Flying close to the sun.
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PlayStation4, Xbox One
Released: 1st June, 2017
Armed With Wings was one of my favourite browser based game series, I remember getting into the series with the release of the second game. When I heard that developer Daniel Sun of Sun-Studios was creating a larger scale entry to the series, My interests were piqued, to say the least. My first hands on experience of Rearmed was a PAX Aus, which convinced me to pick up a copy there and then. After that I decided to to wait for a full release from early access. The wait paid off.
Rearmed is essentially an upscaled version of its browser based predecessors, specifically the original. Its got the same slick art style, the same hack ‘n’ slash combat, it’s even got some of the same levels. It feels like a natural progression of the series. Rearmed is both a nostalgia trip and a good game, although it comes with some pretty hefty caveats. Some problems have been carried over from earlier games, while others are the result of the many new ideas at play.
Rearmed is essentially a remake of the first game, story included. You play as the Lone Warrior, resurrected with divine power and tasked with avenging a failed rebellion against a tyrannical king. The game doesn’t focus much on the story, a cutscene shows up now and again to remind you of what’s happening. The story is nothing groundbreaking, but it does it’s job. It’s pretty much just an excuse to pit some superpowered swordsman against an army of faceless goons, not that that’s a bad thing, mind you.
Armed With Wings has always had a very recognisably striking art style. You’ve got the greyscale palette, silhouetted characters and fluid, wispy animation that have become iconic to the series. The world is bleak and desolate, completely devoid save you and your foes. Rearmed maintains a fluid aesthetic about its character, they seem almost like they’re made out of mist, Blackmist specifically.
Environments, backgrounds and landscapes aren’t filled with detail, most of the effort seems to have gone to making the animations as fluid and stylish as possible. It certainly paid off, Rearmed is as slick as it is simple, everything flows nicely. However it’s not flawless.
Because the game is made with a greyscale palette, the times when colour appear feel inconsistent with the rest of the game. Dashes of colour here and there come of as jarring, rather than providing emphasis. Still, the overall visual presentation feels exactly like what I’d expect from a large scale Armed With Wings game, and I certainly appreciate the effort that’s gone into it.
The sound design is nothing spectacular, everything sounds like you’d expect. The onscreen action certainly benefits from this. The music doesn’t really add much to the overall experience, a few tracks here and there to fill the audio space. Its nothing award winning, but I don’t have anything against it.
If there’s one aspect that defines the advancements Rearmed has over its predecessors, it’s the sheer amount of content on offer. Rearmed comes with three different modes, Story mode with 40 levels, The Survival Mode a local competitive multiplayer. In addition to this, there’s an impressive amount of unlockable weapons, abilities and characters, as well as hidden collectables. Armed with wings has almost always had unlockables, but not on this scale. The earlier entries seem tiny compared to Rearmed.
I’m in two minds about all those unlockable weapons. On one hand I love the unique look of each, but on the other hand, some made little to no change on how I played. Each weapon has four stats attributed to it: health, damage, speed and range. Stats are good and all, but the interesting things comes from ability and perk slots. Not all weapons are made equal, some may have more perk slots or abilities that are locked in, while others trade those for better stats. Unlocking weapons, perks and abilities is a good way to encourage replaying the game and adds a nice amount of variety.
At it’s heart, Rearmed is a 2D hack ‘n’ slash fighting game, combat in Armed With Wings is fast paced, tight and most importantly, fun. It’s a fairly typical set of mechanics, but executed well. You’ve got a substantial arsenal to combat foes, light and heavy attacks, chargeable moves, dodges, blocks and whatever extra abilities you unlock. Laying waste to a legion of enemies feels awesome, throwing them about with stylish combos gives you a real sense of power.
While you’re encouraged to experiment with the move set, performing an effective combo is as easy as holding the attack button down. It strays dangerously close to promoting a lazy and boring way to play.
Pulling off combos by just holding buttons down sacrifices the satisfaction you get from the combat system. You need that connection each button press has with an attack to make players feel invested. Fights became more of a waiting game at this point, I realised I was just watching animations play out while waiting for health bars to empty. The game does try to encourage more extravagant approaches, offering extra points for creativity, but when the easiest way to play starts becoming the best, some of the underlying issues rear their ugly heads.
