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Adventures in Awful Writing: Bionic Commando

In which I spoil the entire plot of Bionic Commando (2009), and your life becomes worse for it, as has my own.

From 8- and 16-bit classics whose entire plot fit in a single paragraph, to Japanese RPGs translated into English by someone who read neither, to modern Hollywood-style games that're all tits and explosions - there's no shortage of bad stories in video games. It's a hallmark of the industry that narratives must fall somewhere between 'absurd' and 'retarded.' I've seen some pretty bad ones; sometimes they're bad enough to be good, not unlike Manos: The Hands of Fate.

But nothing could have prepared me for Grin's new Bionic Commando.


The first mistake in the game's script - and this is a doozy - is existing, at all. Writing staff was apparently driven to show that other ham-fisted retro revivals are kid's stuff. Rather than discarding the existing story that no one cares about, or making itself out as similarly farcical, the new Bionic Commando attempts to turn the original game's implausibly ridiculous plot into serious canon, set in our future.

Protagonist Rad Spencer has become Nathan "Rad" Spencer, grizzled bionic veteran sitting on death row for refusing to follow orders. Brother-in-arms Super Joe is now Joseph Gibson (voiced by that guy who's in everything), lobbyist for the Tactical Arms and Security Committee - a military-industrial powerhouse of bionic research and development, up until the Federal States of America outlawed bionics. Now a terrorist organization called Bio-Reign uses its bionic might to shove people around, and kill a shit-ton of civilians for whatever reason.

The game takes all this super-seriously. Really? Christ, I am not making this shit up.


So when Bio-Reign nukes the shit out of - and subsequently occupies - Ascension City, Killer Croc- er Joe Gibson, called in to clean up the mess, hauls Spencer out of the clink. The only way to fight these bionically-enhanced motherfuckers, he concludes, is with a bionic commando of their own. Only one, though. One should be enough.

But why should Spencer help now, when his former buddy let him languish in a cell for almost two years? Because Spike Spiegel has information on Spencer's missing wife. Keep this under your hat for now, because it won't come up again until the end of the game.

Nate Spencer proceeds to be shot into the city in some sort of carrier-missile. His arm is in another missile. Yeah, in the first few minutes of Bionic Commando, he's not even Bionic - just taking pot shots at assholes with a pistol. Eventually he finds his arm, plugs it in, and becomes an amoral killing machine. Spencer doesn't really make a good case for lifting the ban on bionics.

But what's really happening in Ascension City? Why have the terrorists taken a dead city, and why is the government sending a lone commando in after them? Because they're searching for a super-powerful technological artifact, of course. Spencer quickly discovers that Bio-Reign is being assisted by the same neo-Nazi fucks he thought he murdered years ago. Dark Star from No More Heroes confesses that Spencer's real mission is to recover this nonsense widget from the ruins of Ascension City, and to save military survivors if he gets around to it (he doesn't).

Naturally, along the way Spencer runs into his old bionic buddy Jayne Magdalene, a sassy bitch with legs that don't quit (because they're robot legs!). She works for Bio-Reign now, killing innocent people to restore legitimacy to bionics. Man, all these people are retards.


Eventually Mugen gets a government stooge on the horn, who when pressed with Bio-Reign's impending sack of the federal library, reveals the location of the secret techno-magic device. Spencer stashes it in his pocket or something, then proceeds to knock the fuck out of the hilariously overacted German cyborg leader.

Oh, and Super Joe takes the device, because it turns out he was the bad guy the whole time - using Spencer and the Nazis to get ahold of the thing.

Let's see if we can follow Jack's (from MadWorld) train of thought:

1) I'm mad or something, I want to take over the world why not.
2) There's a super sciency thing in Ascension City, but only this military general knows how to get it.
3) I can trick him into giving it up by making him think it's in danger!
4) I'll just get this terrorist organization to attack the city, leaving it in shambles, and, uh, they'll probably kill everyone who tries to ruin my plan.
5) Until I uh, probably, get to pick someone to send in to recover the device!
6) I'll select my old buddy Nathan Spencer:
6.1) I can trust him because I betrayed him at his court martial hearing, and there's no way I would do that again.
6.2) The government can trust him because they banned his livelihood and he's got nothing left to live for.
7) Then I'll have the terrorists throw super-powerful robots and solders at Spencer, so he can kill them, because that will be fun.
8) Once he recovers the device, I'll take it from him.
9) I make enemies of Bio-Reign, the federal government, and Spencer all at once!
10) ???

So what does this device do? Hard to say. As far as I can tell from the last level, it allows Gibson to pilot a man-sized flying exoskeleton, and exert command over an army of robot harpies. That he had already built. And was already prepared to use. For ... something.


As Spencer chases Roger Smith into his underground lair, Joe finally lets out the secret: Spencer's wife never really "left" him. She was made into his arm.

What is this? I don't even-

So apparently the dirty little secret of bionics - that no one really talked about up till now - is that they're made from people. Spencer lost his arm in a grenade blast, and his wife (who, it should be said, was not terminally ill or anything like that) sacrificed herself to make him a new one. Then no one ever told him about it. He thought she left him.

Come on, really?


You may notice that Grin/Capcom did a fuckload of retconning to make this backstory as remotely comprehensible as it is. The in-game info dossiers have pages upon pages of background on characters, organizations, and events like the Bionic Purge. (Incidentally, most of this looks like it was translated from Swedish and/or Japanese via Babelfish.)

In the game, all this boils down to:

- The government is somewhat fascist and also impotent
- Bionics are for nerds
- Nazis!

There are gaping holes in the storytelling, and it's obvious that someone thought they would be able to accomplish more in the game than they did. Shockingly, Grin may not have been so great at project planning.


Until Bionic Commando, I never believed that a game's story could be so awful as to make the rest of the game feel worse, just by associating with it. As much fun as I had swinging through canyons and zip-lining my feet into a robot's face, I've no doubt that I would have much fonder memories of the game if God of War's Ares hadn't been laughing like an idiot on the radio the entire time.

Spencer routinely yelling "I'll send you the bill later!" after killing a man didn't help much, either.
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About TSuerethone of us since 8:04 PM on 07.31.2009

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