Capcom struck a chord with gamers when they rebooted Bionic Commando on PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade with 2008's Rearmed. The game was developed by Swedish company GRIN, and it was praised for effectively balancing the retro feel of Bionic Commando with a sleek graphical polish fit for the modern age. Three years later, Rearmed 2 has arrived with a new developer, Fatshark, to try and recapture its predecessor's magic. Does it succeed? Well, somewhat. While the series' signature swinging is still enjoyable and there's a decent amount of variety, the controls and certain design choices can make for a frustrating experience. Oh, yeah... did I mention you can now jump?
Let's face it: Bionic Commando's story is instantly forgettable. In fact, I had to force myself to pay attention in order to write something about it, so that should speak volumes. Basically, you and your team of specialized, bionic soldiers have to stop a radical dictator from launching deadly missiles by swinging through various exotic locations - very plausible. It's all told in simple text bubbles that offer little in the way of engagement.
What really matters in Rearmed 2 is the ridiculous maneuverability the bionic technology grants you. The ability to jump, a first for Bionic Commando, is likely the first thing players will notice. Surprisingly, jumping doesn't alter the game's mechanics or design in any major way. Instead, it seems to merely make swinging more approachable to casual players, as the levels are still designed to be traversable without jumping. Rearmed 2 rewards you for completing stages by solely relying on your arm's reach, but that challenge should be reserved for the diehards.
Aside from jumping, the controls stay close to the series' roots. That being said, they take some getting used to, as they initially feel clunky. There's a somewhat frustrating learning curve associated with using the left analog stick to swing and grab - your momentum will unexpectedly stop, precise grabs are difficult, and certain motions feel unintuitive. In short: getting over the hump is a bit of a chore.
Other design choices also add a certain degree of frustration to an otherwise enjoyable game. For example, Rearmed 2's branching path level design often forces players to make blind leaps of faith, frequently with disastrous results. This is caused by relatively easy to access, high altitude routes that end up leading nowhere, requiring players to jump into the unknown below. Another annoyance comes in the form of Rearmed 2's life system. If you lose a few too many lives, from say... leaps of faith, you must restart the level - it's not overly punishing, but still feels like a relic from the past.
On the bright side, Rearmed 2's presentation still holds up well. The environments are varied - ranging from ancient temples, frozen mountains and quicksand ridden deserts - complete with detailed backgrounds and foregrounds. The lighting can also look quite striking. Rearmed 2 isn't leaps and bounds over its predecessor visually, but the art direction remains solid. In terms of sound design, the game's soundtrack is again a highlight. The electronica-inspired beats will stick with you, although it's not quite as memorable as the original Rearmed.
Rearmed 2 certainly offers players replay value, if the game's shortcomings don't deter you. There's a variety of weapons, weapon upgrades, abilities, and hidden items to unlock on subsequent attempts. In addition, two player, offline coop makes the campaign easier with re-spawning allies, and generally more enjoyable to play.
Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 doesn't stray too far from its predecessor, delivering an experience series veterans will be largely familiar with. Surprisingly, the addition of jumping doesn't alter the formula in any major way. At times frustrating controls and design choices can somewhat hamper the experience, but once the learning curve is overcame the level variety, solid presentation and replay value will keep you engaged.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox Live Arcade.