Bionic Commando is an action adventure game, and is a direct sequel to the NES classic of the same name. The game was developed by now defunct GRIN, who also recently helmed the updated remake of the NES game titled Bionic Commando Rearmed. The main focus of the game is Nathan "RAD" Spencer's (the protagonist) bionic arm which is used both as means for transportation by swinging and climbing but also as a weapon. Bionic Commando features linear environments designed with the arm's swinging mechanic in mind. To make better use of the bionic arm it's functions have increased significantly compared to the original game.
While primarily designed as a single player game, it includes an elaborate 10 player multiplayer component that differentiates itself from other games by including the swinging mechanic within the game's 16 included maps.
Bionic Commando takes place 10 years after the classic Bionic Commando for the NES and a few years after the weekly updated comic book Bionic Commando: Chain of Command. We find series protagonist Nathan "RAD" Spencer (voiced by Mike Patton) as a government operative working in a city called Ascension City, where he is betrayed by the government, separated from his bionic arm and set for execution. On the day of his execution, a massive bomb explodes in Ascension City, unleashing an earthquake along with a radioactive shock wave that destroys the city and wipes out its population. The city is under threat of an invasion from a terrorist group called BioReign, bionically enhanced individuals that were once part of the Federal States Of America.
The government decided that the bionic technology was too dangerous to control and issued the Bionic Purge, shutting down all military programs that issued soldiers with bionics. Additionally, the purge required existing bionic soldiers to remove their enhancements. Instead of losing their limbs, many soldiers became fugitives and joined the mysterious terrorist organization BioReign. The government decides to release Nathan "RAD" Spencer from his death sentence to investigate the group and put a stop to them. While Spencer has no motive to help the people who imprisoned him, Joseph " Super Joe" Gibson exchanges information about Spencer's missing wife, Emily, for full cooperation.
At the beginning of the game, the motive and groups behind the destruction of Ascension City are unknown to Super Joe and the F.S.A., though the terrorist group BioReign is held in high suspicion. Agreeing to help the F.S.A. with an investigation, Spencer is launched into the heart of the city separate from his bionic arm. After finding his arm and putting it on, he dives into the city to investigate the cause of the explosion. A few encounters with hostile combatants have reaffirmed previous suspicions, and Spencer's investigation quickly turns into a single-man operation against a bionically-enhanced army.
Throughout the game, Spencer finds a large number of relays that provide a few pieces of the game's backstory as well as profile information on Nathan Spencer. Beyond disabling minefields, hacking relays also allow Super Joe and the government to keep an eye on Spencer's current position. Spencer is reluctant to the idea, but revealing his current position would help the government drop insertion pods with heavy-duty equipment (shotguns, grenade launchers, etc.). The thought additional equipment causes Spencer to quickly rescind his previous statements.
Along the way, Spencer runs into Jayne "Mag" Magdalene, another bionic soldier whose enhancement is bionic leggings. Their brief encounter shows that Mag has defected to BioReign's side, though their reunion is cut off by the shot of a mysterious sniper sent to watch over Spencer. Then, he is given task of finding a crashed F.S.A. plane in hopes of recovering its video data. After recovering the data, navigating to the top of the F.S.A. and uploading the video, he engages in combat against a Buraq helicopter. Successful in his fight, Spencer jumps off the building and into the city's underground tunnels.
In the middle of his tunnel excursion, Spencer is given the new task of retrieving an item known as the Carrion Device inside the Federal Archives Building. The Carrion Device, an important part of Project Vulture, was a secret government project created as a countermeasure against bionic technology, should the time ever come to use it. However, the decoded video data retrieved from the crashed F.S.A. plane have shown BioReign's interest in the device. Despite the Secretary of Defense's hatred of bionically-enhanced people, he has no choice but to entrust the location and care of the device to Spencer, who quickly races to its hiding spot. Unfortunately, his arrival at the Federal Archives Building is also met with BioReign's arrival. After disposing of all the soldiers, he secures the device and heads into the underground tunnels once again.
