Game Review Roundup: Bionic Commando, HAWX, more

Game Review Roundup: HAWX, more

Another month, another set of game reviews. Plus, we’re introducing the newest member of the Review Roundup team, John Stvan. John is an avid gamer, specializing in shooters and the Xbox 360. He previously covered games for the podcast Shots in the Dark and an Internet radio show before that, but this is his first big writing gig. Please give him a warm welcome. And now, the reviews!

Bionic Commando from Capcom

Bionic Commando

From: Capcom

Reviewed on: Xbox 360 (Also on PS3, upcoming on PC)

Review By: Seth Robison

Yes, now he can jump.

Twenty-one years after it swung onto the NES with its unique gameplay mechanic, a toe-tapping soundtrack, a lack of leaping ability and an infamous conclusion, Capcom’s Bionic Commando is back for the Xbox 360 and PS3 with a 3D makeover, a grimmer outlook, a pair of usable knees, and a hardcore upgrade to the franchise’s signature element, the Bionic Arm. Gone is the 8-bit wrist-mounted grappling hook and the human arm (and sections of torso) it was attached to. In its place is hulking mechanical claw that thanks to fantastic character detail actually looks like the kind of technology that would be necessary to perform the kind of acrobatic feats that a current-gen iteration would demand.

The new Bionic Commando brings back the original game’s hero: the orange-haired and shades-clad Nathan “R.A.D.” Spencer. It’s been five years since his rescue of Super Joe (of Commando and MERCs fame returning here in a supporting role) and the destruction of the evil Imperial super weapon. Now the bitter, dreadlocked and (thanks to a current-gen color palette) appropriately dyed Nathan Spencer is a prisoner of his own army, sentenced to death for his actions on a classified mission and stripped of his bionics. Unfortunately (or fortunately since it gets our hero out of jail) a mysterious terrorist organization has detonated a massive nuclear-like bomb in Ascension City and only the Bionic Commando has the right combination of skills, technology and attitude to resolve the situation.

As to how Nathan goes from national hero to goat in the interim between the titles is one of the frustrating vague and/or convenient story turns that hamper the game’s narrative. Unless one has read the web-comic prequel by Andy Diggle Thunderbolts) before pushing start, you are left with having the details dibbled out to you so slowly they actually arrive after scripted story sequences that would have made much more sense the other way around.

The bomb blast that triggered the story is used seemingly more as an excuse to have the wreckage of nearly toppled buildings (and enough destroyed monorails to make Lyle Langley blush) around for the Bionic Arm to grapple onto. The bomb also happened to leave special kind of radiation spread around that ‘reacts poorly with bionics’ therefore making some surfaces ‘ungrappleable’ and some regions not only off-limits but deadly if occupied for more then a few moments. Bionic Commando is also surprisingly linear in its layout. As you play, you’ll move between smallish set areas, and not an open world environment, making a game that feels like it should be as free flowing as Spiderman or Assassin’s Creed feel disappointingly grounded.

Before damning Swedish developer Grin for a few stylistic and structural choices, it should be noted that they took on a tremendous challenge to adapt swinging gameplay into the ‘flat screen 3D’ world of gaming. Rather than just take the attach and swing mechanic from the successful aforementioned Spiderman series outright, i.e. press a button and if there’s something to attach to, it’ll happen automatically, Grin makes grappling with the Bionic Arm a much more active experience, once you get the hang of it. An intelligent on-screen indicator will snap to the nearest grapple point and turn blue when in range, another will pop up when you’ve reached the point in your swing that will propel you the furthest forward (at the physics appropriate bottom of the arc). This, coupled with a responsive camera, the right stick for fine aiming, and the control pad for quickly flipping the view to either side or behind (for when you short your swing and need to grapple back). It’s complicated and you’re going to die from being just out of range more than once, but you’ll get the opportunity to practice both in a training area and low-risk in game environments. Take it.

