Finally returning to the bits and bytes of videogame lore is Nathan "Rad" Spencer, and he is badder than ever in pure 3D on the Xbox 360, complete with his grappling hook-equipped bionic left arm and a variety of weapons to take out the enemy with the right. Taking place 10 years after the original's timeline (note that the original arcade version came in 1987 with the NES hit follow-up in 1988), 2009's version of the game has Spencer working his way through Ascension City, which was nearly destroyed and has the battle-torn face to prove it. The bombing conveniently left plenty of steel girders, lamp posts, elevated freeways, and other grapple-enabled environmental objects to swing from, however.
Bionic Commando is essentially a go-anywhere, do-anything 3D shooter in theory, but in practice, the game is quite linear... both qualities following the format of the original. I do wish that Bionic Commando would have stayed a little bit more true to the original in that you really can't choose the levels that you enter (you can as an option, but it is separate from any stats that you may receive). However, many of the original's elements are definitely present, including hacking into the enemy's terminals and the text-based clues to defeating obstacles that result from said hack.
Like the original, the swing mechanics of using the hero's grappling hook to maneuver through each area is a huge part of the game. While there are certainly stages that won't require you to use your bionic arm at all times, it is much more fun to do so. You'll be able to traverse more ground more quickly as well, which in some cases can even allow you to bypass enemy troops if you care not to fight. Like the original, these troops aren't necessarily that difficult by themselves, but in numbers, they can seriously and quickly injure Spencer. The transition to 3D also brought with it boss-type characters that take a bit more effort to defeat.
One important dynamic new to the world of Bionic Commando is that you can now scale the sides of buildings and other objects to move vertically quite quickly. You can also again retract your hook to jump up to a platform from below, which works fairly well in 3D (it works about 85% of the time). All of this swinging and perching may give you a feeling like that of Spiderman, if it weren't for the mercenary-like antics of Spencer. Because of the ability to go anywhere, the developers at Grin decided to limit the player by having pockets of radiation that can kill our hero in a matter of seconds when he strays off course.
Bionic Commando is not all perfection, even if in my heart I want it to be. The grappling and swinging works great in most cases, but there are still times when it can be super-frustrating. With a lot of practice, however, you can learn the ins and outs of the mechanics and things generally feel better. My biggest complaint, however, comes as a result of the tutorials that are given when you start the game. While the game teaches you how to perform special moves in a training simulator, you can't actually use those moves until certain points in the game, which confusingly had me trying and trying (before finally giving up) to use the cool moves, until I finally hit one of the trigger points in the game and it all became clear.
Bionic Commando also offers up multiplayer action via Xbox Live or System Link. Trust me when I say that the multiplayer element is quite fun. Unfortunately, there are only a few modes of play: Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Capture the Flag. If there had been more, Bionic Commando would have had an even greater replay value. As it is, the single player game still offers the intrigue of playing again to find all of the secrets, but beyond that, there isn't much replay value. There is a nostalgic part of me that would have appreciated a set number of lives instead of always being able to reload from the last save or checkpoint.