The critical reception to Bionic Commando was anything but kind. The PS3 version of the game is sitting on GameRankings with an aggregate score of 72%. I've seen games get the short shrift before, but never so much as Bionic Commando. I have a small confession to make; I'm only halfway through the game, but I'm so enamored with it that I couldn't wait to write a review. Here's the breakdown:
Graphics: Stunning throughout. Animations seem realistic (considering the subject matter at least) and environments are breathtaking. Not much to say because there's nothing to complain about.
Story: I've heard that this aspect takes some criticism; apparently the ending is love it or hate it. I'm enjoying the story partly because of the effective voice-acting. Steve Blum always puts on a good performance, and he's effective here as Super-Joe. I'm not familiar with the VA for the main character, but he certainly does a good job of making me believe he's enjoying the swinging as much as I am- which brings us to...
Gameplay: There's nothing else on the market like BC. It's not an FPS or even a standard 3rd person shooter. The main focus is on effective use of the bionic arm. The result has been compared to the Spider-man games, but such a comparison leaves out the nuances that BC brings to the table. First of all, the level design is superb. Whereas the Spider-man levels games are typically limited to swinging around the same old skyscrapers, BC's levels are filled with all kinds of broken buildings, suspended railways, caverns, and more. Even if the mechanics of the swinging were identical, the game would play much differently. But the swinging requires more precision than SM. Some players make the mistake of giving the game five minutes and deciding it sucks. It takes a bit of practice to get the hang of using the arm, but once you've got it, you're in for some gameplay gold. The reason the game "works", in my opinion, is that it doesn't focus on split-second reactions and near-impossible jumps. Instead, the emphasis is on tactics. How does one effectively navigate the war-torn landscape and attack ones' foes while evading their gun-fire? Answering this question is the job of the player. Using the arm, for instance, to swing into battle and then swing out to recover is a rewarding experience. The boss battles, in particular, do a fantastic job of highlighting the difference between this game and your vanilla third person game.
Sound: WOW! If you're familiar with the themes from past BC games, you'll recognize some remixed themes. This soundtrack, however, is simply outstanding. From the elegant piano theme in the main menu to the thundering symphonic arrangements during battle, these pieces do much to elevate the gameplay to something truly special. On a related note, I intend to do some serious searching for the sheet music to the menu music; I would love to play that on the piano.
Let's talk downsides for two seconds. I've heard a lot of criticisms, and these are the two that I deem to be accurate:
1) Radioactive out-of-bounds. Linear games have the difficult task of creating some means to provide limits to the environments. The standard but laughable solution of times past has been the familiar "invisible wall". BC tries something new by simply killing the player if they stray out-of-bounds for too long. It is explained that much of the city is irradiated and that our protagonist must avoid this stuff like the plague. Most of the time, this radiation is clear enough to see. But those few times it surprises you can get pretty annoying. This solution to an old problem might even be elegant if well-implemented, but there are some weird choices here. Sometimes, the UPPER HALF of a building will be irradiated. Usually, level limits are lateral in natural, so coming across this can be vexing.
2) Collectables. See, you're gonna die a lot; this isn't an easy game (on Normal, at least). Most games don't make you re-collect collectables if you die before reaching the next checkpoint. Well, BC does. Get used to it.
These cons are really quite minor in comparison to the fantastic gameplay on offer. Every major aspect of BC screams high production values, and the gameplay offers something truly novel and rewarding. The price of BC has plummeted in most places. I found it new for 20 dollars. Don't believe the critics; Bionic Commando is an astonishing accomplishment.