Quick housekeeping note: I’ve changed the structure of the Patreon for this and my other side project sites to work on a monthly basis rather than per-item. Please consider supporting my work here and elsewhere! Your contributions are a huge help to sustain this work, and for me personally as well. Thank you.
The newly opened section of the game allows you access to more than just the empire’s computer core; you also have an entrée to a few Neutral Areas as well. The first of these is Area 19, which you’ll find surprisingly hostile for “neutral” territory.
The first person you meet upon entering the area is this guy, whose lanky portrait doesn’t quite match his sprite (one of those beefy bayonet guys). As soon as he delivers his threat, he immediately begins rushing toward you. Sadly, the Swiss Guard doesn’t call a foul on his actions, since he’s coming after you with melee attacks. But if you retaliate in self-defense, god help you — you’ll be swarmed by guys in white uniforms.
Of course, being a cool bionic commando of the heroic Federation, Captain Spencer doesn’t have to rely on his guns. (Although I suppose if you really want to deal with this guy all Indiana-Jones-versus-the-sword-twirler style, you can lead him back over to the entrance of the area, to the other side of the border guard, and shoot him there; technically, that doesn’t count as being in the Neutral Area.) You can shove him backward with your bionic arm, pushing him further away with each action, until he drops off the edge of the entrance area into the water. Good times.
The only other element of note to Area 19 is this guy, another hostile enemy, this time hanging out in one of the area’s inner chambers. He taunts you to shoot him and immediately begins tossing bombs at you. Since you’re in an interior space, there’s no harm/no foul for acceding to his request and putting a bullet through his chest. I don’t understand your death wish, fellah! But since you asked so nicely…
On the other hand, the second neutral territory in this section, Area 17, proves to be considerably more fruitful.
Here you’ll meet yet another abrasive enemy soldier, but this time if you swing over to where he’s standing (rather than shooting him), he’ll reveal the location of two hidden passages on the map screen. These don’t have all that much value, to be honest; they connect the inner empire to the zones prior to Area 6 as a sort of shortcut… but there’s no real need to backtrack if you’ve been thorough, and it actually takes longer to traverse those segments than simply choppering the long divide between Areas 8 and 6. These newly revealed segments aren’t entirely without value, though.
And finally, a friendly face: An allied soldier who reveals Super Joe’s actual location. Why he couldn’t just radio this in, I have no idea, but it’s valuable intel. Alas, Area 7 is obstructed with a barrier that prevents you from entering with your current weapon. So it’s on to Area 9, the one map zone you can actually reach at this point.
Area 9 begins with a lengthy drop that Captain Spencer can handle, no problem, because apparently his bionics include his ankles as well. At the bottom, you’ll meet this guy: Yet another example of the empire trying to imitate the Federation’s bionic commando program with varying degrees of incomplete success. We’ve seen the husky mustachioed soldier with the riot shield and a grappling arm that extends only upward, as well as the Robocop-looking giant with the massive three-way bionic arm backpack.
Now there’s this guy, whose bionic wire is affixed to the ceiling and allows him to rise and drop as a sort of counter-motion to Captain Spencer’s movements. If you run along the floor, he’ll pull himself to the ceiling; if you grapple up to the ceiling, he’ll drop to the floor. Basically, his modus operandi is to try and stay out of your direct line of fire while firing away at you with a three-direction spread gun (much like the one you collected a while back). Of course, this tactic will backfire on him if you enter the fray with your own spread rifle equipped. Alternately, you can simply grapple to the ceiling and drop down, firing a shot or two as you fall. He’ll pull himself right into your attack. Look, no one said enemy soldiers were particularly bright.
Still, the empire’s bionic army is a neat little detail that shows just how much of a field advantage Captain Spencer has. The enemy’s grappling devices work as either a weapon or for traversal, but you never see them doing both at once. They’re imitating your technology, but they’re a few steps behind in the (bionic) arms race. This little detail nicely helps to justify their ultimate plan (getting one up on the Federation by completing someone else’s super weapon) once that’s revealed.
The interior of Area 9 is pretty weird. I think this is the trash-disposal facility where Joe was said to have been taken, as a portion of the floor appears to be an open flame and a series of mine cars runs along parallel tracks. There are also spikes on the floor, for some reason.
The carts will injure you if you let yourself be hit, but you can also catch a ride on them by dropping onto a passing cart from above. As such, this level is very quick to complete if you go for a classic video game mine cart ride; you just have to be sure to hop off before it plunges into the flames.
The main mine cart space is several stories high, with four parallel tracks running atop one another, but the space is largely wasted. Many of the later stages of the game seem to have slightly aimless level design, with lots of screen room given over to nothing in particular. In the first half of the game, this generally amounted to multiple paths for traversal, and while I suppose that’s true here as well it doesn’t feel as much like making a choice. It’s more that going in certain directions will simply waste time rather than lead you to your goal in a more clever fashion; the stage layout ultimately funnels you through a single passage from which you can climb to the door to the boss room.
So anyway, this guy tells us something we already know if we’ve been to Area 17. You wasted your last breath, dingus!
Don’t get too excited here; the “3-Way” in question is a new gun, not something saucier. On the plus side, it happens to be the gun that’s capable of blasting through the Area 7 barrier. So… narratively, you were meant to come to this level in search of Joe only to be stymied by his relocation. But mechanically it turns out you needed to come here anyway to get the gun to break down the barrier. That turned out not to be much of a plot twist, I think. On the other hand, it does mean the designers were drawing you toward a requisite acquisition. So maybe it’s not as pointless a story contrivance as it seems?
Whatever the case, what really matters is that it’s time to save a legendary hero. God bless the… whatever country the Federation is meant to be.