The core gameplay is still fun, if not as fluid as its predecessor, but ultimately it's the lavish production values and floor-pumping soundtrack that will keep you going.
You could probably plot the beginning of the downloadable games scene's rise to dominance with the release of Bionic Commando Rearmed. At the time, things were looking super positive for Swedish outfit, GRIN. Rearmed was a critical and commercial smash-hit, an unlikely — and somewhat unfortunate — feat that overshadowed the studio's full franchise reboot. A couple of hokey movie tie-ins later and GRIN disappeared as quickly as they had shot to prominence, allegedly with an unfinished Final Fantasy game hidden behind closed doors.
With GRIN no more, Rearmed 2's been produced by fellow Scandanavians FatShark — the team behind the good but poorly timed multiplayer Western shooter, Lead & Gold. Rearmed 2's set a few years after the events of the first game, with Nathan "Rad" Spencer having spent the past number of months working on his facial hair. The set-up and narrative throughout is mind-numbingly dumb, though Bionic Commando's never been renowned for its narrative intellect. Grit your teeth through classic lines such as "What do they put in your cereal?" and "I don't eat cereal, I eat muesli," and you should be fine.
While the original Bionic Commando Rearmed was already a fairly straight-forward affair, its sequel has been further streamlined. The level select mechanic is gone, plotting you through a sequential path of levels. The linearity helps to keep the plot moving, but as mentioned earlier, dialogue and narrative has never been Bionic Commando's strong point. As such the lack of choice is a bit restricting, and the removal of the top-down shooting sections really limit the variety.
Arguably the biggest change — and presumably most divisive — is the introduction of a jump button. Bionic Commando is infamous for its lack of leaping, and while Rearmed 2's introduction feels a little like a token gesture, it does make the game more accessible for casual players. Purists will be relieved to know that levels have been designed around the traditional style of gameplay — there's no reason to jump if you don't want to, and there's even a trophy available for those that don't use it — but level design without the jump button enabled can be awkward and frustrating.
FatShark's also made a subtle change to Commando's swinging mechanic. Instead of relinquishing Rad's grapple when the analogue stick's not pushed in a direction, Rearmed 2 requires a button press to release from a swing. While this reduces the natural fluidity of the gameplay, it also allows you to change direction mid-swing, minimising much of the forced backtracking present in the original game.
It's an unusual paradigm because Rearmed 2 should be a better game because of the tweaks. Certainly it is a more accessible game, but for all accounts and purposes it just doesn't offer that same satisfaction when you nail a challenging section. The level design feels too stilted and obvious. It's still fun when it flows, but Rearmed 2 lacks the methodical, ballet-like accuracy of its predecessor. As such, it feels like a game that will frustrate both purists and newcomers in antithesising [that's a word now - Ed] ways.
The co-op mode too is a disappointment, with players sharing a limited stock of lives. It feels forced and unnecessary, so it's not a deal-breaker that it doesn't deliver. As far as we're concerned, Rearmed 2 is a single-player game and should be enjoyed as such.
The introduction of new weapon upgrades makes exploration in Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 a must. New weapons such as grenade launchers and hefty upper-cuts really do make a difference to combat situations in the game, and we had a lot of fun not only snuffing the secrets out, but using them to our combative advantage too.
Visually the game welcomes a lot more variety than its predecessor too, opening in a rainy, evening city setting before moving into the bright shrubbery of a jungle. The three-dimensional models compliment the 2D world well, and while animation can look a bit stilted, the game's mix of over-saturated colours and lovingly rendered models provide Rearmed 2 with a wonderful aesthetic.
Furthermore, the audio is stunning, offering the same rich retro synthesis of the game's predecessor, with a more pulsating dub-step body. For all Rearmed 2's failings, the audio is consistently brilliant throughout, demanding a stand-alone retail release of its own.
Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 is not a bad game, it just fails to capture the magic of the original. While the gameplay has evolved into something notably more accessible, the game feels stuck between two minds. The result is a game that will satisfy neither the purists nor the newcomers. There's certainly fun to be had, and the game is worth playing purely for the excellent soundtrack, but it could, and perhaps should, have been much more.