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Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 Review

By Jeff Buckland, 2/10/2011

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Capcom made one of the most innovative platform shooters ever when they released Bionic Commando way back in the 80s. It took on a modern-day style with military motifs, but not the Rambo style that Konamiís Contra embodied. Instead, it was high-tech, and nothing showed that off better than the protagonistís bionic arm, which would let you swing up high, get out of danger, and kill enemies with its impressive power. Capcomís been trying to bring back that magic for a while now, releasing the third game in a series of attempts to resurrect the name. Weíve seen mixed success so far - the biggest triumph was in the first one, Bionic Commando Rearmed, which combined just enough of the old-school 2D gameplay with new level design and a 3D atmosphere. This sequel is by a new developer Fat Shark, and itís got quite a few changes.

The biggest of these changes is the addition of a jump button. You see, the first Rearmed, like the original Bionic Commando, threw out the jump button in favor of being able to use your arm to grapple around. It added a level of challenge that few other games attempted - after all, how many 2D platformers donít allow you to jump? - but it is a little off-putting for gamers unfamiliar with the series. So Fat Shark went ahead and gave our protagonist, Nathan Spencer, a piddly little jump so that he can at least get a good hopping start to his grappling adventures.

With this addition, the developers have introduced two layers of challenge in this sequel. You can beat the game by jumping like any other platformer, but every level can also be beaten without using jump at all, and since thatís a lot tougher to do, youíll get extra achievements for accomplishing this feat. What makes it tougher is that the button is always right there, taunting you as you struggle to fly between platforms and fail repeatedly. ďHit me!Ē, it says. ďMake it easy on yourself and just jump across that pit of death!Ē

And since I no longer have the reflexes of a small child and my masochistic side has been burned out of me after a particularly painful weekend trying to play Demonís Souls and Super Meat Boy back to back, I decided to go the easy road and hit the jump button. A lot.

If youíre familiar with how the first Bionic Commando Rearmed played, youíll be able to tell pretty quickly that someone else made this game (well, other than the logo video which should clue you in before you even get started). And itís not just in the changes to the protagonistís appearance or his attitude, at the more serious nature of the gameís plot or the two-tone difficulty system revolving around the jump button. The feel of movement is different, too, at times more natural-feeling and at others more awkward than youíre used to. All of these little things together to make this game feel decidedly different than the first, and while itís not really a worse game, itís not any better either. And at least the first game had some novelty to it.

In fact, just about the thing about Rearmed 2 thatís unique is how you can get achievements by beating levels without jumping. This is its only gimmick and itís an optional one, and thatís not really a good place to be in the realm of todayís highly original and unique side-scrollers. Games like Limbo, Braid, Shadow Complex, and VVVVVV bring in innovative art styles, playing on past games but creating an atmosphere all their own, along with a solid story to keep you going. Rearmed 2ís only true innovation is that you get a little extra bonus for not using one of the tools at your disposal.

The rest of the game is fun in the style of classic 8- and 16-bit action platformers. Youíll shoot enemies, pull off some fun and cool moves to cross pits and dice up legions of useless soldiers, and overall have a mildly fun time. Thereís a local cooperative mode, too, which gives players a shared pool of lives, making everything a bit more interesting as the strategy for fighting changes a lot when two dudes are swinging around shooting everything up.

The myriad of new weapons and the slick moves that you can pull certainly smooth things out, and your enemies will even hop around to the other side of cover if you drop in behind them - a move so simple yet so effective, itís a wonder why itís rarely (if ever?) been seen before in a game like this. There are some tough jumping/swinging sections, interesting bosses, a few areas where you control heavier weapons than your usual fare, and a purity to the controls (even with the jump button) that you donít get in many games. You can only shoot to the left or right, not diagonally or vertically, and youíll be using that hook a lot to get around. At some point, youíll become a zen master of swinging around, and youíll need it if you want to get through the gameís 28 difficult levels.

While Iíve compared Rearmed 2 to some of the recent shining examples in the platforming genre, itís important to point out that this is still a sequel to what was otherwise a great game, and somethingís missing here. The mechanics of actually swinging and flying around were changed quite a bit, and things feel a bit more disjointed and frustrating until you learn how the game wants you to play it. Everything feels a bit downgraded, too, with a less epic feel in the fights and levels. The added weapons and techniques donít really feel like theyíre going over the top in the way youíd expect a sequel to, and at some point youíll just want to play the first game instead - or maybe start over in Shadow Complex or something. Youíll eventually get past that mild feeling of boredom and frustration and start having fun, but for fifteen bucks, this game should offer more.

I do want to point out something very annoying, too, which is that on the PS3, Capcom has gone the route of requiring you to be online to play Rearmed 2 at all times, even though the game itself has no actual online play. I suppose that this policy could have been put in place to combat game sharing (or piracy, given recent hacker developments on the PS3). But this policy does also do a pretty good job of inconveniencing legit PS3 gamers, especially those who just want to play the game for 15 minutes before leaving for work. Instead, they might instead be forced to spend that time watching a PS3 molasses-style firmware update crawl along instead. I understand publishersí trepidation at the future of the PS3ís security, but thereís got to be a better way than this, guys. (Itís probably important to note that the Xbox 360 version does not have this issue.)

Rearmed 2 is far from a bad game and it can be a decent value at $15, but it never really excels past the standard set by its predecessor. I can think of at least half a dozen more interesting and entertaining platformers released in the last few years for the same price (or less) on the PC, PS3, and 360. Rearmed 2 does offer some solid challenges and satisfying action, all rightly centered around the protagonistís grappling hook, and that is what matters most. As a whole, though, Bionic Commando simply doesnít offer enough in a genre already filled with wonderful and original games.

Overall: 6 out of 10



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