Bionic Commando review
Spiderman with a gun
Man, I was really hyped for this game since the beginning of 2009. The instant I bought a 360 magazine to read while on a plane to Queesland, I read about Bionic Commando, and how kickass it will be. So I waited and waited until it came out, and put it in the 360, and... was actually pretty impressed. I didn't think they could pull it off, but GRIN managed to take a concept like the bionic arm, and make it feel like a working piece of art (or something like that). It ended up feeling natural, and in the end, the entire game felt like a good dream. What I'm pissed off about is the lack of sales this game got, which bankrupted GRIN. I thought this would've taken the world by storm... then again, that's how I felt about some other games, and... well, they didn't. Oh well, it's fun for those who actually went in on the ground floor.
The story takes place 10 years after the NES Bionic Commando (ooh boy, that's a hell of a game). Bionic parts ended up considered outlawed, and those in possession of such ended up executed. Somehow, Joe manages to pull some strings and let Spencer out of prison. He then works for the government, who's mission is to kill off a terrorist group who nuked an entire town and took over it. Why he wants to work for the government, I'm not entirely sure. Information about his wife who disappeared? Okay, fair call, but didn't they try to kill him and every other bionic person? It just makes you think about his motives, and why he'd believe the government when he probably knows that they can pull a 180 and kill him anyway. There's a fair amount to the story, but hardly anything is explained. It's like they're trying to set themselves up for a sequel through the use of plotholes, which fails miserably because GRIN are dead!
I don't know, the story feels confusing at times if you look too much into it. If you just sit back and watch the cutscenes, the dialogue will either make you laugh, grin, or just not care. It definitely feels down to earth. Like, even though the story itself seems serious, the dialogue isn't entirely serious. It doesn't get pretentious and up it's own ass with messages and shit. It just tries to progress the story, even though it seems that its purpose is to try and make us CARE for the story. Well, they didn't do that good of a job, because all I ended up caring about is what Spencer will say next. He usually has good lines.
Okay, so dialogue not doing it for you? How about graphics? Let's try. They're presented pretty well. Everything seems fully rendered (not surprising, the load times are kind of long) and has some fairly detailed surroundings and characters going for them. Colors are used realistically to a point, like the usual greens for the national park level, or grays for the cave levels. Well, actually, most of the levels have a lot of gray in them, like the remains of the city. There are also some dull oranges and browns in the mix... I'm not trying to give this game any crap, I'm actually just pointing out how it manages to simulate a destroyed city without trying to go overboard, or other environments, in fact. You're never really going through a single environment, either. It varies from a city, to a cavern, to a national park, and to a harbour. It's all good, until the game starts lagging from having too many things happening on screen. Everyone knows lag - it's a total pain, and it happens a few times here too. Now, take out the lag, and that's about how cutscenes are presented... Unfortunately, they didn't get me into the story.
Will the voice acting? Nope. It just gets me back into the dialogue. It's a vicious cycle I tell you! But anyway, the voice acting is damn impressive... at least, from none other than Faith No More's Mike Patton. This guy has a knack for voice acting, and can definitely pull off a good performance. Spencer comes across as an overly angry sort of person, pissed off that his former friend Joe supports the government. Oh, he might work for them, but he ain't liking it! His voice speaks louder than actions and words put together, because his tone always feels as if Mike himself is angry. Basically, he pulls it off well, and pulls off the act very well. I wouldn't exactly undermine the other voice actors, but none of them exactly stood out for me. They put out either some good performances, or meh performances. They sounded good on tape and they manage to bring their characters to life well as well, but they're nothing too special compared to Mr Patton.
As far as the soundtrack goes, it's actually pretty damn good. Not the most memorable soundtrack. It feels like they're going for that atmospheric kind of soundtrack, which is damn fine in theory, but in practise... I don't know, I usually like to remember my tunes very well. That's kind of what it was like in the 8-bit days back when the NES Bionic Commando was released. Oh well, the soundtrack sounds great. It definitely has a song for each situation, which definitely makes each song feel special in the levels they're played in. In the nation park level, for example, there are some ambient tunes playing, and during other levels, you have this epic music playing. It just sounds really good to hear.
Okay, now for the gameplay. Basically speaking, you're swinging around like Spiderman, but you also have a few guns... just when the situations arise.
Getting the not-so awesome part out of the way, you don't have the hugest variety of guns. You get the standard pistol, as well as either a shotgun, sniper rifle, rocket launcher, grenade launcher, or an SMG. The sniper rifle is useful in some levels, while the rocket/grenade launchers manage to stick it to the machines. Unfortunately, beyond those, the weapons aren't exactly that great. The game just never really felt that it was meant to come across as a great shooter, but just a swinger more like it. I mean, it's executed finely, at least the guns work and have purpose (and in some cases, they're damn vital), but just doesn't give you the same sort of feeling that third person shooters would.
The main meat is the bionic arm. Some advice is to just give it some time. Set aside 10 minutes to adjust to the controls (if you think you're good to go, adjust as you go). Once you think you're good to go, go for it! What you really have to do, is figure out how much momentum you need, where to aim the arm, and when to release. It's all about speed and timing with this arm. Obviously, you will be rushed when enemies are shooting you down, so this is when good old trial and error comes into play - just experiment with timing and placement, and eventually, you'll get it right. There are other things you can do, like a "death from above" attack, throw cars at machines, and swing your extended arm around, and... you know, it's the bionic arm techniques that are truly satisfying. You get the timing right, and BAM! Skeleton city! But again, you really need to get the timing right to get the best results... or to live, since some of these attacks can leave you vulnerable for a bit.
