Review: Bionic Commando

22 05 2009

Here is my review of Capcom’s superb new action title, Bionic Commando on PS3, as published on http://www.square-go.com – Scotland’s only dedicated gaming website and magazine.

Bionic Commando

The King of Swing Returns

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This sequel to the 1988 NES original is testament to Capcom’s and developer Grin’s well-trained eye for delivering superb fan service and, while it is a slick, highly-accomplished title in its own right, a painfully steep learning curve may put some players off. Original hero Nathan ‘RAD’ Spencer returns after spending several years imprisoned by the military group he served under during the first game, now reunited with his bionic arm and set free to bring down the ruthless terrorist organisation BioReign.

Starting off in Ascension City, a ruined metropolis devastated by a nuclear blast, the game really does throw you in at the deep end, with a brutal difficulty setting and ruthless enemies. At first, you are lacking your bionic arm, helping you get familiar with the third-person shooting controls first. Initially, you may notice is that this is a brilliant-looking game. When the title was first announced, the gritty urban setting looked miles away from the colourful original and Grin’s Xbox Live remake, but there is plenty of colour here and the locations are epic in scope.

Once you obtain the bionic arm, a whole wealth of freedom is given to you as the enhancement allows you to climb vast skyscrapers and swing about the environment. To help you get familiar to the swinging dynamic, a neat tutorial shows you the ropes, but regardless, it will probably take you a while to string together slick movements. In time though, you will be leaping off rooftops, latching onto hanging signs and swinging across treacherous areas without giving it second thought.

The game screams open world gameplay, but you are restricted in the areas you can traverse. Blue irradiated areas cannot be grappled with your arm and will kill you in seconds if you come into contact with it. Water is particularly troublesome as Spencer’s arm weighs a ton and anchors you down. If you don’t manage to grapple out of the water in a few short seconds, you drown, which can prove frustrating when you misjudge a swing and end up dying by mistake.

Death is frequent due to the harsh difficulty and widely-spaced checkpoints irritate. But if anything, this grind early on in the game makes things progressively easier as you really are forced to get good at the game or die trying. Luckily, Spencer has a great range of melee attacks, from hurling terrorists large distances, to leaping from high vantage points and using your iron boots to send a powerful shockwave through the ground, the moves feel weighty and satisfying. The range of firearms on the other hand, feels a bit generic, including the obligatory rifles, rocket launchers and shotguns, but you may find yourself leaning towards melee just because it’s so much fun.

Along the way, a series of challenges will unlock depending on how well you play. For example, if you pick up a new weapon, you may be tasked with killing several enemies with it. Completing these tasks awards achievements and trophies, but also upgrades your skills related to the challenge. For example, completing assault rifle challenges increases Spencer’s efficiency with that weapon.

Bionic Commando is, in true Capcom fashion, a difficult game that rewards those who persevere. The sense of scale as you swing around the ruined streets of Ascension City and the surrounding areas is breathtaking and the sharp visuals compliment this perfectly. The arm motions are incredibly fun while the gun and melee combat work well. To recycle a tired cliché, this is a game that is easy to pick up, but difficult to master. Persevere however and you will experience one of the best action titles of the year so far.

8/10
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