Home | News | Reviews | Previews | Hardware
Bionic Commando
Score: 90%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Grin
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1: 2 - 8 (Online)
Genre: Action/ Adventure/ Online

Graphics & Sound:
Capcom likes to take their time. After two decades of waiting to see what happened to my favorite mechanically-enhanced, Nazi-killing super soldier, "Rad" Spencer is back to kick ass and swing around. Fans have been waiting too long for Bionic Commando to make its comeback, but it is finally here and while the feelings are mixed, it is great to see Capcom making genuinely unique games.

Visually, Bionic Commando looks amazing. A smooth framerate coupled with a rich art style makes this a joy to see in motion. Environments are beautiful as you swing from a ruined city to the lush rain forest that lies just outside of the city limits. The cutscenes could have used a little touch up because they are rendered in the in-game engine. Some of the characters look just fine during gameplay, but awkward up close. Other than a few graphical glitches, most of Bionic Commando is visually stunning.

My favorite aspect of the art style in Bionic Commando is that you don't see a main character that looks like Nathan "Rad" Spencer in current games. He is an amputee with dreadlocks, which is both ridiculous yet fascinating at the same time. It is refreshing to see a main character that doesn't have any personality because he shaved his head or decided to wear full body armor. Spencer oozes personality just by his looks alone, but his voice actor, Mike Patton, does a great job at making him believable as a character.

Patton isn't the only one that shines; all of the voicework is outstanding as well. Actually, the production values are solid across the board and the soundtrack is easily the most memorable part. Since this is a reboot of an 8-bit classic, the sound team took most of the old themes and remixed them with a full orchestra or revised them with just a piano. I thought all of the songs sounded wonderful and most importantly sounded familiar. I am still humming the beautiful piano rendition of the main theme a week after I beat it.

There is no denying that Bionic Commando has had plenty of time to make the presentation top notch and it definitely succeeds there, but what happens after you start a new game becomes incredibly divisive.

You play as Nathan Spencer who has been jailed since the events of the original Bionic Commando. The government outlawed bionics and Spencer had his trusty arm taken from him. After a terrorist attack on a major city, Spencer's old comrade, Super Joe, lets him out in order to investigate. Spencer has his own agenda since his wife went missing and agrees to help only if they tell him where he can find her.

Swinging around with the bionic arm is what made the original so special. In the new reboot of Bionic Commando, there is the same sense of novelty but in a more open environment. Spencer's bionic arm is his main method of travel and it is a major mechanic that is as useful as the amount of time you invest into learning it. It is definitely not easy to start swinging by at first, but once the rhythm and flow start falling into place, you soon start feeling like a one man wrecking crew.

The first thing that disappoints ever so slightly is that it isn't an open world game. They tease and mislead you into believing that you can swing around Liberty City like Spiderman, but in reality it is a series of short levels with a hazy fog that surrounds the immediate area to guide you to the next waypoint. It takes a little of the sting out when you realize how many levels there are to work through, so it makes sense that it can't be an open world game... yet. There are three acts with three chapters each with five to seven levels. So there is plenty of game to go around, and once you get to the many difficult enemy encounters, you will be glad that the checkpoints don't send you that far back.

Combat is designed to break up the swinging, so you can have something to do before reaching the end of the level. Spencer can also use his arm as a weapon if need be and the combo system mixes into the gunplay nicely. There are a handful of guns that are acquired throughout the game, but I recommend trying to solve each situation with your wits and the arm first (you will feel like a bad ass!) Knowing your arsenal is key to beating any of the enemies that show up and succeeding offers a feeling of accomplishment that I only get from beating any Ninja Gaiden game. There aren't too many weapon types, but then again there aren't too many enemy types either, so you won't need any more than they give you. The worst thing about Bionic Commando is that the guns don't feel satisfying when you fire them. It isn't a big thing, but it is one of those issues that ask, why not follow through? This is a trend that Bionic Commando suffers from overall though; really clever ideas and genuinely interesting game mechanics that are tarnished a bit by a slew of minor design choices.

Once the story ends and you see the love it or hate it final cinematic, you can dive into the multiplayer. Honestly, the multiplayer in Bionic Commando is way more fun than it should be. You would expect a game of this nature to have multiplayer tacked on as an afterthought, but here it is tons of fun. All of the maps are pulled from levels in the single player, but you swing around them as regular soldiers with enhanced bionic suits that allow them to grapple the environment and each other. I wish there was some sort of progression system to earn rewards and new gear, but as it is, the multiplayer is a fun diversion.

Bionic Commando allows you to go back and replay completed levels. It sounds great at first, but before starting the level, a dialogue box pops-in and informs you that you cannot earn trophies, collect hidden items, or unlock challenges. What is the point then? The only reason I would go back to those levels is so I can pick up anything I missed the first time around and without the ability to do that, it just seems pointless.

Difficulty is a hard thing to describe. The entire experience hinges on the swinging arm, and if you are willing to invest time in learning how it works it becomes enjoyable, yet challenging. If, however, you don't like the arm at all and try to play by running everywhere, it is nearly unplayable and only gets worse every time a new area opens up.

Unfortunately, this is one of those rare cases where your investment really determines your enjoyment and I enjoyed every moment that I played of Bionic Commando because I understood how to use the tools the game provides. I am not implying that no one can enjoy it, but the biggest hurdle is creating enough interest to want to.

There are a few different difficulty options and while the main game isn't too hard (until the end), the higher difficulties create controller-snapping frustration. It won't be easy and at times unfair, but it is possible and if you are the type of gamer that enjoys a good challenge, then Bionic Commando has plenty to offer.

Game Mechanics:
As complicated as Bionic Commando seems, it is actually fairly simple in execution. The actions used most often are swinging and shooting. Swinging is done by aiming your reticule and firing your arm with (L2). Once in the air, you can hold (L2) and Spencer will automatically attach to the nearest object which is useful when swinging over water. When you need to break out the firepower, tap (R2) to start blasting away at bio-terrorists.

The arm is more useful than just swinging too. Probably the most useful action is called the Zip Kick. Once you target an enemy, hook him with the arm and jump in the air with (X) and then press it again to reel yourself in at mach speeds to cause some serious damage. There are a few other arm-specific actions as well that are used throughout the game like ripping away metal sheets and throwing heavy objects and the environment and other enemies, but the basics work well until the second boss fight which is about the time that the difficulty ramps up.

I have heard Bionic Commando described as a great game sandwiched between a sloppy opening and a rushed ending. I think before anyone plays it, they should think about how they felt about the original or last year's Bionic Commando: Rearmed. If you love everything about those, then Bionic Commando is great fan service all around and definitely deserves a place in the collection. Although if you did not like either of the others, Bionic Commando is incredibly intimidating and may not win over any new fans. At the end of the day, Bionic Commando really suffers from the same thing that Dead Rising did. There are plenty of flaws to point out and much of the overall design could have been improved, but the concept keeps it all together and acknowledging the faults and working within them creates a classic gaming experience. Bionic Commando is a great first attempt and shows enormous amounts of potential, but most of all it has me excited for the next one.

-HanChi, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Hanchey

This site best viewed in Internet Explorer 6 or higher or Firefox.