Bionic Dues can be a very fast-paced game, especially compared to previous Arcen Games titles which have always incorporated some central element of strategy, though being slow and steady is likely a more appropriate approach and would deliver less death screens than I’ve been greeted with through my experience on Medium difficulty. Just a heads up. Another option is to restart the game on Casual difficulty – that went well enough for me.
Presented with a city-wide map of… a city… overrun by evil robots, and a short explanation that in fifty days HQ will be attacked and the only potential defence is the sole remaining exosuit-pilot (you), BD gets right to it real quick. From clicking begin game to selecting what exos to use and what pilot you want to be (not that any of that means a damn before you’ve played for a while) to skimming instructions and shooting bad guy robots in claustrophobic hallways that I refuse to believe could have been used for any real-life purpose prior to this whole artificial apocalypse scenario in less than 5 minutes is record time for Arcen. The entire process of repeatedly going from city-wide view to in-hallway gameplay is designed very well to encourage an unprecedented rapid gameplay. In contrast, rushing headlong into a room visibly filled with enemies rarely ends desirably, so some tact is encouraged.
It’s not always easy to tell when to exercise this caution. Too many times I’ve hurried down a long, empty hallway and the instant my exo reached an opening it was destroyed, and the step back into what once was hiding causes my second exo to be destroyed as well – there go my two strongest weapons, so this is gonna end well. Every action takes up a single move, whether that is moving one space, shooting or swapping between the four available exos, and between your moves each enemy bot can make their own actions – typically blowing you up. Levels tend to feel noticeably inconsistent, with the early moves consisting of bots blowing up all over the shop, until suddenly the aforementioned insta-destruction occurs and oh, wait – I lost? Shit. Again, the casual difficulty setting can wash away all these worries.
These levels also don’t feel particularly varied, despite clear attempts by the development team. On the city map the description of each mission seems to distinguish between different types (hostage rescue, destruction etc.), but they all feel like the same mission – kill all the things. Your choice of exo impacts what weapons you’ll have to use against these things and the variety in these is exciting, though it is easy to overestimate the ability of one gun based on your experience with another. For the most part the guns are fun, while the levels feel very same-y. The art-style is very familiar to previous Arcen games too, though it’s unfortunate that the variety in level design and particularly aesthetics is not as varied as most of their titles. Music choice is just as it always is, with loud and entrancing music fit perfectly into the game – as long as it’s music you actually enjoy.
There is an element of customisation in BD in that equipment found behind hack-able doors and upon successful mission completion can be thrown onto any exo, presumably enhancing their performance (like in any good sport). This skill enhancement is not explicitly noticeable but I’d expect the loot drops closer to the end-game to feel more epic… I guess? It’s a bit of a chore to sort through loot in an attempt to make optimal choices, evaluating skill bonuses and power usage – I would just open a slot, pick any item, and hope it all turns out alright.
Bionic Dues is actually a load of fun, and I think it is Arcen’s best compromise between strategy and fast-paced action explosion-deathbombs, which as we all know is a very delicate balance. The ever-present awkward self-referential humour is ever so present and humorous, while the strange obsession with very precise lists of numbers for just about every minute statistic in the game (in case you want to micromanage like never before) and does-this-really-make-a-difference choices are regrettably still found. For a fan of the indie, Bionic Dues is well-well-worth the low price and quick download, even if the first few games end in constant failure and loss of self-worth.
Like in any good sport.
Select Start Media was provided with a review copy of Bionic Dues by Arcen Games.
Also, since the almighty Matt is a little pre-occupied at the moment, the header image here is a dismal mimicry of his usual format. Please excuse that.