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This true sequel for the NES original had some engaging gameplay mechanics but its delivery of a half-baked storyline led to some terrible narrative problems. With a depressing setting and and ridiculous twist at its very end, Bionic Commando failed to being the jovial essence of the 80's classic and replaced it with a disjointed game that had little redeeming quality.
Nostalgia for old gaming franchises is something Iíve learnt to treat with caution. Those memories of epic fights or sweeping graphical vistas can be ruined by going back to a Commodore 64 or SNES and seeing how bad those games actually were by today's standards. Bionic Commandoís heritage from the arcade and Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) had concerned me from the moment I heard a remake was on the way. It turned out the actual remake - Bionic Commando Rearmed - was a huge success in capturing the look and feel of that classic game. This re-imagining however, falls flat on its Bionic face and I never felt any essence of the old game made it through this current-gen glitz.
Starting off in a bombed out major city my senses were struck with how dirty and grimy the game was trying to be. From the very first moments it became clear that the campy humour of the original game had been replaced with a deadly serious at a story. Iím very much a champion of this approach, especially when the straight remake did such an excellent job of recreating the old game. Unfortunately the melodrama and allegory was over-egged so much that the voice-acting and dialogue became laughable. If the character's weren't sneering and snarling lines at each other then the main character would be indulging in some bizarre, out-of-context one-liners as I dispatched enemies. Everybody, from the tea-boy to the Grand Commander, seemed to hate each other with bitterness that rather than building a bleak and oppressive world, it just felt like a parody gone wrong.
Everybody, from the tea-boy to the Grand Commander, seemed to hate each other with bitterness that rather than building a bleak and oppressive world, it just felt like a parody gone wrong.
This isn't to say that I didn't get some enjoyment out of the game. There's a certain Saturday-matinee feel to it which, once I tuned out the dialogue and story, became endearing for how it handled its levels. I always knew what was coming and the old-school rhythm of the boss fights and generic level progression evoked memories of games long past. However, this was always a consolation to what GRIN might have achieved with a little more focus. But if I'm honest, I have to wonder if the Bionic Commando franchise is really something you can modernise effectively. Even the name sounds a little ridiculous now and when the game relies on such an inconsistent narrative then its existence starts to feel a bit pointless. Why not put energy into a new idea or setting? Especially when the remake continues the essence of the original game and this effort fails.
Yet in all this woeful and hollow story design there was a glimpse at something a little deeper. Although it can lead to some obvious allegories, Bionic Commando's world with its prejudice against those with biotic's had enough room to do some interesting stuff with it. But the manner with which the narrative veered around so much and the mixture of predictable and odd plot developments made any deeper issues fragmented and lost.
Although it can lead to some obvious allegories, Bionic Commando's world with its prejudice against those with biotic's had enough room to do some interesting stuff with it.
This train of muddled thought took away any hope of connecting with the characters. I can sympathise with dislikeable anti-hero's like GTA4's Niko Bellic, if the story gives me enough detail and presents enough backstory to paint a convincing character. But Nathan Spencer merely cuts a very one-dimension figure and his history and relationship with Joe is full of too many confusing references and bitter wordplay.
So when the story kicked into some more interesting and odd territory I couldn't care less about Nathan and his missing wife. When Gears of War 2 can elicit a more emotional response then it shows how poorly Bionic Commando handled its story and plot twist. What made these last few hours of the game so disappointing was the fact it could have worked if the developers had laid the groundwork better. What made this worse was how enjoyable the finale of the game was in terms of its combat and set-pieces. By holding back all the best parts, and with its delivery of an absurd and bizarre twist, Bionic Commando expected me to work through eight hours of mediocrity to get to the good stuff.
Let down by the manner of its delivery I came close to physical violence with Bionic Commando's game disc. It's not to say its irredeemably bad as it showed potential for telling a decent, if slightly ridiculous story. But its greatest flaw is the squandering of a much beloved franchise, leaving the memories of a new generation tainted by the words 'Bionic Commando'.
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