Giant Bomb Review

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Bionic Commando Review

4
  • X360
  • PS3

Bionic Commando has moments of brilliance that help cover the game's flaws, but really, it all comes down to how much you like swinging around.

This giant worm isn't tough to beat, provided you're good at flinging cars.
When making a modern update of an eight-bit classic like Bionic Commando, the tendency is to probably focus on the one or two defining characteristics of the original game and say "don't screw these up." The great news is that for Bionic Commando, that defining characteristic was its bionic arm swinging ability, and that part of the new game is handled really well. Unfortunately, a lot of the things that surround all that swinging around haven't been handled quite so nicely. The end result is a game that has moments of brilliance that are bogged down by weird constraints. How much you'll enjoy it is fairly dependent on your ability to quickly swing through an area and enjoy the relative freedom the bionic arm provides.

You'll swing around as Nathan "Rad" Spencer, the hero of the previous Bionic Commando. In the time since his last adventure, the government has become fiercely anti-bionics, and a mishap on his last mission put Spencer on Death Row. But after a pro-bionics organization called BioReign blows up Ascension City, Spencer's released and launched in what's left of the city to figure out what the bad guys are up to. That's where you get to take over. The story takes a back seat to the action through most of the game, and you really don't see many meaningful plot points until the game's final act. Near the end, things take a twist and some really crazy things happen, including a final gameplay sequence that might not be the most interactive thing in the game, but it sure does look amazing.

The beginning of the game quickly reconnects you with your bionic arm, trigging a very necessary tutorial that gives you a look at how to swing and some of the basic and advanced attacks you'll earn over the course of the game. The tutorial and the easy sections at the beginning of the game are a crucial time. It really feels like you'll either take a shine to the game's swinging, figure it out, and really enjoy the six-to-eight-hour adventure ahead of you, or you'll spend a lot more time standing on the ground than you should, and you'll probably hate everything that comes next. The game also has a challenge system that rewards you, both in achievements/trophies as well as in upgrades. Executing a set number of melee kills, taking down two enemies with one shotgun blast, executing properly timed consecutive swings, and killing guys by flinging objects in their direction are just some of the things that you'll be asked to accomplish. Some of these challenges just unlock more challenges when completed, but you'll also get better armor, faster reload times, and other helpful upgrades for playing along.

The structure of Bionic Commando is completely linear, with waypoints appearing to keep you focused on the next objective. You'll swing through the ruins of Ascension City, head underground a few times to fly through caves, head out to the docks, swing around an oil rig, and so on. Occasionally you'll have to stop and deal with some enemies. To do that, you're armed with a basic weapon, a one-shot gun that is the dictionary definition of "pea shooter." It sounds weak, it feels weak, and it fires as quickly as you can pull the trigger--which can actually make it a bit more powerful than it is normally, since you can rattle off shots at a pretty high rate. The aiming reticle is large, though it gets smaller if you zoom in, letting you pull off head shots at medium range. But standing on the ground, firing this thing at other enemies who are firing back, is pretty boring. Most of the other guns in the game--like a sniper rifle, a shotgun, a grenade launcher, and a fully automatic machine gun--are pretty standard and aren't much fun to use. I did, however, really enjoy using the Tarantula, a lock-on rocket launcher that can fire multiple shots at different targets by painting the targets before releasing the fire button. But you don't find it too often in the single-player game, and all of the secondary weapons have really strict ammo limits that prevent you from using them for long.

Spencer's new look has 'ex-prisoner' written all over it.
It almost feels like the developers deliberately made most of the guns lame to put more of a focus on your arm. Using the arm in combat is decidedly more entertaining. You'll be able to pick up objects in the environment and fling them at enemies, or you can refrain from getting fancy and just grab enemies directly and toss them at other foes, or off ledges. If you like, you can whip enemies up with the arm and use your guns to keep them airborne until they're dead. Or you can punch cars up into the air, jump up after them, and kick them at your adversaries. These methods are more entertaining, but fighting the regular enemies is rarely difficult, so even this doesn't stay exciting from start to finish.

In addition to just fighting regular dudes, you'll also encounter a few different varieties of mech suits or flying machines over the course of the game. Some of these are ground-based, while others fly around, launching missiles or energy blasts in your direction. Lobbing grenades or shooting other explosives in their direction is the easiest way to deal with these threats, but since ammo is usually fairly scarce, you'll have to lob large objects at them with your arm, or use other methods to get them to expose their back, where a weak point can be grappled onto and kicked. These fights, while not quite boss fights, take a bit of time to handle and force you to think. They're not always great, but it's the best that combat gets in Bionic Commando.

