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.
And to top off the string of disappointments, Rearmed 2 is overflowing with by-numbers combat that drags the high-flying pacing down. You carry a gun with you at all times, and yellow-clad enemies line up in droves for the honor of dying from your bullets. They duck behind boxes or cower near oil canisters, and they even fire a few feeble shots in your direction; but they know their fate. They were put in this game to die by your hands, and that's what they do no matter what meager defenses they mount. The bulk of your enemies are incredibly easy in Rearmed 2 because they put such little effort into taking you down. Sure, they may hit you with a bullet or two, but even by the end of the game, they'll be hard pressed to actually kill you. This respite from imminent danger may seem like a kind gesture considering how arduous the bulk of the game is, but that's far from the case here. Enemies are so weak and pathetic that there's no joy in taking them out. They're little more than cardboard cutouts with an attitude, and who could derive satisfaction from coming out victorious against the likes of them? Thankfully, there are some challenging enemies sprinkled among the minor irritants, and taking down these bad boys with your shotgun or a well-placed grenade is exciting, but the many mindless thugs thrown in are just a waste of your time.
The core of Rearmed 2 is overflowing with problems, but a few rays of light do break through the cloud of enmity. You unlock a huge inventory of guns and gadgets throughout the game. These range from passive boosts, such as regenerating health, to powerful moves, such as grenades and uppercuts, and new weaponry, like a rocket launcher. Not only do these tools offer unique ways to take down enemies and bosses, but they open up sections of levels that were previously inaccessible. Equip your hacking claw and travel back to the early levels to access elevators you couldn't start up initially, or unlock a door with an extra life inside that you couldn't figure out how to get the first time. These unlockables provide a solid reason to revisit earlier levels and show off how many cool secrets are buried for intrepid explorers to find. The boss fights are also quite well done in Rearmed 2. They borrow a page from the original games, relying on oversized, pattern-based monstrosities to thwart your progress, and taking them down provides an exhilarating rush. A few of the bosses do make repeat appearances, and the first one you face off against becomes just a regular enemy before long, but the lack of diversity isn't too big of a problem. Boss fights are the lone element of Rearmed 2 that is able to consistently entertain.
Enticing visuals also provide an intangible hook to lure you deeper into the grappling abyss. The depth-of-field effect is particularly striking. Rearmed 2 plays out on a 2D plane, but the foreground and background are littered with objects vying for your attention. Unfocused leaves crop up along the edges of the screen as you wind your way through a forest, and it gives you the feeling that you truly are lost in a hostile and untamed land. Explosions fire in the distance, sometimes creating a chain reaction that causes the path you're walking down to crumble before your eyes, and it's a neat touch that captivates your senses while keeping you on your toes. There's also a handy co-op mode (offline only), that doesn't improve on the shoddy controls or directionless level design one bit, but does let you drag a friend along for the bumpy ride. The implementation of this mode is rife with problems (the camera always follows player 1, even if you fall off a cliff), but it's just more fun braving this unforgiving game with a buddy by your side.
For as many problems as Rearmed 2 has, at least it's overflowing with content for the dedicated. In addition to a long single-player campaign and the built-in replay value the bonus items provide, there's a suite of challenge levels to tackle. Be warned: only the most patient players should attempt these levels. Their uncompromising brutality highlights the clunky controls in their naked glory, and finishing the first few stages is a feat in itself. But it's nice having a wealth of extra content if you do get sucked into this game. Just know that Rearmed is a very difficult game to love. Problems flow freely from just about every orifice, so be prepared for punishing setbacks that are out of your hands if you want to venture through the latest entry in this venerable franchise. It's funny that a little thing like jumping is the root of so many problems, but when one of the most basic elements of gaming is so poorly implemented, it makes sense that problems would persist in so many other areas.