Bionic Commando Rearmed 2
by Polly

Lookit that Rad Spencer. Bein' all cool guy, ain't givin no fuck to nothin' in the world. He's all, "Haha, fuckin' deal with it, man" and I'm all, "Well okay then, who am I to argue with a stache like that?" Spencer's expression in that top pic also matches my own when Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 was first announced sometime prior to E3 in 2010. As some of you may know, I loved me the shit out of some Bionic Commando Rearmed. I spent an entire month on the PC release, tearing it limb from limb, completing it on every difficulty, as well as finishing all of those murderous Challenge Rooms. I'm STILL not tired of it and manage to play through it again every few months or so. It's certainly weaseled its way into my "favoritest games of all time" list somewhere.

So, February 1st, 2011 comes, and there it is, the moment I'd been waiting for since the initial announcement. My heated anticipation would end about an hour later once the game had finished downloading and installing (FUCKING PS3 DOWNLOAD SYSTEM IS BALLS, JUST SAYIN!). Polly was ready to swing into action again, but with how much she'd built herself up over this release, was there any possible way for it to come close to her heightened expectations? After all Grin, developers of the original remake and 2009's 3D continuation of the series, had since tanked, and this game was being helmed by Fatshark, whose only credit I could find is Lead and Gold: Gangs of the Wild West. The only solace I could find in this news was that a few Grin employees had made the jump and were working on the title, but most of the team seemed new. Did these jokers have any idea how to make a real Bionic Commando game? Could they possibly craft my game? LET'S FIND OUT!


Well, it certainly is a Bionic Commando game. It's a 2D side-scroller, the famous Bionic Arm is back, you're swinging every which way to reach new areas and shootin' fools. It's kind of a hard formula to mess up when you think about it, right? Right?

"Uh oh, guys, she's foreshadowing here, isn't she? Here comes that hard transition into calling the game 'turds,' I just know it!"

I guess at this point, some people are gonna think I'm so predictable as to start throwing a big ol' pissy fit about the fact that they added a jump function, because when the initial launch trailer went out, the entire internet was nearly ready to EXPLOD. But nah, I got no beef with jumping. All I'm going to say about it is that it's ENTIRELY optional, save for a few tricky power-ups, doesn't negate the Bionic Arm's use in any way, and is only there as a convenience. Every stage and boss can be completed without using it, and figuring out tricky swing patterns against certain bosses and stage obstacles can be way more satisfying for the type of player who digs a swing-oriented style of play. You're even rewarded with one of those oh-so-cherished dopey Achievements or Trophies for completing the game without jumping. In this way, BCR2 serves both crowds, casual and hardcore, and I think it was pretty smart of them to add it.

Moving on, we come to crown jewel of the franchise. The very mechanic that made Bionic Commando more than just your average 2D action platformer: The Bionic Arm! Latch onto a ceiling, swing gracefully through the air, latch onto another ceiling, and just keep goin'! FUN TIMES! Good thing all that stuff is pretty simple, worked perfectly in the first Rearmed, and they didn't decide to fuck with it, right? If it ain't broke don't go trying to fi---...

Wait...what? They... Waaaaait, wait, wait, wait, wait....Say that again, because I don't think I heard you right.... Uh-huh... Errrr.... Yeah....umm...get the fuck out of here. I need to be alone for a few minutes...


If my corny interlude hasn't said it already, I'll spell it out for you: They done went and fucked with the swinging mechanics. So much so, that experienced players will probably spend their first couple of hours failing swings over and over and falling helplessly to their deaths, and a lot of newcomers are likely to just give up playing the short demo because the controls for it are the exact opposite of what one would call "intuitive," despite the developers insisting their new method is the best thing since canned pussy and Moon Pies.

I'll try and summarize a bit here: Bionic Commando's swing mechanics have always worked on one button press and then holding a direction to complete a full swing. In the first Rearmed, you could press down while you were still attached to something to cut your swing short to make very precise "hops" to set up a landing or another swing. Maybe I'm just a big derp (read: I am), but this sounds so incredibly simple that anyone could get the hang of it with about five or ten minutes of just playing around.