The deeper into Bionic Commando I got, the more it felt like someone realized that the more enemies that got placed into the world, the less exciting the game became. So it's kind of nice that there are large stretches of the game where it's just you and the environment, with very occasional breaks for a bit of combat before you get back to swinging through the air. This stuff, combined with a bunch of collectible objects strewn throughout the game, is probably the best part of the entire game. However, the game isn't quite as open and free as that probably makes it sound. The world is covered with blue-tinged walls and blue clouds that are meant to serve as radiation, making them dangerous places to be. Really, it's just a system of invisible walls and constraints designed to keep you on track. It's disappointing because, again, once you get the hang of climbing buildings with your arm and swinging around, you're filled with a desire to explore. But the game doesn't allow as much of that as it should. Water is also used to restrict your movement, as you'll sink like a rock and die if you fall into the water and can't immediately grapple your way out. Additionally, the game is broken up into areas that are separated by some very lengthy load times, which segments the world into chunks of varying size.

Bionic Commando is a great-looking game that creates a heavy atmosphere as you move from place to place. The bombed-out city is full of big craters, torn-up buildings, and debris. Underground, you'll hook onto stalactites, deal with tremors, and see some terrific subterranean cave areas. Spencer and the other characters in the game look pretty good, too, though I didn't really appreciate Spencer's "edgy guy with dreadlocks" look so much. If you want a classic feel, owners of Bionic Commando Rearmed can unlock a classic Rad model and use that, instead... but his shades and decidedly retro look stick out amongst the edgy tone the game attempts to hit.

Speaking of an edgy tone, the game doesn't hit it terribly well. The voice acting from Spencer, done by singer Mike Patton, is mostly done in a low growl that attempts to convey discontent at the situation. It all ends up sounding like someone trying to take something very seriously and failing miserably. Some of the other characters, like Super Joe, who spends most of the game guiding you from point to point and giving you mission updates, are done a bit better. One nice thing about the voice acting is that there are multiple takes for some lines, so if you die and have to see a part twice, sometimes you'll get a different line. Sometimes this is serious, and sometimes it's some kind of insane joke. For example, the default line when you first encounter a giant worm boss has Super Joe telling you that "you're just going to have to fight it." The second time, he said "you're just going to have to fuck it," resulting in a long "uhhhhhh" from both Spencer and myself. At times you can feel some of the campy writing that resulted from the poor translation of the Japanese NES game coming through, but there aren't enough "you damn fool" or "get the heck out of here, you nerd" moments to make it work.

Hangin' around, doin' whatevs.
In addition to the main campaign, which comes in three difficulty levels, Bionic Commando also has a pretty solid multiplayer mode that, again, depends on your ability with the arm. At its best, the game almost feels like dogfighting, with multiple players swinging around, launching through the air, attempting to grapple directly onto an enemy to slow him down for the kill. On some of the larger maps, though, the game sort of bogs down as players attempt to get the one-shot-kill sniper rifle or grab the Tarantula and launch lock-on missiles. It supports up to eight players and offers the standard trinity of multiplayer modes: deathmatch, team deathmatch, and capture the flag. While it probably won't replace your multiplayer shooter of choice, it's a fun diversion from the campaign that works better than it seems like it should. But it suffers a bit by being more combat-focused, putting more of an emphasis on the underwhelming weapons. The matching is pretty fully featured, containing a Halo-like party system, and it also has support for clan tags.

Bionic Commando goes back and forth between moments of great, navigation-based gameplay and a lot of little touches that don't work as well as you'd like. It makes the final product a little frustrating, because you can almost see a better game trying to bust its way out of its constraints. But more often than not, I was really taken by the game's rewarding swinging controls and terrific looks. If you consider yourself something of a swinger, I think you'll probably feel the same way.
Jeff Gerstmann on Google+
92 Comments
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Posted by bjorno

Super JOE

Posted by LordCrom

Thanks Jeff!  This review goes a long way to pushing me in the direction of picking up BC at full price rather than waiting for a price drop.  I no likey frustration in my games, but I may say, "What the heck" on this one.

Posted by ProfessorZombie

My cousin did the voice of Rad Spencer! YEA BUDDDY!

Posted by gamer4life

nice review jeff! 

Posted by itsVASH

props

Posted by End_Boss

I remain unconvinced.

