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Bionic Commando Rearmed 2
Graphics: 7.8
Gameplay: 7.4
Sound: 8
Control: 7.6
Replay Value: 7.5
Rating: 7.7

Bionic Commando was a big name back in the day, and Capcom tried to resurrect it in two distinct forms this generation. The first was the ill-fated, full-3D title for consoles that fell well short of expectations, but the second was the super fun downloadable adventure that reminded us of the 8-bit generation. Featuring that signature bionic arm and plenty of side-scrolling goodness, it satisfied those who were looking for a high-definition nod to the past. And while the sequel is also quite entertaining and even slicker in some respects, Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 seems to have added a few quirks that don’t go over as well. Still, there are a few nifty additions and tweaks that serve to enhance the experience, and that’s good news. The only question is whether or not those drawbacks will impact your purchase decision.

Graphically, it’s about what you’d expect from a HD side-scroller: it’s very polished with a surprising amount of detail and cool special effects; it reminds us that 2D doesn’t necessarily have to die. I still say the world of Bionic Commando is often too dark (too many dark, imposing colors everywhere) but that’s more of a personal preference; in general, this one looks pretty darn good. I always want more variety when it comes to enemy design, environments, and even special effects but then again, I’m often a stickler when it comes to that stuff. Besides, Rearmed 2 features quality detailing and the addition of PhysX translates to better animations and a more refined palette. In many respects, refinement is the name of the game for this follow-up effort, even if – technically and gameplay-wise – it falls a little shy.

Helped along by a soundtrack that is a mix of old-school and modern beats and sharp sound effects, this 2D action/platformer won’t assault your speakers, but the audio does excel in some areas. The music really seemed to be the biggest plus for me as time went on, because without any voiceover assistance, we’re left with the traditional video game setup: effects and soundtrack. Both work to solidify a relatively fun and engaging quest, and both fit well into the atmosphere and style. Yeah, things can get a little repetitive, especially if you’re stuck in a certain area for a while, but then again, the entire game can feel a little repetitive at times. Like I said, it fits. This isn’t a full-budget production but the designers haven’t sat on their laurels and used a lack of funds as an excuse. No, this looks and sounds like Bionic Commando. Nothing more, nothing less.

Refinement and streamlining. That really does seem to be an overriding goal with this game, as Fatshark has not only included PhysX, they’ve also made things even more accessible. They’ve set up a completely linear route (no more top-down sections) and you’ll be dropped into the action within minutes. There’s only a brief tutorial section where you learn the ins and outs of control, and then it’s basically all you from there on out. You’ll immediately notice one of the major additions: the ability to jump. Yep, Spencer can finally jump…if you can call it that. He sort of has this quick, somewhat pathetic leap that doesn’t usually get you very far. I haven’t yet decided if such a feature is something we actually needed, although I distinctly remember many players going, “what, I can’t even jump?” after sampling the first title. So maybe it was a good move. Maybe. At any rate, you can disable the jump if you don’t like it.

The other addition is the Biovision; you just hold R2 and the game pauses, allowing you to center a large cursor over Intel Stations. These things will provide you with useful info early on, and will continue to pop up on an infrequent basis as you delve deeper into future levels. It’s a handy-dandy mechanic but it doesn’t add a huge amount of appeal or depth to the gameplay. As for that PhysX support, it basically just makes the barrels roll more realistically, and your victims will kinda fall over in a more authentic manner. Besides what seems to be better animations, I’m not quite sure why PhysX is necessary, but like the jumping, I suppose it’s a nice addition. In fact, I’m not sure one can make the argument that jumping, better physical reactions, and some Intel assistance, are all negative points. They may not be hugely significant, but they can be deemed upgrades.

I’m not so quick to call the altered swing mechanics an “upgrade,” though. In the previous game, Spencer just let go of any surface automatically unless you held the analog stick in the desired direction. Now, his arm has gotten all sticky. That claw just digs in and holds and it’ll only release when you press the Circle button again. This was designed so you could change the direction of your swing but in all honesty, it just seems to interrupt the pacing and flow of the gameplay. In fact, if you spend too much time directing your swing, such a feature actually kills any possibility at decent pacing. So, you say, “just don’t bother with it.” All right, that’s true, but it can still cause an issue because you know the option is there and you continually try to take advantage. The whole thing just feels less stable as a direct result.

Still, the fun factor survives and the co-op mode is always fun for two players. The only issue with the latter is that if you play with a novice, who can’t really keep up, problems will arise. We don’t get infinite lives this time around; we only have a set number for both players and with no online play, we have to rely entirely on co-op for our multiplayer fun. But then again, co-op is co-op. Plus, we get weapon upgrades, new abilities, and secrets to be found, and we can even find alternate routes through a level. I particularly liked getting my new skills and returning to previously conquered levels to see what I could snag. I have never had a problem with backtracking, nor do I have a problem with retrying particularly difficult gameplay sections. In this way, the replay factor for Rearmed might actually be higher than the original, provided the mechanical changes don't hinder your enjoyment.

Bionic Commando: Rearmed is a decent sequel with a few questionable additions and changes. The control seems a little unreliable in certain situations, but that might be due to the altered swing system. The fixed camera seems fine, even during intense boss battles (which remain a highlight), the levels are nicely designed and quite challenging, the technicals are solid and even flashy in some areas, the music is good, and the new weapon upgrades and skills are big bonuses. I’m just not a fan of the new swing mechanic or the jumping, just because it seems to put a serious damper on the pacing and flow of the gameplay. The story is basically a throwaway plot (but that’s to be expected), and while the co-op is always appreciated, it feels a little bland and unforgiving. If you really enjoyed the first, I’d recommend the second but that’s about as far as I go in terms of praise.

The Good: Crisp visuals and a nice array of music. Cool boss encounters. New weapon upgrades and abilities. Camera works fine. Control is usually solid and reliable. Some well-designed levels.

The Bad: Sound can be repetitive. Gameplay changes, like jump and altered swing style, weren’t great ideas. Pacing and flow takes a hit. Co-op can feel unforgiving.

The Ugly: “I just can’t get into any sort of rhythm…”

2/2/2011   Ben Dutka