Your reaction to Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 will largely depend on your sensibilities as a gamer. If you're the kind of person who misses the good ol' days of 2D side-scrolling, precision platforming, and levels so large that you can get lost in them, you'll find a lot to enjoy here. Conversely, if you generally prefer modern game design - and the easy-access, hand-holding philosophy that tends to go with it - you may struggle to see the appeal.
The first Rearmed was a remake of the demanding 1988 NES game, Bionic Commando, which in turn was loosely based upon a Capcom arcade title of the same name. Rearmed was an unabashed exercise in nostalgia, and while both the graphics and the original soundtrack were given a contemporary makeover, the overall package was very familiar to anyone who blasted through the source material in the days of Glasnost and chunky grey game carts. It was quite a bargain at 800 MS points (or £7.99 on PSN), not that this ultimately helped developer GRIN: the Swedish studio went bust in 2009, following the relative failure of their "proper" next-gen Bionic Commando.
I've included this brief history lesson to illustrate the problem that Fatshark - a studio home to several GRIN refugees - faced with Rearmed 2. Once again the studio is playing upon gamers' misty-eyed fondness for the '80s (perhaps the unremembered '80s, in some cases), but this time around there's no original game to bounce off. GRIN's 2008 effort had a pre-determined set of classic levels to follow; any departure from the established path would risk incurring the wrath of the fanbase. In this sequel, the developers have room to experiment. So, what do we want - more of the same, or something that combines its retro values with the benefits of modern thinking?
In the end Rearmed 2 ends up dithering between these two totems, but it's still rather fun, and that's arguably all that matters. Aside from granting Nathan Spencer the ability to jump - a significant change that we'll discuss in a moment - most of Fatshark's additions take the form of whimsical (read: shallow) bells and whistles. Where the last game featured a sizeable database of every foe, item and environmental hazard, here we find a daft scanning ability that lets you pause the action and highlight objects you want to learn about. If you reach a barrier, a quick scan will tell what weapon you need to blow it away; in boss fights, it'll directly show you where their Achilles Heel lies. While occasionally useful, this trick largely comes across as lazy design, as if Fatshark couldn't think of a better way to convey information to the player. With a game like this you don't want to be sitting around reading boxes - you want to be swinging about, blowing things up.
To assist with the latter demand, the developers have thrown in the occasional moment where Spencer can pilot a helicopter, or take command of a sniper post. The chopper allows for a spot of brain-free blasting, while the sniping lets you scroll around the level with a free-floating reticule, picking off foes with relative impunity. Both activities are quite fun the first time you sample them, but they're little more than brief distractions, and superficial ones at that. Thankfully the on-foot action is as satisfying as it was in the last game, allowing Spencer to obliterate the opposing force with a selection of meaty armaments. It's simple spam-the-trigger stuff, but all the more enjoyable for it - especially when you're throwing barrels to bowl over yet another disposable henchman. Each weapon can be upgraded twice via hidden pick-ups, while two further sets of perks grant Spencer a spread of active and passive abilities - like regenerating health and a mechanical uppercut.