Reaching into the past with a bionic grip

Bionic Commando Screenshot

HIGH Mastering the arm and swinging effortlessly through levels.

LOW Some checkpoints are set too far apart.

WTF The elements of a great story are here, they're just hardly used.

I don't often write reviews in response to other reviews, but in the case of GRIN's Bionic Commando, I was willing to make an exception.

A quick scan of the Internet reveals that several critics call the game out for things that hardly seem applicable; things that can only be due to several cases of misplaced expectation. Dinged for "‘flaws" like not having an open world design, or having a reduced emphasis on firearms and gunplay, I found it quite ironic that many of these same critics seem to assert that this revamp of Capcom's 1988 NES classic misses what made the original so great.

I couldn't disagree more—I found Bionic Commando to be incredibly faithful to its inspiration, both in terms of design and concept. As someone who has genuinely fond memories of the source material, I've got to wonder whether some of these critics even played the original at all. I don't think doing so is a prerequisite to reviewing GRIN's game, but it certainly might have helped give the proper perspective for it.

Focusing on the game itself, the titular commando in question is Nathan Spencer, a bionically-enhanced soldier who was imprisoned when public opinion of modified troops turned from pride to fear. On the day he's to be executed for so-called war crimes, a devastating bomb set by pro-bionic terrorists decimates sprawling Ascension City. In an effort to fight fire with fire, the government repeals his sentence and sends him (and his mechanical arm) in to clean up the mess.

…And what an arm it is.

Bionic Commando Screenshot

Obviously, the main element shared between GRIN's Bionic Commando and Capcom's original is this mechanical appendage. Its main purpose is to be used as a grappling hook of sorts, attaching to nearly any surface and giving Nathan a way to swing incredible distances and scale vertical structures. It also functions as a staggeringly effective weapon, able to handle enemy soldiers like rag dolls and toss chunks of rock or totaled cars with lethal bludgeoning force. It's not at all an understatement to say that mastery of Nathan's arm is crucial to the entire Bionic Commando experience, and a player's enjoyment of the title will hinge upon whether or not they can get the hang of it. (Pun partially intended.)

With that in mind, let's get one thing straight: this game is not intended to be Gears of War on a wire, it's not an iteration of Spider-Man with big guns added, and it's certainly not an aerial Grand Theft Auto in any way, shape, or form. Anyone coming to the project with these sorts of notions will naturally be disappointed. However, players able to take Bionic Commando on its own terms (terms essentially set by its predecessor) will find that it's an extremely gratifying experience.

Given that Nathan is a lone soldier infiltrating a vast city populated with enemies of all sorts, it makes sense that GRIN asks players to approach each situation tactically—after all, the player has the immense advantage of the bionic arm. Spencer is not bulletproof, and he's often outnumbered and outgunned. Anyone trying to play the game in spite of the arm instead of capitalizing on it will find themselves frustrated and defeated. Conversely, when the arm used to the fullest advantage, Nathan Spencer is an unstoppable force.

There is nothing quite like leaping from the top of a crumbling office building, freefalling for what seems like forever, and then grappling onto a nearby streetlight to catapult away from unyielding pavement at the last possible second. There is little more exciting than standing atop an unfinished construction site a mile high, jumping backwards into space to grapple onto a rusted beam on the way down, and then using the inertia to whip forward and latch onto an otherwise unreachable skyborne enemy. This is electric, visceral stuff.

Bionic Commando Screenshot

It's no surprise that death often comes from above for the hostile occupying forces, and rather than stealth or firepower, mobility is revealed to be the player's greatest asset. Although none of Bionic Commando's areas could properly be described as open-world in the truest sense, they certainly allow the player quite a bit of freedom while never feeling unfocused or empty. There are always multiple approaches to each situation, and thinking vertically is always rewarded handsomely.

In terms of production, the game is pure polish. Nathan's adventures in Ascension City take him through several stunning locales, all rendered with a great amount of detail. The remains of the city and its shattered skyscrapers are quite convincing, and the green, forest areas of abandoned parks and arboretums are just as beautiful. Several times, I found myself stopping to take in the view, the vantage points accessible thanks to the climbing abilities of the bionic arm providing multiple arresting vistas.

