Monday, 21 February 2011

Bionic Commando Rearmed 2

Few companies approach the nostalgia-fuelled reimagining of classic properties with as much care and understanding as Capcom. From the ever-familiar updates of Street Fighter, which has kept the illustrious fighting game as relevant today as it was back in the early 90s, to the likes of the recent iPhone conversion of Phonenix Wright, the Capcom brand has always been greeted with great affection, whether the game in question be a sequel, port or remake.

It’s in that last category which 2008’s Bionic Commando Rearmed fell. A polished remake of the NES game from twenty years prior, Rearmed was something of an anomaly in that it ended up getting higher praise than the ‘full’ console game it was ostensibly released to promote, 2009’s flawed yet enjoyable Bionic Commando. Developer GRIN, responsible for both titles, sadly went bankrupt following the release of one last game (the broken Terminator Salvation) so responsibility for Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 has fallen to relative newcomer Fatshark.

To clear the confusion then, Rearmed 2 takes place a few years after the first remake, but before the events depicted in Bionic Commando. With neither the cache of reminiscing, nor the appeal of a full retail-release adventure, Rearmed 2 attempts to make amends by retaining the old-school scrolling gameplay of the first game, albeit with some elements incorporated from its 2009 elder sibling. Most controversial of all perhaps is the new-found power to jump.

It may seem strange to highlight jumping as being noteworthy, especially in a platformer, but the 1988 Bionic Commando was famous for the lead character Nathan Spencer’s ability to only traverse the landscape by swinging, thanks to the use of his extendable bionic arm. While Fatshark do acknowledge the intrinsic appeal of this mechanic to the purists (it is possible to complete the game without using the jump, which unlocks an Achievement/Trophy), it is still nevertheless a little disappointing that such concessions had to be made, when the original game proved so adept in its level design that the absence of a jump was barely noticed.

The plot sees Spencer and four fellow FSA operatives being sent to the Papagaya Islands, a barely disguised Cuba surrogate. They’re here to search for Colonel Bruabaker, who has been missing shortly after landing on the islands to confront the dictator General Sabio. It’s an undemanding set-up that allows for some diverse locations as well as some winningly surreal dialogue (one memorable early exchange between a boss and Spencer centres on the strength-giving properties of muesli). One of the more notable changes to the structure of Rearmed 2 is hinted at in the above synopsis, with the four companions of Spencer serving as the gateway to co-operative play. The problem here is that the level design, which is in many cases multi-levelled and open to a certain exploration, is wasted on two players. The screen doesn’t scale to accommodate divergent paths, and co-op largely ends up as a game of follow-the-leader, with little room for spontaneity.

It’s just as well then that the single-player game is decent enough for us to forgive other digressions. Instead of being able to choose your path as you could in the original, Rearmed 2 is strictly linear, with one level opening at a time. These vary in pace and set-pieces, although the newly beefed up physics are regularly given ample opportunity to shine; the first Rearmed was notable for its understated and respectful graphical overhaul – there’s no such reverence paid (or even necessary) here, and as a result Rearmed 2, with its myriad graphical effects and distracting visual noise, leaves you in no doubt that it is very much a product of the current Xbox LIVE/PSN games climate. Thankfully the 8-bit stylings of the soundtrack do make a return.

While Rearmed 2 may be misguided in trampling across its legacy in certain areas, it also makes successful winks to heritage as well as – most importantly – providing a fun, robust experience. It may err to the easier side (another jarring contrast to the original which was, to say the least, challenging) but several hours spent at the controls of Nathan and co may just offer the warm retro-tinged glow you’ve been looking for. Or just wait for the key improvements to be made when Capcom remakes this in ten years time.

- This review was first published by those fine people over at D+PAD Magazine.

- Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 is out now for PSN/Xbox LIVE Arcade.

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