Rearmed 2's system throws away all that simplicity as well as removes all subtlety and precision from swinging, making the process feel like a broken mess at times. The player now has to press the button to latch onto something, press left or right to begin swinging, and then press the button once more to release. The extra button press here makes no sense, and in all actuality gets in the way of trying to pull yourself up onto platforms, because in order to do so you have to press the arm button and Up on the Analog Stick at the same time. The problem is that sometimes the game only registers pressing arm button, resulting in Spencer just releasing his grip and falling all the way back down to where he started. While hanging and swinging in place, you can adjust Spencer's swing height by pressing Up or Down to perform a big swing or a little hop. There is no in-between, so all of the game's swinging "puzzles" are a matter of just judging if you need a big swing or a little swing. Adding insult to grave injury, the arm really isn't all that needed to deflect enemy bullets anymore. You can still do it, but it's in no way needed on any of the game's difficulties, and getting the arm to launch straight forward almost feels like you're inputting arcane commands to trigger a glitch.

In fiddling around with the series' core components, Fatshark also had some ideas futzing with Spencer's upgrade system. Previously, the system was a pretty bare-bones, "find weapon, find its upgrade, hooray" affair, and it worked well. BCR2 takes upgrades a few steps further by adding a whole slew of new toys to Spencer's arsenal and breaking them up into three different classes so that the player can mix and match various power-ups and abilities for any given situation. You have Weapons, which is pretty self explanatory, Passive abilities that stay activated so long as they're equipped, and Active abilities that grant you a number of unique and interesting powers, most of which are firsts for the series.

Unfortunately, the system isn't quite as awesome as it may initially sound. Firstly, all these upgrades have to be tinkered with by pausing the game and going into a sub-menu that takes far too long to load. These upgrades could have been easily set to be toggled in real time by making the player move Spencer with the analog stick and putting ability switching on the D-Pad (Up and Down for Active abilities, and Left and Right for Passive abilities, for example.) This gets even more grating when playing local co-op, when both players are going to be periodically pausing the action to switch out their upgrades.

Making the upgrade system even more underwhelming is the lack of anything really exciting. There's a total of 22 shiny upgrades to find and only about four of them are worth a damn. The weapons are almost all universally crap and serve no other purpose than killing things. In the first Rearmed, every weapon had some kind of special ability or was especially effective against specific types of targets, and there's none of that here. Every weapon can be upgraded anywhere from two to five times and it's difficult to find much difference even when you do fully max out something beyond "it kills this dude faster." In an even stranger twist, everything aside from the Revolver also has limited ammunition, which can be easily refilled, but the limiting the ammunition of such shitty weaponry honestly just makes no sense.

Digging further into your gadgets' all-around uselessness, the Passive and Active upgrades all feel either tacked on or you'll be hard-pressed to find any kind of legitimate use for them. The only Passive ability that has any usefulness at all is Health Regen, which is only used by little pussy babies. As for Active upgrades, the only two worth a fart are Grenades and Remote Drones. Using Active abilities can also get quite annoying as their use is governed by a special meter that slowly recharges between uses. Like weapons, these abilities have multiple levels to be upgraded, and again, it's hard to tell it's ever making any noticeable difference. This whole system was a great idea and had a lot of potential, but it's so horribly implemented and useless that it's quite easy to truck through most, if not all, of the game without ever touching them.

The game's stages are set up so that there's really only one thing to do at any given time: Swing around, see a dood, kill him. You'll repeat this process over and over again, rarely ever mixing it up as you make your way through the game's 28 total stages. The game is quite long, and the stages themselves are surprisingly huge, sharing a lot of qualities with the GameBoy iteration of the first game. Your first time through any given stage will take around 13-20 minutes as you claw your way through trying to find the right path through the maze, looking for power-ups, opening doors, flipping switches to enable platforms and what have you. You can revisit any stage at any time to better your time or to use new upgrades you've found to go back and snag others that were inaccessible your first time through, which seems to be a large focus of the game. The stages end up all blurring together though, because other than a few sniping spots (lifted from the GameBoy Color's Bionic Commando: Elite Forces) and a couple helicopter rides where you're the gunner, there's not a whole lot of enemies to kill and there's really not enough going on to help any of the stages, save the very few which feature some incredibly satisfying swinging moments, stand out.

