Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 – The PS3 Attitude Review
After a disappointing full-fat 3D outing for Nathan “Rad” Spencer, Capcom is returning the Bionic Commando to safe territory with Bionic Commando Rearmed 2. This is not a surprising move, considering the first Rearmed was a critical success (it received a solid 86 average rating on Metacritic for its retro gameplay and presentation) and the financial risks are relatively small here because it is a low-budget PlayStation Network game. Capcom may very well be in a win-win situation.
That said, there is an awful tendency for studios to show absolutely no ambition when in safe territory so it is interesting to see how new developer Fatshark (Lead & Gold) are handling the situation after taking over from GRIN, who sadly went defunct. It should be said, key members of the GRIN team joined Fatshark after their studio closed.
For the most part, the team is sticking to the same formula that proved successful for GRIN, but there are some notable changes, which will not please everyone. The studio is opening up the gameplay to allow the player more freedom; thus, Spencer can now jump. It does not sound like a big deal, after all most platformers have jumping, but Rearmed 1 was not like most platformers.
It was one of the few modern day platformers without a jump button; instead, you had to use the grapple-hook in Spencer’s bionic arm to swing through the levels. This made the game difficult because you had to be precise, but rather than being annoyingly restrictive, it was something to celebrate; it made it unique.
By letting you to jump, Rearmed 2 feels like a diluted game in comparison to Rearmed 1. The jump mechanic does not even add much to the gameplay because you can actually play the whole game without jumping. It does however make it more accessible to newcomers and those who found the previous game too fiddly. Levels can be finished in a fraction of the time and rather than having to swing from one lower platform to get to an out-of-reach one you can often reach that platform with your grapple just by jumping a little closer to it.
This is not necessarily a bad thing; as we said, Rearmed 1 was notoriously difficult so any move to make the game friendlier to new audiences is a good thing. However, the fans of the hardcore gameplay should not suffer. Thankfully, Fatshark has added a retro mode, in which the jump button is disabled. Therefore, you can have that Rearmed 1 experience, and even get a trophy upon completing the game without jumping.
Sadly, this mode is only available once you complete the game. Fans from both camps should be able to select whichever mode suits them right from the beginning, and then we would have gladly sidestepped this discussion. Instead, players will need to complete the game once to get the experience they want.
It is a shame to dwell on this specific change because overall Fatshark has done a good job with the sequel. The artwork is much more detailed and crisp without losing that appealing retro look. Fatshark handle the cutscenes in the same exciting way with the old-school avatars popping up on the screen to have a dramatic conversation. We especially love the design for Rad. He looks more eccentric than ever; he’s more ginger and he sports a wonderfully outrageous moustache.
We also enjoyed the nonsensical story. The squad of bionics are invading an island to bring down the evil dictator General Sabio (who happens to look a lot like a well-known and controversial Cuban leader). Sabio is equipped with weapons of mass destruction and he plans to use them. The team, to their surprise, are going to find out that Sabio has a lot of impressive and dangerous weaponry on his armoury and the biotics are going to find themselves in deep trouble. Spencer has to keep moving and save the day, even if his teammates start to fall around him. There are some nice, if unexpected, twists along the way. It is good old-fashioned ‘80s action fun.
The levels are generally short (most can be completed in under six minutes, if you are quick) but there are lots of them so the story campaign is a good size for a PlayStation Network game. The levels certainly benefit from being short. Anyway, there are many reasons to replay the levels later, what with there being online leaderboards and hidden items – which you cannot get to until you get the appropriate weapons.
The levels are generally designed very well; they early ones are very basic, to give you a feel of the mechanics, but by the end of the game you will be asked to work your way through some very tricky situations where the slightest error will lead to your death. Sure, you will be cursing your television when you come across these levels (especially the crushing penultimate one), but they are fair. We found ourselves going back feeling more determined to succeed after each mistimed attempt swing.
One thing that will improve the game is the ability to zoom out the camera to see where you are in relation to the other platforms. Because the camera is so zoomed-in, you must rely on trial and error from time to time, especially when descending platforms. This is frustrating and we found ourselves dying through no fault of our own (or so say us).
Rearmed 2 sadly does not have the top-down shooter sections and without them the campaign can lack variation. Fatshark has also dropped the hacking mini-game, but that is not so much of a loss. In their place are a few on-rails shooter sections, which have you in a helicopter firing at the enemy soldiers and robots using a gigantic reticule. These sections are short-lived and mostly forgettable.
It is therefore down to the boss battles to add variation. They are very tricky at first – their attacks do a lot of damage and it may seem like there is no place to hide from their blows – but they are easy once you figure out their patterns. Their weak spots are not always obvious but you will get vital clues if you use Bionic Vision, one of Rearmed 2’s shiny new abilities. Bionic Vision freezes the game and highlights the interactive objects on the screen. It also offers some not too subtle hints as to what you need to do to defeat the bosses. Overall, the boss battles are a mixed bunch – some are excellent while others are dull – and many are less creative than the boss fights in Rearmed 1.
Away from the story campaign, the challenges are back. These ask you to work your way across the level in the shortest time possible by utilising all the skills you learned in the main game (e.g. swinging from platform to platform). They are not as difficult as those in Rearmed 1 but they are still a good test of your skills, and you can compare your times with those of your mates through the online leaderboards.
Speaking of friends, the whole game is playable cooperatively with another person. Sadly it is only locally available so you will need to get a friend round (how old fashioned). We did not get a chance to test this feature but we expect it to be enjoyable, but we do not expect the game to alter too much from playing alone.
The new abilities are very exciting. The electro-claw supercharges your grappling hook so you can give an enemy soldier a nasty shock, and there are stat-enhancing abilities, which can boost your health and ammo regeneration, amongst other things. Some of the weapons pack a punch such as the napalm launcher, which is every bit as powerful as it sounds.
Rad has picked up some great moves as well. With Death From Above, Rad can do a good Batman impression. He can swing over an enemy before dropping down to ground stomp them. The enemy soldiers go flying. Death From Above is very satisfying but not as satisfying as pulling a barrel towards you with your claw before launching it an enemy. You can trip up several enemy soldiers this way.
Cycling through the various weapons is as simple as pressing the L1 and R1 buttons, but selecting abilities is more of a hassle. You have to enter the menu to select a different ability. Fatshark could have done a better job streamlining the interface, because as it stands, we found ourselves rarely changing our abilities because it felt like a chore.
In many ways, Fatshark has done a fantastic job taking over from GRIN: the gameplay is solid and exciting (for the most part); the difficulty curve is well balanced; the presentation is fantastic with improved graphics; and there is plenty of replay value. If you liked Rearmed 1, we would not have a problem recommending its sequel to you, even if we worry about how you will react to the jump button, but we are less confident about recommending it to someone who has not played the previous game.
This is not because Rearmed 2 is a bad game, far from it. Nevertheless, they may be better off playing the previous game. It shades its sequel in a few important departments – level design, boss battles and the tightness of the controls – and it is cheaper. Rearmed 1 is only £7.99, which is an appealing price for impulse buyers, while Rearmed 2 is £11.99. It is not overpriced, but that price will put off cautious buyers. In the end, if you like retro-styled PSN titles, then you will not go far wrong if you buy either game – there are not many games on the PlayStation Store that will give you a purer retro experience.