Once you get the hang of the arm, combat in Bionic Commando turns from a challenge to a joy. While you’re perpetually equipped with a weak handgun, some grenades, and the occasional heavy weapon (machine gun, shotgun, grenade launcher, missile launcher) whose availability and ammo are too few and far between to be of much use, your Bionic Arm will gradually upgrade, from being able to grapple flying robots in mid-air and juggle them repeatedly to flinging wrecked cars around like they were made of aluminum foil. In-game challenges will also unlock more abilities, heath and ammo capacity as you perform a set number of stylistic kills or aerial maneuvers, although quickly you won’t need the prodding as the visual payoff is more than enough reward. Aside from the flying robots, there are a couple of ground based variations and a legion of grunts that are only a threat in numbers, even without the use of the gaming world’s now standard ‘walk-it-off’ style heath meter.

Grin’s in-house game engine not only allows for a sharp and graceful Nathan Spencer, but a detailed world that comes in and out of focus as it rushes by in-flight. Pepsi and NVIDIA product placements are regrettable, especially compared to clever ruined billboards for fictional products based on other Capcom properties. In-game visuals often feel more natural than the storyline cut scenes, where the voice actor’s grunting ‘war-is-hell’ and ‘I’m a renegade’ drama feels really forced after mowing down a paratroop division during what is ostensibly a volunteer mission.

The non-vocal audio on the other hand is out-and-out phenomenal. Featuring remixed versions of the classic 8-bit Bionic Commando’s music, in particular a plinking piano version of the Bionic Commando theme on the title screen that will make you pause before pressing start. Only the soundtrack of the recent Bionic Commando Rearmed rivals it.

Bionic Commando also features online multiplayer, where up to eight of players engage in the stock game modes of Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and CTF while equipped with Bionic Arms, as the defiance of gravity makes matches both dizzying and open to new strategies compared to earthbound shooters..

After 21 years, nothing can truly live up to the too long simmering expectations of eager fans, but the new game, just like the old one, reaches out to new ground in gaming, and grabs it.

Tom Clancy's HAWX, from Ubisoft

Tom Clancy’s HAWX

From: Ubisoft

Reviewed on: Xbox 360 (also available on PS3, PC)

Reviewed by: John Stvan

For someone like me, a first person shooter fanatic, a flight simulation/fighter at first glance normally doesn’t yield a second glance. After all, I did run out and buy Over G Fighters and Ace Combat 6 expecting the next gen console flight games to rock my world; what they did instead was make me realize that military games that take place above the ground don’t have good writing or story… in fact these games may have been better off without a story all together. Needless to say, when HAWX was announced, my first instincts were to blow it off. I then heard that it was a Tom Clancy title and being a huge Rainbow Six (especially R6V2) fan, my interests slightly took a turn back. But the memory of flight-sims of the past were too fresh to forget.

At New York Comic-Con 09 I was able to actually get my hands on a demo of the game and while it had its ups and downs (no pun intended), nothing was very thrilling about it.

When it released early this year I figured with the credits I had stored up at the local game store, I may as well give HAWX a whirl. After reading more into the game online, I did hear about this third person camera that I must have missed when I played the demo – kind of a ball dropper on Ubisoft’s part at ComicCon – so I anxiously awaited this feature.

The game has you , U.S. Airforce pilot David Crenshaw, splinter from the very tree that bore you as fruit. Yes, in this metaphor the tree is the U.S.A. You join a team of “guns for hire” and help the U.S. Airforce defeat the bad guy… except you are not working for the U.S. Airforce… but you fly with… them… and do missions for…

Writing and dialogue issues aside, the game itself is actually tons of fun. With both off and online coop modes and loads of extra upgradeable content, the game lends itself to lots of replay. The ability to play with friends or join random games online in versus or campaign mode actually help you forget the annoying wingman’s name.

The game only gets better as you proceed through the campaign and actually unlock planes, weapon packs, and paint schemes. The aforementioned 3rd person flight system  “Assistance OFF” mode is also unlockable, available about a quarter way through the game. Like Assassin’s Creed, some of the best Ubisoft created features are things a player must wait on before getting to use them, which I find incredibly frustrating. Once unlocked, however, you do have the ability to go back and replay the campaign missions you were forced to in “Assistance ON” mode.

