If you're looking for a high-flying, quick-grappling, robot-smashing challenge that will kick you in the balls and spit on you when you're down, you've come to the right game. But if you're a casual player with slow reflexes and a poor aim that can't handle a million rads of frustration, you might as well stop reading right . . . here.
Bionic Commando is the direct sequel to the remake of the NES game of the same name, which was the consolized version of an 80s arcade title. So why it's not at least number two I have no idea, especially when some unlockable goodies can only be obtained by having Bionic Commando: Rearmed on hand. Though with the switch to 3D, jumping and swinging your way through gorgeous and realistic environments, it feels like the spirit of the original has been kept, but the gameplay is a different beast.
It's still centered on Spencer's bionic arm, and the developers really want you to use it. Dropped in a radiation-infested and waterlogged city ruin with just a weak pistol, a few grenades, and one secondary weapon with very limited ammo, don't expect to take down groups of well armed soldiers and leaping mechs without a fair bit of grappling. The tutorial at the start shows you all the ways you can execute bionic pounces and high-flying stomps, whipping a car into someone's face or lifting them up in the air to hurl them into the stratosphere . . . and then takes away those abilities, returning them to you piecemeal through the first third of the game. It means that you have to struggle through the first few hours like a man with a missing arm before things get awesome.
...all the issues could simply be resolved by the developers just doing what they did in Rearmed.
The first third of the game takes place in a ruined and partially sunken city, where the second odd design choice rears its unwanted head: radiation. In theory, the developers lined their levels with these deadly clouds to keep you from going where you shouldn't, resulting in a quick death and a long loading screen. In practice, there is way too much of it, and it shows up right next to the collectables each level is sprinkled with, and sometimes directly in the path the current waypoint is directing you. I once died from radiation by hitting the side of a building that I was supposed to climb to complete the objective. This is greatly reduced after you leave the city for the more expansive parks and docks, and would have been not worth mentioning if death weren't so punishing.
Besides the overall mission objectives, there are the aforementioned collectables to unlock some of the game's amazing art, and challenges that normally involve killing an enemy a certain way or with a certain weapon. Any of these gained since the last save are lost when you die. There can be six or more collectables per area, and half of them you'll be risking your life to get. For them to count, you also have to get all of them in a single run-through - a task made worse by not always knowing what's going to load a new area. Okay, that sucks for the obsessive-compulsive, but it's only art. Challenges are worse because accomplishing them is the main way you improve your character, gaining better armor, more ammo capacity, and other perks. Some of these are very tricky to get, and some have a limited window when you get them. There was one particular challenge I got several times early in the game, only to die each time and thus have it not count. Only late in the game did I notice I missed it, and by then getting it was pretty much impossible.
The visuals are astounding, especially the park with its clusters of leafy trees and babbling brooks among raw earth and ruined stone. Shadows are deep and rain is wet. Cars crumple when smashed against the face of a hulking biomech, though the cheerful Pepsi vending machines and other ads are completely indestructible. The music is like something not of this earth. If you played Rearmed, you got a taste of the remixed 8-bit tunes with their electronica infused beats. Bionic Commando cranks it up and tears off the knob, which is a tiny bit of a shame considering the amazing sound effects, from the zip of the bionic cable to the crackle of a biomech's hadoken. Though the less said about the story, the better. I'll put it this way: there's only one man who should attempt Metal Gear Solid-style drama, and even he only gets it right half the time.
Multiplayer is mostly solid. If you dig deathmatch and enjoy the swinging mechanic, you could get a lot of mileage out of it, but the lack of unique modes (only deathmatch and CTF are present) is a real killer. Even with the bionic arm, the too-familiar weapons, goals, and somewhat unbalanced maps create a feeling of "been there, done that." Swining races, mech vs. soldiers, and other unique modes, much in the way Capcom handled Lost Planet, would have been a huge boost. Instead, it's an afterthought.
The strangest thing about Bionic Commando is all the issues could have simply been resolved by the developers just doing what they did in Rearmed. Give the game a discreet life bar, let the player carry more than one secondary weapon, and for God's sake give him extra lives! Instant death is way too common in this game, even on the normal difficulty, to not give the player a get-out-of-death card or two. The game clocks in between six to ten hours (depending on skills and collectable obsession), which feels like a solid length, but even with the two other difficulties, most aren't going to find it worth another round.