First thing is first: this is a sequel to the NES game from 1988, which is itself, a sequel to the original arcade game. This is not a franchise reboot. This game’s protagonist, Nathan “R.A.D.” Spencer wakes up in a prison while on death row for killing people under orders from Super Joe, the main character from the original Commando game and the man you rescue in the original Bionic Commando. However, Nathan’s bionic arm has been removed. Since the events of the previous game, bionics have been outlawed, purged, and become feared by society.
Not surprisingly, you’ll be spending most of your time in Bionic Commando swinging through the air and zipping into enemies. Thankfully, the controls are intuitive and make it easy after a few minutes of gameplay. The arm will automatically attach itself to the first object in range if you hold down LT/L1. You don’t have to worry about timing the arm to attach, but detaching into a perfectly arced jump will take practice. It also prioritizes enemy targets over terrain to make grappling a soldier easy during an intense fight.
First 15 Minutes of Bionic Commando
The gunplay is solid and the aiming works well, even while swinging. Pistol ammo and grenades are readily available, but ammo for your secondary weapon (shotgun, sniper rifle, rocket launcher) is scarce. In the beginning of the game, you’ll only snag more munitions from weapon drops from the military. Unfortunately, you can’t pick up enemy machine guns.
The lack of ammo isn’t a major problem, however, as you’ll gain abilities that utilize your bionic arm to dispatch your foes. The first of which is the zip kick, which allows you to rocket toward a grappled foe with your boot out, launching him back. It isn’t always a one-hit kill, but I had a ton of fun zip kicking someone and then shooting them before landing. You’ll also learn to kick cars and other heavy objects at enemies as well as a ground-pound ability that can be unleashed from a high drop.
The gameplay is fast and exciting, but a little light on combat, at least during the first level. There are also challenges that unlock upgrades for Nathan. These could be as simple as doing five zip kicks or as complex as killing a specific enemy with a specific move. It’s a great way to add depth to the game and encourage the player to use all of the moves available to them. I would have liked some on-screen progress notification like Gears of War 2, but a quick trip to the pause menu will tell you how many more headshot kills (or whatever) you need. Some challenges also have achievements/trophies attached to them for an added bonus.
Bionic Commando Buraq Helicopter Boss Fight
Unfortunately, there are some problems. The biggest of which is the radiation that prevents you from fully exploring the city. The swinging in the game is so fun that being stopped by the blue glow of radiation is fairly annoying. It’s not game-breaking as most objectives can be reached by several paths, but it does add linearity to many levels. The radiation also appears to be spreading in a highly conspicuous fashion… some buildings can be scaled to the top, but others are covered in radiation. Sometimes, you’ll reach a four-way intersection, but find one of the streets blocked by the deadly fog.
Aside from that, the casting of Mike Patton, lead singer for Faith No More, seems like a mistake. The dialogue, overall, isn’t top-quality, but Mike’s performance as Nathan Spencer falls below everyone else. Maybe he improves as the game goes on, but he really didn’t capture the personality of a man that has been betrayed and unjustly imprisoned for five years. Also, hearing him yell “I’ll send you the bill!” after killing someone is just out of place.
In the end, I definitely had fun playing Bionic Commando. Swinging around is great and there are several ways to approach each combat situation. Players that use all of Nathan’s abilities will find the game rewarding. The challenges, collectibles, and unlocks add a nice layer of meta-gaming. I’m optimistic that the game will be enjoyable enough to rise above the issues that I’ve noted in this preview.
Bionic Commando releases on May 19 for the Xbox 360, PS3, and PC. A multiplayer demo should be available later this month exclusively for the Xbox 360.