As an aside, although I don't usually pay much attention to music in games, I would like to give special praise to Bionic Commando's score. The new arrangements of the classic songs were extremely well-done, and certainly worth the mention.

Although a few more boss battles wouldn't have hurt and there are perhaps two or three places over the course of the adventure that could have benefited from more frequent checkpoints, my only real issue with Bionic Commando is that the story and characters never gain critical mass. The gameplay is certainly strong enough to carry the player from start to finish, but the cast of characters goes largely unused. The only other friendly bionic makes too-brief cameos, the central villain is largely absent until the final sequences, and an incredibly interesting twist late in the plot is all but ignored. There is real potential for Bionic Commando to tell a gripping soldier's tale, and I must admit that I was left more than a little baffled as to why it went untapped. Without more dramatic segments to help the player connect to Nathan, the vital opportunity to build some "star quality" and rise to gaming's top tier is missed.

Although some reviewers may malign the title, when all was said and done, I've got nothing but praise for it. The attention and effort put into this game is evident in all respects, and the central concept introduced so many years ago still holds up to this day; in fact, I'd say GRIN's work is superior to that which inspired it. Putting aside expectations of what some uninformed writers may think it should be, I was quite glad to take Bionic Commando for what it is—an absolutely faithful reimagining of an undisputed classic, smartly crafted and brought elegantly into the current generation. Rating: 8.0 out of 10.

Disclosures: This game was obtained via rental and reviewed on the Xbox 360. Approximately nine hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed one times. No time was spent in multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains Blood and Gore, Strong Language, and Violence. Although children might like the idea of swinging from place to place, it's really not appropriate for them. There are multiple instances of salty language, and the game has a rather frank, dark tone when it comes to violence. It's not excessively gory, but the player is tasked with killing scores of enemy soldiers via firearms or use of the bionic appendage. It'll be all right for teens (and older, natch) but keep the kids away, okay?

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: You should know that subtitles are available for all dialogue in the game, except for ambient chatter from nearby enemy soldiers or radio transmissions. Those things aren't vital, but it would have been nice to have them. Otherwise, the game is very playable and doesn't rely heavily on audio cues. It's easy to see enemies via an onscreen map and tell where bullets are coming from, so it all works out fairly well without sound.

Brad Gallaway

Brad Gallaway

Brad Gallaway has been gaming since the days when arcades were everywhere and the Atari 2600 was cutting edge. So, like... A while.

Currently, he's got about 42 minutes a night to play because adulting is a timesuck, but despite that, he's a happily married guy with two kids who both have better K/D ratios than he does.

Brad still loves Transformers, he's on Marvel Puzzle Quest when nobody at the office is looking, and his favorite game of all time is the first Mass Effect -- and he thought the trilogy's ending was Just Fine, Thanks.

Follow Brad on Twitter at @BradGallaway
Brad Gallaway

Latest posts by Brad Gallaway (see all)

Leave a Reply

12 Comments on "Bionic Commando Review"

Notify of
avatar
Sort by:   newest | oldest
Carl Rogerson
Guest
Well allow me to mention that I’m new to the gamecritics.com community, and I’m glad to say that I appreciate what GameCritics stands for. Before Bionic Commando was release, I was running along with the hype train. Coming off of the Bionic Commando: ReArmed, the next logical conclusion would have been the 3D HD Bionic Commando, but it never happened due almost of the overall bad reception it receive. Now I use a mutliple of reviews, discussions, and overall gut-feeling on whether or not I will purchase/play a game. I don’t make m gaming decisions entirely based off of 1 persons opinion.… Read more »
Suarod
Guest
Listen anonymous retarded, i see how ignorant you are by the way,.. popular opinion tent to be foged and many times modified, it is also very true that the critics sometimes forget the essence of videogames and genres when they place pointless reviews to games that deserve better, i am myself a media artist, and i know very well about empty promises made by advertising and missplaced critics posted by the wrong evaluators this is a very repited mistake by the uniformed critics, for the evaluation parameters are not always the right ones and had become a standard…for i think… Read more »
Omer Altay
Guest

If you’re not a fan of these free roaming games, you won’t like this, it’s that simple :). I generally do like this genre, [Prototype and this game] but I didn’t like the GTA series, but I guess that’s just me, as everyone seems to love GTA for some reason.

