Bionic Commando

Swinging in the Reign.

Having spent the day playing the first half of Bionic Commando, so soon after falling in love with Street Fighter IV, it's tempting to accuse Capcom of finally getting its act together with remakes. This hasn't always gone well for the Japanese company (Final Fight: Streetwise, anyone? No? Correct), but thanks to the persistence of devoted fanboys within, like SFIV producer Yoshinori Ono and Bionic Commando's affable Ben Judd, the company's on the verge of hitting a rich vein of form. It also helps that in both of the above cases, the big old boxed games have been preceded by excellent downloadable versions strictly mentored by the original source material.

In Bionic Commando's case, however, the publisher has not only delegated development to GRIN (all hail Ballistics!), but has green-lit the Swedish outfit's risky 3D reincarnation, which takes the 2D original's seldom-matched grapple-and-swing mechanic and applies it to relatively sprawling environments. As a biomechanically enhanced soldier - with an arm that happens to spit out a hook on an extendable metal chain - you're a sci-fi Spider-Man bound to the logic of momentum.

The problem, as the newly fleshed-out fiction has it, is that the government of the day has been thoroughly spooked by rising public uncertainty about bionic commandos, and decides to order everyone's implants removed, leaving veterans in wheelchairs, if not worse. You even end up on death row for some reason, except you're saved at the last minute because the army needs to send you into Ascension City, which has been floored with WMD by terrorists who you soon discover are Bionic Reign - a pressure group (I'll say) set up by some of your fellow bionic commandos.

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There's no falling damage because, apparently, player-character Spencer is wearing iron boots. Works for me! Shame he can't swim.

Once there, you're given orders by headset and sent around the ruined city to uncover what's gone on - guided by waypoints on your mini-map to objectives like relay stations that can be hacked to deactivate minefields (the aerial mines make handy grapple points) and obtain intelligence on the enemy. In another case you're sent to investigate a downed friendly plane that might hold survivors.

With the city in such a state - gutted skyscrapers and crumpled up streets, with entire districts that are half-submerged by the neighbouring ocean - the bionic arm is the best way to get around, and you control it with the left trigger, grappling onto virtually any surface when you get within range, as indicated by the grapple icon turning blue. Horizontal objects like street signs, rocky outcrops, fractured overpasses and the metal framework of industry work best, as they give you a trapeze-style swing that you can use to slingshot your way over distance. Time your release correctly and you can propel yourself for hundreds of metres, and then control your descent somewhat to line up another swing without hitting the floor. Time it poorly, and you drop short or spoon up in the air and have to rapidly turn to regain a grapple-hold.

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Visually the game is average for this generation of action games, but it's by no means ugly, and the animation is good enough that it barely warrants debate.

Along the way you encounter enemies sporadically - soldiers mostly, but also larger biomechs (mechanised walkers) and polycraft (flying mechs), which have certain Capcom-style weaknesses like exposed rear circuitry and armour that buckles under rocket-fire or the impact of cars. Although the game is superficially open-world, these encounters are staged and the environments shoehorn you towards them, restricting your moment with areas of intense radiation, even though you might prefer to dodge around the flying mech thing with dual machineguns.

Good thing, then, that you aren't just limited to standard weapons - as you progress you "remember" more abilities, beginning with the zip-kick, where you grapple an enemy and then reel yourself in to deliver a boot to the face. You can chain zip-kicks because on impact you're propelled upward again, allowing you to lock back on or seek another target. Later you get to toss heavy concrete blocks, crates and rocks by teeing them up with an uppercut, jumping and smacking them with your arm. The targeting is automatic - enemies in your path will be sought out expertly, providing they're in suitable range. Later still you can grapple larger objects like cars, 'kite' them up with the grapple and then smash them down on your enemies like a whipcrack.

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