While the campaign is a bit on the repetitive side, it does offer a lot of innovative events that closely resemble quick-time events. These are simple follow-the-flight-path-and-shoot-when-we-say events but it does change up the gameplay a bit.

The online play is fun for everyone. It really reminds me of a FPS in the way it’s set up. Certain weapon packs are over-the-top in ability (like the missile launcher that lets you fire four missiles at four different targets simultaneously), but this doesn’t deter from the fun. Trust me, shooting down four opponents with one shot is totally fun! Along with the super-weapons you attain the ability to call for support elements to aid your team (like healing drones) or hinder the opponents (like sending them into a free fall with an EMP). Coordinating with your teammates as to which element to call is important.

Finally, the multiplayer offers something that you don’t see that often: a support player role. The support planes and weapons that are offered allow you to target your teammates and take over their attacking missiles with a Target Override Pod, most effective when using the SR-71 Blackbird.

Overall this game is one that I’m keeping, and can easily recommend as a buy. While I haven’t gone back to play the campaign a third time, once solo and once coop, the multiplayer is fast paced, loads easily, and good, old fashioned fun.

Ninja Blade, From Software

Bleeps and Blorps- Small Reviews of Big Games

Ninja Blade (From Software/Microsoft; XBOX360; Review by Lucas): Quick-time events are sequences in games where a series of specific button presses come up on screen, and you must hit them within a certain period of time while the character you’re “controlling” does cool cinematic-looking things in the background. It’s a gameplay mechanic made popular largely by the God of War series on PlayStation 2. Apparently, From Software absolutely loves those sequences, as about 80-90% of the gameplay in Ninja Blade is QTEs. I, unfortunately, have quickly grown to loathe the QTE, especially as technology has rapidly improved, allowing cinematic sequences while retaining full control. What stinks worse is the times when you actually get to, you know, control your character, the game is quite fun. There are an amazing array of moves and combos to do with the multiple weapons. Everything is appropriately flashy and the neon-infused environment is gorgeous (and includes the ability to dress your ninja in neon colors, even neon pink). Even the story, while a bit cheesy, is pretty fun. But having no less than 15 QTEs in the first level immediately tempered my excitement for the game and fated it to the list of games I’ll soon (but likely not soon enough) forget.

Battlestations Pacific, Eidos/WBIE

Battlestations: Pacific (Eidos/WBIE; XBOX360/PC; Review by Lucas): I never played the previous Battlestations: Midway, so I was coming into this game completely fresh. With two full campaigns and three game modes within them, this game is extremely varied. The campaigns put you in control of either Japan or America in battles across WWII, and allow you to fly planes, operate battleships, and command submarines. Upon firing up the Japanese campaign first for something different, I immediately felt uncomfortable. The first mission was the bombing and near-destruction of Pearl Harbor. While squirming around throughout the entire mission, it made me wonder how those in former Axis nations feel playing most WWII games. Regardless, I was uncomfortable enough that I didn’t feel like I could continue on with that campaign. The US one was much more enjoyable, and I managed to remain detached (fuel for a future article, perhaps), but I digress. This game, for having three completely different vehicle types and styles of play, controls remarkably well. It’s very easy to pick up and play any of the three types, but still offers incredible amounts of depth, so the beginner or experienced player can both have an equally fun experience. There are also tons of vehicles to control throughout the game, which vary in play style from straight action to much more strategic experiences. The graphics are simply gorgeous, and the cut-scenes are phenomenal, with their aged-film style. The multiplayer offers several other modes and even more experiences, allowing this game to have the most varied gameplay I’ve seen in recent memory. Historical hangups aside, this game offers fun in several styles, but with varying levels of depth. I think Eidos is catering to a specific audience, and they will absolutely love this game; the all-action crowd will probably be frustrated by how much strategy needs to be applied, but that’s war, folks.

What are you playing lately? Sound off! Also, stay tuned for feature reviews of inFAMOUS and Prototype. Which open-world superhero game comes out on top?

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