- Bionic Commando Rearmed 2
- CLR [rating:3]
Release Date: February 1st and 2nd, 2011
Platform: Xbox LIVE Arcade (Version Reviewed), Playstation Network
Genre: 2D Gunswinger Platformer
ESRB: T for Teen
Let me tell you about the man I met when I was still young.
Bit of a disclaimer: the original Bionic Commando on the NES was the favorite game of my youth. Whereas Mario, Zelda, and Mega Man would become favorite series, BC was the one game I went back to over and over until my NES finally quit on me while playing a rented copy of Kickle Cubicle. Unfortunately for me as well as any other fans, BC never really took off the way other Capcom games did, with only a pair of sub par portable spin offs while we waited for a proper sequel.
How long was this wait? Twenty years. As in two decades.
In 2008 the wait finally ended. Swedish studio GRIN released a downloadable remake of the original game: Bionic Commando Rearmed. Pretty much a perfect reboot, more akin to Batman Begins than The Incredible Hulk, this little downloadable title brought bionics (and old school 2D gaming) back in a big way. But it was just the first step in a new series, since GRIN announced a brand new 3D game coming out the very next year! There was much rejoicing.
Until people actually played the new game (also called Bionic Commando to make everything confusing), or should I say didn’t play it, as it was a complete flop at retail. Plus it didn’t do much to propel the series forward because while the core gameplay was solid, it lacked variation, had poor boss design, and a miserably grim story with not one, but two awful plot twists that even M. Night Shyamalan would have rejected on the grounds of being ludicrous. Partially due to this failure, GRIN closed its doors just a few months later.
Rising out of the ashes of GRIN, developer Fatshark is coming back to the franchise that brought them acclaim with Bionic Commando Rearmed 2. Like their protagonist Nathan “RAD” Spencer, they have battle scars, (though only to their reputation) talent and the will to succeed. The only question left is whether or not it’s a war worth fighting for, or if like most war heroes, they die on the battlefield.
According to “Super” Joe Gibson — our narrator and erstwhile hero of his own series during Capcom’s first ventures — after Spencer defeated the Imperial Fascists and their plot to resurrect Hitler of the first game, he became a national hero and Bionics programs were pushed throughout the F.S.A. military. Why their country is called the F.S.A. (for Federal States of America naturally) rather than just the U.S.A. is anyone’s guess, since this all takes place in the future I’m pretty sure no one would sue. Joe runs the task force for Bionic soldiers, and everything is looking pretty good until . . . Castro appears!
No, actually that’s not true, it’s just a really similar looking 3rd World dictator named General Sabio, who rules the Papagayan islands from the cushy seat of his golf cart. As it turns out, events echo the plot of Call of Duty: Black Ops as this coconut republic (bananas are so 20th century), has a bunch of nasty missiles pointed at the F.S.A. So naturally, not learning anything from history, the F.S.A. have their own little Bay of Pigs fiasco, sending in troops meant to stop the missile strike under the command of their own General Brubaker, but of course the general is captured and his team is cut down.
So it’s up to Gibson’s Bionic “TASC” force to go into the jungle, Predator style, rescue Brubaker, prevent the missile launch and become heroes once again. As a subplot, Joe and Spencer are in some sort of mustache growing contest or something, because both men sport mean Burt Reynolds-esque lip warmers. Perhaps they’re taking a cue from the world’s other great mustached platforming hero, Mario?
After you’re air-dropped into this despot and robot ridden land the first thing you’ll notice is that either Spencer’s been working out or ‘stache power actually works, because now the guy can jump! The original title was mainly remembered for lacking this main element of all 2D platformers, and its inclusion here has been touted as the game’s main innovation to the series. It’s not true; you could jump in the 2009 3D game (hereafter called BC2K9 for brevity’s sake), but since no one played that game, this is sort of the coming out party.
Thankfully, this hopping doesn’t end up pissing in the punchbowl. It really can’t because it’s obviously been kept pretty meager so you’ll still have to rely on Spencer’s grappling hook hand, which then begs the question of why it’s included, but I digress. Of far more import is that the arm controls have been reworked and if you played the first, it takes some time to get used to, but if you do, grants more freedom of movement. Once you get through the first couple of obvious tutorial levels, you’ll get back to Spider-Man swinging speed.
It may not be enough, as once the game gets going the level design starts getting fairly tricky in its layouts; deadly traps and nasty enemy placement become the order of the day. For the most part it proves a high point and well implemented, if more meandering than the last Rearmed, but it sort of needs to be good as the level design is what defines platformers like this. Just get ready to die a fair amount hunting for hidden collectibles, as most of the paths to them are devious tests of your reflexes.
Despite all of that, the game’s far easier than its predecessor, partially due to a funny new system for extra lives. Unlike other games with 1ups, collecting them adds to a total stock that’s replenished to maximum every time you start a stage, which removes dangers of death attrition as long as you spend time exploring but keeps a limit on the number of respawns to add tension. It’s an interesting concept, and though a minor detail, is a twist on an old idea that I actually rather like.
