May 21, 2009

Bionic Commando PS3 video game image (1).jpgI must be getting old in video game years (how do those compare with their canine counterparts?), if it’s been over two decades since I first rappelled NES buildings with a robotic arm.

Twenty-two years later, to be exact, and not much has changed since Capcom’s original ‘Bionic Commando’ graced arcade screens across the world. While the game has transitioned from 2D 8-bit to Blu-Ray splendor, the formula has remained intact…for better and worse. Same clever concept, albeit bogged down with a generic storyline and often confounding control scheme.

Bionic Commando PS3 video game image.jpg‘Bionic Commando’ for the PS3 picks up where its NES predecessor left off, with Super Joe a distant memory (although appearing via in-game cameo) and replaced by Nathan ‘RAD’ Spencer. Spencer, the pixelated equivalent of a angry hippie Oregonian on a strict workout regimen, is rescued from death row to again tackle a renegade army hellbent on global domination via sinister means. He’s being blackmailed by knowledge of a missing lover for which agreeing to tackle the baddies serves as appropriate barter.

If this plot sounds familiar, it’s the same damn one for literally every game in the series. I’m not asking for the a Bionic ‘Young and the Restless,’ but some character development would be nice. Even more so when the series is derived from comic book origins.

Visually, ‘Bionic Commando’ is rather stunning. Developer GRIN certainly maximized its Diesel Engine, as post-apocalyptic Ascension City looks fantastic.  Accompanying audio is appropriate although not memorable. Music changes when enemies appear, sound effects average, voice-overs typical over- dramatic, shooter genre flair. Last, Faith No More’s Mike Patton grunge acts the lead protagonist; my inner 90’s angst is alive once more.

Related, ‘Bionic Commando’ shines is an area oft-ignored in next generation gaming, that being in-game menu and general interface. The game cleverly integrates the bionic arm throughout these areas, likewise features a fairly intuitive feature navigation system. In many ways, this aspect of ‘Bionic Commando’ is where homage to its legacy becomes most apparent.

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Most importantly, however, for a game whose legacy and brand lies in the funkiness of novel additional control input – that being a robotic arm – ‘Bionic Commando’ has consistently struggled in implementing this feature. The game’s transition into 3D only exacerbates this problem, as environment manipulation, wall grabbing, object throwing and hand-to-hand combat must now be implemented in a 360° environment.

No where is this flaw more apparent in the required ‘flashback’ tutorial, where what should be a fairly innocuous control indoctrination devolves into an hour-long frustration session. Citing grappling targets, swinging across obstacles, pulling objects and fighting enemies are all victims of questionary physics requiring peculiar timing for maximum effect.

An additional head scratcher is the dichotomy between an ingenious use of trophies, challenges, and retro collectibles acting as gaming progress meters versus rigid savepoints requiring challenge completion repeats with every death. In particularly tough areas, this becomes old rather quickly. Simply put, it’s a massive pain in the ass to re-do 5 disparate tasks…then die via a difficult enemy and/or control flaw. Rinse, wash, repeat over and over again.

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Still and with this a pre-release review, I’m curious to see how multiplayer eventually pans out. Deathmatch featuring dozens of players swinging up and down platforms – despite control flaws – sounds ridiculously cool. Freeing players from stairwells and static physical heights is a formula for replayability…if executed properly.

SUMMARY: ‘Bionic Commando’ for the PS3 continues the legacy of its predecessors, strengths and weaknesses included. Control and design flaws unfortunately overshadow the game’s better elements, making this an arguable rental at best.


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