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Jason Picker
10 Jun, 2009

Bionic Commando Review

PS3 Review | Arm-y of one.
Playing Bionic Commando is a little bit like getting an awesome go-kart for Christmas and only being able to use it in your backyard: it’s still a lot of fun, but it would be much better if only you were given some more room. While the game gives you ability to swing from almost every conceivable surface with very good control, at times the level design undoes some of the ‘fun’ factor by keeping you constrained to small and linear playing areas. Even though a lot of games have weakly mimicked the Grand Theft Auto series by creating open ‘sandbox’ worlds, if any game justified this approach, it’s Bionic Commando.

For the uninitiated, Bionic Commando is a direct sequel to the NES game released more than 20 years ago. It’s not necessary to have played the original game as you're given a pretty good idea of what has transpired. You are Nathan Spencer, an ageing dude with a metal arm and an unfortunate hairdo (attention every ageing white man in the world - Axl Rose included - cornrows do not look good on you). At the start of the game, Spencer is in prison and awaiting execution after he was betrayed by the government agency he worked for, the FSA. During a mission, Spencer had failed to eliminate other rogue 'bionics' (people with robotic enhancements) and some innocent people died and Spencer was then made the scapegoat. The situation led to a public backlash against everyone with bionic enhancements, forcing the government to ban all bionic modifications. However, after a bomb ravages Ascension City, Spencer is predictably released from jail to help the FSA fight the terrorist threat with the promise of being told what happened to his wife. In typical government hypocrisy, he is then given his bionic arm back to do the job. Revealing more of the story would be moving into spoiler territory, but to be honest, we didn't pay a lot of attention to the hokey story while impatiently waiting to get back to the arm-swinging goodness.


Spencer is not a fan of interpretive dance.

Spencer is not a fan of interpretive dance.
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And this is really what Bionic Commando is all about – swinging, killing and generally flying around the place. The bionic arm is a pretty useful piece of kit; it can attach to most surfaces, allowing you to swing from place-to-place and to hoist yourself up onto overpass signs, building tops and other hard to reach areas. The arm also serves as a weapon, allowing you to attach to enemies and either pull yourself towards them to double kick them into oblivion, or to ‘kite’ them up in the air where you can throw them, or shoot them while they're suspended in the sky. Additionally, the arm also allows you to launch rocks, cars and even dead enemies at your foes. Further into the game, you’ll also be granted an ‘adrenalin’ move, which allows you to twirl and swing the grapple part of your arm, cutting down multiple enemies at once. It doesn’t end there either. You also have some heavy-duty footwear which allows you to fall from great heights unharmed, and allows you to perform a shockwave move upon hitting the ground. And if that wasn’t enough ways to kill things, Spencer can use weapons, such as pistols, grenades and rocket launchers, even while swinging in mid-air. Phew!

The enjoyment you’ll get from the game depends on how easily you master the controls. As you’d expect with such an array of abilities, the game uses most of the buttons on the controller, and players will often have to use two buttons at once. The majority of the time the controls feel responsive and clean, and although there is a lot to learn, the abilities are introduced gradually and you don’t have to learn them all if you don’t want to. However, the game offers 'challenges' throughout the single-player campaign, such as killing a certain number of enemies with a particular weapon while you are swinging through the air, giving you bonuses such as quicker reload times and armour boosts. These challenges reduce the need to find hidden bonuses and it rewards players for trying something different and not doing the same thing in every given situation. The challenges are also linked to the game's trophy/achievement list, meaning that you get both the gameplay bonuses and the trophies/achievements for finishing them. Sweet.


Bionic man, bionic man, doing everything a bionic man can.

Bionic man, bionic man, doing everything a bionic man can.
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Bionic Commando is not without its faults though. Given the Spider-Man-like ability to swing around the place and cause havoc, the level design sometimes works against it. Do invisible walls of death annoy you? Well prepare to be annoyed. Assertion City features areas plagued by radiation as a result of the dropped bombs. These areas are indicated by a not always obvious blue mist that hangs around the place. This basically means there are areas you can’t go into, unless you like to die a lot. In these areas of blue death, you’ll be warned with an on-screen biohazard symbol and slight damage. Get further into the blue mist of death and the symbol will flash faster and you’ll be bound for the recycle bin and/or the graveyard. The problem with this system is that it's useless when you’re in full swing and suddenly have to change your momentum to get out. This is especially frustrating with some buildings as some lower ledges may be safe, but the roof may not be. It’s a strange decision to give players such freedom of 3D movement only to limit where they can go. Why create buildings we can easily get to if it's only going to kill us?

