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Some twenty odd years after the NES original, Bionic Commando is on the verge of a comeback...
Following Capcom's hugely successful attempt at bringing Street Fighter back from the dead, Bionic Commando represents another stab at digging through the archives for inspiration. After only a few minutes with Bionic Commando it's easy to see why Capcom has been holding back on the 'true' sequel to its 21 year-old NES classic (itself a sequel of sorts to the earlier Commando), which was originally due to appear alongside the XBLA/PSN remake of the original, as the swinging mechanic is a tricky beast to harness.
The sequel takes place several years after the events of the NES original (and XBLA/PSN remake), with players taking control of Nathan 'Rad' Spencer. Despite Bionic Commandos like Spencer helping to combat the Imperialists, public discomfort led to a 'Bionic Purge' in the years between and so Bionic Commando begins with Nathan without his bionic arm and rotting on death row - kind of like a down-on-his-luck Superman without his cape. A sudden and mysterious strike on Ascension City, however, changes things in an instant, and so Spencer finds himself drawn back into action.
The first mission begins without the use of the iconic appendage. It's a largely routine affair to this point with fairly unspectacular shooting action (which unfortunately appears to be a recurring theme throughout), but it's not long before Spencer becomes reacquainted with his bionic limb and things understandably change quite drastically.
Swinging around Ascension City is a particularly arduous task at first, requiring just as much precision on the right thumbstick to aim where you want to swing to next, as it does with moving the character with the left thumbstick. An impressive amount of the environment can be grappled onto, however, the actual swinging process is a tad tricky and far more demanding than the likes of Spider-Man. Chuck in extra techniques like grabbing hold of enemies and zip-lining, and you have a game that certainly looks as though it will rekindle the old-school demands of actually needing a little skill to play. Bionic Commando certainly doesn't look as though it will pamper to gamers and guide them by the (bionic) hand.
Despite the impression of a sizeable game environment, the early few stages through Ascension City are largely linear, restricted by pools of water and areas of hazardous toxic waste - both of which will bring a quick demise to our main hero. As a result, however, the archetypal chasm of instant death that was a characteristic of all games in the 80's (from Bionic Commando to Mario) makes a welcome return and gives this sequel a fondly familiar old-school feel.
The controls don't feel entirely streamlined at this stage and perhaps this is a big concern. Yes the original Bionic Commando was a tough-as-nails game in an era when that's what games were like, so the fact that Bionic Commnado now is full of frustrations could be argued away with that explanation - it's just replicating what the hardcore fans would probably want. But at the same time, Bionic Commando surely can't rely on a fanbase that remembers the original from the 80's, and as such we have concerns whether the control complexities and general stiff difficulty will quickly turn the masses off.
Beyond traversing the environment in all directions to follow waypoints, dealing death to anybody that stands in Spencer's way, Bionic Commando does a good job of mixing the primary objectives with other challenges. Many of these are linked with Achievements and Trophies, covering simple challenges such as killing a certain number of enemy troops to slightly more demanding tasks such as swinging for a certain distance without falling. Compelting these in turn unlock new abilities and upgrade Spencer's attributes. It appears to be a good setup that offers a good sense of variation to the standard swinging and shooting gameplay.
Beyond the story mode the full game will also offer online multiplayer, although for the sake of the preview we weren't allowed to delve into this just of yet. One thing's for sure, it should offer something a little different to the normal shooting action that takes place across Xbox Live and PlayStation Network.
Bionic Commando is still swinging in the balance. Whilst we appreciate the stern challenge it provides, it's hard to look beyond the fact that much of the difficulty stems from a fairly inaccessible control setup that breeds much frustration - and we're still not sure whether that's good frustration or bad frustration.
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