Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 is by no means a by-the-numbers sequel to 2008’s downloadable darling, Bionic Commando Rearmed. Rearmed 2 seems to share just as much with 2009’s often-maligned, dreadlock-equipped third-person Bionic Commando shooter as it does with the first Rearmed. Don’t let that scare you away though. Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 may have a bit of an identity crisis, but it’s still a lot of fun.
If you’ve never played a Bionic Commando game before (and shame on you if you haven’t), the series revolves around Nathan "RAD" (Research and Development) Spencer, a man equipped with a snazzy pair of sunglasses, an assortment of guns, and giant mechanical arm that functions as a grappling hook. In both the original 1988 NES game and Bionic Commando Rearmed — a remake of the same — Spencer’s bionic arm eliminated his ability to jump.
In a way, Spencer’s hook became the game’s, challenging players to rethink their traditional platforming skills and approach traversal and combat in a new way. Players could pick up items, block bullets, swing and climb through levels with a single button. It was a very innovative approach to a two-button platformer, and the levels were designed to take full (and occasionally brutal) advantage of the arm. An awesome soundtrack and Hitler’s exploding head didn’t hurt it either.
I’m going to be brutally honest and tell you up front that I did not think that Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 is quite as good as its predecessor. However, exploding dictator heads aside, it’s a lot gutsier. Developed by FatShark — former members of the now defunct GRiN, who developed both Bionic Commando Rearmed and also the 3D Bionic Commando — the restraints appear to have been removed from this sequel, with interesting if not always successful results.
FatShark took a lot of cues from GRiN’s 3D Bionic Commando. Many of the new techniques in the game are cribbed from the 2009 title, such as the uppercut and the concept of the hacking claw. Mag, another bionic soldier from Bionic Commando, also appears as a supporting character throughout the game. I was actually quite pleased to see her back, since I was a big fan of GRiN’s title and felt that the universe could use a little expanding. That said, the script is definitely the work of the same scribes, right down to the neck-snappingly sudden plot twist.
The most obvious changed inspired by the 3D Bionic Commando, however, is that you can now jump. That said, while Bionic Commando Rearmed 2’s jump button might sound like it would be the big innovation here, it isn’t really that big of a deal. The jump is merely a small hop that makes the a little game easier by allowing you to
reach grapple points that are just out of range.
If you prefer to play the game without jumping, FatShark designed every level to be beatable without making use of your jump, and it also keeps a record of whether you beat stages without jumping or not. Beating Rearmed 2 unlocks a mode that disables jumping entirely.
Naturally, it wouldn’t be a Bionic Commando game without plenty of swinging, and swing you shall. The Bionic Arm still feels really snappy, and it’s simply fun to swing on stuff, leap off, and use the freshly-adapted "Death From Above" technique from GRiN’s 3D Bionic Commando to land on a hapless enemy.
The most interesting opportunities to use your swing come from combing the levels for powerups and collectables. To gain these rewards, you have to not only swing like a pro, but use the game’s arsenal of weapons, like the electric wall-crawling Viper, to open doors or break barriers that prevent you from gaining your abilities. The game is very Metroid-esque in a way, taunting you with a powerup that you can’t quite get to, forcing you to consider how you can swing, shoot, explode, and divebomb your way to the next precious upgrade.
The levels in Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 seem to be designed to be explored. There are multiple paths through each, and while they all get you to the same place, it’s more fun to explore the stages and find the power ups that they hide.
The upgrades themselves are interestingly implemented as well. Spencer has three separate equipment slots, a weapon (naturally), a passive upgrade, and an active upgrade. Passive upgrades are exactly what their name would suggest: equipping one allows you to regenerate health or ammo, sneak up on or swing-kick enemies, or increase your speed. Meanwhile, active upgrades can be used to hack enemy robots, electrify platforms, or uppercut people across the screen.
The real fun comes from upgrading the upgrades and mixing and matching different upgrades together. For instance, the level 2 Uppercut upgrade will allow you to grab and throw enemies. When combined with a shotgun and the commando gear, which allows you to swing-kick enemies, you can tear through the level like a swinging tank.
I worry that some people may not experiment with these abilities as much as
they should, since changing active or passive abilities requires you to pause the game and fiddle around in menus, and the first two abilities gained (health regeneration and grenade launcher) are both incredibly useful and safe, which gives one little reason to want to change to something else. I wish an equipment load-out toggle function were assigned to the unused gamepad buttons, but as is, it’s quite fun to combine active and passive abilities.
Sadly, despite the additional techniques, controlling Spencer’s bionic arm feels a little less natural this time around. Fatshark have eliminated the ability to fire the arm straight forward while standing, making bullet-blocking more of a chore than it should be. They’ve also made little tweaks to grabbing and tossing barrels around, that feel jarring and unintuitive if you’re used to the original Rearmed.
Delving further into the swinging mechanic, Fatshark have also made some tweaks to grappling and traversal, making them a little more forgiving, but somewhat less fluid than the original. However, these changes don’t take too long to adapt to, and are by no means game-breaking.
Combat is serviceable, if a little underwhelming. I appreciate the fact that different weapons and abilities are designed to take out enemies more easily, but some aspects of this feel a little unbalanced. For instance, some robotic enemies will float through walls to pursue you through the stage, only emerging into vulnerable position when you’re mid-swing.
These are a total nuisance and take more shots to destroy than they deserve. It also feels like a waste of the extensive arsenal to have as few enemy types as there are in the game.
Boss fights fare little better. Once you’ve discovered the strategy to defeat a boss, the fights become a cakewalk. They lack the difficulty and innovation that the original Rearmed’s bosses had, and that’s a disappointment because the new abilities could have led to some incredible encounters.
Although FatShark definitely broke away from an established formula in Bionic Commando ReArmed 2, ultimately, I had a lot of fun with it. It’s a bold direction for a sequel to a remake, and while the game isn’t perfect, I look forward to seeing where the series can go from here.
Food for Thought:
1. Whereas the first BCR’s art was entirely done by the famous former-SNK Capcom artist Shinkiro, BCR2’s art has this strange disconnect between the almost photorealistic supporting characters and the incredibly cartoony Spencer. I’m curious
as to why FatShark chose to go with that style…
2. My beloved Mike Patton (singer of Faith No More, Tomahawk, Peeping Tom, et. al.) no longer voices Spencer. I’m not sure whether the guy who voices him in this game is the same one who voices him in Marvel vs. Capcom 3, but it would seem Patton has moved on from the series, despite my bitter tears.
3. I know I’m probably the only person in the world who loved it, but I’m really disappointed that the multiplayer battle mode from the first BCR didn’t make it into the game. It was fun!