your target and lights up blue if youíre within reach. Swinging is great fun once you get the timing right and learn to release at the right time before you hit the invisible ceiling that prevents you from swinging over a full 360 degrees. Annoyingly, itís this glass barrier that sometimes stops your momentum dead and leads to a fall that leaves you desperately stabbing the trigger in an attempt to latch onto anything before you end up sinking in the drink below.

Mercifully, most of the environment is interactive and will work with your grappling hook arm if the reticule indicates. Yet, inexplicably some portions of the scenery remain off limits, acting as an obstruction to allowing you complete freedom to explore the areas that arenít waterlogged or plagued by purple clouds of nuclear fallout. Bionic Commandoís levels stretch to take in far off locations with GRINís proprietary Diesel Engine providing a robust draw distance that creates the illusion of a sprawling open-world, but when so many limitations are imposed upon your progress and extent to explore your surroundings, itís hard not to feel slightly short-changed.

This Baraq helicopter is easy to dispatch once you realise how to overcome the countermeasures it launches to send your heat-seeking missiles packing.
Spencer's swan dive facilitates reaching some of the more inaccessible swing points. You canít always rely on it though.

Once youíve grasped the fact that Bionic Commando isnít the expansive sandbox experience you thought it might be, you begin to appreciate it for the solid action adventure it is, even in spite of itís numerous tics and idiosyncrasies. As frustrating as it can be at times, itís still an enjoyable and entertaining game while it lasts and this is all due in no small part to Spencerís versatile bionic arm, a mass of heavy metal and tendon-like wiring bolted to his left shoulder, which is clearly the gameís main selling point and star of the show. At the beginning of the game, the abilities assigned to your arm are quite paltry, with only Spider-Man-style swinging and a light punch in your repertoire. The gameís early tutorial takes place in the past before Spencer was imprisoned and looked a whole lot cooler in a retro kinda way with his cropped red hair and aviator sunglasses as seen in Rearmed. During this tutorial, youíre divulged a tantalising glimpse of the extra abilities youíll earn along the way as the game unfolds and Spencer gradually recalls his old moves one at a time. As you unlock each new move, the game becomes more and more fun little by little. Using your arm to kite objects into the air and throw them across great distances is a joy for instance, as is building up your adrenaline meter to unleash a vicious spinning whip attack that takes out any enemies in the immediate vicinity.

In traditional videogame style, each unlockable ability is drip-fed to you as and when you need it, so the earlier sections are spent mastering the swing technique and honing your shooting skills. The game solely depends on the pursuit of Spencerís nascent abilities to add zest to the gameís combat since the hand wielded weapons are fairly standard fare ranging from your default handgun, sniper rifle and grenade launcher. A rigidly linear structure based on reaching green waypoints and hacking relays to deactivate impeding mines would also be cripplingly dull were it not for the method by which you navigate Ascension City and the growing range of combat options at your disposal. There are moments too where you feel that some of the environments you visit are needlessly vast with little to do in them other than swing towards your next objective. BioReign soldiers also crop up less frequently than they perhaps should, although the odd boss encounter spices things up when youíre spoiling for a fight.

You can use your arm to tear pieces of scenery down, pick them up and throw them at enemies later in the game.
Here Spencer is using his arm to kite a crate into the air, which can then be cast long distances to take out multiple enemies if youíve good enough aim.

Bionic Commando is a decent enough stab at revamping an old IP for current-gen consoles and is likeable enough to warrant a thorough playthrough. Thereís a fairly nice multiplayer mode included too, which successfully transfers Spencerís abilities over to your own non-descript bionic soldier that you can play as online. The appeal of both single and multiplayer experiences are somewhat short-lived however, and once youíve got the measure of each, youíll be hard pushed to return to them. The core single-player campaign offers a fair few hours of gameplay for your money, although very few junctures are particularly memorable. As a mix of Crackdown-like superpowers and Spider-Man swinging though, Bionic Commando is largely successful. Its only failings are that on the surface it promises so much, yet only manages to deliver on some of that initial promise. Nonetheless, it progressively becomes easier for you to forgive the games shortcomings once you persevere and inevitably get into the swing of things.

Top game moment: Throwing a giant boulder across a gaping chasm into the face of a BioReign soldier. Picking up an enemy and casting him into the same chasm comes a very close second.



By Hunter_Raj (SI Member) on Aug 28, 2009
Bionic Commando it's cool we are playing it's nice