This time, Spencer comes across the Mohole, a mechanical worm responsible for digging the tunnels beneath Ascension City for BioReign. After emerging from the ground, he engages in a grueling fight with the Mohole in a vacant parking lot. Spencer eventually wins and gains access to yet another tunnel leading to Port Anderson, the evacuation spot for both the Carrion Device and himself. Yet, Port Anderson proves to be a tricky endeavor for the bionic commando; among the thunderstorm and night, he also has to contend with numerous BioReign operatives and improved versions of Biomechs. Spencer tries to keep contact with Super Joe only to receive static on the other end, supposedly due to interference by the lightning.
Eventually, Spencer reaches Super Joe and proceeds to hand over the device. In another unfortunate turn of events, it ends up that Super Joe has been collaborating with BioReign from the start. Additionally, BioReign is also led by Gottfried Groeder, who supposedly died during the crash of the Albatross ten years ago. After taking the device, Super Joe and Groeder attempt to dispose of Spencer, hold Mag captive and head off to activate Project Vulture. Though Spencer would not be easily killed off, as he manages to stealthily land atop one of the enemy's Buraq helicopters. He skillfully traverses the Buraq armada and made his way into the helicopter that housed Super Joe. Despite all this, Spencer abandons his chance to get the Carrion Device as Mag falls out of the helicopter and he decides to jump after her.
The daredevil jump lands them in a crevice and in the wake of the Constructor, BioReign's transportable headquarters. Aware the final battle is near, the mysterious sniper from before comes forth as a man only known as Silver. After exchanging very few words, Spencer leaves Mag and Silver behind and finds a way into the Constructor. There, he disables the cooling system and encounters Groeder for a nostalgic showdown; Spencer disposes Groeder and heads to the site of Project Vulture to stop Super Joe. At the site of a former T.A.S.C. lab, Spencer learns that his wife was used as a catalyst for his arm; Super Joe explains that for a long time scientists have tried to get machine that emulate humans, but the success of his bionics program stemmed from making humans that emulate machines.
Prior to the activation of Project Vulture, Super Joe kills Mag and takes flight using a bionic suit with an army of Vultures following behind. Spencer latches onto one of the Vultures and pursues his former ally into the sky. After disposing of a few Vultures, he encounters Super Joe and kills him, thus disabling the entirety of Project Vulture. With nothing to latch his arm onto, Spencer falls from the sky and the game ends with no finite conclusion.
The game's core contrivance is the bionic arm (also referred to as the wire, the cable or the hook). The skillful use of the arm has repeatedly been emphasized by the developer as the game's primary differentiators from other action adventure titles. Players can use it to get to high places that would otherwise be impossible to reach by grappling and jumping off surfaces. It can also be used for lateral movement by swinging. By doing so, players can gain a lot of distance by never touching the ground. Much like the NES title, management of stable ground-based gunplay with dramatically lowered mobility is a must. Strategic movement is needed to gain the drop on the enemy and maintain an advantage. Through effective use of the environment, the bionic arm may be used to throw large objects at enemies, take cover on the sides of buildings or kite enemies for an effortless kill.
The arm utilizes a separate, partially automated aiming reticule that snaps along the vertical axis based on the player's current trajectory and aiming direction. Players pull a left shoulder button to fire the arm and release the button to let go of whatever the arm has latched onto. Skillful timing is an important skill for players to master, and HUD elements indicate the optimal release time to maximize forward momentum.
The arm can also be used as a weapon by hooking to enemies and zip kicking into them, the player also has the option to throw people up in the sky and shoot them in mid air. Like the top-down stages in the original NES game, the player is able to throw the bionic arm in a 360 degree circle and knock down multiple enemies at once. Most of the abilities are taught during the game's opening tutorial, but all of them are unlocked at later points in the game. The reasoning behind the abilitease is that bionics "take time to sync with the bearer". Later in the game, an adrenaline meter is unlocked to provide instant kills and enhanced versions of previous techniques.
