Single Player – Tyler Treat
BioShock 2 is a tough game to review. It’s fighting an uphill battle against an absolutely stunning game. It’s got big shoes to fill, shoes, many argue, didn’t need filling at all. With that in mind, it’s difficult to review without comparing it to the greatness of its predecessor. BioShock 2 retains many of the gameplay elements that made the first title so enjoyable, but it ultimately falls short of greatness thanks to weak characters and even weaker storytelling.
The game takes place 10 years after the events of BioShock. Andrew Ryan is dead, Rapture is in shambles, and the Splicers are still running amuck. Sadly, the awe of Rapture – the magic of it – is gone. The opening sequence in the original game was very inspiring, but now it’s more or less of a “been there, done that” moment. There’s a nice underwater vista you’ll come across, but it just doesn’t pack the same punch. Nonetheless, BioShock 2 has a very compelling opening that introduces us to the game’s antagonist, Sofia Lamb. Unfortunately, that’s about as compelling as the story gets.
In BioShock 2, players assume the role of Subject Delta, an early Big Daddy prototype and the first to be successfully bonded to a Little Sister. Delta has unexplainably gained free will. Your goal is to track down and find your Little Sister, who isn’t so little anymore. Sofia Lamb, a former Rapture psychiatrist, has risen to power, and her political views starkly contrast Andrew Ryan’s. As Rapture’s new benefactor, Lamb controls its psychotic denizens, collectively known as “The Family.” Although Ryan is gone, his ideals can still be seen throughout the city, and his legacy, a chilling reminder of a failed utopia.
The plot itself shows strong potential, but it’s dismally undermined by mediocre writing. One of the reasons BioShock had such a fantastic narrative was because of its multiple plot twists, something that BioShock 2 lacks entirely. However, the lack of plot twists isn’t what tarnishes the game’s story. What really ruins it are the characters.
BioShock 2’s characters are painfully one-dimensional. The audio diaries, which make a welcomed return, provide insight into Rapture’s fascinating back story, but they don’t do much in terms of fleshing out the characters you meet in the game. BioShock had some really enticing characters, such as the crazed artist Sander Cohen. The ones you meet in BioShock 2 serve little purpose other than to hinder your progress, and they contribute very little to the game’s narrative. There’s not much character development, and there’s no attachment whatsoever. For most of the characters, players are left with the choice of sparing them or blowing their brains out, a decision that actually has very little impact on the game’s outcome, aside from its tone. The moral choices, such as the decisions to kill/spare NPCs and harvest/save Little Sisters, are clear but uncompelling and ultimately feel superfluous.
Tenenbaum makes a brief appearance, strong emphasis on “brief.” She appears for one scene towards the beginning and then disappears from the rest of the game, her fate completely unknown. Her cameo is so insignificant, in fact, it’s as if the writers brought her back just for the sake of bringing her back. Her role in the game is utterly pointless, which is unfortunate because she’s one of the few interesting characters. You expect to see her later in the game, but it seems as though the scriptwriters just forgot about her.
Accompanying you on your adventure in a way similar to Atlas from BioShock, is Augustus Sinclair, and by “accompanying,” I mean hiding in a train telling you what to do. Sinclair’s true motives are unclear, nor are they ever revealed. Although his purpose was questionable from the start, Sinclair’s character arc ends in an incredibly dissatisfying fashion. I also felt that the game in general ended on a disappointing note.
One thing I did like quite a bit was the sequence where the player takes control of a Little Sister. It was interesting to see the world from their perspective and how it changed. This was very well-executed, as were the brief flashbacks players confronted throughout the game.
I felt that the “creepiness factor” was turned noticeably down in BioShock 2. The game’s scare tactics are much more blatant than that of its predecessor. Gone are the subtleties that literally stood my hair on end in BioShock. Also, encounters with the game’s characters are much less menacing than, say, your first encounter with Sander Cohen. That’s not to say the game doesn’t have its moments. It certainly does, and it begins to pick up towards the end. It’s just not as engaging as the first.
As far as gameplay goes, BioShock 2 does just about everything right. The addition of dual-wielding, which allows players to use both plasmids and weapons simultaneously, is brilliant. The adopting of Little Sisters was an intriguing concept at first, but gathering Adam quickly became a chore, which is why I ditched it altogether halfway through the game. That decision didn’t deter me from completing the game in any real way, which couldn’t have taken more than eight hours on the “Hard” difficulty, I might add.
The general method for taking down a Big Daddy in BioShock was to simply unload all your weapons on it, and if you died, you respawned at a Vita-Chamber. Rinse, repeat. 2K Marin said it would be addressing this “cheap” strategy by having Little Sisters heal their Big Daddies, but it’s so minimal that the strategy is effectively left unchanged.