Posted by Kenobi

meh, another rental.  At least it's good for a grab and game between homework.

Posted by SenatorSpacer

Doesn't sound like a full buy then, guess it's rent for me!

Posted by elektrixx

Oh man, it's unfortunate because I really wanted this title to be great. In comparison to the text it seems like a generous four stars as well.

Posted by JJOR64

Awesome.  Can't wait to play the full game.

Posted by lockload

Hmm wasn't even going to look at this may now, good review

Posted by carlthenimrod

Just ordered my copy on Amazon. Can't wait to get my hands on it.

Edited by SpaceInsomniac

Dammit, Jeff!  Did you just ruin the ending for me?  You implied quite a bit there, which made me think of what you might have meant.  If it turns out that I'm right, I'm going to be pissed. :(

Otherwise, good review.

Posted by TheTemplar

The review reads like 2 stars or something but you give it 4, almost every paragraph ends on a downer.


What's up?
Posted by Captain_Fookup

I'm tempted to pick this up tomorrow, crazy to see this on Metacritic.

Edited by Tokubetsu
TheTemplar said:
The review reads like 2 stars or something but you give it 4, almost every paragraph ends on a downer.What's ... [more]
I was thinking the same thing haha. I've been around the block more than a couple times to let reviews sway me though.  Enjoyed the demo and I still yell at Platforming on albatross in BCR so I'll be there day one.
Posted by coffeesash

It sounds more like Jeff thought it was a three star game that other people may or may not enjoy as much. Definitely a rental for me :I

Posted by AegisOfDawn

This review left a unclear impression upon me, it seemed like you were appreciating the roots of Bionic Commando but it didn't transition to next-gen gameplay quite so well.

Looks like a rent for me.

Posted by CoinMatze

Really liked your review, Jeff, and I'm really looking forward to the video review but I'm with some of the other commentors who think that the score is kinda off. I don't wanna be a smartass, but... actually I want to be one :D

May I remind you of this:

Still very good and easy to recommend, though it doesn't quite live up to its full potential.


The halfway point. An inherent appreciation of this game's specific gameplay style, characters, subject matter, and so on may play as big a role in your enjoyment as the actual quality of the game.

I think your review, especially the last paragraph, sounds a little more threeish.

Posted by sephiroth1983

As always a great review i think i may be picking this one up as i always loved the series and re-armed was pure awesome

Posted by ZeroCast
CoinMatze said:
Really liked your review, Jeff, and I'm really looking forward to the video review but I'm with some of the ... [more]
Are you really going to remind the man who created this website what his own Stars mean?

Just STFU and accept the review.
Posted by Smashlampjaw

I liked the multiplayer demo it was fun, although sounds single player is linear, probably will get it though.

Posted by Meltbrain

Awesome review. I'm a little bummed the game isn't the near-flawless experience I was hoping for, but I do enjoy me some swinging... wait, no... not like that, just... ahh, whatever.

@ZeroCast:
Yeah, exactly. Dude knows exactly why he gives certain scores.

Posted by rmanthorp

Nice review, I am still really excited about this game and I'm not sure as to why? I guess it just has a charm that captures me :D

Moderator
Posted by raidingkvatch

I was indifferent to this in the first place, the demo turned me off (not a huge mp guy), after reading the review, I definitely will not be buying this game. I'm sure some people will love it though.

Posted by andrewf87462

Fantastic review, I may think about getting this game when its a bit cheaper.

Posted by Zoombini

It sounds like the multiplayer could have benefited with some form of checkpoint race mode. The review suggests that the swinging is more enjoyable then the fighting and multiplayer swinging might have been pretty cool.

But anyways, interesting review but I'll probably pick this up for cheap later. It isn't too long before we Brits are finally getting Tales of Verpersia and I think that is going to dominate my gaming life for a while.

Posted by Cheapoz

If it weren't Capcom, it'd be a 3 I reckon, GB have some serious love for that mob.


And I mean that in the least insulting way possible, Jeff and co wear their hearts on their sleeves about it, it's not like they're getting under-the-table paid off about it.

Oh, and Jeff, did your balls pucker at any point?
Posted by Hairydutchman

So it's a 4 star game with reservation. If they don't bring out a demo for the PS3 I will never find out if I like the swinging controls.

Edited by Stephen_Von_Cloud

The review doesn't really read like a 4, much more like a 3.  This isn't an attack, just how I take it.  Not sure why it came out that way but it doesn't really matter.  The text was clear and well thought out and that is what will influence my decision, not the score.