Bosses are another really big problem this time around. Though there are 28 stages, there are only about four unique boss encounters that occur every five or six stages. The worst part is that these four bosses get reused and there's hardly any difference to fighting them than there was the first time. For some strange reason, selected difficulty doesn't affect boss fights either, so they're always the same no matter what. This of course meaning that they're all total pushovers that won't take more than one or two runs through their patterns to figure out. Failing that, the Health Regen is so strong that you can simply tank through all the damage and still eek out a pretty commanding victory. None of the bosses manage to force you to use your abilities or the Bionic Arm in any special manner either. It's always the same in just waiting for the boss to run its pattern, leave itself wide open for 45 seconds or more (this is scripted it seems), then you shoot it. The bosses really bat home the fact that there's no real sense of accomplishment for anything you do in this game. From downing a huge robot gorilla to finding all the special doo-dads in a stage, the game fails to excite on such fundamental levels that after a while the whole experience became exceptionally grating, even replaying my favorite bits and pieces for this review.

Oh, and Challenge Rooms return, but they're crappy, uninspired, and there are only about 24 of them. They're a major pain in the ass to wanna play because failing one initiates a 10-15 second load time to restart the stage. I've cleared about half of them and stopped caring.

While replaying the game, I was also reminded of how buggy and untested this game is. Not only is the hit detection on a lot of environmental hazards like spikes and smashers completely WRONG in a few areas, in many stages, as of this writing, it's entirely possible to simply fall out of the level and die because something as simple as walls or floors haven't been implemented properly. Other times, I found msyelf stuck in the geometry while trying to pull myself toward objects, forcing me to have to exit back to the map and run the entire stage again. The most damning bug occurred during one of the game's major boss fights near the end, totally ruining what should have been a great moment. After running its pattern through once, the boss just stopped moving entirely and sat there soaking up my shots until he was dead. Sure, I guess I coulda just reset the game and tried again, but by that point I just didn't care anymore. I could also go over the strange audio glitches where Spencer's scream will play indefinitely and certain music doesn't seem looped properly, but really, what's the point? Development time or a lack of concern already ate away at what most of this game should have been.

Bionic Commando Rearmed 2's visual package is largely the same as the original. The game is presented in a very fun style that looks as if toys are blowing the shit out of each other, with enemies being blown miles away from where they were standing, and falling hilariously off the level once they've been dealt with. Given that they had the opportunity to create their own original work, Spencer gets to visit a whole bunch of new and great-looking environments with excellent use of color and some really fine details that mesh really well with the style Grin had originally created. The on-screen action is zoomed out a bit more, so everything is just a smidge smaller, but the in-game models (a lot of which are lifted directly from the first game with some new colors) are just as good as the original's. Some real bitch points here though are that during some stages and especially boss fights, the camera gets zoomed a bit too far out and keeping track of Spencer can prove troublesome when trying to hit a specific swing point or landing in a non-dangerous area. Another bitch point is the frame rate, which can never quite decide what it wants to stay at. The first Rearmed maintained a steady 60 frames per second throughout the entire game, whereas BCR2's frame rate is constantly spking up and down, with some bits of slowdown here and there that can hinder gameplay further. Overall, BCR2 looks better, but isn't quite as smooth.

Simon Viklund returns as BCR2's primary composer and the tunes are exactly what you'd expect. Remixes of remixes... Unfortunately, even though there are a few really good songs here and there, the style and melodies themselves just don't stand out anymore and are honestly kinda tired. At points the music seems to become some horrifying OCRemix nightmare with bits and pieces of 8-bit music popping out between abrasive percussion and generic wobble synth, all repeating themselves on 45-60 second loops. Worst of all, some tunes get used far too often, so there's rarely a break away from any particular song you just don't care for. Finally, sound effects and enemy screams are largely lifted from the first game, though they've been pushed back in the mix a bit, making them sound much tinier and ineffective than they ever were. Them rockets ain't got no oomph no more, and that shotgun is nowhere near as satisfying. Much like this entire game, unfortunately.

At $15, even as a hardcore Bionic Commando fan who wants the franchise to continue to see new entries, it's really hard to try and recommend BCR2 to fans and newbies alike. I like that Fatshark wanted to try some new things and go in a completely different direction, but most of it either isn't executed all that well or simply lacks the thrill and excitement that other installments of the series are notable for. Yes, even Bionic Commando 2009 with its silly as balls story! While the first game had a lot of heart and soul behind it stemming from a love of the original material, BCR2 feels so lifeless and stagnant in comparison. The essential elements are there so that it can still be called a Bionic Commando game, and there are fleeting moments of real fun, but the magic that Grin was able to work so meticulously into their two shots at the franchise is sadly long gone. Let's hope they didn't take Capcom's and gamers' interest in the series with them.

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