BioShock 2 introduces two new enemies, Brute Splicers and Big Sisters. The former act as mini-bosses, while the latter, in conjunction with Big Daddies, provide the real boss battles. When asked if the game would have a boss battle along the lines of BioShock’s, 2K’s answer was that it was taking a “very different approach.” Different approach indeed, as there’s no final boss at all.
Playing as a Big Daddy, players obviously get access to the massive drill, something I was particularly looking forward to. That’s why I was a bit disappointed to find that it’s much less awesome than I expected it to be. I was hoping to be able to impale Splicers with it or pin them against a wall. Instead, it’s just a matter of pointing it in their general direction and poking them with it. You do gain the ability to drill charge, which, to be perfectly honest, I only used once (where it was required to progress in the game). That said, it’s actually a pretty useful tactic for charging into a group of Splicers as it usually results in one-shotting at least one of them. Regardless, I think some scripted drill sequences could have gone a long way.
Another thing the developers seemed to be really excited about was the fact that players get to explore the ocean floor around Rapture and see the city from the outside. A promising idea, but I’m afraid 2K over-talked this aspect. There’s no exploration. The underwater bits are merely designed as transition sequences, forcing players to go from point A to point B. It wasn’t a problem, and indeed it was cool to walk around underwater, but it was just something that seemed over-promised and under-delivered.
I was happy to see that the in-game hacking mini-game had been drastically changed. It now fits fluidly into the gameplay and is much less of a burden. There’s also a hack tool that allows for remote and auto hacking. The research system has been revamped as well. Rather than taking photos, players film enemies, gaining bonuses for taking them down in unique ways. A bunch of new tonics have been added, and the new plasmids and plasmid upgrades are great. Chain lightning is totally kickass. Lastly, as with BioShock, all weapons can be upgraded, including the drill.
Aesthetically, BioShock 2 pleases but surprisingly doesn’t look as impressive as the original. The graphics are good, but textures aren’t very detailed and there’s the occasional texture pop-in. The sound effects, music and strong voice acting go a long ways towards reinforcing the game’s eerie atmosphere.
Multiplayer – James Pikover
Multiplayer for BioShock 2 is unusual compared to most titles. Instead of the same developer working on the whole game throughout, Digital Extremes, who ported BioShock to the PS3 was brought in because they did such a good job. And they managed to still succeed even with 2K keeping DE’s hands tied behind their backs.
BioShock 2’s multiplayer is a rarity. Gameplay is simply enjoyable: all the elements of the single player return, slightly tweaked for added performance. That alone makes online play worthwhile, though the various gametypes don’t help. Standard deathmatch and a form of capture the flag where teams must collect Little Sisters don’t bring anything new to the game.
One complaint we’ve received reports of, and have experienced ourselves, is lag. On both the PC and Xbox 360 versions, users have complained of lag issues, where games were OK to completely unplayable. Tyler intentionally left the multiplayer to me because he simply couldn’t get a game going that didn’t lag him to seizure on PC.
Some fun things are thrown into the mix, like becoming a Big Daddy during matches and gaining their full powers, though there simply isn’t enough to go around. Running is also completely missing, which according to the QA testers I spoke with at CES earlier this year, was because 2K forced Digital Extremes to not put a run function in, instead replacing it with a useless iron-sights aiming function. So if you end up wondering why things go slow so often, that’s why. Even as a splicer hopped up on more drugs than your local pharmacy supplies, it’s still like driving a mech: slow and lumbering.
That said, I found that forcing a slow pace to gameplay rather enjoyable, mainly because it allows all players to be on equal ground. Much like the appeal of Mechassault, there simply isn’t the complexity in movement, which in today’s FPS- and Call of Duty-driven online gaming, is a relief. For console gamers, you’ll find the controls are tight and responsive, whereas PC gamers may not like all of the keyboard controls or the lack a controller available. Still, while BioShock 2 will never be the multiplayer phenomenon of Modern Warfare or Halo 3, it fits right in with Mechassault and Shattered Horizon: well-paced, simple, and with reasonable stress curves that won’t leave you exhausted after a few short matches.
how we score
If it sounds like this review is overtly negative, it’s because it is. I really want to love BioShock 2, but its weak script gets in the way. BioShock set the bar higher than any sequel could ever reach. If, however, we put things into perspective, if we forgot for a moment that the original ever existed, we’re left with a good game – not great – but good. BioShock 2 is an enjoyable experience and worth a playthrough. It preserves the essence of Rapture and keeps in what made BioShock fun. It’s still very much worth a buy.
|7.5||While the plot shows great potential, it ultimately falls short as a result of poor writing. Characters are weak and contribute very little to the narrative. Moral choices are clear but uncompelling.|
|9.0||The graphics and sound give BioShock 2 a presentation outdone only by its predecessor. Although it lacks the same level of creepiness, its art style gives it a strong coherence.|
|9.0||Everything that made BioShock fun returns with a few added features like the drill, dual-wielding, an improved hacking system and Adam-gathering. It’s an enjoyable experience all the way through, and it really starts to heat up towards the end.|