As you may know, I wasn’t very fond of Bionic Commando: Rearmed. Actually, I totally despised just about everything about it and was left wanting to find and beat everyone involved with the game unconscious with frozen turkeys. It left me with so little hope for the upcoming 3D Bionic Commando game that I didn’t even notice when it actually came out, and only when Yahtzee reviewed it was I reminded this game existed. But I still wasn't laying down $60 for the game, not after Rearmed, and especially not after hearing the game was only six hours long, and ESPECIALLY not after reading about the bullshit plot twists the game pulls out of its ass towards the end. But I still felt some obligation to get it under my belt like everything else Bionic Commando so I rented it, then later bought it used, and while the game itself is not as blisteringly painful as Rearmed was, certain liberties taken with the plot offended me deeper than anything BCR ever did.
The game itself isn't bad, but it's also not very good. Mediocre, I guess, because while the game has its moments it tends to be more irritating than challenging. One edge BC360 has over Rearmed is the analog stick actually works for a 3D game. The swinging controls mostly work, but there is one aspect of it that really pissed me off. Now, in the 2D Bionic Commando, Ladd/Rad/Spencer only swung in maybe the bottom 120 degrees, like a pendulum. You know, the way something should swing? Here, Spencer almost makes a full circle, stopping just short of the circle's apex. The 2Ds always taught me to release at the peak of a swing, but you do that here and you'll just end up flying straight up, usually resulting in Spencer unable to latch onto neither the floating mine thing you were aiming for nor the one you just swung from, thus falling into water and drowning because he can't hold his breath for more than five seconds. If you want to make any distance you have to release when Spencer is at the bottom of the circle, which while awkward is at least easily adjustable to.
The other half of gameplay is melee and gun combat. Melee combat is actually kind of entertaining. The most satisfying moments in the game include bitchslapping an enemy to a ledge then as he flailed to regain balance, booting him in the ass to his death, or throwing a guy into a bottomless pit with a satisfying scream, or wiping out a whole platoon with one well-aimed rock. Gun combat is a whole 'nother ballpark. Every time guns got involved I started wanting to kill something. I'd often empty my entire gun trying to shoot a guy who could hit me with every shot from the same gun, and I'd like to know what crazy night-vision binoculars the enemies are using that they can see me a mile away in the dark with no flashlight. And then there's sniping. As soon as Spencer reveals one inch of himself, the enemy snipers instantly aim for him and start popping caps in his ass. Most of the time you can just run from them and make your way to your target, but at least three times you have to take on the snipers at their own game. But when you get your hand on a rifle, Spencer aims the thing so slowly and wobbles it like he's drunk, and you'll often be surrounded while trying to get the enemy into view, good luck getting in a snipe before the bad guys do. I hear on Commando difficulty Snipers kill you in one hit. I'm sorry, but if that's true, then going through this game on Commando difficulty is up there with getting all the stars in Super Mario Sunshine on the list of tasks I'll get around to when all of Earth's oceans turn to Kool-Aid.
Amusing Anecdote: There was this one level where I was jumping around some domes in raging water during a dark rainstorm, dodging snipers and a flying machine that wouldn't get off my back, and at some point some tries to contact Spencer only to degrade to static, and Spencers yells at the top of his lungs "Oh for FUCK'S SAAAAKE!", and I started laughing hysterically because that's pretty much what I was thinking at that point.
I'm not going to touch on the soundtrack for long, because it's mostly different ways of playing the Area 1 theme from the NES game, though I think I heard the Area 5 theme once. But I guess the graphics are alright, but that might be because I find it hard to really complain about any game that has any colors other than dog shit brown, rotten pus gray, and monkey puke green and no bloom. Still, there's only a handful of areas and once you've taken your first glance in each area you've seen all there is to see for that area type, and they're pretty cliched anyway. You start in a ruined city, go through a rock fissure, go around the city some more, go through another fissure, go into a forest area, then a combination of city and forest in a botanical garden, go back through the city, go over some oil rigs, go back through some more rocks, ride a giant robot spider, go through some more rocks, then it ends at a generic military complex resembling something out of Halo.
And like games like Halo and Gears of War, the tone flits schizophrenically between straight-faced drama and macho comedy. Sometimes it's a "war is hell" drama as you trek through the ruins of a once heavily populated city. Sometimes it tries to tug your heartstrings with the subplot of Spencer’s missing wife or the depressing ending. But when Spencer kills somebody he often shouts retarded one-liners like "SUCKS TO BE YOUUUU!" or "I'LL SEND YOU THE BILL LATER!" or simply laughing, and really takes too much pleasure in killing his enemies for war to be hell or for us to really care about his missing wife. And then there's moments like hearing a popular lullaby I can't for the life of me remember the name of playing when Groeder's robot spider falls over and explodes or reading an interview log where the interviewer implies the interviewee was gay for Spencer, two of the Achievements are "I Got Hard" and "I Went Commando", and there's that infamous Easter Egg with the Mohole boss as well as Spencer's "battle taunt" and the fact the thing is vaguely phallic. Also, there is a fine line between "adult" and "childish" when it comes to profanity, and when everyone in your game says “fuck” like a thirteen-year-old whose mother isn't around and just discovered he wasn't going to go up in flames for saying it, I'd say you've crossed that line on a speeding drag racer with no brakes.
Okay, I’m done dancing around the spoilers and I'm going to address them now, so if you don't want the game spoiled to you then feel free to hit the Back button or click here or close your browser or turn your computer off or whatever.
