This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Bionic Commando.
I know that, as data storage goes, cartridges were only about one step above a piece of paper with holes in it, but if there was one area where they excelled it was loa-
-ding times. I found myself musing on this while I waited for Bionic Commando to install itself on the PS3 and then download an update, then sort the trophies, then lock itself in the bathroom for an hour to pluck its eyebrows. And even once I'd waded through the cutscenes and tutorials and gotten to the bit where I get to press buttons, the loading screen broke up the action so much I can now see the words "Press X to jump" every time I close my eyes. I know such things may well be inevitable in the wonderful processor-buggering world of modern technology, but wasn't there a time not so long ago when the ability to just pick up and play was the major advantage of consoles over PC gaming (Besides Windows 3.1)?
Like myself, Bionic Commando is a stubbornly persistent remnant of a bygone age, having started life on the NES. And it seems like I'm not the only one who's having a bit of a sulk. The first Bionic Commando was a characteristically wholesome Nintendo platformer that taught us simple moral lessons like "hook-shot arms are awesome" and "all Nazis should die", but the new Bionic Commando has taken the dark and edgy route, meaning everyone says "fuck" like it's on their Word-of-the-Day calendar.
After the events of the first game, people with bionic limbs apparently won too many arm-wrestling competitions and now everyone hates them. The Bionic Commando, a character so lasting and dynamic that I completely forgot his name, is on death row for...being a Bionic Commando, apparently. But then a group of radical bionics nuke a city to make everyone realize what harmless and level-headed people they are, so the government give our hero his arm back and send him in. But they call him up every five minutes to call him a tosser, so at least they're not hypocrites! Also, there's a subplot concerning his missing wife, and the twist that resolves that subplot is officially the most retarded thing I've heard since I called the walrus hotline.
Whatever. I don't give a toss about no wife, bitch, I'm here to make my little bionic monkey swing on shit. I'm still as fond of swinging as I was in my Spider-Man review, so once I'd run through the tutorial and attained my bionic arm certification, they finally let me out to play, and I fought myself awestruck as I stood blinded by the daylight shining down between the dilapidated buildings of a ruined cityscape, where every overhanging sign and vantage point were like Sirens calling to me as they pushed their boobies together and made suggestive references to bobsledding.
I immediately starting hook-shotting my way up the nearest building, and I first thing I noticed was that the swinging mechanic feels as smooth and pleasant as a clockwork bumfuck! No matter how fast you were going when you started, you always swing at the same speed because momentum is for pussies, and at the end of the swing your character breaks wind and lurches forward sickeningly. It all feels very stiff and unnatural and there's a dick joke in there somewhere.
Anyway, once I got accustomed to all that and resumed the climbing, halfway to the prize a big, fat radiation symbol appeared and my skin fell off. Yes, turns out my asshole superiors forgot to mention that a recent nuke might leave some fallout around the place, and we discover what this expansive-looking city really is: a great big linear corridor with death instead of walls. Not that every game has to be a sandbox, but often the only way you'll find out that a particular route has had a visit from the radiation fairy is after you've already swung right into it. Don't punish me for my exploration instinct, Bionic Commando - you're the one who didn't put up a fucking stop sign! So what, we're smart enough to bring along a momentum-canceling device but not a radiation suit?
It soon transpired that mine weren't the only asshole superiors sending insufficiently equipped soldiers into extremely hostile environments, 'cause enemies are everywhere. And the combat is probably my favorite part of this game, because as many games have demonstrated, merely getting an enemy out of the way is one thing, but the ability to be extremely vindictive about it is another. You can use traditional guns if you're boring and unlikeable and peoples' eyes glaze over when you're talking to them and you're my dad. But sexy and exciting people - like your mum - can use the hook-shot arm to fling the scenery at your enemies, fling themselves at the enemies, or fling enemies at enemies if you're romantic, and there's enough room for creativity to keep things schadenfreude-tastic! It's just a little weird that they teach you all the flinging moves in the tutorial at the start but don't actually let you use them until a completely arbitrary point sometime later on. It seems unnecessary, especially for a game that already takes too long to get going. Don't hide your selling points; hookers don't wear suits of armor (except at E3).
Is Bionic Commando a good game? It's a knotty question. The controls take some getting used to, but once you're there they work, I guess. Loa-
-ding times are an arse but the scenery is nice, at least I think it was. The levels whiz by so fast it's hard to tell. There was one odd moment where I strolled into a big boss arena-like place that probably took some designer quite a while to put together, but after a short unplayable cutscene in which my hero beat up another character, all I could do was stroll out again. Then I was all like, "did I just win the boss fight? Yay me!" But that doesn't make the game bad; it's just weird.
I think what does make Bionic Commando bad is the fact that it's a whore! And not the wholesome kind, a corporate whore! Product placement is everywhere, with the most endemic being Pepsi. Everywhere you look, Pepsi machines. And you're not allowed to fling them as weapons, presumably because the evil shadowy businessmen didn't want their logo being associated with grievous bodily harm. Maybe I shouldn't be judgmental, maybe Capcom are all living under a bridge and desperately need the money, but why Pepsi of all things?! I hate Pepsi! It tastes like someone's wringing out their old gym socks into my mouth. So overall, Bionic Commando is a bad game because it drinks Pepsi. Yes, I can be petty!
Got the Inspector Gadget theme stuck in his head: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
I said 'Pepsi' so many times it's lost all meaning, now it sounds like a name for a dog in Eastern Europe
I'll discuss that retarded plot twist on this site at some point
Letter of the Week
Subject: Duke Nukem Forever
I would love to know where you got a copy of it! I have been waiting years for that game. If you could send me a link to where you bought it that would be awesome thanks!
(Yahtzee) THANKS FOR WRITING!