Odofakyodo
Guest

[quote=Anonymous]honestly i think the entire point of this website is to contradict popular opinion in some feeble attempt by the reviewers to be important. no one fucking cares about you, you’re ugly, get a real job and move out of your mothers house, then turn yourself in for being a pedophile[/quote]

Heh, obviously *you* care a great deal about the reviews, since they were important enough for you to get very passionate about!

Anonymous
Guest

honestly i think the entire point of this website is to contradict popular opinion in some feeble attempt by the reviewers to be important. no one fucking cares about you, you’re ugly, get a real job and move out of your mothers house, then turn yourself in for being a pedophile

Brad Gallaway
Guest

Matt’s right.

The controls aren’t hard to master at all, I think it’s more the case that some reviewers expected to be able to pick it up and play without allowing for any period of learning the game, and that’s just unwise.

honestly, it took me about 3-5 minutes to really understand how the arm worked, and after that it was all good.

Zolos
Guest
[quote=Matthew Weise][quote=Zolos]What’s putting off from playing the game just yet is my suspicion of a steep learning curve which will prevent me from enjoying the game. [/quote] The game doesn’t have a steep learning curve. I think the learning curve issue is yet another casualty of misplaced expectations from mainstream critics. If you thought you were playing an open world game and it took you 20 tries to realize flying into radiation is bad, then the game feels a lot more punishing than it ought to. Bionic Commando is really quite a simple game with nice, responsive controls. What it… Read more »
Matthew Weise
Guest
[quote=Zolos]What’s putting off from playing the game just yet is my suspicion of a steep learning curve which will prevent me from enjoying the game. [/quote] The game doesn’t have a steep learning curve. I think the learning curve issue is yet another casualty of misplaced expectations from mainstream critics. If you thought you were playing an open world game and it took you 20 tries to realize flying into radiation is bad, then the game feels a lot more punishing than it ought to. Bionic Commando is really quite a simple game with nice, responsive controls. What it requires… Read more »
Anonymous
Guest
[quote=Brad Gallaway]Just wondering here.. do you even really read what I write? I mean, I get that maybe you disagree with my score because it doesn’t line up with MetaCritic or whatever, but that aside… do you just take in what I’ve said and even try to imagine how I could possibly come to those conclusions? Put the score and MetaCritic aside and just read the review. I’d like to think that I at least halfway express what I liked about Bionic Commando (or disliked about inFamous and Prototype). Disagree with me or don’t, but at least try to hear… Read more »
Zolos
Guest
What’s putting off from playing the game just yet is my suspicion of a steep learning curve which will prevent me from enjoying the game. That’s what prevented me from loving Mirror’s Edge which at some stages (combat!) was near impossible for me and had to do over and over again. This is something that many reviewers i think encounter with games that require you to master them and greatly infuences the review score/opinion. If i am not mistaken ME’s review scores were all over the place. Reviewers who mastered the game or maybe played it easy were giving it… Read more »
Brad Gallaway
Guest
Just wondering here.. do you even really read what I write? I mean, I get that maybe you disagree with my score because it doesn’t line up with MetaCritic or whatever, but that aside… do you just take in what I’ve said and even try to imagine how I could possibly come to those conclusions? Put the score and MetaCritic aside and just read the review. I’d like to think that I at least halfway express what I liked about Bionic Commando (or disliked about inFamous and Prototype). Disagree with me or don’t, but at least try to hear what… Read more »
Anonymous
Guest

I find most of Brad Gallaway’s reviews to be very suspicious. He praises the games that were panned or had mixed reactions from other gaming magazines/websites and pannes or highly ridicule’s games that were rated high from other gaming magazines/websites.

Then again, sometimes he does neither.

But I still trust these guy’s reviews as much as a trust IGN’s editors….. that isn’t saying much.

But I thought the Bionic Commando demo was pretty decent. 😛

wpDiscuz