May 25, 2009
A lot of people get tired of yearly cash in sequels, myself included, so it is something of a novelty to come across a sequel to a game released over twenty years ago. Back on the NES in 1988 you could swing about to your hearts content using a bionic arm to lay waste to your foes – obviously someone thought that idea would still be pretty cool - and so this game was born. Considering the rash of games like Prince of Persia and Assassins Creed, where wall running and daring acrobatics have been made awesome again, it makes sense. Though I would like to point out that there will be no tawdry jokes about extendable appendages in my review. Well, maybe not many.
Developed by Grin, under the watchful eye of Capcom no doubt, this is a game that prefers to borrow heavily from its peers rather than innovating too much. Obviously the central mechanic of a bionic, grappling arm is not one that has been used overmuch. Though anyone who has played Lost Planet will know how a run and gun third person shooter, replete with grapple, can work. That being said, the game is more about having fun than taking itself too seriously and can easily be played at your own pace.
The story and characters, such as they are, seem to owe a massive debt of gratitude to Escape from New York (if you do not know what that film is – SHAME ON YOU) which was also an obvious inspiration for Solid Snake in a certain series of games. The gruff loner being shipped out of a prison cell to save the day in a city reduced to ruins – sounds awfully familiar. Even the main characters voice sounds eerily like his Metal Gear counterpart. Still, for all of the predictable plot clichés, you cannot help but enjoy some of the ludicrously over the top sequences and bosses - a plot does not have to be original to be fun after all.
So let us cut to the chase – does swinging around like a crazy ape man really work? In the most basic of scenarios, yes it does, and extremely well too. If it were simply a case of swinging through the game, grappling with mechs and enemies then there would be very few issues. The major problem comes due to the large number of collectables strewn about, often in out of the way places. Most of them require very precise jumping to acquire which can become frustrating at times. A lot of the more skillful jumps require precision timing and one misstep can lead to instant death. On the flipside of that it can be extremely satisfying to chain a series of mighty leaps together and go arcing throughout the crumbling cityscape. It really does depend on your own quick thinking half the time and, thankfully, most surfaces can be grappled to make your life easier.
Your bionic arm also plays a part in combat and it is probably a good job too. The generic firearms on offer do provide a certain level of fun, but it is nothing you have not seen before. The real enjoyment comes from grappling your foes with your arm and flinging them about, or even grabbing a nearby rock and heaving it at your nearest assailant. The controls for combat are pretty intuitive and every enemy can be disposed of in any number of ways. The enemies themselves are fairly smart and will chase you down in large groups, but with a bit of smart thinking you should have few problems. It becomes more of a challenge when you are faced with mechs and the like, as minus a heavy weapon, it can become a real chore to dispose of them.
While the game follows a fairly predictable path there are a number of stunning set pieces along the way, including leaping between jets and swinging manically between deactivated minefields. The bosses are also a blast to ruckus with and have a nice sense of spectacle. Still you are probably looking at a fairly short game if that is all there was to it. Thankfully the longevity is helped somewhat by a ton of challenges (most of which are closely tied to achievements) as the game progresses. These revolve around using your bionic arm to do certain tasks or beat up certain foes, to getting kills with different weapons or even your bare hands. It was a clever move and one that helps to break the game up somewhat too. Though you cannot help but feel that most of them are a tad too generic. Still, it also helps you out in the long run as successful completion of certain challenges can upgrade your weapons, abilities and armour.
The game does look fairly good, but not jaw dropping good. There are some niggling issues around the collision detection which means that swinging around is never fully reliable – as there will always be one or two moments where you feel hard done by. The fact you can hit invisible surfaces or fail to grip onto others will also lead to much gnashing of teeth. The game has an extremely poor save system too, as your progress is tagged automatically at certain checkpoints. If you complete any of the challenges or snag any collectables and then die before hitting the next marker all of that effort will be lost, which is a pain in the rear end. Finally the two most annoying issues are the scenery itself. Firstly, our hero cannot swim and can only hold his breath for about three seconds – so if you fall in the water and do not quickly grapple out then it will be a swift death. This is made all the more annoying by the fact you can drown without even having your head beneath water, is our boy allergic to wet feet? Who knows. Secondly there are a number of invisible barriers on every level to stop you wandering off, though rather than barriers they take the form of radiation that annihilates you in a few short seconds. Also not cool.
The online mode actually plays a lot like Lost Planet, as it revolves more around the use of regular weapons, with your arm as little more than a means of conveyance. You can still use it to beat on your foes as well but it just seems to be a bit too unwieldy when up against other people. The game modes are the usual array of suspects such as deathmatch and the like, but there is really nothing to see here that has not been seen before. It serves as yet another example of a solid single player game with a multiplayer mode thrown in for good measure.
For some reason the developers saw fit to rename achievements as ‘challenges’ or, at least, that is how it appears due to the fact pretty much every achievement is tied to the in-game challenges. This is not necessarily a bad thing (just a confusing one) but it does grate that not every challenge is tied to some points so you are often never sure of when your next achievement will pop up. The game does have a nice menu system showing all of the challenges you have done thus far though and your progress towards their completion. Not to mention the fact you can make progress towards certain achievements even before the relevant challenge is available. It’s a nice system and one that more games would do well to copy. The list itself is fairly generic and is mostly made up of kills and collection based tasks. Two great things leap out; first, that the difficulty levels stack and, secondly, that there are no online points. Altogether now - yay.
Bringing an old classic kicking and screaming onto the current generation is always a tough ask (just look at Sonic), so it is safe to say that I approached Bionic Commando with a certain level of trepidation. However, having finally got used to the controls, I can confidently say that it is amazingly fun with some stand out set-pieces. Leaping from place to place and tossing cars at your foes never gets old and even though the game is a tad on the short side you will not feel like it was time wasted. The online mode is throwaway fun, but I suspect it will never get much of a major following. If you are after something with a unique twist then you could do a lot worse than this as for every minor glitch there will be another moment to bring a big grin to your face.
The gruff voice acting is reminiscent of MGS and helps to set the scene but other than that, everything is decidedly low key. The old school menu music is a nice touch though.
It is never awe inspiring but it does a decent job. The character swings around beautifully, but there can be some dodgy moments when you swing through walls or struggle with dubious scenery.
Despite the basic repetition the game is still oodles of fun, though it will depend on just how quickly you manage to pick up the controls and grasp the swinging mechanic.
A fun action title that uses the central premise of Tarzan style swinging to good effect. Let down by some dubious collision detection and bizarre leaps of faith.
The achievements are strangely tied to the challenge system but there is some good variety in there too, for using a variety of weapons and techniques. No online is always a bonus.
This game is easy to pick up and plenty of fun to play. You may well get frustrated with the swinging mechanic after a while but once you become familiar with it the whole thing falls into place. Sadly the campaign will not last you very long at all and the multiplayer is more of a novelty than a long term investment.