I Think I’m Done Here: Bionic Commando (2009)

Bionic Commando

Platform: PS3 (Also released on X360, PC)
Developer: GRIN (now defunct)
Publisher: Capcom
Playtime: 2.5 hours
Paid: £12.28 ($23.12AU) from The Hut.

I feel that if you’re going to review a game, you should finish the game. In this case, I could not. Whether or not this is a flaw on my part for lacking patience is debatable. Hence the title of “I Think I’m Done Here” – this is not a full review. It’s a review of the first 2.5 hours of gameplay, and an explanation of why they gave me a headache.

The opening of the game is a high point, in that the Capcom logo when you start the game is pretty awesome, and the menus are reminiscent of Metroid Prime. You are then treated to an opening cinematic, featuring two gruff, Snake-like voices. One is your character, Nathan Spencer, a bionic commando. The other,  Joe Gibson, has released Spencer from prison in order to have him fight against the terrorist threat to the city, a group called Bio-Reign. Sent off into battle, you are separated from your bionic arm, and need to find it – a simple enough introduction to the game. The game is a third-person shooter with melee elements, and depends quite heavily on the bionic arm. Once you obtain it (a few minutes later), a training area gives you time to learn how to swing, zip, and jump with the bionic arm’s grappling hook. It takes some time to learn how far away you can latch onto things from. The arm really is the major hook of this game, with the obvious comparison being Spider-Man.

Bionic Commando features two hooks to attempt to keep the player going – challenges and collectibles. Collectibles are spread throughout the game (some hidden far better than others), and are large, glowing blue orbs containing some pixel-art symbol. Challenges are essentially achievements, again with some far easier than others. For example, one challenge is to finish the game, while another is to take your first swing with your bionic arm. The fact that there are actual Achievements / Trophies unlocked for completing some of these challenges means that this is at least a good rental for those who want some easy rewards. Challenges unlock both extra challenges and rewards which increase the character’s skills.

Essentially, the gameplay involves swinging and jumping to an objective and killing anyone who gets in the way. The combat is actually pretty fun, with your pistol downing enemy grunts with only a few hits. (Or one headshot.) Alternatively, moves utilizing the bionic arm are available, such as grabbing an enemy with the arm, and then zipline-kicking them. Chaining that attack is a surefire way to kill all grunts. You can also simply punch enemies to death. There is a certain amount of balance necessary – running out of ammo can make life extremely difficult, but trying to defeat all grunts with melee attacks is likely to leave you dead. Bionic Commando uses regenerative healing, which is logical enough. Health is indicated only by how red the screen is (it actually becomes quite blindingly red). Spencer can’t take too much damage, but the health does regenerate fairly quickly.

The game is extremely linear, with an obvious path throughout all areas I played. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, Bionic Commando doesn’t try to hide it at all, and there is no replay value other than to complete challenges and find collectibles. It seems doubtful that people would play it to experience the plot again or have another listen to the dialogue. The game is nothing special graphically; it looks decent, but has frame-rate issues on occasion, while the gameplay requires fluidity.

There aren’t enough checkpoints, meaning a death can lose you up to 10 minutes of progress, as there is no ability to save manually. Also, dying loses you any collectibles and challenges (or even progress towards challenges) you have amassed since your last checkpoint. Combined with Spencer’s low level of fortitude, this is fairly frustrating. Making matters worse, you have to listen to the dialogue again each time you replay a section. The dialogue is egregious – sometimes attempting to be funny, sometimes serious, always bad. It was bad enough the first time, but hearing it repeatedly just hurts.

The developers have thrown in a couple of means of keeping players on the right track and away from certain areas – irradiation and water. Both kill Spencer far too quickly. It seems as though irradiation crops up almost haphazardly all over the place, and seeing the biohazard symbol pop up is always a cause for concern. Water is even worse, as you have a few seconds to aim the grappling hook and pull yourself out. Unfortunately, the camera is submerged too, making it near-impossible to see any escape. I was also one-hit by fire, losing a big chunk of gameplay.

A major positive is that the music is actually really good, essentially capturing the feeling of a big-budget action film. Also, the combat really is pretty good. Frame-rate issues and sometimes frustrating controls, paired with unforgiving moments, sparse checkpoints, and bad dialogue, left me wanting to stop. Some people may find the in-game billboards for Capcom and Nvidia an issue. The plot is uninspiring, and the twist that occurs later in the game is hilarious. (For those still planning to play the game, stop reading now.) It is revealed that your bionic arm is your wife.

If you’re a fan of the series, you might want to check Bionic Commando out. Some have said that the game gets better in the second half. I hope so, for everyone’s sake.

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