Monday, June 1, 2009

Bionic Commando: Swinging Headfirst Into Loading Screens

A long running joke among my gaming friends is that a game’s quality can be measured by one simple fact. Can your character jump? If not, move along, nothing to see here. However, in the 80’s there was a game where you couldn’t jump despite being an elite commando but instead had an arm replaced by a robotic grappling hook of an arm. Its lack of jumping was more than made up for by the fact that in the end you killed Hitler. Sure they may have called him something else but we knew better and let’s be honest, any game where you kill Hitler is a fun game.

So here we are in 2009 and our green suit wearing mechano-arm friend is back. This time around he has one of the poorest character designs I’ve seen in recent times. As the player you really shouldn’t be rooting against your own character but his awkwardly flowing dreadlocks and cheesy one liners left me rooting for the bad guys who through a pretty thin plot are the bionic commando’s own bionic brethren. The game obviously centers around your bionic limb and using that to swing around in frantic motion blurred excitement in a world that resembled New York City in the movie I Am Legend. The arm works well with the targeting system but after a while gets a little repetitive. The random floating minefields in the sky that only serve the purpose to give you grappling points get old fast. Seeing a little diversity would have been nice. To dumb down anything that might have resembled a challenge they make your character invincible to any fall damage because he’s wearing steel boots. Yup… steel boots. That’s the only explanation offered up for why your character can survive a 40 story drop. Personally, I’d like to have seen a height cutoff point where a fall from anything over it would kill you. Up until the end of the game the swinging mechanic never really had that sense of urgency to it. Swinging is fun but when you fall just you just climb back up and start over, I felt the game could have benefited from a little more risk in falling. However, in an attempt to keep you on track and prevent you from doing anything resembling exploring there’s radiation hazards. Go too far into radioactive areas and you’re done for. Is there any way to differentiate these areas from safe ones? Nope, none at all. Radiation also apparently stops like an invisible wall in the future which never sat right with me. Swing onto the wrong rooftop or just simply, too high into the air and the radiation warning pops up. All in all, a very awkward and poorly designed way of keeping you on the right path.

One of the first things I liked though was the loading screen. Seems like an odd thing to praise but it was just a floating controller that showed you what the buttons did when you pressed each button. Thankfully I liked the loading screen because in this game you’re going to see it every 5 minutes whether you like it or not. Swing too far the wrong way and blamo! Loading screen. Loading screens are a part of gamer life now and I’ve grudgingly accepted that but they’re so frequent that I expected to see them get a cast of characters mention in the game’s closing credits.

**There’s probably going to be some spoilers for the rest of this review so heads up on that**

For a game that I did enjoy in an overall sense I found the ending to be one of its weakest points. While it is always fun to kill Hitler again even if they are calling him by some other name I just found everything to be very non-climatic. Why does it seem like every game that has a particular mechanic that they force on you throughout the game, in fact, they define the game itself with it, makes you abandon it in the end. Similar to how the last level of Assassin’s Creed had zero stealth involved, the last section of Bionic Commando just had you running through a small enclosed hallway gunning it out with troops to face the last boss. The boss’s reveal a little earlier in the game just left me unhappy. It seemed like an unnecessary ‘surprise twist’ that was only put in the game for the sake of having a twist of some sorts. So throughout the game you’re working towards obtaining this secret government item that they don’t really explain the purpose of, the bad guys get it, you smash into their lab in the end and its only purpose seems to power up a mech-suit of sorts. That’s it, just one little suit that’s not particularly special and gets beaten by something that was a little too close to a quicktime event for my tastes.

When it was all said and done, fun game for the most part but with a terrible script and pointless ending.


Emily said...

Wanna know something weird? I'm walking home from work yesterday just feeling bored, and I suddenly imagined how great it would be if I were equipped with Sonic the Hedgehog style kneecaps that let me bound up and down in the air. Then I started thinking about how great the simple 3 button interface of Genesis was.

Sigh. And this is why I haven't played a video game since my very ill-fated attempt to get past the first room in Playstation 1's Resident Evil. I miss the days where all you had to do was jump on top of something and it was instantly killed. Sigh. Kids today and their darned mobility.

Sam Spooner said...

lol you sound like such an old fart Emily. And even though the genesis came with a 3 button controller, the second their 6 button iteration came out, everybody bought that. Call it the street fighter 2 evolution if you want, but whatever. i feel you on this point though -- there is beauty and fun in simplicity. but give some more modern games a chance, i'd think u'd be surprised.