SAN FRANCISCO--At Capcom's demo suite close to the Game Developers Conference, we got a look at two levels from Bionic Commando, the company's upcoming modernization of its classic NES action game featuring a character who couldn't jump, but had a bada** cybernetic arm to make up for that shortcoming. Well, in the new game, you can jump. Plus your arm is even more awesome than before, so we figure you're coming out way ahead on this one.
In collaboration with Swedish developer Grin, Capcom is listening to a lot of feedback from fans as development on Bionic Commando progresses. The first level we previewed was set near the beginning of the game in a dense urban environment, shortly after terrorists set off a bomb aimed at toppling the Federated States of America--the prevailing regime in the game's vision of the future. Nathan Spencer, the bionic commando himself, was picking his way through the ruined highway and leveled buildings, fighting enemy soldiers who were taking cover behind crushed cars and other rubble.
Similar to Gears of War, the game will occasionally prompt you to hit a view button to zoom in on a background element. In this case, we saw the top portion of a skyscraper toppling to the ground in the far distance, amid the combat up close. Capcom producer Ben Judd mentioned that Grin has been taking fan feedback about the game's washed-out look into account; this particular level has been given a more saturated, bluish tint that we thought leapt out at us pretty starkly.
As mentioned, this level was early on in Spencer's mission, and as such, Judd told us the character had few of the powerful special abilities he'll be armed with later in the game. For instance, you won't be able to pick up large objects with your bionic arm at the outset, but later on, even cars will become useful projectiles against larger enemies. Judd says the game will use a challenge system similar to the one seen in Call of Duty 4's multiplayer mode, which tasks you with performing simple tasks such as "swing 10 times in a row." Some of these will simply be for bragging rights or other peripheral benefits such as achievements in the Xbox 360 version, but some challenges will actually give you new gameplay abilities that will make your mission easier.
Though Capcom didn't let us try the game for ourselves, we got a feel for how the grappling mechanics will work. You've got a persistent crosshair onscreen for your weapon, and inside that reticle you'll see a smaller orange target appear anytime you're pointing at a surface you can successfully grapple onto. We were worried the game would have relatively few predefined grapple points, but Judd says you'll be able to swing from just about anything, as long as it won't somehow cause physics problems or interfere with the level design. That orange indicator will also turn gray if you're targeting a surface that you could grapple to if you were a bit closer; in those instances, you'll generally be able to jump, use your arm, and snag the surface successfully in midair.
The next level we saw was set in a park and contrasted the previous city level with an entirely organic environment of grassy hills, rocky cliffs, waterfalls, and ponds. The number of tall overhangs and large chasms prompted us to ask Judd about falling damage in the game, which he said is being considered and tweaked as part of the ongoing design process. Currently, the player incurs only a small amount of falling damage after a large fall, and it appeared to us that you can use the bionic arm to grapple to a flat surface below you to get there safely without taking any damage at all.
In the park level, we saw a burlier kind of enemy called a biomech, which is a big suit of powered armor with a human soldier inside. This particular biomech was essentially a strong melee fighter, though Judd said there will be numerous other kinds of biomechs, including one that can fly. This particular one had a weak point on its back, so Spencer had to get around behind it and throw an object to hit its weak back panel. We also got to see one of Spencer's more unique arm-oriented attacks, called the zip kick, during this fight. This involves him leaping into the air, latching onto an enemy with the arm, and then literally zipping straight at the enemy to deliver a powerful two-footed kick. This worked well against foot soldiers, but the biomech bruiser was able to shrug it off.
We're impressed with the direction Bionic Commando is going in so far, with its focus on intense skill-based grappling and combat. We'll have to reserve real judgment until we get our hands on the controls, of course, but we're encouraged that Capcom and Grin are listening closely to fan feedback over the course of development. (Yes, the hydraulic "hot dog" cabling on the arm was significantly reduced in this build.)