Bionic Commando Review
In the Summer of 2008, Capcom treated us to Bionic Commando Rearmed, a downloadable remake of the original NES game. Much like it's big brother, the full-fledged sequel, Rearmed was also developed by GRIN, and for those unfamiliar with the background of the franchise, it made for a good history lesson. Nine months have passed by, and we now have the release of Bionic Commando, putting an end to its numerous delays. And while Capcom and GRIN have a solid game here, we're inclined to side with the numerous folk who, like us, also believe that GRIN spread themselves way too thin by taking on too many other development projects, such as Wanted, Terminator, Bionic Rearmed, and of course, Bionic Commando.
The story of this all new Bionic Commando takes place ten years after the first, and continues to star Nathan Spencer (who is voiced by Faith No More's Mike Patton, of all people). And yes, Capcom has officially changed Spencer's first-name from Rad (Ladd in Japan) to Nathan. In any case, Spencer was a top-operative of the Federal Bionic Armaments Development Division, a commando at the top of his class. If you recall the original Bionic Commando, your prime objective was to rescue an operative by the name of Super Joe. Super Joe, of course being the main character from the original Commando shoot 'em up. After his rescue is complete, the FBADD would betray Spencer and imprison him, despite his valiant efforts.
Ten years pass and Spencer is set for execution, but on the day of his demise, an experimental weapon sets off and Ascension City is quickly turned into shambles, leveling structures, and destroying the populace. A terrorist organization has invaded Ascension City, and with much of their military wiped out, there remains one man capable for the job. So Spencer's life is spared, by none other than the man he rescued ten years ago, Joseph "Super Joe" Gison. Dropped into the middle of a ruined city, our hero is given his bionic arm back in order to make his duties of eradication easier.
Now, I must mention that when I first played Bionic Commando at last year's E3, I walked away with a not-so-great impression of the game. The swinging mechanics were frustrating, as were the controls, in general. Even GRIN later on went to admit that perhaps the swinging was too difficult, and toned it down for later builds of the game. For the final retail game, we're also given a blue 'release point' indicator that lights up when Spencer is at an optimal swing position to leap forwards and latch onto the next object. Unfortunately, despite the easier swing mechanics, the controls are still not all peachy.
For starters, the control setup is awkward, and does not employ the same ingenuity that other shooters implement. But you might say to yourself, "okay, so just reconfigure the buttons." Sorry, no can do. No such option exists. "Well, then, pick from one of the presets, maybe they'll suit you better." Nope. Not available. After playing countless first-person and third-person shooters, I have become very accustomed to having any shooting related action mapped to the shoulder buttons. Instead, my aim button is mapped to R3, when I'd much rather have it R1 and fire with R2. The Evade button is mapped to L1, and I'd much rather have the Inventory button there, as opposed to R1. I find myself constantly hitting R1, thinking I'm going to aim, when instead I'm changing weapons and wondering why I'm throwing a grenade and not firing my machine gun. There are just certain control schemes that work when it comes down to shooters, and Bionic Commando's setup simply doesn't. Sure, you can get used to it, but only after a lot of frustration.
To make matters worse, not only are the controls poorly laid out, but they also have a clunky feeling to them, mostly when you're hanging or swinging around with your bionic arm. Latching onto objects doesn't feel intuitive, as there's this noticeable separation between you and your character. It's hard to describe in words, but it's apparent. I simply feel as if GRIN could've done a much smoother and better job at implementing the swinging mechanics.
Your bionic arm, will allow you to swing around the game's environment, rappelling, and scaling structures. Because Ascension City has been reduced to such varying catastrophic conditions, you'll find yourself greeted with suspended roadways and monorails, deep canyons, towering buildings, and so on. Each stage will feature a number of routes that you can use to complete your mission and continue with your progress. Moreover, there is an epic quality to the design of the game, as you'll be able to scale and jump off of some gigantic buildings. But, that scale is greatly limited, because aside from the numerous routes you can take, your progression is linear. Waypoints set on your map will guide you exactly to where you have to go, so there is very little in terms of freedom and exploration. So if you're under the impression that this game is anything like inFamous, it isn't.
In addition to being able to use your arm for swinging and scaling, Spencer can also use it for hand-to-hand combat, as well as picking up gigantic objects such boxes and boulders and hurling them at enemies. I didn't find myself using the feature that often, as firepower was my main source of combat. Occasionally, I did find myself starved for bullets which forced me to use other means of attack, but it wasn't that often.
Now, I must address another issue with the game, and this is a pretty big problem to me. Bionic Commando loads too damn much. I have seen the game's loading screen far more than I should have. What's the point of a 2GB install if the game load so much? I can sort of understand loading in between certain areas, but every time I die? And it's not like the load times are quick, it takes 20 seconds to go from one area to the next, and 10 seconds to restart after dying. That's just ridiculous.
The action of the game isn't so bad, and it actually makes the game fairly playable. I had a good time with the shooting mechanics, and the weapon selection is nice. Like I said earlier, you will occasionally run out of ammunition, so use your ammo sparingly. But, as you progress, you will earn upgrades, one of which is the increase of ammo capacity. Additional upgrades include new abilities, attacks, as well as defensive and other upgrades. Furthermore, multiplayer was pretty enjoyable too, even though it's only good for up to eight people. Still, it's worth noting that the game isn't a total failure like this review may make it seem, it's just very frustrating and falls short in some obvious and key spots.
On the technical side of things, Bionic Commando is sound. Boasting a game engine that makes use of PhysX for consoles, you will notice some decent physics at work here. More importantly, though, the game engine demonstrates a nice lighting setup, in addition to good texture detail. The game world is complete with fairly large environments that are made up of gigantic structures that tower over you, in addition to scenery with beautiful blades of grass, and a picture that pops in color. Character detail is also fantastic, and the overall picture is home to a great, pop-up free draw-in distance, with an image that renders at 720p. As far as the framerate, it runs mostly at 30 frames per second, with the occasional hiccup every now and then. But overall, Bionic Commando is a very good looking game.
Audio is also well done, as the game's voice acting is more enjoyable than I thought it would be, thankfully lacking the cheesiness that is commonly associated with games like this. Mike Patton does a good job as the voice of Spencer, as does the remaining cast of supporting actors around him. I would have liked for boomier gun shots, but other aspects of the sound effects are solid. There's also some tunes to be heard during the battles, mainly remixed versions of the game's theme song. And the classic Capcom audio sample at the beginning of the game brought back some great memories.
Bionic Commando is a game that's better off being rented first. Some may find themselves extremely frustrated, while others can learn to deal with the frustrations and enjoy the game. I personally could not overlook a number of glaring flaws, most importantly the horde of control issues, in addition to the annoying load times. The visuals and audio are well done, but ultimately, I feel that GRIN spread themselves too thin and lost their focus on making Bionic Commando as fluid as it should've been, especially considering how much time they had to develop it.
5/26/2009 Arnold Katayev