I was just a kid when Rad Spencer first ventured into an enemy-filled obstacle plagued world that would bend any ordinary human. Obviously, our hero was no normal human, since he had the advantage of a futuristic mechanical arm that allowed him to sort challenges worthy of any action movie. It was 1988 and Bionic Commando for the NES became an instant classic that stood apart from other games of the epoch thanks to its variety of weapons, Spencer's bionic hook, its difficulty, and the peculiar inability to jump (I guess bionic arms must be heavy). Twenty years later Capcom decided to launch a remake of the original game under the title ‘Bionic Commando Rearmed’ with all the magic of the original, improved graphics and sound, and a few juicy extras that made it a dream package for diehards of the series. Inspired by this success, Capcom decided to make a full blown sequel using the same graphic engine and ‘improving’ the control scheme (including the potentially blasphemous addition of a jump button). Thus was born Bionic Commando Rearmed 2, a game that instead of enriching the saga actually fell short of the mark in many ways.
The plot has never been a strong point of the saga, and this new version is no exception. The story is situated between the original Bionic Commando Rearmed and GRIN’s Bionic Commando which hit the Xbox 360 and the PS3 without much success. Near the FSA’s territory, on a tropical looking island, an evil dictator called Colonel Sabio is preparing to launch a brutal attack against the forces of good (so while in the original we fought a Hitler-like “leader”, in this one our foe looks more like Fidel Castro). In order to stop him, a team of bionic warriors is sent, headed by a somewhat older Nathan Spencer.
For anyone who hasn’t tried out the first Rearmed, the premise of the game is to advance through side scrolling levels balancing yourself with your bionic arm to jump from one platform to another. Early on in the game you start discovering the novelties and changes this game brings to the series. For starters, the campaign has a more linear layout. There are no more hidden paths or alternative routes, or even the classic map battle scenes when a transport bumps into an enemy patrol along the way. You can now also retrace your steps through previously completed levels and play them on a different difficulty setting in order to gather any items left behind on the first run through. Not only have map battle scenes largely disappeared, but the hacking of terminals is also missing, eliminating another element of variety from the game.
Spencer’s balancing mechanics have also been tweaked, and it’ll take a while for older fans to adapt to the new settings. Rearmed 2 requires you to aim well before releasing the hook towards something (not a big problem on solid ground, but quite the challenge while airborne or when on top of a moving platform). In the first Rearmed, Spencer launched his hook diagonally when you pressed left or right. The new mechanic is more confusing, and actually seems like a step back in accessibility.
The jump button is an unnecessary addition, since the level design makes this option redundant, and in fact the game actually rewards you if you can complete the adventure without ever using it. Another new ability includes Spencer’s Bio Vision which colors the scenario in green to reveal interactive zones and hidden clues. Also, imported from the 2009 Bionic Commando, you can punch the ground, which causes a brief earthquake.
Spencer has access to a very complete arsenal which ranges from a simple pistol with endless ammo to a powerful grenade launcher. More weapons become available as the story progresses, however they make little impact given the AI level of the adversaries. They routinely ignore whoever is shooting them and run to hide behind barrels exposing their backs to the fire, even when using a front shield. In the end, the basic pistol always remains the most effective weapon to use throughout most of the game. The advanced weaponry is actually more useful for accessing hidden elements that lay behind walls, reinforced doors, and so on. Aside from guns, Spencer can also access some Bionic upgrades that are hidden throughout the levels. The most useful by far will be the life-bar regenerator and the grenade launcher; the remaining ones are only convenient for very specific instances in the game.
Rearmed 2 has three difficulty settings. However, the AI of opponents never changes, instead their resilience and the strength of their attacks increases. This package is a lot easier than its predecessor, something that can’t even be hidden by disabling all the upgrades that you unlock as the story progresses. In fact, during one of the first missions you access the aforementioned life-bar regenerator, so even during boss fights you can just move aside, recover, and jump back into the fight. This kills the epic feel of combat and sends the difficulty level underground. Rearmed 2 also recycles a few bosses repeatedly. These boss fights keep becoming less thrilling with each new encounter, are very easy to beat, and quite simple to predict. It only takes a few seconds to figure the bosses out and then blow them to smithereens.
Graphically speaking, it doesn't inspire the same awe that its predecessor did. Backgrounds are a little more detailed and polished, but overall everything is quite similar to the previous one (not a bad thing, but again, not impressive). Rearmed 2 enjoys some beautiful scenarios, a few notable animation sequences, and a good physics engine. Everything looks polished and clean, however the problem is that things look smaller in general; even the main character. It’s not so small as to lose detail, but for someone who knows the series, the change in scale is uncomfortably strange. An even more annoying aspect is that the game suffers from sporadic framerate slowdowns, and even the occasional screen freeze.
The sound aspect of the game is even lousier, with less remarkable melodies in comparison to the previous title, where you enjoyed remixed versions of the original tracks. Although the new jingles follow on the same retro feel as the originals, they simply lack punch and staying power.
It takes some 5 or 6 hours to complete the campaign. There is a challenge mode that breathes some extra life into the package. In it, you have to pass 24 ability challenges in a simple scenario to try to establish a new record for an online ranking. The game also sports a coop mode that is sadly only available for direct connection and not over the internet (which is a major point against the title). The cooperative mode privileges strategy over brute skill, but it still lacks polish since it inexplicably forces you to remain within the same screenshot at all times, lest you lose a life. If you want to collect all the hidden treasures then the game's duration can be stretched closer to 12 hours.
Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 falls short in innovation and fails to surpass its predecessor. The few changes it does offer aren’t always for the better. It’s worth noting that Rearmed 2 is not a bad game per se; it will keep you entertained if you play it, but if you’ve also played the original then you won’t be able to fight back the notion that it was better. If you’re new to the series, you’re better off buying the previous game instead of this one. If you’re already a long-time fan of the series, you might as well give this game a try, enjoy what you can, and hope that the next one is a little better. Well, at least we didn’t have to wait some 20 or so years to see our hero in action again...