Monday, August 16, 2010

Bionic Commando - Review

Okay, it's time to get back on the blogging horse. Priority number one is reviewing the games I've finished lately.

The original Bionic Commando was a NES age platformer about a soldier with a bionic arm that worked a bit like a grappling hook who has to infiltrate an enemy base (they look an awful lot like Nazis), defeat their leader, and save a captured friend named "Super Joe". There isn't much story there, but old Nintendo cartridges didn't really have the space to explain complex stories.

In this gritty, modern reboot, Spencer (the same guy from the last game) is rotting in prison because society has turned against soldiers with biotic enhancements. He's committed some kind of crime that is left unspecified throughout the adventure, but a terrorist attack on Ascension City offers a chance at redemption. The army thinks the attack was perpetrated by rogue biotics, and for incredibly contrived reasons it's decided that the only person who can stand against them is a lone fellow biotic that was framed, mistreated, and kept in prison for years.

So the story starts dumb and only goes downhill, but more on that later. BC is primarily an action title with two major gameplay mechanics - swinging around environments using your crazy arm and fighting bad guys. For the most part, these both work very well. Using the arm to launch yourself around the environment is really fun, though there is a bit of a learning curve. Still, once you get the hang of it, you'll think you're playing out the script to a Spiderman movie. As for defeating enemy soldiers, you get access to the usual assortment of guns, rifles, grenades, and rocket launchers. But it's FAR more enjoyable to take guys out using your bionic arm and the crazy physics engine. For example, you can pick up a car and use it like a bowling ball against a big group of enemies. Or you can grab a bad guy and toss him off a cliff to his certain doom. While the enemies themselves are pretty repetitive, there's such a large number of ways to defeat them that it takes a while to exhaust the possibilities.

On top of it all the camera in BC is outstanding, a major plus in a game where you're expected to fling yourself about while dodging enemies and trying not to plummet into a canyon. The camera is easy to control, doesn't catch on environmental objects, and includes options for quick turns in any direction using the D-pad.

My only complaint concerning gameplay is that while the gameworld of BC seems wide-open, there are actually many areas that are off-limits due to insta-death radiation. That in itself isn't a big problem, but there's no way to know that one building is fair game while another is bathed in deadly radiation until you've already launched yourself in that direction, whereupon it's too late to do anything but watch yourself die in midair. Checkpoints can be widely spaced in this game as well, meaning that an unfair instant death can mean redoing a lot of work.

It's also worth noting that BC continues the tradition from the NES version by being pretty damn difficult, particularly at the highest level. That's not a complaint exactly, but the sparse checkpoints and occasionally unfair mission failure will combine for some bouts of frustration.

Getting back to the story for a moment, BC uses one of my absolute least favorite plot devices - the turncoat who can perfectly predict future events. You see, it turns out that the whole terrorist attack was orchestrated by Super Joe himself, who is trying to steal a piece of top secret technology (Why? Fuck if I know...) that's hidden in Ascension City. The attack is just a ruse to spring Spencer from prison, so he can locate the device and hand it over to Joe. The whole plan requires that: (1) the military agrees with Joe that only one person should be sent rather than a massive strike force, (2) they let Spencer be that guy even though they think he's a dangerous biotic and maybe murder, (3) Spencer doesn't get killed by the legion of soldiers, battle mechs, and bosses between himself and the device, and (4) the general in charge of the operation hands over the secret access code for the device in a moment of panic. If any one of these elements fails, the whole plan would be ruined. How could Joe foresee everything playing out the way it did? And if he desperately needs Spencer to get the device, why would he constantly lead him straight into dangerous combat rather than routing him around the enemy soldiers with whom he's working?

I find this kind of "twist" to be really annoying because it isn't consistent with the turncoat's previous actions/character. It's like the writers thought "Hey, we need a surprise here...I know, random good guy X is actually a double agent! It doesn't make any sense and comes out of nowhere, so nobody will expect it!"


Ultimately, BC is a very solid action game with a really dumb story. Despite the plot missteps, I still recommend it for experienced fans of platformer/shooter titles with a reasonable tolerance level for occasional frustration.