Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 Review
Unresponsive controls and confusing level design make Rad Spencer's latest adventure an exercise in frustration.
- Lots of replay value and bonus content
- Eye-catching visuals with plenty of neat effects.
- Sluggish controls undermine all of your actions
- Chaotic, directionless level design
- Cannon-fodder enemies are a waste of time
- Cheap deaths.
At the bottom of the crumbling tower that was once the mighty Bionic Commando, a culprit for the collapse was found: the jump button. It seems like such an innocuous inclusion. After all, there's no genre where vertical locomotion is more appropriate than in a 2D platformer, and more diverse movement options could lead to fresher level design. But Bionic Commando's most noteworthy characteristic was that its protagonist, Rad Spencer, couldn't jump. He has a mechanical grappling hook in place of his right arm, and his swinging ways are what separated him from his peers. Now that Bionic Commando's precious distinction no longer fits, the delicate fabric holding this game together has been torn to shreds. Controls that were once novel are now unforgivingly clumsy, and haphazard level design ensures your frequent deaths come at the hand of unseen dangers lurking offscreen. When you try to propel yourself above a spike-lined floor and die for the seventh straight time, it makes you wonder what you ever saw in this franchise to begin with. It's only when you take down an oversized boss or happen upon a secret area that the dormant feeling of elation returns. But by that point, it's far too late. Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 fails to capture the magic the series has dutifully wielded before now.
It's impossible to ignore the impact jumping has had on this once proud franchise. On the surface, it seems as fine a jump as you would find in any other platformer. You do become airborne shortly after pushing the button, and it's handy in a pinch when you need to cross a nasty pit and grappling isn't an option. But jumping has a widespread effect on this game with largely negative results. First, there's a slight delay between when you push the button and when you take off. Because of this, you often find yourself walking straight into a pit, and that frustrating occurrence is a quick way to sap your excitement. Just as troubling, your jump height is embarrassingly low. You may think a robotic enemy that only comes up to your knee could be hurdled with ease, but no such luck here. Finally, though it's possible to complete the entire game without jumping even one time, the quickest and most obvious way through each level requires you to leap. This is true in navigating through levels, as well as in boss fights, and the fact that your jump is unresponsive and underpowered means you're frequently aggravated by its many shortcomings.
Unfortunately, lousy controls permeate every aspect of this disappointing game. Grappling is rife with just as many problems as jumping, and its failures are even more egregious given that Bionic Commando is built around this idea. As in previous games in the series, you shoot out your grappling hook either straight ahead, directly above you, or at a 45-degree angle, and you need to use those three trajectories to latch onto objects and enemies along the way. It sounds easy enough, but in practice it's a chaotic mess. There's no margin of error in Rearmed 2. If you're a pixel off in your aim, you miss your target and suffer for your failings. Pushing skill to the forefront is not inherently bad, and is usually preferable to a game that babies you at every turn, but that lack of hand holding is the cause of untold aggravation here. The amount of precision you need to navigate through these treacherous levels is maddeningly difficult to achieve with the rigid controls. It's far too easy to be slightly off in your aim, especially in the heat of battle, and end up dying because there's no way to finesse where you're pointing. The extremely unforgiving grapple mechanics, combined with the consistently weak jumping ability, make traversing levels very difficult. Any joy you could have derived from daring swings and acrobatic jumps is destroyed, leaving an exacting trial of precision and patience.
The controls are a serious problem in Rearmed 2, and slapdash level design doesn't do you any favors. The levels in this game are sprawling obstacle courses that hide secrets, alternate routes, and surprises in bountiful supply, and when you have a good rhythm, it's possible to appreciate the intricate nooks and crannies that could have made exploration interesting. But these labyrinthine playgrounds have one massive problem that continually strikes down their good points: your view is limited to what you can see onscreen. You cannot look above you or below you, and you cannot scroll forward to see what awaits you in the distance. This lack of foresight is present in most platformers and is usually fine within their context. But its absence in Rearmed 2 is a huge problem. You have to perform tons of blind leaps throughout the game, and that means you often end up in an unavoidable bottomless pit for your efforts. Because the jump and grappling controls are so lousy, not being able to prepare yourself for upcoming dangers is like having your death warrant signed in advance. There's almost no way to avoid traps and pits if you can't see them first; this means you die repeatedly because unseen obstacles took you down. For as good as the levels are at hiding secrets and offering alternate routes, the levels are ultimately bad because they do such a poor job of letting you survey your surroundings.