Finally it is here, the first true sequel to the classic 1988 Nintendo Entertainment System original, Bionic Commando. Anyone that knows of the series, or has been out from under a rock for the past few months, will know that the game revolves heavily around a man (of which is named ‘Spencer’) with a completely awesome arm. This completely awesome arm allows Spencer to swing from buildings like Spider-Man, throw heavy objects like Spider-Man and hit hard like… Spider-Man? You get the idea.
The game is set ten years after the original instalment, in which during this time Spencer has enjoyed hibernation in the local prison, betrayed by the government after having saved them the first time around. Thankfully before Spencer is sentenced to the long term of death, an experimental weapon detonates in the Ascension City, which results in the government now requesting Spencer’s help. My choice of words would be a blunt “F%*@ you”, but Spencer knows this is an M rated game and holds back on the profanity, accepting the request for his aid.
And so the game begins as the initial introduction fades and Spencer is reunited with his trusty mechanical arm. As this happens you will be pulled out of the game and dropped into the middle of a virtual tutorial, explaining both the basic and advanced features of the bionic arm. The tutorial takes your hand and guides you through simple puzzles, giving the player comforting assure-ability in their skills. Unfortunately before long (literally the second you get outside) you will find yourself swinging face first into every wall in sight. This is where the game hits a fork in the road, with one direction being players who enjoy the challenge of learning a new control mechanic, and the other direction being players who will turn off the console shortly through frustration. Thankfully, I love a good bit of challenge and frustration! (cue Mirror’s Edge).
As you take your first steps into the great outdoors you will find that Bionic Commando is an extremely pretty game, detailed to a fine degree of waste and destruction. Each location, whilst destroyed, looks truly beautiful and has a unique style, fitting of the games story and characters. Before long you will find yourself swinging down skyscrapers in rubble with the simple flicking of the left trigger, releasing at the prime moment to gain momentum. An extremely basic and rewarding simplicity that lets you pull off advanced manoeuvres such as mid-air combat and large swings to flick you onto hard to reach locations. I highly suggest that you stick with the learning curve as when you finally get over the peak you are likely to be thankfully and find enjoyment in what initially feels alien.
This is basically the bulk of Bionic Commando, swinging from A to B whilst killing C. You spend the majority of your time simply trying to get from location A to B, needing to manoeuvre across bottomless pits or around radioactive leaking buildings. Unfortunately whilst the game is extremely large and open in design, you will find the game to be linear in the paths you are required to navigate. A simple miss-swing too wide has seen me die before I have had momentum to swing back into safety, the joy of which invisible radiation brings (as opposed to invisible walls). Whilst it is nice to have a plot surrounding the limitations a game requires, hitting a flat surface in open air is far more forgiving than just dying outright. Not only does this punish you in having to start back at the last checkpoint, but your progression on the challenges (and associated achievements) gets reset too. I cannot help but appreciate Prince of Persia even more for doing this right.
Outside of the arm you are also given a wide range of weaponry, most of which you obtain for short periods throughout the levels, to end your foes. These range through the typical arsenal of sniper rifles, grenade launchers, shotguns, rifles and pistols, oh and you can also throw grenades into the fray. With all this power at the player’s fingertips you would expect taking out foes to be simple, however some of the enemies and particularly the boss encounters can be extremely difficult to survive. All of which making Bionic Commando even less friendly to casual gamers, something of which you should keep in mind when selecting a difficulty at the start of the game.
The story itself does a good job of immersing the character in the environment, and whilst nothing revolutionary is told, the game does well to continue the series after the long break. Teamed with good (yet cheesy) character dialogue, impressive audio and beautiful graphics Bionic Commando does well to immerse you into the game and tries hard to hide the games flaws.
If swinging alone is not really your cup of tea you can jump online and participate in the mayhem that is the online counterpart. Online matches are not a far cry from what you find in single-player, with each environment looking similar, the same weapons scattered around and once again a heavy emphasis on the bionic arm to evade, surprise and obliterate foes. Getting to grips with using the swinging mechanic at a competitive level with other players also having the same abilities takes some time, but when you nail it you will find a rather unique and extremely enjoyable multiplayer game.
I would certainly advise caution to a newcomer to the series, with the released demo being a good point of call to determine if the game is for you. If you however feel that the gameplay mechanic, which is heavily reliant on precision swinging, is for you – jump on it! Whilst Bionic Commando is not something which you will likely remember for a long time to come, there is certainly enjoyment to be had and developers, Grin, should be proud of the hard work they have done to bring the series back where it belongs.