Review by The Purple Pantywaist
Should've come up with a witty pun around bionics or arms or something...
Sometime in the 1980ies Capcom developed a Jump'n'Shoot which was special, as the main character could not jump. Instead he had a Bionic Arm, with which he could swing and pull himself up. Besides a few remakes (the NES version is actually a sequel to the Arcade version), Capcom did not do much with this IP. It would stand to reason, that they remembered that concept, when they played one of the few good Spiderman(tm) games. This - same titled - Bionic Commando is a 3rd person platformer/shooter, where the character swings around using his bionic arm. And yes, he learned to jump. He is even wearing some magical boots, with which he can survive falls of ridiculous heights and makes use of his arm as a weapon.
Graphics, Music, Sound, Voice Acting etc 7/10
While graphics are nicely done (as far I can tell) and the main protagonists look quiet well und move fluently, nice explosions, blur effect when changing focus from close to far etc, they severely lack variety. You have about 4 different locales and 2 main types of enemy (which come each in about 4 flavours). That's it.
Nothing bad to say about the music, sound and Voice Acting. But, then again, nothing extraordinary either. The one-liners the main character expresses, when killing enemies, are a matter of taste. One thing though, I doubt I will ever understand: When they (meaning movie- or videogame makers) need someone to do an (in this case) German accent, why do they never hire someone who does not have to fake it halfheartedly? At least in that game, they had not speak him single words (or even worse: whole sentences) German, which salvages a lot.
As already mentioned several times, main character Nathan "Rad" Spencer has a Bionic arm, which he uses skillfully to swing and pull him up. Further he can jump. And of course he can run, or more precisely walk rather fast. That's it for the platforming part. It takes some time to learn the correct timing for swinging, when to release to travel far or high, but then it really works. Problem is, there is nothing more to it. You either swing or climb; you do not dodge obstacles while swinging. While the (4) locales change, you keep basically doing the same, over and over again. It still is fun for some time and the game is not very long, but in my opinion it is not enough.
Nevertheless, the game is not only about platforming. How shall a game function nowadays without a lot of violence and bloodletting? Why would anyone buy a game without death and killing? So you get your arsenal of about half a dozens weapons, which you have seen and used many, many times before, but this time ... they got funny names, e.g. the shotgun is called Bulldog. But wait, Spencer has this Bionic arm. This must be a murderous, brutal weapon! Right, it is. In the game you learn about 4 different moves with this arm, some do not work on the heavy type of enemy, and some require debris, cars etc lying around. The problem is not, that you have too less options to choose from, more that the fighting is too easy against a single enemy (unless you have no debris and are in an enclosed area), but sometimes too difficult, when they are many enemies around. The problem is, Spencer does not move very fast and cannot kick the enemies while swinging, and besides the exploding generic weapons (for which you have little ammo) he has no way to attack groups of enemies, if they do not stand very close to each other or wait patiently at the base of a cliff. Then again, he is too slow to resort to hit-and-run tactics, so your only option is try to whittle them down from a middle distance. Later in the game he learns 2 "adrenalin moves", one works an larger groups of the one enemy type, but sometimes again he is too slow to get in the middle to pull it off without being killed.
Which brings us to the health bar. There is no health bar. Instead, when hit, the screen turns reddish, when hit again, you're dead. Game over respectively back to the spawn point. Completing challenges during the normal stages - which involve in nearly every case to kill a certain number (or type) of enemy with a certain move - increase the damage you take before the "red screen of death" appears.
The 2 paragraphs before have given you a good idea, why the game has very few bosses. Another gameplay aspect I'd like to mention is radioactivity. In one of the 4 locales the game presents you with an open landscape. But you can not travel it, because if you leave your linear path, you die of radiation. The radiation is shown by a blueish glow and if you get to near, a warning sign appears. Nevertheless, at some points you just enter the radioactive zone because it is not a clearly visible line which you may not cross. So you will die some times.
Controls, Usability 8/10
I used the mouse controls. They do work rather fine, as said you will take some time to get used to them, but the few moves are easy to remember and normally no problem to pull off. Throwing debris does not work perfectly, but the game helps you a lot aiming so it is not disturbing. What I did not understand, why the game keeps telling you to press buttons on the Xbox Controller, even if you use mouse and keyboard. I do unterstand, they want you to buy that Xbox Controller, but it still does not help you, when they say press the "B" Button, and not the key assigned to it and even not say, what "B" would do normally. There is a "trigger" scene, where this can be deadly. And somehow they forgot to mention, that the Tab- key opens the menu, and that you cannot change it.
The story is told rather similar to a Metal Gear Solid game. Besides that, it has some plot twists, some are not foreseeable. Still, considering that this game is about a terrorist attack, where million of people died, the story remains short winded and unsatisfying. Without spoiling anything, it is partly unfinished as well.
Game length, additional content, replayability 5-7/10
This one is rather hard to rate. The game is rather short, it took me about 15h on my first (and only) playthrough on hard difficulty. There are symbols to collect in each stage, and there are different difficulties. One the one hand, the game's shortcoming is mainly, that it gets repetitive rather fast, on the other hand, as the concept is not bad itself, that is reason to play it again maybe after some time - for a short while. As far as I can tell, there is nothing to be gained from a second playthrough, besides maybe some galleries and complete the remaining challenges. I did not try multiplayer, so I cannot tell whether it is an additional reason to buy this game.
Does the game waste your time? - Hardly
As I work full time, have a family etc, I feel especially frustrated, when a game wastes the player's time, e.g. by sending you on wild goose chases, having you run around a lot, doing the same thing again and again etc. Bionic Commando has none of them, only reason why this is not a perfect score is the use of not optimally distributed save points and that some of the spawn points could be placed after you climb some boring cliff and not before.
In a nutshell 6/10
Bionic Commando is an interesting 3rd person platformer, but it just does not cut the mustard: The underlying idea is innovative (although it is 20 years old), but sadly there is not enough of it. The game severely lacks variety, and the story does not save it either. Nevertheless, if the concept of swinging around appeals to you, and you get the game cheap, I would recommend it. And as this is a Capcom game, we can expect some sort of sequel, which hopefully makes use of the wasted potential. Multiplayer was not factored in this review.
Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Product Release: Bionic Commando (EU, 10/30/09)
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