Destructoid News Contributor, 2D/3D artist and all around art nerd. Avid retro game and promotional items collector, and frequent practitioner of Wing Chun Kung Fu.
Disclosure: I have worked on a few iOS and PC indie games, as well as am currently employed at a major North America videogame retailer. My previous and current employment does not and has not affected any of the pieces I have written, but it is something that you, as a reader, should know.
In recent years, we have seen a slew of old franchises resurrect themselves in this new era of High Definition graphics. We saw the return of one of the greatest fighting franchises ever in Street Fighter IV. We took part in a heartwarming tale about a young lad and his gelatinous companion fighting for the fate of two worlds in A Boy and His Blob. We also saw the re-beginnings of Guybrush Treepwood in The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition.
Not all of the reboots shined as brightly as these few gems, and this is where Bionic Commando fits in.
Developed and Published in 2009 by Capcom, in conjunction with GRIN Studios, Bionic Commando is a sequel to the 1988 NES classic under the same name. You play as Nathan “RAD” Spencer, a Bionic that was sent to prison after letting 2 Rogue Bionics escape. Sentenced to death for treason, Spencer was given 2 options; stay and die in prison or infiltrate the bombed out Ascension City, eliminate the Terrorist threat and maybe get some answers to the whereabouts of his missing wife. That’s about as much of the story as you need to know; because if you really try and dig much more into it, you’ll just find more and more convoluted answers that push your suspension of disbelief so far that I’m pretty sure that Ed D. Wood’s “Plan 9 from Outer Space” would start making perfect sense to you.
But I’m not going to bother with the story, what I want to focus in on is the art of Bionic Commando. GRIN Studios was known for its high level of quality in its work, even if all of its titles haven’t been a smash hit. In its previous titles Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter 1, GRAW 2 and Wanted: Weapons of Fate it tried to capture a sense of realism and uniqueness in its designs, even if its story borders on the ridiculous (looking at you “Wanted”, bending bullets? Really?!) The overall atmosphere and scale of the world that they created is something to behold. If you really take your time and look around, you can take in the beauty that is buried under all of this devastation.
This sense of awe is really felt the first time that the player get to use the Bionic Arm to swing in Ascension City. There you are: standing at the edge of building nearly destroyed by the shockwave and radiation from the Terrorist blast, somewhere between the 20th and 30th floor. Your trusted right arm, the only thing you can count on, returned to your side. You look up to see this:
A city in ruins, streets destroyed, buildings collapsed, enemy choppers entering the area and the sun slowly fading on this once great city; it is here then where the player must put all their trust into the machine, you jump out of the building. Falling faster and faster, not thinking that you’ll be able to grapple onto anything, as the reticule hasn’t turned blue yet, when at the last moment you find a grapple point and swing across your first set of streets. Congratulations! You didn’t fall! Take that Gravity!
GRIN always reminds you of your place in the world of Bionic Commando; everything on the map looms over you, shadows being cast down from gigantic buildings across and into the radiation filled chasms. It truly makes you feel like you’re alone in this world of theirs. This sense of scale felt very prevalent on your mission to hack the first Relay Point. You’ve made your way across the broken streets and shambling tunnels to get to this point, Downtown Ascension.
While on your way to the Relay, your Superior tries to contact you but there’s too much interference. All of a sudden there’s an earthquake, your character stops and your eyes re-focus to see another building falling down into oblivion. This moment is compounded by the response of your character, granted its nothing more than a Keanu Reeves’ style “Whoa!” but it pushes the point home that this place is falling apart. Making your way closer to get a better view of what happened only nets you a face full of soot, another small added touch that makes this world seem huge in comparison to your character.
I could go on talking about its interesting character designs, detailed textures and its catchy heroic theme music; and I haven’t even got to the Jungle or Sky Fortress levels yet, but these are things better left for you to find on your own. Besides some things that I really enjoyed may look very mediocre in your eyes. But it’s like they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
I recommend you try Bionic Commando, if you’re like me, a game art nerd and artist, and enjoy roaming large levels to find these little details everywhere then I suggest you pick it. I found a copy in a bargain bin at $10 new for the 360, still sealed. To warn you, let me say that Bionic Commando isn’t great game, in fact it’s a very mediocre game with a storyline that makes no sense. Its controls can be sluggish, the shooting is imprecise and the voice acting can get really bad at times.
But for all those rough edges, you do have a game with that creates a unique and huge world, with atmosphere and more character then the one you play as. For this, I think that GRIN should be commended; they did do a great job on Bionic Commando. Sadly, on August 12th 2009 they closed down there studios, but with great artists of that caliber, I’m sure that they’re working on better titles that will be coming out in the near future.