But that's not to say that this game is a walk in the park. This is a real tricky game. It's pretty much a combination of "master the controls, or get left behind", and "think on your feet". If you fail to master the hand, then keep at it, or keep dying! And by "think on your feet", I mean this - be quick with your actions, because you will be gunned down a lot! Whether it's shooting, punching, arm actions, swinging, or finding cover, be quick or be dead, for you have no room to make mistakes. If you make a mistake and die, you'll often be sent back a fair bit, often to the beginning of the level. You might be thinking "goddamn this is frustrating", but it at least gives you a feeling of satisfaction when you actually beat a level. It's not just cover, shoot, cover, shoot, run - it's swing, shoot, LOOK FOR COVER before your ass is grass, regenerate a bit, run out, shoot, then repeat cycle. Often, the enemies will put up a fight, and beating them and the entire level is like a badge of honor.
SOME enemies, however, are just a pain in the ass, and it doesn't exactly feel rewarding to kill them; just relieving. One enemy requires you to get to his back, latch onto it, and then pull yourself to kick it. The method ends up becoming tedious since it likes to spam hard hitting attacks, and it becomes a huge nuisance when there's two of them at once. They're very, very annoying when there's two of them, and it ends up becoming frustrating to actually beat them up. You end up feeling GLAD that you've destroyed them. Not satisfied; glad, and not because you beat a hard enemy, but more "oh thank god" sort of glad. That's... not exactly what you're looking for.
Then you have the boss fights. Only three throughout the entire game, but they play out well enough. The methods to killing them are fairly similar to killing normal enemies. One requires that you dodge its attacks and throw a car at it to hit it, then it eventually tires out after many hits, and you need to latch onto it, get sprung into the air, and then punch it really hard upon landing. The boss fights are good, definitely a challenge when fighting them. Unfortunately, lag really plagued a boss fight until it settled down a bit.
Level designs, themselves, are good. The levels are big - hence the long-ish load times - and are all well designed, as in, GRIN carefully laid everything out to be beneficial for the arm. Each building, each rock, each car - a lot of things in the levels, they are all to suit the bionic arm. It works out greatly in the end. They're also linear, so you don't get lost and you'll be able to get through the levels, with the only trouble being the enemies and not having to find your way. They're not super linear, you can devise some alternative routes to point B, but ultimately, it's point A to point B.
Last thing worth discussing would have to be the achievements. You have to do a series of and stuff to get most of them. Here's the kicker, though - you have to do all of it... in one playthrough. So if you miss one collectible in a level, tough titties, you have to restart the entire game if you really want that 50 gamerscore. That's the only fault with the achievements. They encourage you to try out other ways of play and stuff, so you kind of feel like you've earned all 1000 gamer points.
Relies just a little too much on stealth at times and some fights are more tedious than they should be, but the gunplay is pretty good, and they managed to get the bionic arm done pretty well. Pretty challenging, too. It really makes you bust a nut to get through levels.
When new things come along, it's better to just learn to deal with it. The bionic arm takes a little while to get used to, but once you get used to it, the controls will end up feeling natural. Some pretty slick controls, actually.
I'm... not entirely sure why you'd want to nuke a city and then take over it. Just never really got that. The rest of the story doesn't exactly make sense either, and leaves heaps of plotholes. However, it has a down to earth sort of feel to it in the dialogue with extensive use of tongue in cheek humor. The dialogue is really what you'll pay attention to. I'm pretty damn mixed here.
Looks nice. The colors are used realistically (a bit duller than usual at times, but no huge deal), and the models look pretty good. Textures are also quite good. It gets fairly laggy at times, though, especially during one boss fight.
Mike Patton = excellent voice actor. First The Darkness, now Spencer? Kickass! And his voice is pretty damn well done. Definitely goes well with his personality. The other voice actors range from meh to good not great, but they don't *bleep* your ears. As for the soundtrack, it's good while you're playing it, definitely well orchestrated, but you might not remember too many tunes afterwards.
Sure, you can focus more on getting achievements after going through a 10 hour campaign (give or take 2 hours depending on skill), but the ways of getting them are kind of screwy. The challenges reset when you start a new game, and by then, you'll go "*bleep* it" and move on. The online is pretty damn fun, though (basically, swinging around, killing each other - at least no aiming nerds can ruin it because we're all monkeys - hard to hit when swinging!).
Once you got those controls down, the game's funfactor kicks in. It feels so satisfying swinging across huge gaps while kicking ass. Gunplay doesn't feel as good as it does on other games, but the bionic arm abilities make you feel like a badass. Some enemies are fairly annoying to take out, especially on certain sized environments, and the feeling of killing them isn't really as satisfying as you'd like to think. The 4 is mostly because the type of enemy isn't enough to stop you from having fun overall.
Bionic Commando is one that you can definitely give a few spins because it feels kind of fresh and quite fun. The bionic arm is a concept you think they'd screw up, but they don't, and that's why this game doesn't fail at all. It brings a sort of refreshing taste in everybody's mouths, and that's pretty much why this game kicks more ass and deserves more credit than what the paid reviewers are giving it.
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- Bionic Commando2000