Posted by JJ

Bionic Commando was one of the first games I remember beating as a kid. This game looks rad.

Posted by Kohe321

Great review Jeff. This game is a musthave for me.

Posted by Duckbutter
Stephen_Von_Cloud said:
The review doesn't really read like a 4, much more like a 3.  This isn't an attack, just how I ... [more]
i know right? i saw the 4 stars but reading it, he mostly complained about the game. i was all "whaaaaa?"
how can i be "a swinger" when i've been spoiled by games like Hulk and Spiderman and Assassin's Creed where its easy to get around?
and the average review scores for this game in magazines is a 5 out of 10. looks like i'll haf ta rent it and see for myself :(
why can't all games be easy choices like Infamous? i likes to just buy my games Amazon style and have them delivered day one. renting first is a drag.
Edited by Bawabus
CoinMatze said:
Really liked your review, Jeff, and I'm really looking forward to the video review but I'm with some of the ... [more]

So, I'm pretty sure he said that one's enjoyment of the game was going to be based solely on how much the player enjoys just swinging around. He also said that he enjoyed the swinging a lot, but thought its full potential was not realized. Four stars sounds right to me.

Reviews are critiques. You should always be worried when a review of a video game is overly positive. I realize we've sort of been trained to shy away from anything that doesn't have everyone gushing over it, but I think you should give this one a shot.
Posted by Lukeweizer

I like swinging around.

Posted by ectoplasma

Pretty good review man.

Posted by Stephen_Von_Cloud
ZeroCast said:
CoinMatze said: Really liked your review, Jeff, and I'm really looking forward to the video review but I'm with some ... [more]
I don't think he was trying to be insulting, but he did bring up a valid point in that the three star comment says your appreciation depends on the appreciation of specific mechanics, characters, etc.  This game depends on the Bionic Commando license and according to Jeff's review, your appreciation of the swing mechanic.  He makes an interesting point then.

I mean Jeff made the system and it's his review, but it's a valid point and he doesn't need to STFU by any means.
Posted by eduardo

I was wondering when the reviews would show up for this game. Sounds like a good one.

Edited by DrLove
@Stephen_Von_Cloud:  Thank you.  THis review has the same problem I had with the Fallout 3 review.  Im not hating on the written text, if thats the way Jeff feels about the game.  BUt, the only positives he talks about are the swinging and the graphics, everything else is "disappointing" which is fair to say if thats what he thinks of the game... But... then... 4/5???  Maybe Im missing something??
Posted by roofy

for some reason i dont feel the text matches the score.

i didnt find too many positive points through the review and yet this game recieved 4 stars.

maybe when its talked about on the bombcast it will become more clear

Posted by ImperiousRix

I've been seeing some poor reviews for this.  I'll probably play it eventually, but for now, it's off my "must buy" list.

Posted by Moeez

So it's not an open world game with swinging like Spiderman 2? Huh, sounds like a big downer, cause I would like to swing around a post-apocalyptic city and do whatever, and do some side-quests, but this sounds like a linear affair. Linear affairs are fine IF the story is good, but this one doesn't look like that.

Posted by DrLove

Anyone confused about the score should check out the Fallout 3 review text.. its the exact same type of thing. Negative text= 4/5.  Jeff has always said that fans put too much value in a # score and not the text.  I just want both to match each other.

Posted by thefjk

Gonna rent this, just for a quick playthrough!

Posted by BR4DL3I9H

Great review. I might check this out now, as i have waiting to play a game with a great swing mechanic since spiderman 2 (Don't even talk to me about Spiderman 3, it is still on my shelf, taunting me)

Posted by BR4DL3I9H

Great review. I might check this out now, as i have waiting to play a game with a great swing mechanic since spiderman 2 (Don't even talk to me about Spiderman 3, it is still on my shelf, taunting me)

Posted by DudeSupreme

Im surprised with all the knocks against it, Bionic Commando still got a 4 star rating.

Posted by Jimbo

Maybe an open world Bionic Commando might be the way to go in future?  Like Crackdown, but with swinging instead of jumping?

Posted by Azteck

I'll probably check it out.. but at reduced price. The amount of stuff you get to do worries me a little too much for me to pay all that money.

Posted by DosPelones

I am kind of dissapointed that there is no co-op. Even rearmed had co-op, and I thought it was the part of the game that was the most fun. The game still looks cool, but co-op would have made it a definite buy, instead of a rent.

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