Video game review: Bionic Commando, or, the swinger lifestyle

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And the game does get that right – the bionic arm in this new Bionic Commando is a lot of fun. In the 3D game world, the arm can attach to just about anything in range, allowing you to swing in long arcs or quickly retract it to zip up walls or slam into enemies. Later in the game you learn to use the arm to pick up things and hurl them hundreds of yards, whip it around to cut down anyone nearby, and uses it to slam foes onto the ground with an earth-shaking thud. Thanks to your magic boots (or something) you can also fall any distance. Your only nemesis (aside from robots and guys with guns) is water – that arm and those boots will sink you right to the bottom. Along with the arm you'll pick up various weapons, some of which are kind of fun, some of which aren't, but none of which come close to the fun of swinging that arm around.



But using that arm is a challenge at first, and there's a definite learning curve. The training area where you're first learning to do those swings was one of the most frustrating moments in the game for me, especially since it was so early on. The physics of the swinging work, I guess, more like real physics and less like I'm used to from gaming. The result is that to cover any distance with that swing, you have to release at just the right moment in the arc, before your momentum heads too far back up. The game displays an arrow when you should swing – and as soon as you see it let go, because waiting until the end means frustration and drowning. But once you get it down, it's totally worth the price of admission – you'll move through the recently-nuked, enemy-filled Ascension City with flailing, seemingly uncontrolled ease and have a blast doing it.



Which brings me back to nostalgia and the question, is it OK for a game to have a crappy, clichéd story? Can it still be a good game? I think so. Bionic Commando is a good, fun game, but man does it have a crappy story to go along with it. It's the kind of typical tale we've seen in games since Escape From New York was in theaters, except this tough guy protagonist (just Spencer, no Rad) isn't likable in the least, nor is anyone else in the game. Everyone just sneers and growls at each other, strange characters come into the plot to serve no purpose at all except as call backs to the last game. The enemies remain weirdly undefined as to their motives and there's some crazy German guy who you have to fight at the end. It's all presented with dull, profanity-laden dialogue that comes off more childish than anything else. It's material you suffer and groan your way through while you wait for the part where you can swing around and throw dudes with your bionic arm to start up again. And when you're done there's online-multiplayer where you can swing around and blow up other players without any fear of plot getting in the way, which is a nice little addition to the mix. That and the mildly haunting piano music over the title screen push this over the edge into definite check it out territory.


A little nostalgia can buy you a lot of leeway. The new version of Capcom's Bionic Commando is the perfect example – it's a sequel to a much beloved classic from 1988. But things have changed since that glorious 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System days, and characters with names like “Rad Spencer” and “Super Joe” don't quite cut it anymore. Nor does the name “Bionic Commando,” for that matter. But this sequel is a completer update – from the 8-bit side scroller to full-on 3D, open-world (kinda) third-person shooter. It's an update in every way, but it keeps that most important element of the original: You play a guy with a bionic arm that can shoot out Inspector Gadget style and let you swing from things like Spider-Man. As long as it gets that right, the game is more than halfway there.

Read the rest of the review, with video, after the jump:

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