Review: Bioshock 2 (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Bioshock 2
Genre: First-Person Shooter
Developer: 2K Marin
Publisher: 2K Games
Release Date: 02/09/10

Bioshock is a hard act to follow. Let’s not pretend otherwise. The game is artistically fantastic, visually outstanding, aurally exceptional, and generally a great all-around experience. Whether or not you agree with the massive outpouring of love the game received upon release, it’s pretty much a hard game to hate, and the overall experience is artistically interesting, if nothing else. As such, anyone planning to make a sequel to what was, for many people, one of the greatest games of 2007 would pretty much be behind the eight ball from the start due to the high expectations from the fanbase. The good news is that 2K Marin was up to the challenge, thanks in large part to having several members of the original Bioshock team on staff. It didn’t hurt that the development house was also the team responsible for porting the original game over to the PS3, so even the inexperienced members of the team were given a chance to play with the engine and the product before they took on the task of developing a sequel. As a result, Bioshock 2 is an overall worthwhile sequel to a respected game that retains most of the aesthetic charm and artistic merit of the original while adding in some new mechanics and a functional multiplayer mode to boot. That said, the game fails in some key respects, and as a result, while it’s still a good time, it doesn’t feel as memorable as its predecessor.

Bioshock 2 tells the story of Subject Delta, one of the first Big Daddies to be created in Rapture. Ten years ago, his Little Sister was violently taken from him and his life was brought to an end in the process. As the game begins, Delta has managed to find his way back to the land of the living, and while the how of his resurrection isn’t made apparent, the why becomes obvious early on. He has been brought back by his Little Sister, the now grown up Eleanor Lamb, to liberate her from the clutches of her mother, Sofia Lamb. Sofia, it seems, has risen to fill the power vacuum left behind following the events of the first game, and she has turned the society of Rapture into something resembling a communist commune. Her goal is to advance her beliefs of ultimate altruism through any means necessary by exploiting her daughter. Your goal, in turn, is to prevent this by any means necessary so that you may reunite with your “daughter”, Eleanor. Aiding you in your quest are the Little Sisters, depending on how you use them, as well as Augustus Sinclair, a somewhat amoral “businessman” who is a good bit more than he first seems. Opposing you, however, is an army of Splicers and Big Daddies, as well as several of Sofia’s hand-picked associates and her newly developed Big Sisters, agile monstrosities who can dance rings around you and hurt you almost as well as their male counterparts. On the plus side, the dialogue writing is outstanding once again, and the characterization is stupendous. The delivery of the story is exceptional, as is the pacing of the plot, and the overall plot ambience is excellent. Also, Sofia is more than a worthy successor to Andrew Ryan and Frank Fontaine, as she’s every bit as convinced of the awesomeness of her plan as they were of theirs, and she’s every bit the morally misguided antagonist she needs to be. You will, in short, hate her immensely by the end of the game, no matter whether you agree with her principle beliefs or not.

That said, the story is not very good at all. Sofia’s plot is inane, at best, and aside from the fact that it more than casually borrows elements from the plot of Neon Genesis Evangelion, it’s really rather difficult to imagine how it would even succeed. Sofia makes it apparent that she doesn’t really intend to make Rapture her permanent home, as she’s all too willing to dismiss it in conversation and blow up parts of it when needed, so it’s hard to understand what she intended to do with her plan once it reached fruition. Introduce it into the real world? That didn’t work out so well for Jesus, which is basically what she was trying to make. Rebuild Rapture? So why let it fall apart and destroy parts of it? It seems like Sofia had this great idea and didn’t really think too hard about what to do once she’d accomplished her mission, which is awkward and spotty. The resolution to the plot also doesn’t work in the same way Bioshock‘s ending did for a few reasons. While the morality elements of the plot work better in this game than they did in the first, the two “evil” endings feel like carbon copies of each other and don’t feel different enough.

