Over twenty years ago, Capcom introduced gamers to a story where the hero was dropped deep behind enemy lines with little more than a pistol and a bionic arm. Bionic Commando went on to become an action classic thanks to its challenge and its gameplay, and fans of the original will frequently tell you stories of how fun, but also how difficult the game was. In many ways, it was a badge of honor to play through and complete, and players eagerly awaited the next chapter for Rad Spencer. While the original was remade in last year's critically acclaimed Bionic Commando Rearmed, Grin took almost another year in producing a true sequel, also called Bionic Commando. Confusion of naming conventions and systems for each game aside, the new Bionic Commando is an enjoyable addition to the franchise for action fans.
The game takes place ten years after the original game, where you once again take up the cybernetic enhancements of Nathan "Rad" Spencer. Time has not been favorable to Spencer, because he's been blamed for an incident that has inspired hatred of bionically augmented people by his former comrades. As a result, Spencer's been imprisoned, stripped of his technology and sentenced to death. Fortunately for him, he's pulled back into service after a terrorist group known as Bio-Reign detonates a weapon that irradiates most of Ascension City, ripping it asunder and killing a large amount of the population. With Super Joe, Spencer's commanding officer, calling the shots, our hero gets deployed into the ruined city to discover the purpose behind the attack.
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For the most part, the story keeps moving at a reasonable pace. There are some implied connections to the first game via characters that are introduced, which helps considering the length of time between titles. Some of these are rather tenuous, and some of the scenes are pretty horrendous – for example, the sequence between Mag and Spencer when they first meet is straight out of a B-movie with all of the pushing they perform – but overall, the story is enjoyable with some interesting twists and a set up for future sequels.
Clearly, much of Bionic Commando's gameplay revolves around the bionic arm itself, which helped distinguish the original from other action games at the time. However, Bionic Commando takes an interesting twist to your abilities with the arm from the start of the game, by keeping you separated from the gear for a few minutes until you recover it from an errant drop by your forces. Since Spencer has been away from his equipment for many years, his body needs to take time to remember all of the moves that it can perform with the appendage. You're always able to perform swings and vertical leaps with the bionic arm thanks to a grappling reticule, which turns blue whenever you can connect to a surface. Based on the amount of arm cable that you have extended as you swing, a momentum indicator highlights the best time to propel yourself forward.
It may take a little while to get used to, but once you do, you can perform an incredible sequence of jumps with impressive speed, leaping from area to area seamlessly. Be aware, however, that you'll need to be careful with some of your jumps. If you miss grappling from one area to another and fall to your doom--swing into any irradiated areas or land in deep water and can't grapple out--you'll start back at a distant checkpoint, without any of the equipment or items that you may have acquired along the way. If you want to avoid this hazard, you'll have to get better with your skills – something that harkens back to the game's older NES roots.
The other abilities for Spencer slowly come back during specific checkpoints, allowing you to figure out the best way to use each move in combat. It makes sense, and along with button prompts that pop up on the upper right hand corner of the screen, reduces any confusion as to what you can do. Obviously, Spencer learned to put a large number of tricks up his metallic sleeve in-between the first and second game, because he'll eventually be able to utilize a significant number of abilities.
Of course, he can perform a light or heavy punch with his arm, as well as knock objects into the air and smash them towards targets or weakened walls. If you'd like to perform a silent attack on enemies, you can attach the arm to them and perform a zip kick solidly to their chest. You can also connect the arm to them and fling them into other enemies or smash them into the ground. Enemies can also be suspended into the air in a move known as "kiting," allowing you to shoot them while they're helpless. You'll even be able to rip objects such as train cars off their tracks and send them crashing below, which is a great way to take out enemies from a distance without alerting troops to your presence. Eventually, you'll even be able to perform whip strikes by swinging your arm in a large circle, killing anyone in its immediate vicinity along with finishing strikes on larger mechanical opponents.
