Luke Black is an ordinary man, living in a world that has changed a great deal from ours. Global warming has produced an unexpected effect, and now it rains pretty much all the time. It's a gloomy world in more ways than one, despite its advanced technology. Luke's life is fairly ordinary too - his (and our) first decision is forced upon him by Helen, his long-time girlfriend. Should they get married, or break up? And then, that evening, a new woman bursts (quite literally) into Luke's life. Her name is Tanya, and she's definitely more than she seems. And quite apart from wrecking Luke's relationship, she could end up costing him his life.
Having recently reviewed another game by the same developer, I was expecting something similar for this outing. I was soon proven wrong. This is a very different game to play than Spirited Heart and only shares similarities in the graphical style and animation. Bionic Heart is an excellent piece of interactive fiction, in which you follow a story - and your decisions affect the outcome. Initially your decisions are purely choices between different options, but later you can also move between different locations, and this too will affect what happens in the game.
It's incredibly easy to play. At key points within the story, you'll be given a range of options. You click on one with the left mouse button, and the story plays out from there. You can access the main menu and save your game by clicking the right mouse button. You read what happens, make your choice, and repeat. Certain paths will make other options available - for instance, examining a room can reveal items to interact with that weren't listed the first time. Sometimes your choices will affect your "relationship" with a character - notably Helen and Tanya, but also Luke's best friend Tom (though if there's any romantic aspect to this, it's an ending I haven't seen yet...!)
As mentioned, the graphical style is very similar to Spirited Heart - characters are portrayed in manga style and don't animate in any real sense - merely changing expression to match their mood and circumstances. That said, they're fairly realistically portrayed (female bust size notwithstanding!) rather than cartoony. The various settings feature some excellent artwork and the interface is clear and easy to use.
The particularly large file size is due to the sound. All the character speech in the game is spoken as well as written! Occasionally there are minor deviations from the text, but never anything serious - usually avoiding the odd grammatical slip. The various locations and events have background music too, which augments the story rather than disrupts it. Sound volume can be adjusted both as one entity or as music and speech individually. Sound quality is generally excellent - clearly care has been taken with balance and the voice actors are sufficiently convincing.
There are more than twenty possible endings to the game. Having completed it once, you can try again for a different outcome. Part of the challenge is in trying to see them all! Previously seen endings can be reviewed in the Gallery. Playing through from scratch every time can be painful, but the save game facility (which allows you to save at pretty much any point) can avoid a lot of unnecessarily repeating yourself. Text can also be skipped with mouse clicks or space bar.
Though very simple and with no challenge beyond guiding the story to a "good" ending, I had a lot of fun with Bionic Heart. It's not trying to be challenging - it's telling a story! Better, it's a story that you help direct! This is the kind of thing I used to like with those "choose your own adventure" books when I was little. Bear in mind, however, that Bionic Heart is not aimed at children. There are adult themes, a little bad language and - while nothing explicit is ever shown - a fair amount of... er... suggestive imagery. Helen has a liking for rather tight fitting jogging ouftfits.
It's hard to fault Bionic Heart - it doesn't try to do much more than act as the vehicle for the story, and it does this very well. The story itself is at times a little predictable and the writing occasionally seems a little off, but it entertains. There's plenty of replay value in trying to discover all the endings, and I rather liked the way I could investigate plot twists from a different direction - knowing some of what was going on "behind the scenes". I don't want to mention any details here. Spoilers!
I have been pleasantly surprised by Bionic Heart and hope that Tycoon Games produce more interactive fiction. It's a gentle and involving style that deserves to become more widespread. Just don't spoil the ending(s) for anyone!
Keywords: bionic heart review, tycoon games reviews, tycoon games games, bionic heart scores, pc game reviews, indie game reviews, independent gaming.