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Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 Review3
by Jeff Gerstmann on
Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 has the right idea when it comes to revamping its controls, but the level and boss design brings things crashing to a halt.
Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 is the sequel to a game that was designed as a remake of an 8-bit classic. It probably would have been easy to just design more levels to fit those mechanics and pump it out on the heels of Rearmed, which seemed to be a pretty popular release. Instead, Capcom and Fatshark went the other way with it and modernized a lot of the mechanics, making for more nuanced control of your grappling arm and easier access to multiple weapons and abilities. One of those adjustments? You can jump now. Considering that "no jumping" was sort of a key feature of the previous game, you might think that hopping around ruins the feel and flavor of the whole thing. But that's not the problem with BCR2. It controls really well and swinging and jumping around the levels is great. It's the levels themselves, which feel really disjointed from each other, making it easy to forget why you're swinging around in the first place.
Going from Bionic Commando Rearmed to BCR2 takes some time, because the controls have been largely redesigned to allow you to jump. Also, you can start swinging from a standstill, retract or extend your arm at will, and the button that extends the arm also now releases it, preventing you from mashing the button as you fall in hopes of saving yourself from certain doom. While you'll probably hate it for the first 30 minutes or so, the control you have over your arm and how it's used is better here than it was in the past, and once you get the particulars of it down, you'll be swinging around as before, only touching the ground when you really feel like it.
You'll also have new abilities at your disposal in the form of active upgrades. These let you add electricity to your arm to shock enemies, or utilize a grenade launcher. There's a powerful uppercut that you can use to bowl barrels into the opposition. The catch is that all of these abilities are governed by a single, slow-to-fill meter, and though you can use any of the abilities anytime you like, you have to go into a sub-screen to equip a single ability. There are also passive upgrades, such as regenerating ammo or faster movement. Similar to the active upgrades, you have to select which passive upgrade you want to use at any given time, though you can swap them out at will on the sub-screen. The end result of all this sub-screen swapping is that I didn't really spend much time using the different abilities. Why bother pausing to select your hacking tool to freeze all of the robotic enemies for a few seconds when you can just swing past it all and keep moving?
Like the previous game, BCR2 is broken up into areas, but it's a mostly linear progression that doesn't give you much reason to revisit earlier levels unless you're hell-bent on finding every single upgrade. Most of the levels are very straightforward in a "just get to the end" sort of way, though some are given a bit of variety with helicopter sequences that fly you over most of the level while you keep the chopper safe from a turret position. Your progression is broken up by a handful of boss fights, which are pattern-based and monotonous. The problem isn't that they rely on patterns, it's more that most of them play out slowly and Nathan "Rad" Spencer isn't terribly resilient. So you need to memorize the attack patterns and not screw them up and take damage as you wait for your opportunity to dish out some damage of your own. It doesn't help that some of these already-tired boss fights show up multiple times over the course of the game. Fighting a giant, metal gorilla sounds like a pretty awesome deal, but fighting the same one twice while making sure you're timing your jumps just so as to avoid its hands from hitting you is just straight-up boring.
It's a shame that the boss fights are weak, because most of the other action in BCR2 is at least as good as its predecessor. The weapons are decent, though I found myself sticking to the default weapon most of the time rather than worrying about the limited ammo on the rest of the guns. The levels get tough, but the game rarely feels unfair or too crazy. If you're looking for something extra, the game has a set of VR-style challenge rooms that are a lot rougher than anything you'll face in the main game, and these focus on the sort of precise swinging that you'll only be good at after sinking some hours into the game. Also, like the previous Rearmed, BCR2 has a local co-op mode. Players are forced to stick to the same screen, which puts a premium on actual cooperation, but feels too restricting to be much fun.
BCR2 looks nice and makes good use of its polygonal nature with some big, physics-y explosions that look really nice, and there's a good amount of variety to the looks of the different levels, taking you through prisons, sand temples, jungle settings, and so on. The soundtrack once again plants its flag firmly in the retro category, with new remixes of tracks from the original game. They're pretty good, but if I had to choose, I prefer the previous game's soundtrack.
Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 controls well, but the game wrapped around those controls is only great in fits and starts. The additional abilities aren't as useful as they could have been and the game's boss fights are extreme momentum killers. When you're swinging and jumping around, it's grand. But BCR2 grinds to a halt too frequently, making parts of it more frustrating and disappointing than they needed to be.