Two years ago, Bionic Commando came back after a long absence with Rearmed - one of the finest remakes ever. It not only showed what made the source material so good, but truly added to the experience with redone graphics, a remixed soundtrack, some fantastic obstacle course-esque challenge rooms, and leaderboards that kept people playing until they at least beat their friends. Now, Spencer’s back and unfortunately, things don’t turn out quite as well now.
Surprisingly, it isn’t the addition of the jump that hurts the game so badly. That certainly changes the core gameplay, but largely works well, and doesn’t send you so far that it completely eliminates the need for the bionic arm - plus, there are achievements and other in-game recognition for beating stages without jumping. The killer is how second-rate so many things seem.
The controls aren’t anywhere near as responsive as Rearmed 1’s, and for a plat former that is as reliant on pixel-perfect jumps as this one, that’s a huge problem. The addition of now having to manually press a button to release the bionic arm changes the timing of the game completely and makes actually using the game‘s key distinguishing feature harder than it should be.
The revamped control configuration only serves to highlight that problem. The configuration, despite being viewable in the options menu, can’t be changed. It’s strangely designs in the same that it’s more awkward to press B (or Circle on the PS3) to swing and X (Square on PS3) to shoot, even though A (X on PS3) is a natural jump button. They seemingly sacrificed the core gameplay that made the series stand out in favor of showcasing the jumping feature.
I’ll give the developers at Fatshark some credit though - they did at least try to expand the game with new features. Outside of the jump, you can now get a slew of upgrades, with some like grenades giving you a nice long-range attack, while the Contra-esque spreadshot allows you to hit multiple enemies easily and the weapon regeneration feature is fantastic. These secondary things are executed really well and actually add to the game - it’s a shame that the secondary aspects of the gameplay wound up being better-executed than the primary ones. They also nixed the overhead Commando-style stages from the original BC/Rearmed 1, which weren’t particularly good, so they streamlined things in that regard.
Sadly, the game holds your hand a little more than I’d like for a BC game, and that becomes much worse with the new scanning feature that basically eliminates all challenges to puzzles since you can read the scan results and figure it out instantly. The only time there’s any kind of mental challenge is during boss battles and later in the game, when level layouts become somewhat labyrinthian. Sure, shooters aren’t known for complex puzzles, but the ones here are just too simple and repeated quite a bit.
Similarly, there isn’t enough enemy variety - like an early ‘90s beat ‘em up, you’ll face a million near-identical enemies until the end, when you face them but they have some sort of armor. The graphics as a whole also haven’t been improved much. The backgrounds look better, but the in-game character models seem worse, and Spencer’s redesign looks ridiculous. The audio is satisfying, but also seemingly recycled from Rearmed 1 in a lot of ways. So while everything fits what’s going on, it doesn’t seem very new, and that hurts the game as a whole.
Rearmed 2 seemed like a dream game in theory because of how well-crafted Rearmed was, but it doesn’t live up to that in execution. While it isn’t an altogether terrible game, no part of it is as good as it could or should be given how polished Rearmed 1 was. It reminds me a lot of the same thing that happens with 5-and-beyond Mega Man games - they’re technically fine, but can wind up feeling stale because they stick too close to what worked before, or the try new things that don’t work - Rearmed 2 has a mix of both of those things. The primary gameplay has been worsened, while the secondary stuff that wasn’t in the original is good, but doesn’t make up for the changes to the core gameplay.