Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 review: A bionic jump backward

It might be tempting to believe that the unprecedented addition of a jump button is the defining feature of Bionic Commando Rearmed 2. Having completed the game, I can assure you that jumping neither makes nor breaks Rearmed 2 at all. In fact, given all the hoopla surrounding Nathan "Rad" Spencer's newfound ability to spring himself up through muscular effort, it's ironic that Rearmed 2 consistently falls short of its predecessor.
%Gallery-113019% Curmudgeonly gamers will be happy to know that the entire game can be completed without jumping (doing so will even unlock an award). Of course, that brings a question to mind: If jumping is unnecessary, why include the ability at all? I'd much rather see levels that were designed to make use of the new mechanic, rather than designed so that players can work around it if they wish. That said, it is convenient that Nathan can now hop over barrels only half his height. The bionic claw controls have been overhauled, as well, and it doesn't take long to adjust to them (and I imagine newcomers will find them much easier to grasp than in the previous iteration).

Jumping is hardly the most important distinction between Rearmed 2 and its predecessor. There are numerous changes and additions and, unfortunately, they all boil down to one thing: a near wholesale abandonment of every good idea from the original Rearmed. Enemies that require different tactics and weapons to defeat? Gone. Interesting bosses that force players to use the bionic claw in creative ways? Not really. The communication rooms' hacking mini-game? Ditched. Amusing, cheesy dialogue? Sadly, no. A unique arsenal of weapons with different uses in a variety of situations? Nope.

Challenge rooms are back and are still one of the most enjoyable parts of the game.

It's no longer necessary to use specific weapons to kill certain enemies. The many tactical options seen in the original Rearmed -- using the plasma rifle to destroy enemy shields, for example -- have been removed entirely or, at the very least, rendered moot. While other weapons can get the job done, the easiest and most effective option is almost always the primary pistol.

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Rearmed 2 maintains a wide variety of weapons to be sure, but very few of them are useful in combat. More often, weapons are used to activate switches or destroy barriers that only respond to certain weapons. The Viper cannon, for example, can send an arc of electricity up a wall to disable a generator. In other words, most of the weapons make better tools than actual weapons.

Most of the new active and passive claw abilities are equally impractical. The most effective active upgrade is probably the grenade launcher, which lobs explosives a few feet in front of Nathan (very handy for enemies hiding behind cover). The drone operator, able to attack enemies above and below Nathan, comes in handy as well. There are plenty of other abilities, ranging from deployable cover to the electro claw, but for the most part they seem inessential. Throw in the cumbersome menu system used to select abilities and it's just easier to stick with the grenade launcher.

Like the original, Rearmed 2 features local co-op for two players.

Not that futzing with abilities is important, as very few enemies pose a significant threat to Nathan, even on the highest difficulty setting. As far as I can tell, there is very little difference between Hard and Normal difficulty. Enemies take six bullets to kill instead of five; and their bullets do slightly more damage to Nathan's health bar -- though it still takes five shots to kill him in either mode anyway. How much damage he takes doesn't really matter, either, because you can acquire a health regenerator very early on in the game.

Let me make this clear: There is never a reason to unequip the health regenerator -- ever -- and it deeply affects the balance of the game, especially the boss fights. The bosses in the first Rearmed were a joy to fight, requiring Nathan to use his claw, weapons and the environment against them, creating a path to their weak points. There are shadows of these ideas in Rearmed 2's boss encounters -- particularly the Titan fight -- but they never reach the same inspired heights. Further, thanks to the health regenerator, there's really no tension to most encounters. In fact, for most bosses, it's entirely possible to stand in one place and simply wait for an opening in the attack pattern. Nathan will take a few hits, but the health regenerator takes care of that.

The Titan is easily the best boss in the game.

Even the cheesy pre-fight dialogue has taken a hit in Rearmed 2. Granted, Rearmed wasn't exactly a work of literary genius, but it knew what it was and leveraged that well. Rearmed 2 tries to maintain the same campy tone, but it doesn't quite make it. Example dialogue:

Nathan [speaking to large soldier]: Oh, wow. What do they put in YOUR cereal?

Large Soldier: I don't eat cereal. [Pause] I eat muesli!

I could go on -- there are some technical glitches here and there, including one that got me stuck inside a wall -- but suffice it to say that Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 simply doesn't live up to its predecessor. Side by side, Rearmed looks more like the sequel, packed with bigger, better iterations of the concepts in Rearmed 2. It might be a good fit for those who have exhausted the original and just have to have some more bionic action, or for those who tried the original but absolutely could not grasp the controls or difficulty. Is it possible I'm simply a jaded fan; that nothing could live up to my expectations? Maybe, but it's tough to recommend Rearmed 2 in a world where the original still exists.

This review is based on review code of the Xbox Live Arcade version of Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 provided by Capcom. The game will be available for $15 on PSN and XBLA starting February 1 and 2, respectively.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.