Posted by thehailo on 2010-04-19
BioShock 2 Reviewed

BioShock 2 Reviewed

Post Rating

BioShock 2 is an intriguing beast. On one hand, it feels much like the original with few changes to graphics, location, or gameplay. On the other hand, the first title is a fantastic game. So, when it’s all said and done, is the sequel worth the full price of admission? Continue on good reader, for your answers lie in the depths below.

For those of you who somehow missed the original BioShock, this series deals with Andrew Ryan’s under-water city of Rapture. Originally founded to allow men to live free of interference from government and religion, the society has succumbed to drug crazed “splicers” who abuse a genetically altering drug called ADAM, granting them unnatural abilities like casting fireballs and mind control. The atmosphere of Rapture is one of its biggest strengths, taking you to a beautiful, fallen under-water utopia styled with 1950s architecture. This all continues into the sequel, almost to a fault. The original stands out because it was unique setting; the sequel does nothing within Rapture to distinguish itself.

Not to say all remains the same, which works both for and against the sequel. The first games story is a very self-contained and deeply engrossing narrative with a satisfying ending detailing what happened to Rapture and its inhabitants. BioShock 2 feels more like a side-story than a full-fledged sequel. This time around you play as a Big Daddy, one of the original games hulking monstrous warriors whose lot in life is to protect Little Sisters, mind-controlled little girls who collect ADAM. Several years later, with Ryan gone you now face Dr. Sofia Lamb, the quintessential batshit crazy evildoer who strives to stuff all of Rapture’s knowledge into her daughters head. In true soap opera fashion, her daughter just happens to be your Little Sister who’s ripped away in the opening scene. Lamb isn’t much of a threat herself, but she has an army of splicers at her command to thwart your attempts at stopping her. In short, the sequels story is much simpler than the originals; you’re fighting your way across the city to save your Little Sister and have to kick a lot of ass along the way. End scene.

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Important questions also remain unanswered in the end. Your “love” for her is unnatural; it is artificially implanted to encourage your loyalty. You either stay near her or die. As your character never speaks you’re left wondering of his motivations. Is he seeking her out purely in self-interest or because he truly cares? The player may answer this partially through their actions, though for the most part it’s just left hanging.

Luckily, as in the original, many audio diaries are scattered throughout to flesh out both the story you’re involved in as well as the backstory behind the fall of Rapture. This goes a long way towards pulling you into the otherwise thin plot. They also help illuminate the games phenomenal voice acting.

The graphics, while stunning, also haven’t changed much. On my modest i5 system, running a single GTX 280, I’m able to run the game with maxed settings consistently around 80FPS and above. You’ll also come across textures and other graphical resources taken straight from the original, and this trend of asset recycling continues with the audio. However, with the original BioShock being such an outstanding game in all of these respects, is this necessarily a bad thing?

Another aspect that remains little changed, but excellent, is the gameplay. At its heart, BioShock 2 is a FPS, but with RPG elements permitting you to customize your character with a number of abilities and upgradeable weapons. At times BioShock 2 feels too similar to its predecessor in most respects from its weapon selection to enemies. Thankfully the gameplay is very well paced, providing you with the right new weapon or terrifying new enemy at just the right time to keep you interested.

BioShock 2 does also add some interesting gameplay mechanic tweaks. Aside from your new Bomberman-esque suit of armor and oddly unanswered questions like why your fast and maneuverable first-generation “Alpha” suit was replaced with the “better” large and bulky suits by the Rapture leaders (sorry but this point just bothers me), you do get some serious fire power by dual-wielding weapons and plasmids simultaneously. Also, as a Big Daddy you get to utilize the Little Sisters to collect ADAM, which acts as a form of in-game currency permitting you to buy genetic upgrades, like increasing the damage of your fireball attack of granting you new attacks like freezing enemies, covering them in a swarm of insects, or shocking them with lightening. Collecting ADAM takes on a side-quest style of gameplay depending on your choices. If you wish, you can simply tear Little Sisters in half after eliminating their protectors and collect the ADAM they have on them. As you might imagine, little girl genocide is frowned upon and this action is considered “evil.”

Alternatively, you can adopt the Little Sisters and harvest two nearby corpses for ADAM for each Little Sister you find. This is more work, as you have to find two appropriate bodies and protect the Little Sister during the harvesting process when all hell breaks loose as enemies swarm from all directions. To top it off, after clearing each stage of its final Little Sister, a Big Sister (an adult former Little Sister donning armor inspired by their Big Daddy protectors), attacks you as one of the sequels most memorable new enemies. Of course, this whole process is a good bit more work than the evil alternative, deterring would-be goody two-shoes and generally giving me the feeling I was being punished for not wanting to murder doe-eyed little girls. (Of course, the ultra evil of you out there have the third option of initially adopting the Little Sisters, harvesting two bodies, then ripping the Little Sister in half.) Occasionally a conveniently placed Big Daddy, ripe for mind control, or hackable turrets and cameras serve to help your defense during harvesting, though the ADAM harvesting still feels too tedious to bother with once you have the abilities and upgrades you desire.

