Developer FatShark, comprised of many of the staff who worked on the original Rearmed at now-defunct GRIN, hasn't forgotten the series' roots - or the success which came about from the hi-def rejazzling of a NES title, which itself was influenced from a 1987 arcade game. Unlike the first Rearmed, the sequel is built entirely from scratch and thus allows FatShark to easily fall in line with modern trends. While the original was designed in a period when game design was predominantly about robbing you of your shiny pennies from the get-go, now the learning curve is far less aggressive. General game mechanics are taught to you individually, alongside fancier set-piece events, crumbling scenery and expanded customisation options via a fancy catalogue of newfangled perks. How delightfully modern.
Another new trick, the Bio Vision, allows players to pause the game to scan the environment for, like, clues and stuff. This feature, activated by holding down the right trigger, doles out hints on enemy weaknesses and highlights objects with which Spencer can interact. It's a lifeline for the player, and neatly details which things you can blow up right now and which you'll need to wait until you've got access to more destructive weapons and abilities.
The original's top-down encounters have been completely done away with; now the game is simply a linear chain of levels. Brief vehicle sequences have been dotted about here and there - allowing you to rack up kills from, say, a stationary sniper tower or attack helicopter - to cut up the repetition, but the overall design looks set to be business as normal: a delectable selection of lush, over-saturated platforms where you notch up kills and toss explosive barrels at hapless mooks with un-abating frenzy. And the action is still accompanied by an absolutely excellent soundtrack, including more of Simon Viklund's work; the title screen features the best use of the dubstep wub-wub-wub horn since Alpha Protocol.
Meanwhile, anyone who actually likes working themselves up into a blind, frothy rage of trial-induced agony and frustration, with the occasional euphoric high equivalent to a smack junkie getting their fix, will find themselves at home in the new selection of Challenge Rooms. Essentially another game in itself, these strip away the context and leave you to compete against the clock in a series of maddeningly difficult courses.
Where Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 looks set to succeed over the original is that it immediately feels more accessible without sacrificing on overall difficulty. Although veteran players will probably swing their way through the opening few levels without any fuss, later stages look set to seriously challenge your ability to judge distance and keep a cool head - that's the Capcom Way. Difficulty quickly ramps up, but this time newcomers (or just those unable to get their head around a game without jumping) will find themselves able to come along for the ride.
Phew. And I managed to get through a whole preview without mentioning the ridiculous "your wife is your arm" plot twist revealed at the end of 2009's disappointing 3D ga-- oh dear.
Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 is due for release as a download on Xbox LIVE Arcade and PSN in Q1 2011.