If I had to pick one developer this year that has answered the call of hardcore gamers it would certainly have to be Capcom. So far in this year alone they have delivered a brand new Street Fighter and Resident Evil title, both of which were excellent titles in their respective genres. They continue the trend of resurrection with their latest 360 and PS3 title Bionic Commando; a follow-up to their classic side-scroller which was recently remade for the downloadable market. This new chapter in the series retains a lot of the original ideas, but also expands on most of them creating an experience that fans of the original and newcomers alike will undoubtedly enjoy.
You once again strap on the iron boots of soldier Nathan “Rad” Spencer roughly ten years after the events of the first game. Nathan has had a rough decade as the game begins with him in prison sans his bionic appendage. Apparently he is on death row and responsible for the animosity between bionically-enhanced people and the rest of the world. He is dragged out of his cell by Super Joe, who fans will undoubtedly recognize from the original game, to investigate an explosion in Ascension City that has leveled much of the world and killed numerous civilians. Joe convinces Spencer to go back into the field with a promise of information about his estranged wife.
The story moves along at a methodical pace with most of the dialogue taking place over radio comm. Chatter, not unlike Kojima’s infamous sneaking series. The difference here is that the game never stops to take in the dialogue. There are often times where important information is secreted during these interactions, and if you hit a loading screen you will miss out on that piece of storyline. It is also worth mentioning that there are very few cut scenes to be found in the entire game. Overall the story conveys a cheesy popcorn movie vibe that entertains from its dramatic intro to the twisting finale. The voice acting is also top-notch and the score is one of the finest original compositions I have heard in quite some time. The presentation truly makes up for the cookie-cutter narrative.
Much like the original game Bionic Commando is based around using your mechanical arm to maneuver around the environment and of course dispose of baddies. Levels are built vertically, and they are impressive to say the least. I cannot remember another game that had this much diversity for a “shooter”. You will cross vast cityscapes that are in ruins after the blast, trudge through lush forest areas, and even shoot up a library. Not only are the levels impressive aesthetically, they are absolutely gorgeous running in high-definition. In the city area you will see billboards advertising other Capcom titles such as the Tri-Cell one from Resident Evil, or the Re-Armed on referring to the remade version of BC. Navigating the levels is a pure visual treat, and it was the first time in a long time where I found myself panning the camera around to see all the subtle details.
As you can imagine the bulk of your movement is based around your arm. You can swing from just about any surface, and getting used to the physics will take some time. It isn’t quite as intuitive and user-friendly as say Spider-Man, but it gets the job done. You can latch onto objects by holding down the left trigger, and then use the analog sticks to move back and forth or turn your trajectory. As you swing forward you will see a small blue reticule that lets you know when you should release for maximum velocity. It takes time to master the swing mechanic, and by the end of the game I still didn’t feel like I had fully come to grips with it, but there is a large margin for error when you do fall as you can latch onto about anything and pull yourself up.
While the worlds are expansive, the developers have implemented an interesting boundary for keeping players on the correct path. The levels are not nearly as open-ended as they seem at first. There is radiation represented by blue auras that flood the city. When in one of these areas you will begin to lost health rapidly; stay in them too long and its game over. This became an issue in certain areas as you would be trying to reach a sniper and wind up swinging into a large area of radiation and have to start all over again. It really feels confining at times, and takes away some of the freedom the levels appear to offer. There are also levels later in the game that are flooded with water. As you can imagine that arm is quite heavy, so landing in the water means a quick sinking death. If you are close enough to a building you can grapple back out, but there were numerous times where all I saw was my blurry, watered-down game over screen.
Nathan’s arm is used for much more than transportation though, and he has no doubt learned a few new tricks since his last outing. For starters when you begin the game you are searching for your arm (it was sent as a separate package). This gets you accustomed to the shooting mechanics in the game. This is your typical over-the-shoulder shooter; you can click in the right stick for precision aiming and you fire with the trigger button. There are only a handful of weapons in the game, but they cover the basics: shotgun, pistol, grenade launcher and rocket launcher. The highlights are definitely The Bulldog (lobs grenades quite a distance) and the Tarantula (a rocket launcher with homing capabilities). Weapons come with a price though; ammo for them is scarce so it is wise to only use them as a last measure.
Your arm becomes your most prominent use of attack, and it comes with a host of abilities, some of which are learned over the course of the game. You can attach yourself to enemies and give them a quick swift kick to the chest. You can also throw them into the air which is called “kiting” and from there either toss them at other foes or simply shoot them down like target practice. Of course you can always resort to physical violence by simply getting up close and personal and simply leveling foes with either a heavy or light attack. Close combat is not always wise though as you will usually find yourself surrounded by foes making fisticuffs a suicide mission at times.
What is most impressive about the single-player though is the way upgrades and achievements/trophies are handled. As you progress through the game you will gain access to various challenges to complete. These range from simply killing ten enemies with a particular weapon, to taking down six foes with one grenade. Nearly all of the achievements/trophies are related to these challenges, and you can track your progress of each one by accessing the in-game menu. What is even cooler is that besides earning gamerscore you also earn new abilities and perks in the game. For instance killing a set number of enemies nets you more armor so you can sustain more damage. Another challenge makes the clips for your firearms larger. These small challenges really add to the overall experience, and make striving for them that much more fun and rewarding.
With all these good things there always has to be some bad. For starters let’s talk about the elephant in the room: multi-player. The online mode, which had a demo released a few weeks back to sub par reception, is really about as bare bones as you can imagine. It supports up to eight players and the traditional mode, but the idea of swinging around simply does not feel right when applied to a competitive style arena. Matches quickly become a matter of who has mastered the swing mechanic, or who can grapple who faster. It will grow old quickly and I expect the online community to dry up fairly fast. Secondly for a game with so much to see and do in the single player, there is no option to go back to previous areas to obtain collectibles or attempt challenges. This is further mysterious as there is a level select mode where you can revisit the game from any point you desire, but it makes a point to inform you that you cannot save and no achievements/trophies will be earned. This is a bummer because it means if you miss even one item on your play through, you have to start a brand new game and do it all over again.
As I mentioned earlier the game looks great, levels are expansive and the frame rate rarely dips even when intense action is onscreen. Character models look and sound great. Thanks to the help of Mike Patton, Nathan Spencer’s character really comes to life. The soundtrack is absolutely incredible with a mixture of orchestral melodies and rock tunes that bring back memories of the original game. The piano melody that plays during the title screen is absolutely mystifying; I want to own the soundtrack; that is how good it truly is. There are also a host of extras to unlock if you own Re-Armed, which is cool, but obtaining some of them will be difficult even for the most hardcore of fans.
Bionic Commando is yet another fantastic update to a classic franchise from Capcom. At this rate it doesn’t seem out of the question to dream of other update titles making the grade such as Strider and Ghosts N Goblins. If you enjoyed the original or action games in general this is definitely one to check out. The massive levels, solid combat and entertaining story make this one experience that is worth playing through.