Unfortunately, the “economy” of BioShock 2, dealing with collecting ADAM, upgrading weapons, and accessing new plasmids, seems broken the further you get in the game. Playing on the default difficulty I found myself using the same weapons and abilities from about a quarter of the way into the game through the end. The Alpha Series of Big Daddies acts as one of the tougher enemies throughout the game, and for at least the last half of the game I was able to kill Alphas in three shots using the upgraded shotgun, upgraded “Incinerate!” plasmid, and enhanced shotgun ammo. For at least the last quarter of the game I felt no need to collect anymore ADAM or bother to upgrade or collect any new plasmids.

Another minor innovation in gameplay comes with the more polished form of hacking. Versus the old style pipe game it’s now a much quicker, and arguably easier, quick time event. Well, easier assuming you’re not color blind; then you’re screwed. Aside from that, it provides a nice diversion from the main game, as well as proving useful in many circumstances.

Originality aside, the single-player game is a great experience and lengthy depending on your play style. If you run and gun through it you can beat it in around six hours, though I clocked in at nearly 16 after exploring every nook and cranny I could find.

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The game rounds out with multiplayer, consisting of seven modes spinning off innovative twists of the normal deathmatch, CTF, etc. Unfortunately, the multiplayer was designed by another studio, which gives it a noticeably different feel than the single-player. Controls don’t match up for example, as in my first match I found myself in dire need of adjusting my mouse sensitivity. Technical issues also abound including poor matchmaking and balancing. In my first match, following an overly elaborate in-game menu system (where you walk around your apartment to select costumes and such), I found it taking upwards of five minutes to find a playable match. Once in, at Level 1, I was playing against a team of Level 20s and 40s. Suffice to say, my starting pistol wasn’t a match for their sniper rifles and grenade launchers, much less their skill. While I would love to see these issues patched, 2K seems hesitant to patch thanks to the limitations of the console versions, so I’m not holding my breath for any major fixes. That said, when everything works and you’re playing an evenly balanced game, it’s a thrill running around as a Big Daddy or playing CTF rounds with a Little Sister instead of a flag.

I played for about 20 levels of the possible 50, and after the initial few levels of learning what I was doing the game quickly grew on me. The community is friendly and the game is fairly exploit free, though poor balancing exists outside of the broken matchmaking. Big Daddy suits are dropped randomly, permitting whatever player picks it up to become a Big Daddy, which can instantly turn the tide of battle. It’s a fantastic gameplay moment when you find one, but at the same time it’s devastating to play an even skilled match with seconds to spare with a tiny lead, only for the opposing team to randomly receive a Big Daddy suit, slaughter your entire team  and take the win by a large margin. That said, when the game works, it works brilliantly. The game is stable and lag is typically not an issue, and the best aspects of the single-player game are well utilized lending the multiplayer a brilliant atmosphere and tons of great, and downright funny at times, gameplay innovations. That said, the core of the game modes don’t offer much we haven’t seen before, and due to the lack of any real clan or community support, I doubt BioShock 2 will be pulling away hardcore players from anything else just by replacing a flag with a Little Sister.

2K has announced plans to support the game for quite some time through DLC. The first pack came out this week, delivering a small bundle of new multiplayer content including a level cap increase, skins, and other items. Unfortunately the DLC weighs in at only 20K on the PC, meaning all of the content is already on your disc; you’re just paying for an unlock code, and I can’t personally support such a method of DLC. Single-player DLC is in the works, though they have not gone into how that might work within the confines of the linear single-player game, especially if you’ve already completed your playthrough.

Overall, BioShock 2 feels more like BioShock 1.5 at times. The graphics, audio, gameplay, and just about everything can feel too familiar for fans of the original. Its saving grace is that the original is a fantastic game, meaning so is the sequel, excluding the noticeably weaker storyline. Furthermore, just enough new content and polish has been added to keep it from wearing thin too quickly. The multiplayer experience is rough around the edges at times but, if you’re willing to suffer some initial punishment, offers a very entertaining, deep, and unique experience. In the end BioShock 2 isn’t perfect, but stands as a solid sequel to an outstanding game, and stands by itself as a fantastic example of the genre. Whether this will be your first or second run through Andrew Ryan’s failed dream, don’t miss this fantastically dark return to Rapture.

Burn It:

  • Breaks away and improves upon the original too little.
  • Inconsistent and less memorable storyline.
  • Multiplayer suffers from major balancing issues.

Buy It:

  • Polished gameplay and controls.
  • Beautiful graphics, setting, and audio. Outstanding voice acting.
  • Length provides good value without becoming repetitive or tedious.
  • Story, while thin, is still well above average with powerful and emotional moments, moral based decisions, and a satisfying ending.

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