While I like the 1up system, I’m absolutely in love with this game’s look. The colors are vivid and crisp, the art used for characters and conversations is beautiful and the animation is more fluid than a greased up Scotsman. Of particular note is the soundtrack, another set of phenomenal tracks by Simon Viklund, the composer of the first Rearmed. This is a fabulous mix that gets the blood pumping, if not for battling vaguely South American armies, then for grooving to at home. It’s just damn good folks.
Other new features include Bionic Arm Components, a series of collectibles that offer new passive or active abilities for Spencer, as well as several new weapons, a scan visor mode, plus the abilities to wall slide and ground slam when falling. Some are neat inclusions, especially an awesome uppercut, but most end up useless (ammo regen), unwieldy (the napalm launcher), or redundant (the electric claw). Especially when the first two components you get are far too good to ever remove: the grenade launcher and health regeneration. This regeneration is the other factor making the game much easier; it’s too powerful, especially during boss fights.
Not that it matters much, for with one major exception, the boss fights prove to be fairly lifeless affairs. Especially when two of these half-dozen encounters are repeats of earlier fights. which would be fine as BCR repeated bosses all the time, but the 2nd go rounds add almost nothing new to their patterns or speed of attacks. It’s very disappointing as one of these, a battle with a 3 story robot-gorilla, is built up heavily as a major threat but then proves incredibly tame, almost boring even. It’s actually kind of impressive how disappointing that is.
The repetition doesn’t stop there. As with BC2K9, the regular enemies encountered are a much smaller assortment than in BCR, and start losing novelty about half way through. Most of the classics are kept, but gone are knife chargers, the disrupting blobs, enemies with rockets, wire backpack troopers, and tiny tanks to be replaced with . . . nothing other than a pair of reoccurring mini-bosses. Action games really need to get mixed up regularly as they progress in order to stay engaging, so it’s quite disappointing that this game actually has less of this rather than building upon the last.
Probably the biggest disappointment is the game’s poorly conceived local co-operative mode. It’s designed so that player 2 is excess baggage; they must remain near Spencer or they die, they can’t get most of the achievements or trophies, and if either player respawns they lose their component load out, which necessitates a trip to the pause menu – every time. There’s also a MAJOR oversight when one player enters a sniper tower, as it kills the other one as they’re technically “off screen.” It’s boggling at how poorly implemented this is when you consider that BCR had the same feature with none of these issues, and would dynamically split the screen up if the two got separated. While it’s still fun to play with friends, BCR 2 seems intent on letting you know they don’t want you to . . . except there is a reward for doing just that. Maybe they just hate player 2’s around the world? It’s a bit confusing really.
Another disappointment is in the game’s meta design, as Fatshark has ripped out the free-roam map exploration with friendly/neutral zones and the chance to encounter enemies in top down shooter sections, in favor of a linear progression that has a lot of levels (over 25) and a couple of helicopter ride and sniper tower set pieces. Also gone are the bits where Spencer finds enemy relays stations in order to contact his command and hack into enemy communications. While a linear path isn’t the world’s worst thing it’s unnecessary to change, and the helicopter/sniper portions are fine, but don’t make up for the lacking hacking, as the conversations between the dim-witted soldiers you’d overhear in the first game really added a lot of its humor and charm.
This right there is the root problem. Capcom has never understood why the original game is beloved, and Fatshark, despite having GRIN members on its team, or perhaps because of it, seems to have missed a bit of the point as well. They get how to make fun levels and acrobatic characters but they don’t get how to keep everything else light. Throughout BCR2, the narrative starts echoing the somber tones of BC2K9, bringing up the whole “war is hell” chestnut to the table, and it just doesn’t work.
There are plenty of games and stories that dwell on the harsh reality of war, but a series based around silly cloning plots and robot armies featuring a super soldier merrily trouncing opposition behind enemy lines just isn’t the place to do it. The original is stuck in the zeitgeist of eighties action films like Schwarzenegger’s Commando and Total Recall, and here we only get brief moments of this type of zany machismo before everything becomes a maudlin mess. This tonal shift is going be the end of this series more than any other factor.
As a piece 2D gaming, Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 proves to be a solid title, mostly saved by its level design and the fact that swinging around is always fun. But if this series wants to be classic rather than just competent, a serious expansion is in order, and some new ideas need to be brought to the table. As a fan, I personally don’t want to see it wither and die, so I pray that a new creative director who “gets it” is brought on soon or like the noblest soldiers, Bionic Commando will only be remembered posthumously.
Since no one else is going to, I’ll pitch this to Capcom right now. You folks need to do what James Cameron did to Alien with this series. Give us Bionic Commandos, focusing on the plural. That sounds fun, and it would force you to create some new characters, which might make the game more dynamic. Just keep it light, alright?