Bionic Commando Updated Hands-on

We swing around town in the latest version of Capcom's classic NES game of the same name and chat with the developer.

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We've been following Bionic Commando since it was announced late last year to see how Capcom and Swedish developer Grin are updating the fan-favorite character. We had seen the game on and off in the months since it was revealed, but hadn't had the chance to clock in some quality time with it until recently, when we were able to try work-in-progress versions of the PC and Xbox 360 games in Las Vegas.

The version on display at Capcom's media event was a multilevel sampler that let us check out chunks of various levels to give us a taste of what to expect. The first two level samples we tried were from the start of the game and functioned as a tutorial to familiarize us with Nathan Spencer's abilities. The levels had us heading to set check points within the level, which kicked us to the next area. The focus of the first chunk we played was to get the hang of swinging with Nathan's bionic arm in some city ruins we'd seen before. The mechanic has changed a bit since we saw it last--Grin has added a visual cue in the form of a new reticle, which lets you know the best time to release.

The second area we went to was also in the city and started to layer in some new stuff. A conveniently placed weapon pod let us pick up a weapon as we explored. Another pod was on hand, although we weren't able to do much with it because Grin had disabled the hacking minigame for the purposes of the demo. From the sound of it, the final game will feature pods you'll be able to hack into with your arm. As we progressed through the level, we were able to try grappling objects and pulling at them, which in this case was debris at the side of a building. Once the object was pulled clear, we were able to swing into the building and start exploring, which segued nicely into some indoor combat where we were able to try out a classic move and use the arm's grapple to snatch pickups just out of reach. As we exited through the other side of the building, we were clued in to the proper way to punch debris at an enemy. The three-step process was easy and, thanks to some pretty generous targeting, satisfying. You simply punch a large piece of debris in front of you, jump, and punch it again while facing an enemy. This sends the goods right at your foe. We were also able to collect the game's classic machine gun and learn about focused targeting, which simply zooms in your view and lets you target specific spots on a foe.

The next area was a flooded zone that forced us to stay to the rooftops of submerged buildings. Unfortunately, cool as the bionic arm is, your character is not much of a swimmer. The focus in the level is to acquaint you with the tarantula weapon, which is a rocket launcher that fires homing missiles that zero in on targets you mark. The tarantula was a handy little piece of ordinance and made short work of our humanoid foes. Unfortunately, we got a little trigger happy and were running low on ammo when a small airship boss cruised onto the scene. The battle appeared to have at least two possible ways to go. If we'd saved tarantula ammo, we could have targeted it and hurled missiles at it until it died. But since we didn't, we got to explore the more physical method of fighting: locking on to the robot with our zip line and doing a zip kick at it. The method worked pretty well, although the challenge was to make sure we didn't wind up jumping back after a kick with nowhere to go but down.

The next level we checked out was a jungle area that showcased the variety of levels in the game. The lush tropical environment afforded us many swinging options, thanks to the trees spread throughout it. On our trip through the trees, we were able to pick up a shotgun from a weapon pod and take out enemies. The end of the level found us facing off against an exoskeleton-wearing enemy who had a specific weak spot we had to zip kick. The final area we checked out was a massive indoor space designed to let us swing around and get the hang of the unique mechanic.

In addition to checking out the game ourselves, we were able to get some time with Grin, who walked us through some points in the game and showed off a new trailer. While the trailer showcased some neat stuff, such as the Rad Spencer in-game model you'll unlock by having Bionic Commando Rearmed, the big news was about multiplayer. Specific details were scarce--except for the team's desire to ensure that the game modes are understandable to players of all skill levels--but you can expect a minimum of Capture the Flag and Deathmatch modes. The other interesting bit is that a separate team within Grin is handling the chores on the game. Based on the trailer, it appears the whip is something that will come in quite handy, allowing you to latch on to foes and shoot them up in the air.

The visuals in the two demos were quite pretty, albeit in need of some mild sharpening up on the Xbox 360. The PC game had the edge in overall resolution when compared to the Xbox 360 game. The ruined city areas felt alive and creepy, thanks to detailed art and little touches such as dust clouds and the devastated look of the city.

The game's music cultivated a nice retro mood with orchestrated makeovers for tunes from the classic game. Beyond that, audio was still pretty low key in the levels we tried. Nathan is not chatty, and the folks he encounters aren't either.

While we wish we could have seen more, we're pleased by how Bionic Commando is shaping up. The game continues to head in a promising direction and mix its cool, modern look with some old-school touches. If you're a fan of the original game, you'll want to check this game out when it hits.

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