You won't be restrained to solely relying on your arm to eliminate opponents, either. Spencer always has his standard issue pistol which he can use to shoot enemies. As he moves farther into the field, he gains access to grenades and other weapons that can be used to eliminate large groups of enemies. You won't be picking these firearms up from fallen soldiers; instead, every now and then Super Joe sends out a drop pod to provide you with extra firepower. These range from shotguns and sniper rifles to machine guns and rocket launchers. While all of these weapons are powerful, there is a caveat to these guns – the ammunition for each is few and far between, which means that you may want to conserve your ammo for when you really need it. As a result, gunplay isn't a true star of the combat system; using your arm to attack characters is the real stand out.
There's another reason why you'll want to be careful with your bullets: Bionic Commando provides you with various challenges when you gain new abilities or find certan weapons. You're not required to accomplish these tasks to finish the title. In fact, you'll complete a certain amount of them by simply playing from beginning to end. Some of these objectives require you to perform tricky jobs, like blowing up six soldiers with one grenade or performing a certain number of strikes with a particular weapon. However, the challenges provide bonuses for Nathan that are above and beyond the old school notion of bragging rights. Some of these, for example, provide additional armor for Spencer to deflect damage, while others increase the clip size for weapons or the grenades that can be carried. The further test for some challenges comes in managing to have the right weapon for a particular task with enough ammunition – waste your shots, and you can be relatively assured that you won't be able to accomplish that goal at all.
Now, were this Bionic Commando akin to the first one, it wouldn't be much of an issue, since you'd simply move to a new area, gain additional weapons or access codes and return to explore and retry elements that you couldn't before. However, that isn't the case with the new game, which points out one of the larger flaws with this title: This Bionic Commando is very linear and refuses to allow you access to previous areas that you've explored. As a result, you won't be able to go back and perform certain tasks or even acquire some of the hidden collectibles which unlock concept art that you might have missed. This may seem strange, particularly when there's a level jump included in the extras menu of the game. However, as soon as you try to access it, you'll notice that the screen indicates that no challenges, trophies/achievements or collectibles will be saved for your progress when you engage in this mode. The result: Miss your chance the first time through, and you're going to have to either play through and complete the game or start over with a new game. That doesn't enhance the replayability even with the three difficulty levels in the game; rather, it enhances much of the frustration of a linear experience.
The same could be said about some of the extras, which are only unlocked if you happen to have Bionic Commando Rearmed. While I applaud Grin and Capcom for including this support between games, some of the collectibles can only be unlocked with significant investment in Rearmed, which is a minor complaint. One in particular involves a large amount of hassle that you might not have even come across without significant exploration. Multiplayer won't solve some of the replayability issues with the single player experience. There are the standard modes of Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and Capture the Flag for up to eight people. It's enjoyable, and there are a total of sixteen maps within multiplayer to explore and fight across, but you'll probably move on after a few rounds.
For the most part, the presentation of Bionic Commando is rather impressive thanks to some of the little details scattered about the game. Dust coats the screen as buildings fall to the ground or large explosions happen nearby, fluttering papers float from shattered windows, and a significant amount of the debris can be interacted with or turned into a weapon. The sense of scale is impressive as well as you make large leaps from the tops of buildings and swing from girder to girder or leap from place to place, with extremely solid camera work. For the most part, the frame rate is solid, with a few dips and drops here and there, usually during large battle sequences, but frequently, this seems to be done more for dramatic effect than because of a technical issue. That's key, because with a game that requires some split second reactions depending on the leaps, having significant framerate issues would easily kill this title.
While Nathan's character model might not appeal to some purists, you can take a certain amount of solace in the fact that you can unlock Nathan's classic "Rearmed" skin if you have a saved game from the download. What did annoy me was the oversaturation of in-game ads. It's one thing to advertise fake ads for things within Ascension City, because it extends the fiction of the location itself. I could even allow for cross-promotion of Capcom titles to a degree, simply because that is a practice that some publishers are trending towards (I don't like it, but it does happen.) However, when you're swinging through a city and you're confronted with huge Pepsi, Nvidia and Alienware ads, it sucks a certain amount of the immersion out of the gameplay.
The voice acting is pretty decent across the board. Faith No More's Mike Patton does a solid job of conveying a Spencer that's morphed into a sarcastic anti-hero from his years of imprisonment, and you'll hear plenty of adlibs and snarky comments when he kills enemies. Musically, there's an interesting mix of mellow and rock infused takes on the classic Bionic Commando theme, which frequently rise up during battle sequences.
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