One of the highlights at Capcom's London press event was the recently announced Bionic Commando, a sequel to the classic arcade and console title from nearly 20 years ago. While a brief overview of the game was given during the event's opening presentation, a lengthier demo session later in the event shed light on the upcoming title. We had the chance to get a modest glimpse of what Capcom Japan and developer Grin are cooking up for the promising title.
As was revealed in the game's official announcement earlier this week, Bionic Commando is a sequel set some 10 years after the original game and follows the exploits of Nathan Spencer, the hero of the original game. (Yes, we realize that Bionic Commando's hero will always be Radd Spencer to many, but considering that the main character wound up having many names over the course of the many versions of the game over the years, we're willing to roll with it.) Unfortunately Nathan hasn't quite been basking in the warming glow of victory in the wake of his successful exploits at the end of the original Bionic Commando. At the start of the game Nathan is working on a fluorescent tan from the harsh lights of prison. It seems the onetime hero has been wrongfully convicted of a crime, imprisoned, divested of his bionic arm, and set for execution.
This all changes when, on the day of his execution, a powerful and deadly bomb is detonated in Ascension City, decimating the sprawling metropolis. With little information on the terrorist force responsible for the attack and now occupying the city, the decision is made to tap Spencer to assess the situation in the ruins of Ascension City and deal with the threat posed by the terrorists. This fairly straightforward mission, while offering a nod to the simplicity of the original game's premise, isn't quite as cut-and-dried as it sounds. The individuals who comprise the terrorist group and their motivations will pose an interesting moral dilemma for Nathan to deal with as the story progresses. Fans of the series looking for references to the original game should be pleased to hear that Capcom aims to incorporate references and elements from the classics of the series. We weren't able to find out to what degree, but we were intrigued to hear that the developer hasn't ruled out cameos or references to elements like the infamous resurrected evil leader from the original game.
The ruins of Ascension City served as the centerpiece for the game demo and followed Nathan on a short run through a chunk of the city. The key focal point of the demo was showing how the dev team had taken the simple swing mechanic from the original game and brought it into a full 3D space. The new system allows you to attach to just about anything you see in the world, with a few exceptions. You'll be able to distinguish what you can and can't stick to by using an onscreen reticle that reacts to whatever surface it's on. Once Nathan attaches to a surface, he'll be able to swing or zip quickly to that point. He'll also be able to simply hang from a point, raising and lowering his height by adjusting the slack in his arm. The demo showcased the mechanic and gave us a positive sense of where it's going. Nathan's swinging has a Spider-man-esque feel to it that offers a good sense of wide-open space to play around in. While the swing mechanic is obviously a key element of Bionic Commando's gameplay, there's obviously more to the action than swinging everywhere. Nathan's bionic arm will have a variety of uses that will come in handy during combat and possibly exploration. You'll be able to use the powerful appendage and its wire to interact with your environment by pulling large debris down on your foes, grabbing smaller pieces of debris and punching it at them, latching onto enemies and pulling them around during combat, and just plain old locomotion around a massive environment. You'll also be able to use your arm for powerful, painful punches during melee combat. The game's trailer also shows Nathan watching a holographic display emanating from the arm with information of some kind, offering a clue to some of the noncombat uses the arm may have during the adventure. Besides relying on his powerful bionic appendage, Nathan will rely on firearms and other logical ways of dealing with foes.
The demo of the game we were shown featured a great deal of work-in-progress elements, which makes it challenging to judge its presentation. The visuals for the chunk of the city we saw were detailed and featured a nice sense of scale. Given the importance of swinging, the city level was quite high and offered a generous assortment of debris for Nathan to swing on and use in battle. We saw an early pass of particle effects pepper dust and fine debris in the air as Nathan swung and ran around the ruined city. The character models were obviously still coming together. The few enemies Nathan faced were solid but unremarkable gun-toting foes that worked as cannon fodder for his abilities.
As for Nathan himself, the detailed polygon man running around in the demo was a far cry from the simple sprite from back in the day. The hero's makeover is a deliberate and functional update of the original. The team worked to ensure the 3D hero would stick close to the color scheme of the original game. At the same time it was also decided Nathan needed some updated elements that would offer visual cues to players--yes, including the dreadlocks. As part of the presentation it was explained that the team felt Nathan needed to have an element of his character that would offer players feedback on his motion while swinging, in much the same way that Solid Snake's bandana and Ryu Hayabusa's sash cue players to character movement. With bandanas and sashes pretty much taken by the aforementioned action heroes, the team considered various options and wound up with dreadlocks. Of course, the most scrutinized element of Nathan's model will likely be his enhanced arm, which borrows elements from both steampunk and more modern influences to create a unique and bulky appendage that looks utilitarian and powerful. The unifying element in the game's presentation was its smooth animation. Nathan's running, jumping, and swinging all has smooth flow to it thanks to several subtle touches of animation that help sell his superhuman actions.
Based on what we saw, Bionic Commando holds a great deal of promise. The update of the classic gameplay appears to have a solid foundation to build on as development continues. The beloved swing mechanic's move into 3D seems to be going well, and the swinging demo we saw looked like a smart way to update the simple mechanic and, more importantly, expand on it in logically. The mix of the bionic arm's abilities with firearms and an interactive environment are all the right elements needed to craft an engaging adventure. If Grin and Capcom can deliver that and offer enough nods to the past games for diehard fans, Bionic Commando has a strong chance of living up to its beloved predecessor. Bionic Commando is slated to ship at some point in the future for the PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360. Look for more on the game tomorrow, as we offer up some additional bits of info we discovered while visiting Grin's studios.