Capcom's action remake puts a swing in our step.
Bionic Commando tricks you into thinking you're a typical action game hero. It casts you in the role of a bull-necked nutjob named Nathan Spencer - a paragon of thigh-smacking machismo with a torso like a sackful of cannonballs and a voice that's so pungent with testosterone fumes it's a wonder the man doesn't incinerate himself when he lights a cigar. (I haven't, as yet, seen Nathan smoke any cigars, but with a jawline like that you know he's got a packet stowed somewhere). This being the age of the iPod and Lost, the man sports some natty dreads and swimsuit model stubble, and adopts a glowering, anti-managerial demeanour in place of the irrepressible grin of his Nintendo Entertainment System predecessor. Beefcake on toast, basically, with a side order of grilled mozzarella.
Your first few swipes at the core mechanics do nothing to lessen the sense of All-American invulnerability. Nathan can precision shoot like Mr Fenix, the camera zooming in from its comfortable manual remove to perch on his shoulder, and while his health bar is on the skinny side, it recharges in seconds. And of course he's got that Bionic Arm, a bloody awesome extending cybernetic appendage located somewhere between Spiderman's wrist spinnerets and the crabclaw mitts of Soulcalibur's Knightmare.
Metal Gear Solid-esque tutorial missions aside, your first glimpse of the thing in action comes during a cut scene, when Spencer snatches a soldier from afar, hauls him screaming across the room and gut punches him all the way back again. Immediately afterwards you're invited to put the Arm to use as an immensely potent grapple line, leaping from the side of a thousand foot skyscraper, harpooning a neon billboard three quarters of the way down, and hurtling away like a latter-day Tarzan into the artful chaos of Ascension City, the game's vaguely contemporary post-nuke setting. Aiming the Arm with right stick, latching on by holding L2 and easing off to release can be a tricky business, as you discover within the immaculate neon confines of the tutorials (which also, being flashbacks, restore Nathan briefly to something like his original retro glory), but as your iron boots can withstand any fall this isn't really a worry.
Everything in the first 30-odd minutes of the game, from the popcorn-chomping score to the glittering but generic visuals, seems designed to reassure you that you're about to embark on yet another eight hour third-person killing spree lent vigour by some gratifying superhero gimmicks: socking it to gangs of ambulatory braindeaths with precisely three AI routines (shoot, chase, dodge) to rub together, swinging dutifully out of sight whenever a deepening red filter announces that you're on the verge of a restart, and swinging just as dutifully back into the firing line once said filter ebbs away.
Besides the default pistol, you'll predict wearily to yourself, there will be grenades and rocket launchers, a shotgun, a machine gun and a sniper rifle, rolled out one by one in tandem with some bigger, tougher species of bad guy - thuggish mech troopers, jet-powered gunships and secretive snipers, each requiring a little mild pattern analysis to defeat.
You'd be right about some of this. Bionic Commando's grunts - members of the terrorist organisation BioReign, responsible for Ascension City's destruction - probably don't win many college scholarships, relying chiefly on computerised accuracy and weight of numbers to bring you down. Thing is, given the relatively unobstructed nature of those corridor-like but spacious levels, and the fact that most of the time your arse is quite literally swinging in the breeze, that computerised accuracy counts for more than it does in the average Tomb Raider clone. Aerial showboating is not advisable if you want your skull to be intact when you land.
These boys are also handy in a fistfight, as you'll discover when you throw yourself confidently into their midst and get bludgeoned to ragdoll oblivion. Ego somewhat bruised, you might elect to try out some of Nathan's gung-ho-punchline-inducing tricks, lassoing a trooper and catapulting yourself into him feet-first with X, only to find that the swift application of an electric baton to the Arm's grapple line has unpleasant consequences for the attacker.