Further, the major event that happens at the end of this game would have worked better at the end of the first than it did here. In that game, once you hit the big plot twist that your motivation was revenge by any means necessary, and in that context, what happens at the end of this game would have made sense in this game. This time around, revenge and salvation play equal roles in the plot, making the ending feel needlessly morose and dramatic for the sake of being dramatic instead of feeling like a natural progression of the events. It doesn’t help that, by the time you reach the end of the game, they’ve fully explained your life and times to you and completely documented how you became a Big Daddy from beginning to end. Taking that history into consideration when viewing any of the endings, the moral of the story seems to be “Hey, life sucks, doesn’t it?” This while accurate, is not a very reasonable way to end a story. It also doesn’t help that, if you act in an entirely moral fashion, you are given no satisfaction, as the one thing that I SWEAR TO YOU that you will want to see happen by the end of the game will not. Also, the big event that sets up the ending seems forced, to be blunt. I understand that events needed to be set into motion that made the final events of the game unavoidable, but we’re talking about genetic modification on a level that allows people to fire live bees out of their forearm. I find it hard to believe that this sort of genetic modification could be fooled in the fashion it is, frankly. I could go on, but simply put: Bioshock 2 plays out like Martin Scorsese directing a Twilight film, so let’s call it “okay” and move on.

Visually, Bioshock 2 looks like Bioshock, and while that’s great on an artistic level, technologically it is somewhat problematic. The visuals are still as stunning as ever, overall, and Rapture is still as fantastic a location as it ever was. If you’ve not played Bioshock, you’ll be floored by the attention to detail and incredible artistic vision present in the world, as well as the 1950’s flair of the design, and if you have played the first game, you’ll be impressed by how the design has transferred so seamlessly from game to game. The character models have received some solid upgrades all around, and the animations generally look good in motion, though the comedic ragdoll deaths from the first game have stayed around, for good or ill. The lighting effects are also fantastic, as are the Plasmid and other special effects, and they help bring the game and Rapture to life. That said, the game feels too visually reminiscent of the first game. While the few underwater sequences that come up help to break that up a bit, aside from one incredibly surreal sequence toward the end of the game, everything feels a bit too visually familiar. Further, the game has a visual issue where environmental objects can, at times, load in stages, leading to objects looking unpolished for a few seconds before they fill in the needed texture. While this isn’t common, it is noticeable.

Aurally, the game is as masterful as the first. The music retains the old fifties’ charm of its predecessor environmentally and uses orchestral score when appropriate to convey the appropriate tone and mood. The voice acting is fantastic from start to finish, between the audio diaries and the different bits of dialogue that pop up as you progress, and the various actors from the first game all reprise their roles, giving the game a nice feel of continuity as a result. The sound effects are also top notch, between the various sounds of Rapture settling and falling apart and the various weapon and Plasmid effects, all of which help to really make Rapture come alive as you plow through it.

Bioshock 2, being a console based first-person shooter, plays like many other entries in the genre, and fans of said genre should be able to jump into the game within minutes without a problem. The left stick controls movement while the right stick looks around, Y jumps, A interacts with the environment, X reloads weapons and hacks machines, and B initiates melee attacks with your equipped weapon. The right trigger attacks with your equipped weapon of choice while the left trigger uses your equipped Plasmid, and you can change said equipped weapons and Plasmids by pressing the respective bumper to cycle or holding said bumper to select from a list. The various weapons you can acquire range from the obvious, like a machine gun and a grenade launcher, to the interesting, like a spear gun and a rivet gun, and you can upgrade each one to do all sorts of neat things as you progress. Most of the weapons in the game offer multiple ammunition types, like anti-armor rounds, anti-personnel rounds, trap rounds, and other fun things, so each gun can potentially be useful in a number of different scenarios if you have the right kind of ammo. Plasmids, for those who didn’t play the first game, are special abilities you can use that allow you to shoot fire, lightning, ice and live bees from your arm, or allow you to make decoys or invisible scouts, among other things. You can upgrade your Plasmids up to three times, with each Plasmid level offering new and interesting benefits as you upgrade, be it more damage, the ability to interact with more objects while invisible, more targets, and other fun things. These active Plasmids consume Eve, like the ammunition for bullets, meaning you can’t abuse the Plasmids too much. You can also equip passive Plasmids, which offer bonuses to various abilities or modifications that allow for added bonuses, depending on what you equip. You can also carry around medkids and Eve hypos to replenish your health and Eve, as well as eat and drink various consumables you find along the way. Replenishing your ammo, medkit and Eve stores can be done by robbing the bodies of your fallen foes as well as through exploration, which will not only earn you said items, but will also earn you cash which you can turn in at vending machines to buy said items as needed.