There’s a significant balance issue in Rearmed, some abilities and weapon statistics completely break the game. This problems stems from the stats and enemy AI, if you get a weapon with high speed, you win. If you get a ranged attack that can be spammed reliably, you win. Stunlocking is a easy and mindless way to win. The only silver lining is that stunlocking works both ways, but it’s very easy to avoid those situations. A weapon with high speed makes the least engaging way to play the most effective.
The problem is amplified by the AI, they can barely defend themselves, preferring to march headfirst into your attacks. Most don’t block or dodge, the once that do don’t last much longer. The only actual threats are ranged based foes or ones that just don’t get stunned. Even the bosses are jokes against repeated ranged attacks. It eliminates a lot of the challenge, and therefore satisfaction, of beating enemies senseless.
The combat is still very good, and it’s fun pulling off more impressive chains, but if the aim of the game is to progress, why wouldn’t you go for the easiest and safest option?
The other two major components of Rearmed’s Story Mode are the puzzles and the platforming segments, offering a break between bouts of combat. I thought the puzzles were great, they offer a wide variety of tests that are, again, familiar but well executed. Following you around is an eagle companion that you can take control of at anytime to pick things up, pull switches and even distract enemies. The eagle brings it’s own unique tricks and trials to the table, you can only move so much before resetting, it adds a small element of resource management that made it all the more interesting.
The eagle can be used to break the game. I remember exploiting the eagle to skip half a level when I know I wasn’t supposed to, sequence breaking can be very easy to spot. While this was pretty funny at the time, it was slightly unnerving, I’m certain the developer didn’t intend that.
The platforming is pretty good as well, there’s some neat sections here and there and the game’s not afraid to throw in new challenges to liven things up. I liked that levels were designed with multiple exits, finding hidden ones that granted bonus points was a nice reward for exploration. It’s a neat set of challenges that break up the combat.
Platforming challenges are well made, but the controls are weird. Running off a ledge jumps automatically, rather than have a jump button. I’m not a fan of this, It feels clunky and imprecise. I’d rather my movements be left up to me, not the game. The times when this system flung me to my death might have been funny the first few times, but got old quick. It’s even worse when you take into account the lives system.
Rearmed has an oddly placed lives system, die three times in story mode and it’s game over, except not. Not at all. Losing all your lives boot you to the main menu, where you can just restart exactly where you left off, collected weapons and all. A game over does let you cash in your score to unlock more weapons and powers, giving you the chance to pick up where you left off with a different approach. While I appreciate the game giving you a little headstart on your next attempt, the whole thing comes across pointless. Unlockables could’ve happened on the fly, eliminating the need for this lives system and saving the player’s time.
If you don’t want to deal with the platforming or the puzzles, you could always play the survival mode. Survival mode cuts out all the extra bits, leaving you with nothing but the combat and a selection of arenas. My favourite arena has to be the only one where you can’t choose your weapons before-hand, forcing you to pick up what you can mid battle. While that only temporarily alleviates the insane viability of lazy spam, it was nice having to get creative for while.
Rearmed’s final mode, Versus, was unfortunately local only, and without an online mode I was unable to test it out. I really wish this had online multiplayer, playing against another player with their own weapons and ability would solve the balance issues I had against the inept AI. With both players equally overpowered, there could have been some semblance of balance and a reason to experiment with other weapons. Not being able to play one of the three modes is a major disappointment.
Armed With Wings: Rearmed is a very good game, but it lacks a lot polish. The favouritism towards speed all but completely eliminates the need to experiment with different weapons. The platforming controls seem convenient at first, but quickly become frustrating. Despite this, the positives still far outweigh the negatives. The aesthetic is striking, combat is a blast when you want it to be, the puzzles are clever and the platforming is fun when it works.
For better or worse, Rearmed recaptures the essence of the older games and it’s an easy recommendation to fans of the series, and worth checking out if you’re looking for a fast paced hack n’ slash with an fairly easy learning curve.