Speaking of Groeder, he and his cheesy German accent are terrorizing the rubble of Ascension City on a giant robot spider, which towards the end of the game you get on by riding a really longass elevator it conveniently had down for you. You, uh, dislodge some giant soda cans, then fight Groeder himself. I had to laugh at the intro movie to the fight with Groeder. Groeder taunts you, then it cuts to Spencer and you hear some sick cracking and sludgy noises, then it cuts back to Groeder in his transformed state. Meaning GRIN couldn't
I realize every Bionic Commando game has, how might you say, occured on its own plane of existence where the same events happen: facist dicators try to take over the world using a weapon called the Albatross, a guy named Super Joe is sent in and kidnapped, a guy (or in the case of Elite Forces, possibly a girl) with a grappling hook has to rescue him then team up with him to trash the Albatross. One plane was done in contemporary wartime, one plane was set in a cyberpunk environment, on a third everyone was cyborgs. What happens on one plane stays on that plane and doesn't affect what happens on another, so if Joe is evil on this plane it doesn't mean the Joe from the NES or Game Boy games is evil. But BC360 is a direct sequel to Rearmed, which is supposed to retcon the NES game. It's bad enough when I'm asked to accept an inferior product as canon. It's downright offensive to watch somebody defile what remains and say "THIS IS THE REAL STORY, AND I HAVE THE AUTHORITY TO MAKE IT CANON."
I wonder if they didn't originally intended for Joe to turn on you, but at some point in production the team realized they weren't sure where they were going with what they had, their deadline was coming up, and just did the first thing that came to mind. I also bet the original plan was to reunite Spencer with his wife and she'd explain she was creeped out my him being half robot but realizes he's still her Nathan Spencer or something, but then they pulled the SHE'S HIS ARM nonsense out of the same rectum JOE IS EVIL came from. So basically, GRIN sacrificed characterization to try to fool people into thinking the plot was deeper than it really was. Developers and gamers alike need to understand that convolution =! depth, and all this crap does is put more holes in the plot than a gangland assassination. Questions I have off the top of my head:
- Why was Joe so sympathetic to Spencer in the game’s intro, only to randomly decide to kill him when he got the Carrion Device?
- What happened in Alaska that landed Spencer on death row? There was something about Joe ordering Spencer to kill some guys, but who were they, how did Spencer get in trouble for following Joe's orders, and why did Joe want them dead? Okay, it was probably because "Super Joe is EEEVIL, dammit!"
- Who was that sniper that looked like a cross between Altair from Assassin’s Creed and somebody off the box of Elite Forces, and how did his interests coincide with Spencer’s as he put it?
- And who was that soldier that called Spencer up some time in the park area?
- What was Project Vulture? Was it something like the Sentinels from X-Men, the military was going to send a bunch of flying insect robots to wipe out the bionics? Or were the Vultures supposed to replace the bionics?
- What did Joe want with Project Vulture? An idea would have been Joe was angry with the military for how they treated the bionics and wanted to avenge them with the miltary's own secret project, but the way it was handled, he takes Project Vulture for the sake of being an asshole.
- And what was the Carrion Device? Carrion is rotting meat, so what does that have to do with a blue glowing cylinder that plugs into a mech suit and gives the guy in the suit control over an army of robot bugs?
- Did Spencer die in the ending? The implication is he fell a hundred miles and went splat after he killed Joe, and even if he somehow survived the fall I imagine the concussion he probably gave himself from smashing his head through the suit's visor and Joe's skull would have done him in, but the screen goes black well before he allegedly hits the ground.
- And did Spencer figure out what happened to his wife? He's still asking Joe what happened to Emily even after all the monitor displays and hints from Joe from which even the players who had to go to GameFAQs to figure out how to make Groeder vulnerable should have picked up that she was his arm.
- Could nobody seriously come up with a better alternative to making bionics than what they do here?
I'd like to finish by touching on something that was pointed out to me by a friend of mine at a local game retailer (no, it’s not Gamestop). After the credits roll a message appears in Morse Code, and is then translated. Another message in Morse Code appears, but blips out before it's translated:
-... . ... - .- . - .. --. . .-.-.-/ .- ..- ... ..-. ..- . .... .-. ..- -. --. / ...- --- -. / .--. .... .- ... . / --.. .-- . .. / ...- --- .-. -... . .-. . .. - . - .-.-.- / .- -.- - .. ...- .. . .-. . / .--. .-. --- .--- . -.- - / .- .-.. -... .- - .-. --- ... ... .-.-.-
When you translate the Morse Code, you get a message in German:
“BESTAETIGE. AUSFUEHRUNG VON PHASE ZWEI VORBEREITET. AKTIVIERE PROJEKT ALBATROSS.”
Um, do those last two words looks like “Project Albatross” to anyone else? Let’s run that through a German translator which I realize aren’t 100% accurate, but this seems to make sense:
“CONFIRMS. EXECUTION OF PHASE TWO PREPARED. ACTIVATE PROJECT ALBATROSS.”
Oh, I get it now. They intentionally left this game unfinished so they’d have an excuse to make a sequel where our hero thwarts Project Albatross.... again.... and who's writing this, anyway? If it's in German it seems like it would be Groeder, but we saw Spencer blow his head off earlier.
If they had simply called this game something else, like "The Adventures of Captain Dreadlocks Roboarm McAngermanagementissues", I would have been kinder to it. The gameplay is functional and with some tuning-up could have been good. The major plots twists would have still been offensive, but only on the basis of being stupid and predictable instead of shitting all over a well-established storyline and characters. Anyways, the game sold poorly and the developer, GRIN, went out of business a few months after its release, so while we may never have the answers to all the questions Bionic Commando 360 left behind, I think that's a fair price to pay for the end of this glorified fanfic.