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In the past few years, Capcom has taken great strides to make sure no one has forgotten about their classic titles. With the release of Bionic Commando Rearmed, they've established how retro games can be moved to the current generation without actually changing the gameplay. With last year's release of Rearmed, the Bionic Commando series was thrust back in the spotlight, with gamers reminiscing about the classic franchise and anticipating a full sequel. Boasting a swinging system that looked to trump Spider-Man's and a bandwagon of hype, GRIN has delivered Bionic Commando to next generation consoles, hoping that fans are ready to embrace a new kind of commando.
The story picks up ten years after the original and follows Nathan 'RAD' Spencer, an operative for the Tactical Arms and Security Committee. In the time between the titles, Nathan was falsely imprisoned, grew dreadlocks, and ditched the sunglasses. Since then, the government began to purge the use of Bionics, deeming them illegal, and demanding they all be removed from anyone using them. This not only affected the military, but civilians as well, as Bionics have worked their way into being a replacement for artificial limbs, giving paraplegics the ability to walk again. Before Nathan's death sentence was carried out, Superintendent Joseph Gibson (Super Joe from the original) called upon the commando to return to duty after a large weapon destroyed Ascension City, killing millions and leading to a large-scale invasion by BioReign, a terrorist organization. As the name implies, BioReign uses Bionics despite their illegality, and has attacked the government as a result of the policies involving their use.
With Gibson's guidance, Nathan must traverse the destroyed metropolis in order to ward off the attackers and find a secret object located somewhere in the city. Despite having a fairly strong opening, the game's story is oftentimes muddled and confusing. Lazy writing makes certain plot points seem more important than they are, while glancing over sections that actually have some sort of relevance to the story. "The Object" Nathan needs to find is constantly referred to as "The Object," hinting that it's going to be something impressive or important. Once it's eventually found it's... simply an object, failing to live up to the hours of build up.
The plot slowly falls apart. Supporting characters come and go without reason, Spencer will randomly arrive at destinations without explanation, and it often feels as though little was put into keeping the player invested in the story. On several occasions the game builds towards explaining a character's backstory or giving reason for a character to enter the story, but they barely ever pay off. It ends up looking like GRIN simply wanted to include a larger cast in the game than they had originally planned, and simply threw in a few unattached storylines to fufill that need. Luckily, the game's checkpoints lead the player in the right direction, and serve as a decent replacement for a true motive.
The voice acting is pretty good, but entirely inconsistent. Spencer spends most of the game brooding about his missing wife and is angry at the government for his imprisonment, which is a stark contrast to the fact that he also will randomly yell at opponents during combat, seemingly elated. He'll be on the verge of tears during cut scenes, and then immediately yell, "Yeah! You like that baby! Woohoo!" after punching an enemy in the face. It doesn't fit the character in any way, and always feels like it's coming out of someone else, as opposed to the gloomy protagonist. The poor script hurts the game in more ways than that, making the narrative hard to follow.
But a poor story isn't enough to completely damn an action game. Bionic Commando has a full weapon system with plenty of different guns, but just as in the original, Nathan Spencer's Bionic Arm is the highlight. Learning how to use the swinging capabilities is paramount to enjoying the game, and takes a bit of time to master. There is a bit of a learning curve, but it pays off after extended use, learning how to swing and attack with fluid motions. As opposed to Spider-Man, where the web automatically attaches to objects to allow for thougtless swinging, players actually need to aim the arm before attaching to a new object. It gives the game a bit of a floaty feel, but ends up paying off. Before long, Spencer will be jumping from enemy to enemy, launching them into the air and smashing them into each other. It's poetry in motion when it works well, and can lead to hectic, enjoyable battles.
While at first it's enjoyable, the lack of abilities unlocked is deplorable, and Spencer doesn't have half of the movies Peter Parker has in the typical Spider-Man title. There's a definite sense of a lot of things hitting the cutting room floor before the game was released. One of the last abilities unlocked is an Adrenaline Meter, giving access to a few moves that pull from this new pool. This is a common thread in most action games, but there are only three abilities tied to Adrenaline in Bionic Commando, two of which are finishing moves for the game's larger enemies, and all of which drain the meter completely. While it might be overplayed, some sort of customization in the way of an experience bar might have helped the game, rewarding players for completing tasks while allowing them to choose from a larger group of abilities to decide how to play. Then again, that would allude to the fact that other aspects of the game are customizable, which is entirely untrue.
Conveniently, the attack on Ascension City has left most of the world completely inhabitable due to radioactivity. This means, among other things, that there is a narrow path in which Nathan Spencer can survive. Bionic Commando is an extremely linear game, with the set path framed by radioactive zones and water, which usually means a quick death for Spencer. Early assumptions were that the game would be open world, but this hope has turned out to be false, meaning the character must travel set paths for the entirety of the game. The linearity is completely unforgivable due to load times, which are frighteningly abundant. Some segments can be as short as two or three minutes before being met with another forty-five second load screen, breaking up the otherwise speedy gameplay. In a strange twist, the loading screens might actually be the most innovative aspect of the game, and feature an interactive 3D model of the game controller, allowing players to view details on the game's controls while the game loads.
Besides the omnipresent collectibles shaped like classic sprites, Capcom took every chance to wink at gamers, referencing the original Bionic Commando and breaking the fourth wall from time to time. In what might be the most obvious choice, players actually experience the tutorial in the classic game's outfit, as Nathan remembers his earlier training. On top of that, the game will also occasionally break the fourth wall entirely, which feels out of place, but generally evokes a laugh. It's a bit odd, especially when the game's story is so serious, but it works well since it isn't done too frequently.
Once the singleplayer campaign is completed, Bionic Commando invites players to jump into the online multiplayer. As silly as it might sound, it really does feel like an online version of Spider-Man. Players can swing around, using all of the tools and abilities unlocked in the singleplayer game. It's a bit uninspired, and doesn't have a huge amount of replayability, but there's still an afternoon of two of enjoyment in playing Capture the Flag with a Bionic Arm.
Overall, there's some fun to be had swinging around the ruins of Ascension City, but don't be fooled - it's a flawed experience. The game's campaign is fairly entertaining, but lacks any real depth or originality, falling short of living up to the Bionic Commando name. Even so, Bionic Commando is a good summer blockbuster, with enough explosions and action to satisfy most gamers, for at least a little while.