Bionic Commando is a third-person action game that likes to tease you. It dangles endless possibilities in front of you, only to snatch them away and replace them with limp gunplay and extended stretches of nothing. There are some good ideas here, and when they coalesce, you glimpse the great game struggling to escape from the shackles of averageness. You see it when you fling automobiles at a crowd of troopers; you see it in the exciting, high-flying concluding sequence. More often, however, you get the idea that developer GRIN didn't know what to do with its clever ideas. Early glimpses of a big world to explore tantalize you, but your progress is restricted by annoying clouds of deadly radiation. You'll come across new, more powerful weapons, only to discover that shooting them is just as lame as firing your default pistol. Moving about the world with your bionic arm is fun, but even that mechanical wonder isn't strong enough to carry the entire experience.
6209888NoneThis sucker puts up a fight, but he's no match for the power of bionics.
That bionic arm is the gameplay's backbone, and it's the source of every positive feature found within Bionic Commando. Most importantly, it's your standard form of transportation. Using it as a grapple hook, you can fling it onto posts, tree branches, and girders and swing and climb toward your destination. Stringing swings together can be satisfying, though you don't have Spider-Man-like freedom to glide about as you please. Your arm has only limited reach, so you can latch onto something only when the targeting reticle indicates that the surface is available. Furthermore, swinging has a lot of weight behind it. You must release your grip earlier than you would expect to keep the momentum going, which leads to a bit of clumsiness in the first hour or so as you become acclimated to the mechanics. Eventually, you'll be able to swing with ease, though certain levels (city-based environments, a tree-laden park) are more enjoyable to navigate than others (rocky caverns, underground passages) because they offer a bit more elbow room.
A glimpse of a futuristic metropolis may at first lead you to believe that there's a lot of room to explore. However, while Bionic Commando does afford you occasional, minimal leeway, you're generally pushed down a linear path. In this case, the modern replacement for traditional invisible walls (though there are some of these as well) is radiation. These blue clouds of instant death choke the city streets and coat the sides of buildings and are to be avoided at all costs. Radiation is one of the game's most common sources of frustration, because it imposes an artificial limitation on movement. You might fling yourself onto a seemingly safe rooftop only to be welcomed by this fatal mist, or reach out toward a wall but find that radiation keeps you from grabbing it. The restrictions have a big impact on the pace, and the scattered enemy encounters are far too tepid to energize the experience.
Nathan's biceps are ripped to freakish levels, though it's hard to tell with all the blur.
These encounters are lifeless mainly because it isn't any fun to shoot Bionic Commando's lousy weapons. Pistols are often referred to as peashooters, but no other game in recent memory provides a firearm that lives up to this name so aptly. It gets the job done, but the hollow pop of each shot and the minimal visual feedback make it boring to use. Subsequent additions to your arsenal aren't much better. From an unexciting grenade launcher to a boring shotgun, every weapon lacks punch. The only exception may be the rocket launcher, which allows you to fire off multiple rockets at once, a handy feature when facing a heavy-duty aircraft. Most of the time, however, you'll be facing sporadic squads of armored grunts. They don't exhibit the most advanced intelligence, but firefights can still result in your quick death, since you can take only a few shots before needing to duck away and let your health replenish. The low point of this mediocrity is a protracted, unrewarding shooting sequence within a library that will make you long for more energetic weapons and tighter shooting mechanics.
Fortunately, you have other offensive tools that are far more interesting to use. You can latch onto foes with your arm and zip-kick them, which sends you leaping backward through the air, letting you finish off your target with your pistol or perhaps another kick for good measure. You can also grapple certain environmental objects, like cars, boulders, and barrels, and fling them at your enemies--a technique that is especially enjoyable against a towering mechanical worm that stars in Bionic Commando's best boss fight. Additionally, you can launch the same objects in the air and punch them into opponents, which is equally fun to do. There are also a few set-piece levels that put the bionic arm to good use. In one of them, you take down a series of aircraft as you leap from one to the next; in the game's final scenes, you use similar techniques to memorable effect.