Bionic Commando plays like most third-person shooters in that there's a third-person camera for shooting from the hip. By clicking the right analog stick, there's also an over-the-shoulder angle for improved accuracy. Commentary on Top Secret: The Bionic Commando Podcast suggests the game may have a novel mechanic in place for effectively targeting and shooting at enemies in mid-air while still maintaining separate control of the swing; though in-game evidence does not seem to exist.
Designed by a separate GRIN team than the one responsible for the single player component, the game's multiplayer will support up to 8 players in the traditional modes of online play (deathmatch, capture the flag, and team deathmatch). It has been revealed that the bionic arm will be limited compared to its singleplayer counterpart, but that the swinging mechanic will be in place. Players will be able to attach it to both teammates and enemies as well as the environment. Zip kicks and heavy punches are still present, but throwing and kiting remain absent in the multiplayer mode. Players accumulate experience points from defeating other players, which only boost the player's current position on the leaderboards. Currently, there are no plans to correlate the experience points with a leveling system.
There are no customizable character options and joining a game will only randomize the color of the player's character. Even though the multiplayer mode was met with some poor reception due to an Xbox Live demo, it has been formally recognized by Major League Gaming. Numerous glitches such as rapid pistol fire and higher-damage shotgun blasts still plague the system and there are no plans for a patch at this time.
Owners of the downloadable title Bionic Commando: Rearmed will find certain features unlocked in their copy of Bionic Commando. Most notably an retro skin and model for the player character similar to the player character in Bionic Commando: Rearmed. Two other unlockable extras include the Purple Matrix and the Prototype Weapon. The Purple Matrix unlocks a specific door with one of the game's Fissure levels (where within, there are models of various vehicles and a radio). The Prototype Weapon is an updated version of the Tungsten pistol, with higher accuracy and damage.
Bionic Commando was originally set to be the first retail game to sync with an Xbox Live Arcade title. However, numerous delays and the release of Fable II and Fable II Pub Games prevented this from happening.
Bionic Commando's development differs from other Capcom titles in that its development is a joint venture between Swedish GRIN and Capcom Japan, with GRIN, previously responsible for the PC ports of Ubisoft's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter, handling design and development while supervised by Capcom veterans and Capcom Japan's only American producer, Ben Judd. This amalgam of western and Japanese design philosophies is a first for Capcom Japan, and has been seen by some as somewhat of a risky venture. Poor sales may cause the company to reconsider its strategy, though Ben Judd has constantly reassured fans that most mistakes have been taken into consideration. In the future, Capcom hopes that the development of Bionic Commando will help provide better quality for titles such as Dead Rising 2.
Creative director at GRIN, Ulf Andersson, has described designing the bionic arm mechanic and handling the repercussions of giving players complete freedom of mobility the biggest hurdles encountered during development.
While having virtually nothing to do with the game itself, Top Secret: The Bionic Commando Podcast was a large step for a company as tight-knit as Capcom Japan. At first, the executives at Capcom were reluctant to allow the company's localization team to speak candidly every week. Usually hosted by Assistant Producer Gearoid Reidy, the podcast featured guests from many sections of the gaming industry including:
Ben Judd (Producer, Bionic Commando)
Keiji Inafune (Capcom Head of R&D)
Ryan Payton (Assistant Producer, Metal Gear Solid 4)
Minae Matsukawa (Producer, Ace Attorney series)
Simon Viklund (Creative Director, Bionic Commando: Rearmed)
Shane Bettenhausen (1UP)
Jeff Gerstmann (Giant Bomb)
Jun Takeuchi (Producer, Resident Evil 5)
At certain times, the podcast was popular enough to crack the top 25 on iTunes' list of Games and Hobbies podcasts. While having Bionic Commando in its name, the podcast served more as look into Japanese game development and its contrast with western development. The bi-weekly show was popular for its humorous banter, hard-hitting questions against its own employees and nonsensical censorship. It was originally intended as an effort to get the word out via community efforts instead of through conventional ad campaigns; Gearoid Reidy has stated that the podcast may not have done its job while Ben Judd remains optimistic.
