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Joystiq hands-on: Bionic Commando (Xbox 360)

Justin McElroy

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Tell you what: Let's just pretend you all know that this is an updated version of the classic Bionic Commando, the latest salvo in Capcom's continuing effort to reach out to the North American audience. Let's just skip all of that and skip to what you want to hear: Let's talk about swinging.

It's the first thing we were introduced to in our time with the game, so it feels right to get it out of the way first. So how is it? Fun. Really, really fun. There's a great sense of speed and it makes wandering through the desolate and dynamic Ascension City a real joy.

But that glowing praise comes with a caveat: It's also not easy. In fact, we didn't feel like we really "got it" until about 20 minutes in. Some of the difficulty is derived from the amount of control you have. You have to know what you're swinging from, unlike in the Spider-Man series (the closest swinging competitor) where your webs will automatically find the nearest surface. No, you have to aim your arm. But once you get it, it's really satisfying.

Gallery: Bionic Commando | 26 Photos

Things are also made more difficult by the fact that the jump button won't force you out of a jump, but will rather retract your claw. This felt a little odd to us, but it's entirely possible that it was the result of residual Spider-Man instincts that will fade over time.

What's also nice about the swinging is that it works well in so many situations. For example, when nearing a wall, instead of just hanging there like dreadlocked pinata, Nathan Spencer actually adopts more of a rappelling pose. It's a small thing, but it helps drive the swinging home.

If we had a complaint, it's that if you miss a shot and fall to earth, it can take a while to get back into the groove, partly because of the length restriction of the claw cord. We spent a little too much time running around and looking for something to latch on to for our liking.

We also got to try out some of the other claw-based abilities (though some were still locked in the demo we played). Using corpses as weapons, while frowned on in general society, was a special treat.

Though we didn't see it in action for ourselves, producer Ben Judd explained the lengths the team has gone through to get claw physics right. For example, a corpse that you latch on to will follow you as you leap off a building, but if a car that you're attached to falls from that same building, you're going down with it.

In fact, everything about the arm feels right. Our only concern is that easily frustrated players will give up on it before they really get the ... well, we were going to say "hang of it," but we refuse to do that to you.

The shooting? We didn't find it particularly earth-shattering (save for a nice zoom-in effect that blurs the environment you're not aiming at and some cool bullet trails) but that's all it really needs to be. It's not the star of the show here. It's suffice to say that it's tightly done and feels really right.

The environments are also coming along nicely, though we think they probably had a few passes to go before everything is complete. In addition to the city level that most of you have seen, we also got to swing through a lush greenhouse environment. We liked playing Tarzan, but thought it was a little harder to know where we could and couldn't swing, compared to the object in the clearcut city.

Our biggest problem has nothing to do with play mechanics or graphics, though: It's that we don't care for the titular semi-robotic soldier. We saw no real story elements, so maybe he can win us over that way, but what we did see was a beefy, personality-free dude with a robotic arm and a truly awful haircut. (Seriously gang, what's with the dreadlocks? They look like Play-Doh hair.)

Nathan Spencer aside, we're extremely excited for the release of the final product (and we haven't even seen multiplayer yet) whenever it should happen to swing into our lives.

Dark Void, Resident Evil 5, Bionic Commando and Spyborgs: check out all our coverage from Capcom's Captivate 08 event!

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