Review

Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 Review (Xbox360)

For years, Nathan Spencer has been making up for his shortcomings. Not only does he possess 'strawberry blonde' hair, he can't jump. The remedy for this? A bionic arm that does all the work. Well, that's how it used to be anyway. Now the sepia tinted Beetleborg isn't quite so appealing, as his classic formula has been messed with. Bionic Commando Rearmed did an excellent job of outshining the full 3D release from last year, but this sequel feels like a step backwards.

Even the introduction of Spencer himself doesn't feel quite right. He's been redesigned since Rearmed, and has lost any sense of cool that once ushered through his shades. After a couple of terribly unfunny one-liners, you'll start your first mission. Spencer has the evil dictator of Papagayan to deal with, and developers Fat Shark have ensured it's not going to be an easy ride. Unfortunately, this isn't intentional. It only takes a few minutes with Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 to realise that Spencer's new found leaping abilities are laughable at best, and probably should have been left on the shelf alongside the Brylcream he's evidently so passionate for.

Spencer is back, and boy, does he love barrels

Rearmed 2's predecessor was excellent at allowing players to work out their route and gobble it up with the extending arm's ability, but this time round it doesn't quite have the same spark. Although the visuals are gorgeously cartoonish and vibrant, it's quickly apparent that beauty is only skin deep. Once you've overcome the opening level (which serves as a decent tutorial), proceedings become rigid and bland. Although he can now lift his feet from the floor, Spencer seems to be wasting his time. While he isn't pulling too much weight himself, we can only imagine that the large metal arm strapped to his torso sucks him back down to Earth quicker than wanted. There are moments where a tiny jump helps you get from one ledge to another, but for the most part, your progress is halted. Even crawling robots that slither across the floor can't be leapt over, so it's best to always approach an enemy from the direction you want to attack.

Spencer's arm has also been tweaked. Gone are the days where he would drop if you let go of the analog stick, he now has the ability to hang around for as long as necessary. This is useful when attacking enemies who may be in a difficult position down below, and does add the option of dropping grenades from a vantage point, but it's less free-flowing than we've known before. Being able to change direction when swinging sounds like it'd help out massively, but the mechanic only creates a stop-start affair. The developers have overcomplicated things, as there's far less chance to get a good rhythm going when swinging from one platform to the next. This was one of Rearmed's biggest thrills, and it's been reduced to an unresponsive, disengaging mess for the most part.

Backdrops for each level are extremely attractive and diverse

Bad design choices aren't only apparent through the level designs though, as Rearmed 2 does a decent job of patronising the player every step of the way. The introduction of Biovision may have been acceptable through the tutorial section, but it once again slows play down to a snails pace. It allows players to find hints about nearby enemies, items and techniques on how to progress, but you're physically forced to stop in order to do so. By tracing a small window across screen, any red area that appears will have something uninteresting to announce. Press X to jump. X to jump. Jump. Bosses lumber onto screen, and may as well have a huge target placed on the areas you need to destroy. It's obvious Fat Shark have tried to welcome new players to the series with additions like this, but it's unfair to presume the majority of gamers have never picked up a controller before. It's sad to say, but you'll get more challenge out of downloading the game than you will from the goons that litter your path half the time.

Even with the momentous flaws, Rearmed 2 does have a habit of proving that the formula isn't dead. There's still great fun to be had when you can get momentum going, as Spencer shows flashes of excellence amongst his failings. You'll stumble across regular weapon upgrades, and some bosses aren't as ridiculously stupid as others. The soundtrack is also a particular highlight, as composer Simon Viklund has produced a retro-feeling, yet memorable mash up of 'sick' tunes that pander to the current popularity of dub-step very well.

Co-op is included, but unfortunately, just highlights the flaws of the single player experience

A co-op mode has been included, but it's not much to shout home about. Keeping both players on the screen at once is difficult and feels pointless, as it's not an enjoyable task. It's made all the more difficult when you can't look below or above you, so both players clumsily make their way through the level like a couple of research monkeys trying out their new limbs. In all honestly, it feels like multiplayer has been included just for the sake of it.

Needless to say, we expected more from this sequel. Fat Shark have managed to shoot themselves in the foot by simplifying a formula that worked rather well. Rearmed 2 does enough to remind players as to why the series is often remembered fondly, but quickly blurs the image by stuttering over its best features. Although the developers aimed to attract new fans with Rearmed 2, it'll only be the die-hards who get much pleasure from it, as the brightest shining light throughout the game is Spencer's fiery mop.

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