Of the numerous Capcom remakes which surfaced a couple of years ago, Bionic Commando: Rearmed was one of the few to win appreciative nods across the board. It achieved the rarest of feats, managing to stay completely faithful to the source material without making you want to ram your hand in the nearest waste disposal unit.
That's not to say it was perfect. As Dan Whitehead pointed out in his review, sometimes the game's determination to stick to the 20 year-old template of the original felt rigid to the point of being stubborn. It was easy to see how the game might have been more fun with, say, a more flexible arm-aiming system, or hover cats.
On the other hand meddling with it too much would have doubtlessly broken the level design, and turned it into Viva Pinata or something. At least Tom would have been pleased.
The logical next step, of course, was to make a Rearmed follow-up that fixes many of the frustrations people had with the original while remaining faithful to the game so many people enjoyed back in 2008. Problematically GRIN, the studio behind Rearmed, went belly-up before making it past the early stages of the project.
Capcom passed development duties onto FatShark. Also based in Stockholm, the studio had previously worked with GRIN and took on some of its ex-staff members. The end result is you'll barely notice the join.
What you will notice is a fair number of changes. The most obvious, if not the most joyously significant, is the logical addition of a daring new invention which FatShark is calling the "jump". Rather than have to constantly rely on Captain Nathan 'Rad' Spencer's trusty mechanical arm to negotiate those troublesome barrels and crates, you can get about without as much faff.
For the benefit of those who enjoy a bit of self-harm in their spare time, you'll also be able to play the game the good old-fashioned way and turn off that meddlesome jump ability. To add an extra level of challenge, the designers recommend you sit on your arm for 20 minutes before playing.
Somewhat anti-climactically, the ability to jump doesn't make much of a difference. You still find yourself forced to grapple almost the whole time to get around effectively. While we're on the subject, you'll probably be curious to know whether they refined the arm aiming system - mapping it, perhaps, to the right analog stick in order to allow for more flexible, precise control?
Nope. Presumably this is part of an attempt to maintain the game's retro feel, but the sad consequence is that basic manoeuvres still feel a little clunkier than they ought to in 2011. You'll once again find yourself doing the pixel shuffle to hit the anchor point just so.
Plus you're still bafflingly unable to move down to platforms beneath you, and the bionic arm can still only be shot out at 45 degree increments. Sure, it's undoubtedly faithful, and dedicate franchise fans will appreciate that. But you can't help feeling the game would be even more enjoyable if the approach taken were slightly more fluid and, dare I say it, intuitive.
The same applies to the way the game deals with death. Although the dreaded one-hit-kill mentality of the eighties original was mercifully given the finger with the remake, you still have to put up with being sent back to the start of the stage once you run out of lives.
Normally that might not be an issue, but in a game where it's impossible to tell when there's a bottomless death pit beneath you as you attempt to swing to safety, it's like being clubbed over the head by a surly drill instructor.
Fortunately the levels are concise enough for this not to become a serious irritation, but such penalties hardly make you beam with sunny effervescence either - especially when failing to beat a boss results in a weary ten minute backtrack. Checkpoints say hi.
But it's not all about teeth-grinding and expletives. Once you break through that initial pain barrier and recalibrate your gaming time machine to 1988, there's plenty of testing retro entertainment waiting to be unleashed.
You'll even appreciate some of the changes - like the Metroid Prime-style Bio Vision, which allows you to scan various bits of the environment for clues and information. Plus there are new abilities, such as the Death From Above manoeuvre which allows you destroy certain enemies and scenery items by pressing a button in mid-air.
Rearmed 2 promises plenty of set-piece killing implements such as the Sniper Mount, which lets you loose with a gigantic reticule and tasks you with killing all the oblivious sentries dutifully wandering the platforms. Later on you'll find yourself spraying a Gatling gun aboard a helicopter and laying waste to anything in the vicinity.
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Abilities also receive plenty of love in the sequel, with passive features like regenerating health collected early on. There are also special upgrades like the barrel-punching Uppercut and a grenade launcher.
The basic combat system, however, remains the same. You have the simple ability to shoot directly in front of you or slightly lower when crouched. You can grab barrels with your arm and either roll them along the ground or throw them at unsuspecting foes. Same old drill, then.
Co-operative play is a key facet of Rearmed 2, but Fatshark has taken the decision to remove split-screen play entirely - reasoning that they wanted specific co-op challenges (for example, during boss sections) and that it's actually "more fun" for the gameplay to take place on the same screen at all times (try telling that to the guy who likes to run off ahead).
Another feature facing the chop is the top-down Commando-style interludes. This decision is likely to frustrate those who enjoyed the variety they provided. Curiously the action unfolds across a linear succession of levels, with no option to helicopter to your destination. However, the level design evidently encourages players to come back later and mine for secrets once they've acquired new skills and hardware.
One of the more welcome features to return is undoubtedly the provision of Challenge rooms. This time around, certain levels will demand specific hardware and ability requirements before you can play them.
Sadly we weren't able to check these out just yet. But with the release of Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 just a few weeks away, it's not long before we'll be able to see if they're as hideously addictive as those in the original - and what kind of impact the wealth of new gadgets and skills will have on this classic series.
Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 is due for release on February 2nd on Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network.