I’m pretty sure that if I say Bionic Commando, it won’t ring any bells in your minds. Probably because… hey, wait a minute… we’ve been through this before, while we were talking about the simple, yet delicious platformer Bionic Commando Rearmed. That’s when you found out that the hero of the series is a pretty hot hippie who belongs to that retro era in which gamers actually built statues to better worship platformers.
The same studios that at first brought Nathan Rad Spencer back to life through the re-incarnated pseudo-3D version of the old platformer, have now thought that maybe Captain Spencer, the ancestor of machos, actually deserves a fully-fledged title. The result should have been a new 3D universe, a lot more complex and thus, much more appealing to gamers everywhere. At least in theory.
Win some, lose some
It was settled. And the grinning people at…well… GRIN (because these are the chaps we are talking about), summoned all their programmers, plot writers and genetics experts, who, before explaining the need of bionic augmentations, turned good ol’ Caucasian Spencer into a weird cross-breed between Bob Marley and the Mister Olympia Arnold Schwarzenegger. The good: we no longer have stupid dilemmas, because the hero can now jump. The ugly: Spencer now has other weaknesses, because any true superhero must have some.
In Spencer’s case, it’s water. Maybe he just doesn’t like taking a bath, as clean men are never rugged enough. Or maybe a normal human being could not float with a several tons bionic arm attached to their body. Still, it’s awkward to see the hero purr like a wet kitty each time he has to pass through a small demo of a river. And it’s annoying to see the Game Over screen when passing through a mud puddle. Another aspect that doesn’t really make one fall in love with Spencer is his… disability (trying to be socially sensitive: different ability?).
The developers probably thought that one can better identify with a character who is powerless without his mechanical arm. But there’s too huge of a contrast between the Nathan Spencer in Rearmed and the one in this title. Today’s Spencer has lost most of his coolness, together with his cartoonish innocence. He’s bored of life and touched by his own physical condition.
Yet a single look at Spencer’s universe will help you understand why his life is a nightmare. The world is upside down, as the once respected bionic soldiers are now seen as a threat to the human species. The rest of humanity now ignores their peace-keeping skills and have chosen to undergo a series of bionic atrocities and exterminations. That is why most of the bionic soldiers have gone rogue, joining the forces of an evil organization called BioReign.
Our hero was luckier (or less fortunate?). He was arrested and sentenced to death, when the boiling events of Ascension City actually bought him a ticket out of hell. The Government gave Spencer his bionic arm back, in exchange for his support against BioReign. To be able to fight fire with fire, the authorities also had some tricks up their sleeves, in the person of agent Super Joe, the helpless chap that Spencer had saved in the old platformer. In this new title, Super Joe promises to offer Spencer details about his long lost lover, in exchange for helping him complete his missions. And although Joe was quite a pleasurable character in the old retro game, now he’s more unbearable than Half Life 2’s G-Man.
Anyway, the game’s world is full of strange mannequins that Spencer treats with familiarity. Although the new characters are featured in a codex which tries to explain their origins, they seem artificially stuffed into the game, as if trying to forcibly fill the huge rift between the platformer and the action adventure.
So it becomes hard to identify the first Bionic Commando, the one full of vitality, light humor and cheeky lines. Still, GRIN probably thought it was enough to include the bionic arm in the game for it to gain personality. And the developers never missed the chance to put this arm in the limelight. And, in contrast to the console version in the game, I found using the mechanical arm easier with the mouse and keyboard.
GRIN inserted a thorough tutorial for the arm’s mechanics right after the introductory mission and it does a pretty good job in presenting Spencer’s new toy. The funny part is that, although you’d want to get rid of the controller in favor of a keyboard, the contextual help is still tailored to the controller’s mapping. So you’ll have to navigate the menu at first to find out which key corresponds to a button on the controller.
Leaving laziness aside, I have to admit that Nathan’s number one weapon is a bit overpowered. It can transform enemies into screws you bump into walls, it helps you swing like Tarzan through all the concrete jungle and makes bypassing obstacles a piece of cake. And, as you play through the game, Rad will remember new tricks, helped by the huge number of achievements that function like an experience system.
It’s a nice touch from the developer’s to use to the achievements for something else other than personal satisfaction. Finally, 100 headshots will improve your accuracy, while killing some robots will turn you into a Scrap-Iron Terminator. In the end, you’ll be able to ballet your way through the ruined city, using your arm as a deadly ribbon.