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This is the first true sequel to the 1988 NES and arcade original, with the 8bit 2D swing and shoot mechanic being transformed into the fantastic 3D environment of a city devastated by a nuclear explosion. While the game fully delivers on recreating the joy of the original, at times it lacks its own ingenuity and becomes something of a charicture of that great game.
Facing the death penalty for crimes he didn't commit, the protagonist, Nathan 'Rad' Spencer gets a reprieve from death row – as long as he takes on a suicidal mission behind enemy lines to find out what the terrorists are up to.
In a nice touch, you start the game minus your bionic arm and the first level involves the hunt for it. Quite why the military decided this was a good idea is beyond me – maybe they didn't trust Spencer enough to give him the arm beforehand. With bionically augmented soldiers now facing distrust & revulsion having once been saviours, and Spencer himself on death row, then perhaps their decision begins to make more sense.
Whereas Spidey seemed to be able to attach to anything, Spencer's grappling points are more realistic.
Having found your arm you still won't be able to fully utilise it because your body has forgotten how to use it after all the years of separation. You will of course be able to swing, Spider-Man like from the get-go. However whereas Spidey seemed to be able to attach to anything, Spencer's grappling points are more realistic, and hence trickier to hit, and even trickier to string together in pleasing swings through the devastated Ascension City. As the game progresses you'll learn more moves, like launching objects into the air & then punching them into enemies, a cool but slow whip attack where you can pick up objects and fling them, a zip-kick where you attach to enemies and hurtle forwards to kick them solidly in the chest, and several other neat moves. I couldn't help noticing similarities with Spider-Man Web of Shadows but Spencer certainly makes the moves in his own special style, with accompanying hoots & wise-cracks as he pounds the 'terrorists' into the dirt.
As well as his bionic arm, Spencer also has access to more conventional fire-arms like his pistol and grenades, plus more powerful special weapons that get air-dropped occasionally to help you out in tricky areas. These comprise of shotgun, sniper rifle, machine gun and rocket launcher style weapons, and although these are really useful, the ammo for them is very sparse so you'll never feel invincible with a huge ammo clip. You certainly don't want to waste powerful guns on basic enemies which is a nice way of forcing you to use your arm abilities wherever possible – and that's where the fun is.
Throughout the game you'll be presented with various challenges which, when achieved, will grant you some very useful bonuses. These challenged might be blowing up six soldiers with a single grenade, getting a set number of kills with a specific weapon or getting a certain number of headshots. And the bonuses are things like additional armour, more accurate fire, bigger clips and so on, so you certainly want to get them when you can. One problem is that some of the achievements are much more easily done on certain levels so if you miss your chance you may not get another one.
My youngest is now on his third, yes third, play-through; gradually working up through the difficulty levels from normal to Commando.
There are some negatives here too. It's certainly pretty linear and you can't even back-track if you want to pick up a collectible that you missed on an earlier level. The linearity has been enforced to a large extent by the presence of radiation zones which are dangerous to your bionics. When I say dangerous, I should say highly & very rapidly fatal. Accidentally swing into one of these zones and there's a good chance you won't be able to stop your momentum and turn back before the radiation fries you. And once you die you'll be faced with my major gripe – the checkpoint positioning. You can slog through the best part of an area, get killed by a bigger enemy towards the end and, oh look, I'm right back to the beginning again. To be honest it isn't always like that, but there are certain areas that certainly had me cursing and trying my best not to sling the controller.
My youngest is now on his third, yes third, play-through; gradually working up through the difficulty levels from normal to Commando. I think the games relative shortness plays in it's favour here as it is just the right length to make a second, or even third(!) play more likely. However, its linearity does mean that you won't get a significantly different experience each time. I've also started a second play-through on the hardest difficulty and one thing I have found on a few levels is that you are forced to take a more stealthy approach, looking for alternative paths, which do exist. This is mainly due to the incredible targeting speed and accuracy of the enemy snipers and the fact that at this difficulty level it's a one-shot kill. On the first of the waterlogged levels I found that the only way I could progress was to double back and sneak up behind the three or four snipers to take them out at close range, otherwise on reaching a point where their firing angles converged I was picked off every time.
The storyline for Bionic Commando shows promise occasionally, but the characters that are introduced during the game are rather under-used and their story told in a vague and confusing way. The twist at the end where Spencer finds out the truth about his wife is also underplayed and becomes a rather confusing wtf moment.
Apart from my few minor gripes I found myself thoroughly enjoying this game, enough to persevere through the tough sections (teeth gnashing aside) and play through to the end. I think a second play-through is definitely a good idea as you will be more in tune with the swinging mechanic and able to utilise the bionic arm to its full potential. A definite worthwhile addition to any gamers collection.
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