Let’s be clear from the very start; Bionic Commando is a truly moronic game and it really shouldn’t be taken at all seriously. In fact, as we’ll get into in a little bit you really shouldn’t be looking to play it much at all, but if you do then you should at least do it fully armed with the fact that the game is stupid.
Set in some poorly-explained and rather boring sci-fi future, the game follows one Nathan Spencer – a bionic commando who is about to face the death penalty after the government turned on all bionically enhanced soldiers a few years ago. Despite being a good solider, Spencer was betrayed several times and now whiles away his remaining days in a cell, minus his bionic arm.
Until a pro-bionic terrorist group (and why there is literally an army of well-supplied and excellently financed bionic supporters isn’t ever satisfactorily explained) blows up a capital city anyway.
Lead boots make Spencer immune to falling damage, somehow
When the BioTech group drops a weapon of mass destruction on Ascension City the situation changes. The military claims that thousands are possibly dead (though you never see any dead bodies in the city), the ruins are blanketed with radiation and the terrorists have seized control of the area. The staunchly anti-bionic government suddenly changes its tune and decides the only person who can fight these pro-bionics is...a bionic. It’s by far not the most stupid decision they make in the game.
Thus, Spencer is drafted back into action and given his bionic arm back. He makes a token show of resistance to the idea of working for the army again, but shuts up when they say they’ll give him information on a girl called Emily, who he seems to care about. We could tell you more about Emily, but she isn’t mentioned again for literally half the game, so it’s a bit spoileriffic. It's also disappointing, clichéd and annoying.
The sheer lunacy of the story is completely OK though. Not all games have to be serious, well-plotted masterpieces and that’s definitely true for any game where your character has a robot arm that lets him swing from buildings. Bionic Commando is silliness, but we’re big fans of silliness, so it’s kind of OK.
Or, at least, it would be if it weren’t for the fact that the game is obviously trying very hard to take itself seriously. What could have been enjoyable in the same way as a Schwarzenegger action film actually tries to elevate itself above that by lightly littering the world with abbreviation-laden memos and feeble backstories between characters like Super Joe and Spencer.
Further proof that every man in the world wants to be Spiderman at heart
To be frank, stuff like that doesn’t sit very well with a game that sees you standing on top of moving planes or being fenced in by clouds of Floating Blue Radiation – especially when it’s so poorly told and done by such god-awful characters. There isn’t a single, likeable personality in the entire cast and every single character seems intent only on going around trying to prove how much of a hardcase they are. Every single one is shallow, unconvincing and boring to the point that reaching for the mute button becomes increasingly tempting the longer you play.
That goes double for Spencer too; the most bland character of them all and he's voiced by Mike Patton of Faith No More. Patton has done some good voice work on other games, notably The Darkness, but listening to him here is about as much fun as washing your face with a cheese-grater. His script is terrible and little of what he says is consistent with his supposed motives or makes any sense. One example of this we saw often was punching snipers over the horizon and hearing Spencer yell that “[i]you’ll thank me for that one day!”[i]
Honestly, is that supposed to make Spencer a likeable character? All it really achieves is further proof that his design is a mish-mashed checklist of supposedly ‘hardcore/manly’ traits. Dreadlocks? Check. Vest and big muscles instead of body armour? Check. Faulty one liners and a monotonous disdain for authority? Check. Ugh, no wonder he ended up getting the death penalty.