Rearmed and Dangerous
Let me say one thing right off the bat… you might have heard BCR 2 broke some unwritten code by adding jumping to the game. Well, they did add that in, but it is so peripheral to the experience that to say it has fundamentally changed the gameplay is asinine. Jumping is just used to get you over the occasional short pesky barrel that otherwise would require some aggravating grappling to contend with. You'll still need to swing around to get anywhere in the game, rest assured.
The action picks up a few years after the first game, with a new threat appearing in the form of a dictator from the Papagayan islands, General Sabio, threatening the FSA, Spencer's place of business. The FSA sends Colonel Brubaker in to investigate, but he disappears and a new team of Nathan and four other bionics head over to find out just what happened. Of course things are not what they seem, and soon team members are being attacked and everything goes to shit.
BCR 2 takes place across 24 relatively short levels (most can be completed in under 10 minutes) that are chock full of vertical swinging action and horizontal scrolling. Most levels extend far above and below the screen, and hidden areas are liberally scattered throughout. Many of these will be inaccessible until Nathan acquires various upgrades later on in the game, such as the ability to short out electrical components or smash fragile walls. These areas inevitably lead to more upgrades, and Nathan ends up with quite an arsenal of guns, passive upgrades, and active upgrades, most of which can be further upgraded one or two times to become more powerful. While it is nice to have all these items, I found that the ammo was so limited, I barely ever used anything besides the stock gun with unlimited ammo, and the regeneration passive upgrade was so useful I never bothered with the others. The active upgrades were more varied, and included a grenade launcher, hacking arm, protection drones, and several other handy gadgets. It should be noted that unlike Castlevania or Shadow Complex, you never HAVE to go back to previous levels to see what you can unlock, it is just something to do if you feel like you need to collect all the upgrades (or other hidden collectibles).
While I can't fault the variety in weapons and gadgets, I can fault the level design for being pretty repetitive. The two dozen stages mostly take place in either outdoor construction areas, generic jungles, or indoor laboratories, all of which suffer from bland layouts and uninspiring grappling puzzles. There are a handful of times where you take over a chopper or sniper gun, but these are both short and simple, and really lend very little to the overall experience. There are maybe half a dozen boss fights, but half of them are slight repeats of earlier fights, generally requiring the exact same mechanics to defeat them both times. Combat in general is fairly dull, as the limited array of soldiers and robots don't feel like they have any AI to speak of, and simply require you to avoid the occasional projectile while firing a stream of bullets at them. Early on, the game is fairly easy, but the last few levels start to introduce frustrating grappling jumps that need to be executed very precisely, which is not so easy with the controls. Many, many times I found myself trying to grapple straight up, only to end up shooting off at a 45 degree angle, leading to me missing my target and plummeting to my death in a pile of spikes. Fortunately, as you grab extra lives throughout the levels, they are added to the total number of lives you start with for the rest of the game, so by the end I was able to start every level with 16 lives. That still wasn't enough in the final couple of areas, and when you run out you have to start all over at the beginning, which, let me tell you, can be frustrating.
Besides going back to collect all the upgrades and get some trophies (the game is NOT generous with those), BCR 2 brings back 24 challenge rooms which are sort of VR areas with tricky swinging puzzles and no enemies except for those indomitable spikes that line most floors. You get as many tries as you want, and the only real measure of success is how fast you can get through them. Much like the game itself, they get pretty damn frustrating as you go along, and one imprecise grapple will send you back to the start and send you into paroxysms. BCR 2 also supports local co-op, which is nice if you have a pal and a lot of patience, but it doesn't alter much except a few of the bosses attack patterns.
The most damning thing I can say about BCR 2 is that I wished it to be over long before it was. There simply is nothing memorable about the gameplay or the levels, and the story itself is a overwrought melodrama that seems to dip into every cliche about bionics and Latin American dictators and evil governments. What seemed so original in the last incarnation has been watered down, and the concessions to more modern games dilute a lot of the charm. Unless you have a bizarre Rad Spencer fascination, or simply have to play every game that comes out of Sweden, you'd probably do yourself a favor by just passing on this game.