Numerous bits of trivia have spilled out of the podcast, including the numerous voices behind the Phoenix Wright and Onimusha series. On May 27th, 2009, the final episode of the podcast was released ending nearly two years after its conception. Currently, future plans will be unveiled on the Capcom Unity blog at some point.
Even though the game was distinctly crafted for a western audience, Bionic Commando was met with reception ranging anywhere from poor to average when released in North America. The scores also corresponded to the sales numbers, as the game sold less than 27,000 units across both platforms during its first month on shelves. Sales projections from Capcom in 2008 predicted that the game would sell over one million units throughout the year. Strangely enough, the retail game sold roughly 100,000 units less than its downloadable counterpart, Bionic Commando: Rearmed. Ben Judd took Rearmed's sales as a point of optimism, saying that retail games ultimately sell much more than downloadable games.
Despite repeated worry over reception in Japan, Bionic Commando managed to get a score of 34/40 in Famitsu, boosting the potential for an ironically better performance overseas and netting itself a gold award. However, it's first week in Japan was met with sales totaling under 10,000 units. The PS3 version debuted as the number one Gaijin game for the week of June 28th, 2009 to July 4th, 2009 and number 26 on the overall sales chart for the week (the 360 version did worse at number three on the Gaijin list and number 31 on the overall sales chart). Plans for a sequel are looking unlikely at this point.
The most up-to-date sales data of this game is a total of 550,000 copies shipped, though amount of units sold still remains a mystery. Despite a great performance by other Capcom titles such as Resident Evil 5 and Street Fighter IV earlier in the year, Bionic Commando is heavily regarded as a flop. Today, the game is ridiculed by some critics because of its far-fetched ending.
On July 28th, 2009, the official soundtrack to Bionic Commando was distributed as a retail package via Sumthing Else Music Works and as a digital download through Sumthing Digital and the iTunes store. The soundtrack features 20 tracks from the game and excludes pieces such as sound effects or fanfares typical with some game's soundtrack release. Simon Viklund, Jamie Christopherson, Jonatan Crafoord, Trond-Viggo Melssen, Junko Tamiya, Erik Thunberg and José Luis Gonzalez Castro are the credited artists on the track listing.
01 "Main Theme" (Jamie Christoperson, Junko Tamiya)
02 "Ascension City Awakening" (Trond-Viggo Melssen, Erik Thunberg)
03 "Desertion" (Jonatan Crafoord, Junko Tamiya)
04 "Flooded" (Jonatan Crafoord)
05 "Fight Unlimited" (Trond-Viggo Melssen, Junko Tamiya, Erik Thunberg)
06 "Enhanced Tunnel Vision (Junko Tamiya, Erik Thunberg)
07 "Groder's Anthem" (Jamie Christopherson, Junko Tamiya)
08 "Hero of the Past" (Jonatan Crafoord, Junko Tamiya)
09 "The Laws of Nature" (Erik Thunberg)
10 "From Darkness to Wonder" (Trond-Viggo Melssen, Erik Thunberg)
11 "From Trash Till Dawn" (Trond-Viggo Melssen, Erik Thunberg)
12 "Project Vulture" (Trond-Viggo Melssen, Junko Tamiya, Erik Thunberg)
13 "Preparations" (Trond-Viggo Melssen, Erik Thunberg, Simon Viklund)
14 "The Molhole" (Jonatan Crafoord, Junko Tamiya)
15 "Road to Ascension" (Jamie Christopherson)
16 "Hunters of the FSA" (Trond-Viggo Melssen, Junko Tamiya, Erik Thunberg)
17 "The Gauntlet" (Jamie Christopherson)
18 "Piano Theme" (Junko Tamiya, José Luis Gonzalez Castro)
19 "Beyond Dark Skies" (Jonatan Crafoord, Junko Tamiya, Erik Thunberg)
20 "Adaigo" (Trond-Viggo Melssen, Junko Tamiya)