Water is also not your friend given you have a metal arm and boots. Falling in the wet stuff doesn’t mean instant death (you’ll have a limited time to attach to a wall or tree and pull yourself out), but there are times when you’ll be forced to swing over large expanses of water with only small floating 'mines' to attach to, meaning that one slip and it's swimming with the fishes for you. There are also times you’ll find yourself in neck-high water and Spencer will be flailing around like a drowning rat. In summary, water equals bad, okay?

While we largely ignored the silly story which plays out like a bad 1980s action movie (you know, like the ones with Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme in them), we couldn’t help but notice the dialogue. Spencer is voiced by Mike Patton of Mr Bungle/Faith No More fame. While he was a revelation as the voice of The Darkness in the game of the same name, here he may as well of been any generic voice actor in the world, and his unique - and no doubt expensive - voice talents are wasted. It also seems like Patton recorded his dialogue separately to the other "I'm-gruffer-than-you" voice actors in the game, as often the interplay of dialogue doesn’t seem natural. Speaking of enemies (okay we weren't, so sue us for a bad segue), they aren’t the most intelligent lot going around, with most being little more than cannon fodder for you and your freaky arm. However, there are some nice moments. Disturb a sniper on the roof and he will put away his rifle and bring out a baton which emits a damaging shock attack. Also, if you grab some enemies with your arm for too long without doing anything, they will send an electric pulse down it to damage you and force you to let them go.


Spencer promised himself he'd never fly economy class again.

Spencer promised himself he'd never fly economy class again.
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Visually, Bionic Commando is decent, if not revolutionary. There are no major issues even as you fly around at high speeds. While the enemies look a bit generic and small (as does Spencer himself for that matter), a lot of attention has been paid to smaller details of the ruined city that help to immerse you in the game. For example, if you knock a car off a section of collapsed overpass, the car will crash to the ground below, crumpling the roof, smashing the windows and setting off the car alarm. Aurally, Bionic Commando rocks. It keeps with its b-grade action-movie style, giving out large and aggressive sounds through the action sequences which will continually thunder through your subwoofer if you are lucky enough to have one. There are also some subtler moments such as the echoes in the underground sections.

Multiplayer is a fairly bare-bones addition (watch this space for downloadable content if the game sells well), with only a handful of maps and a couple of gameplay options, including the stock-standard deathmatch and capture the flag modes. Despite this, it’s still a lot of fun...if you can actually find anyone online to play it with.

Bionic Commando is the surprise of the year so far. Forget the story and you’ll have a blast. If there is a sequel, and as this is a Capcom game that’s a real possibility, we hope it can iron out some of the level design issues and give us even larger environments to enjoy. Then we can take this baby out of the backyard and have some real fun. Vrooom!
The Score
Bionic Commando is the surprise of the year so far. With a game that focuses so much energy on making the experience fun, it’s hard not to get swept up.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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4 Comments
4 years ago
Good review, definitely the sleeper hit of the year for me. I personally didn't have too much of a problem with the games linearity, more so that you're not given enough time to get out of radiation areas or water. But here's hoping it sells big, I'd love a sequel and more freedom would still be welcomed.
4 years ago
bobboblaw wrote
But here's hoping it sells big, I'd love a sequel and more freedom would still be welcomed.
/agree

I loved it. Sure, it has some major design flaws and is terribly written, but it is walloping amounts of fun too. I'm half-way to completing the game on commando difficulty and, given that the achievements were linked to in-game rewards *and* that the action is so damn fun, this will be the first game I've ever bothered to get 1000/1000 on.
4 years ago
It has the most retarded story element ever. But on commando difficulty where you struggle to stay alive unless you are constantly moving it has some great game-play and the graphics are quite good.
4 years ago
really enjoyed, except the last boss battle. annoying. would have liked a little bigger area to traverse but other than that great fun.
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  21/5/2009 (Confirmed)
Standard Retail Price:
  $119.95 AU
Publisher:
  THQ
Genre:
  Action
Year Made:
  2008

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