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Bionic Commando

Score: 87%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Grin
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1; 2 - 8 (System Link); 2 - 8 (Online Multiplayer)
Genre: Action/ Third Person Shooter/ Platformer (3D)

Graphics & Sound:

It's been a long time in the making, but Spencer is back with his first 3D adventure in Capcom's Bionic Commando, based on the hit arcade and Nintendo Entertainment System's side-scrolling shooter. While there is a remake of the original available for download on Xbox Live Arcade (I highly recommend that one by the way... check out my review for Bionic Commando: Rearmed here), the graphics and sound have been updated drastically from the game's foray in the days of 8-bit entertainment.

First off, think of Bionic Commando's presence on modern consoles as more of a makeover when it comes to the visuals and audio elements. The lead character, Spencer, has some new clothes (although you can unlock his old gear through the XBLA game) and the levels are more intertwined visually, making the environments look outstanding at times. The broken-down city truly does look like a bomb destroyed it, and the lead character's interaction at all times is a key element to the game. Even the buildings that you'll run through aren't always level anymore.

The moment you pop into the game, you'll hear a familiar tune as well. I was immediately catapulted back to memories of playing my favorite game of all time when the theme music hit. The enemies now have voices as well, and they say some pretty creative one-liners if you take a good listen (although, parents be warned that there are some F-bombs going on in there). In addition, all characters have decent voice acting, which makes for a great addition to the once text-only game.


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.


Bionic Commando follows the original in that there are times that feel incredibly difficult. It's not that the game in general is hard, but that when being attacked by more than a handful of enemies, the game gets very intense. There are also the boss encounters that require you to figure out the weaknesses of the enemy. If you've paid attention to the network hacks, you'll usually have a head start on how to defeat them.

One thing to keep in mind when playing Bionic Commando is that if you feel like you've gotten to a point that you can't get past because the enemies keep taking you out or because you can't quite make the sequence of swings that you need to, you may be able to find another way to proceed. In the case of multiple enemies, you'll possibly be able to swing high above them and bypass them completely. You also may be able to get high enough to drop in with force from above, knocking them off their feet so that you can take them out. In the case of grappling frustrations, it may be possible to find another path completely.

The more difficult enemies and boss-type character often have a specific weakness that you need to exploit. Once you figure that out, or possibly figure out their patterns, you'll likely be able to more efficiently defeat them. Aside from that, there is also a pretty big learning curve on getting used to maneuvering with the grappling aspect of the game that can sometimes be frustrating.

Game Mechanics:

Because of the nature of timing your grapples and swinging from the resulting hook-ups, the control mechanics of Bionic Commando do take a bit of getting used to. Until you do, you'll likely encounter late releases of the hook that result in not being propelled forward far enough to grab the next overhang, for example, that will have you pulling your hair out. Fortunately, the HUD can be adjusted so that you can use on-screen guides as to when to optimally release your grip (it's on by default). Your HUD also allows you to see button hints and environmentally interactable objects.

You can also perform special moves using the interactable objects that flash, including a punch, jump, kick combo and the ability to grab objects with your grappling arm and fling them toward enemies or walls that are destructible. Like swinging around, these moves take a bit of getting used to, but are quite effective in their own right.

I only have a couple of real complaints in the mechanics department, one being that sometimes the aiming reticle for your grappling arm needs to be a bit too precisely aimed. Under normal circumstances I do like this, but when the action gets frantic, sometimes you can grapple objects instead of enemies which may or may not cost you your life. The other complaints that I have are that sometimes, the close-quarter battles within building walls cause the camera to not be ideally in position, and that there's not a way to shoot your grappling arm backward at an enemy quickly in tight situations.

Overall, the developers of Bionic Commando did a great job of transforming the gameplay of a great 2D sidescroller into a great 3D shooter. The addition of multiplayer is a nice bonus as well, but Bionic Commando is all about the single player experience, in my opinion. Those who have purchased Bionic Commando: Rearmed are also treated to unlocking Spencer's original outfit (which is pretty cool). Now, listen to Super Joe and go kick some bionic butt!

-Woody, GameVortex Communications
AKA Shane Wodele

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