As reboots go, GRIN set itself quite a task taking on such a cult retro classic as Bionic Commando, a title that all seasoned gamers will be well aware of (from both home computers and consoles). Capcom’s decision to revive the series on current generation technology was a wise one though, as the premise of the game is one that, with the latest tech and some programming skill, should make for a very interesting outing indeed. The big question is – has GRIN succeeded in bringing the old-timer into the 21st century?
The story isn’t particularly earth shattering. After a nuclear device strikes the game’s fictional setting of Ascension City, the government quickly sends in scouts to find out what’s going on. After none return, and only shreds of information are transmitted back to base, ageing warhorse “Super” Joe Gibson is sent to rectify the situation.
Fearing that the attack is the work of pro-bionic terrorists (not to be confused with probiotic yoghurt drinks), Gibson takes drastic action and orders the release of Nathan Spencer, the original game’s hero, and the protagonist of this outing.
After the events in the previous games, and an order sanctioned by the government that outlawed the use of bionics, Nathan was stripped of his bionic hardware and sent to death row for his ‘crimes’. However, it seems that Spencer is now the only hope of combating the escalating situation in the city, and so is reinstated, and inserted, Snake Pliskin style, into the city.
The game then takes you through the obligatory training mission, in which you discover the controls, find Nathan’s bionic arm and eventually emerge into the ruined and irradiated cityscape, ready to swing and gun your way into trouble.
Right from the off, it’s clear that BC has an overriding main focal point when it comes to gameplay, and that’s Nathan’s Bionic Arm. This is no surprise, given the licence, but it does mean that, for the game to succeed, GRIN would have to make this particular mechanic work flawlessly, otherwise the game could come a cropper.
It’s inevitable that this swinging action is going to be compared to Treyarch’s Spider-Man games, and if the devs at GRIN didn’t spend ample time playing and analysing the Marvel Heroe’s outing, then they weren’t doing their jobs properly, as the swinging controls in Spidey’s games worked excellently.
Luckily, this element of BC isn’t half bad, and GRIN has done a pretty good job of implementing the arm’s grappling and swinging abilities. However, I have to say, it’s far from perfect, and sadly can’t quite capture the flowing control system Treyarch managed with Spider-Man.
Whereas in the Marvel games, where all you had to do was press a button and Spidey would latch onto a building, here you also have to actually aim for the spot where you wish Nathan to grapple, taking much of the assisted swinging out of the equation. This does make the game more challenging, and you do actually feel more involved than in the web-slinger’s offering, but it also serves up one of BC‘s major flaws.
You see, as is to be expected, BC has plenty of sections where you’ll be swinging above certain doom, be it a bottomless pit, irradiated zone or even water (yes, amazingly, our super-powered, hard as nails, mega soldier can’t swim, even in a few feet of water, as he’s ‘too heavy’ – hmmmm). This is all fine, except when you end up dying time after time as you fail to connect with a grapple point. Sometimes you just won’t make the distance to reach it, and other times the game will seemingly, and infuriatingly, ignore your attempts to grapple.
As you fly through the air, it’s quite tricky, at least at first, to aim for some of the smaller attach points. This becomes glaringly apparent when navigating one of the game’s many floating minefields, which, once deactivated, serve as long swinging obstacle courses, usually above a deadly drop.
If you do miss a grapple, and start to fall to your doom, you then have to quickly aim for another point. This is very difficult as the camera turns quite slowly, and even the quick turns (by using the d-pad) don’t really help.
However, and I must stress this, you will get used to the system after practice, and what at first seems like a clunky mess, soon becomes a far more accessible skill. It’s just a shame GRIN didn’t manage to make it as instantly accessible as Treyarch managed with Spider-Man.
The arm can be used to grapple almost any surface in the game, all except irradiated areas. In fact, radiation is one of the game’s major obstacles, used to fence off levels and provide danger zones. Luckily though, it would seem that these particular terrorists are either a) health and safety conscious, or b) abstract artists, as this nuclear bomb’s fallout is conveniently blue in colour, whether it’s floating clouds of radiation, or irradiated objects. Who said a nuclear apocalypse has to be all dingy greys?
The arm isn’t solely used for swinging, and it has a range of other uses, all of which are woven into the gameplay very well indeed. As you progress, you’ll unlock extra abilities, and Nathan will be able to use his arm to grapple foes from a distance, before smashing into them feet first, rip objects and other items off walls, hack computers and even pick up and fling cars and other heavy objects around.
There’s really nothing quite like swinging along at speed before dropping in front of a legion of foes, taking out a whole group by launching a police car into them and finishing the rest off with a combination of skilful shooting and brutal grapple attacks. In moments like this, the game comes into its own.
In fact, for sheer amusement value, BC is a definite hit, and the mixture of standard third-person combat and the flexible bionic arm component makes for an enjoyable time. A few other niggles do detract from this unfortunately. Most notable is the amount of loading the game goes through. While some of the game’s areas appear massive in scope, this isn’t entirely true, and each section is still relatively small. Areas are split up by checkpoints that lead you into the next zone, with a loading pause in between each one. This breaks up the immersion quite forcibly, which is a shame, and just not needed with today’s tech. If Rockstar Games can stream a hugely detailed and impressive area as large as Liberty City with no loading screens, then why do we have to put up with so many here?
Some ugly glitches also mar the experience quite a bit. Collision detection is a major flaw, with enemies’ bullets occasionally still hitting you while you’re seemingly behind cover. It’s very, very easy to fall off thin structures, even when you’ve got a visibly clear foothold, and some uneven ground can cause Nathan to glitch, sometimes getting stuck.
Still, even with its obvious flaws and sometimes aggravating, unforgiving sections, I really enjoyed BC. While I’d like a more intuitive control system, and a more free-roaming, open world, what we have here is a solid and enjoyable action title that manages to make the most of the unique skills of its star. It looks great, with some impressive cityscapes to swing around, and the added multiplayer should add some longevity to the proceedings.
It may not be the amazing classic we were hoping for, but Bionic Commando is still a worthy purchase, regardless of your familiarity with the series.
Bionic Commando is released on 22nd May .