None of the above will impress fans of the first game, however, as these elements were all in Bioshock. Fortunately, 2K Marin has made some interesting and worthwhile changes to the original formula to keep the sequel as interesting as the first game. First off, weapon and Plasmid brandishing has seen an upgrade. In Bioshock, your character could only wield their weapon or Plasmid at one time, and while you could quickly switch between the two in combat, this caused a delay when using one or the other that became annoying. Bioshock 2 removes this problem by allowing you to wield both simultaneously, allowing you to employ Plasmids and weaponry with no delay between the two, which makes the combat mechanics more friendly from the beginning. The hacking system has also been dramatically overhauled to be significantly simpler than it was in the first game. Originally, hacking required you to play a mini-game similar to Pipe Mania, where you would align pipes into place to allow some sort of flowing goo to reach its destination, which didn’t make a whole lot of sense and also got kind of annoying later on in the game. This time around, you’re simply asked to press a button as an arrow moves along a gauge to stop it in the right position. If you stop it on green, you complete that segment of the hack and move on to the next one. If you stop it on blue, you complete that segment of the hack, move on to the next one, AND get a bonus based on the machine you’re hacking, like added damage from turrets and robots, free items from vending machines, and so on. If you stop on an empty space, however, you take damage from an electric shock, and if you stop on a red space, you set off an alarm that calls robots to come wreck you, so timing is essential when hacking stuff.

Dealing with Little Sisters has also changed significantly from the last game. In Bioshock, once you ripped up a Big Daddy, you could save or harvest his Little Sister for Adam, which you use to buy and upgrade Plasmids. This is unchanged here, and this works as you’d expect: either you convert the Little Sister back into a normal girl for a small Adam profit, or you end her life for a large Adam profit. However, you being a Big Daddy this time around means that you can carry around a Little Sister and take her to harvesting spots to earn even more Adam if you’re so inclined. Your Little Sister will throw out a smokey marker to guide you to a new “angel”, AKA body, and when you’re ready, you can drop her next to it to let her harvest its Adam. This comes at a price, however, as you’ll have to protect her from attacking Splicers who will attempt to interrupt her harvesting and end your life. You can, of course, set up various traps around her gathering spot to prevent the Splicers from getting anywhere near your Little Sister, though as you progress the enemies coming for you become more and more vicious about their assaults to balance out the awesome toys you can use to keep them away. Whether it’s worth it or not to go through these sections for the extra Adam is up to you, as they’re entirely optional, but the extra Plasmid boosts can definitely be worth it.

The multiplayer mode in Bioshock 2 is entirely new to the series as well, and overall, it’s pretty well implemented. The multiplayer is exclusively based around competitive play, and as such, features your standard Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch modes, which are called Survival of the Fittest and Civil War, respectively. There are other modes, however, such as Capture the Sister, AKA Capture the Flag, or Turf War, AKA King of the Hill. There are also Adam Gram and Team Adam Grab modes, in which one person holds a Little Sister and everyone else tries to kill them, and Last Splicer Standing, which is like Team Deathmatch with no respawn. In short, if you’ve played any sort of online FPS before, you can pretty much figure out how this works. The mechanics are similar to those in Modern Warfare 2, in that you can customize multiple loadouts, equip multiple weapons as well as active and passive Plasmids, and earn new upgrades as you play. The level up system is also similar to that of Modern Warfare 2, as you’ll earn experience for playing matches, based on your kill count, death count, killstreaks, and trials completed, which are basically special challenges involving certain kills or amounts of weapon/Plasmid uses, for instance. Your health regenerates in this mode when not taking damage, though Eve and ammo do not, meaning you have to pick up powerups or die to replenish your stores of these items. In short, at first, the multiplayer seems rather… unoriginal.

Then you meet a Big Daddy.

In multiplayer, every mode except Capture the Sister will routinely spawn Big Daddy suits around the level, and anyone who happens to find this suit becomes the Big Daddy until they die. Big Daddies cannot replenish health, use Plasmids or their own loadouts, but are gifted with massively improved health bars, a stun attack to disorient foes, and a heavy damage rivet gun, making running into them unpleasant. These suits can easily turn the tide of battle in close games, but skilled players can still tear up a Big Daddy, so the suit isn’t an instant win card. There’s also more to the levels than running around killing your enemies. You’ll encounter turrets and vending machines as you move around, which can be hacked to assist you as needed. Turrets, of course, will fire upon enemies when they move into the line of sight, while vending machines will drop explosives when enemies come near, killing them instantly if they’re in range… which never gets old. You can also take research photos of dead enemies for a damage boost against them later, though if they kill you, you lose that boost. You will also unlock various snippets of storyline as you level up through playing, which help to explain the events of the civil war that ultimately left Rapture in the state it was in when the original Bioshock began, which is pretty cool if nothing else. It’s interesting to see a storyline attached to a versus mode in an online FPS, and for what it’s worth, Bioshock does an acceptable job working the story into the mode overall.

The single player campaign can be completed in around eight to ten hours, depending on how much searching and Adam gathering you do, but with multiple difficulty modes to play through and endings to see, there are plenty of reasons to go back to the game a second or third time. There are also plenty of single player achievements to earn that can bring you back for more if you miss something the first time through, if you’re a completionist. The multiplayer, while not as in depth as something like Modern Warfare 2, for example, is still pretty fun as well if you’re a fan of the weapon and Plasmid combinations, and leveling yourself up will take a while. There seems to be a decent amount of players online at this point, as well, so you’ll most likely never run short of people to play against. Unlocking bits and pieces of story as you play through and rank up is also an interesting addition to a mode that doesn’t normally see storyline elements in most games, and it’s implemented acceptably enough in Bioshock 2. For fans of the first game, there’s more than enough here to satisfy if you’re looking for more of the city of Rapture.

This, unfortunately, also leads into the biggest complaint against the game: for all of the additions made to the game, the overall experience simply doesn’t feel like anything new. Bioshock mostly worked because its concept and execution were new and exciting at the time the game came out. However, Bioshock 2 doesn’t get that same courtesy because the “wow” factor is gone. You’ve seen nearly all of the neat visual tricks the game has to offer in the first game, and while there are still some interesting set pieces on display here, nothing really has that powerful effect that it did in the first game because it’s all very much the same. 2K Marin tried to vary things up a little with the much-advertised ability to walk around on the ocean floor outside of Rapture, which was touted as a big addition to the game, but there isn’t anything to these sections of the game. After the initia,l “Ooh, look at how BIG Rapture is!” scene, the rest of the underwater sections are small segments that aren’t interesting and really add nothing to the game worth noting, making the whole mechanic feel tacked on. Adding in a couple new enemy types was a step in the right direction, but there isn’t enough new to the game to really make it feel like a sequel, as the Splicers are still about the same, and there are only a handful of new enemies, Plasmids and weapons to play around with. The multiplayer, while amusing overall, isn’t as well developed as it could be, and with a ten player maximum and a limited overall amount of toys to play with, the mode feels like Modern Warfare 2 with less depth and Plasmids, so it’s not as impressive as it wants to be.

A lack of new content, by itself, doesn’t really hurt a game if the core game is good, but without the impressiveness of the storyline or the wow factor of the set pieces, Bioshock 2 doesn’t hold up as well as other titles in the genre. The gameplay simply isn’t as precise as its brethren, and the controls feel stiff at the worst times. The added mechanics aren’t all winners, either. While the changes to the hacking system and the dual-wielding combat mechanics are great, the underwater sections, as noted, add nothing to the game, and the “defend the Little Sister while she gathers Adam” sequences often feel like unnecessary busy work. This is especially apparent when you have to spend several minutes backtracking to find a body for your Sister to take Adam from, then have to spend several minutes setting traps and burning ammo to defend her, only to repeat the process a second time before you kill her or drop her off. Bioshock 2 also doesn’t allow you to backtrack to earlier parts of the game, as the first one did, to explore and find things, meaning you have to do everything in a stage before you move onward, making the game feel more linear than its predecessor. The ending sequence is also a big let-down overall, aside from the story issues. While there are some interesting moments to be found, including a nasty fight against two Big Sisters, the sequence goes on much too long for its own good and doesn’t really have the same impact the ending sequence of the first game had. Also, in a major display of bad decision making all around, 2K Marin apparently decided to take the complaints that the final boss of Bioshock was underwhelming to heart, as this time around, THERE ISN’T ONE. There’s a lot of fighting, certainly, but it’s all against enemies you’ve seen many times over by this point, which only helps to make the game feel even more unfulfilling when you complete it.

Bioshock 2 is to Bioshock as Ghostbusters 2 is to Ghostbusters. On paper, it sounds like an awesome idea that is well worth the investment and effort, but in practice it feels like it was made out of necessity rather than love and simply doesn’t have the same charm of its predecessor. The writing is still great, the visuals are still charming, the audio is still fantastic, and the gameplay is still functional. Some things have been improved, like the hacking mechanics and the dual-wielding of Plasmids and weapons, and the addition of multiplayer is a good thing that keeps the game from running out of replay value too early, which adds some needed value to the experience. That said, the story itself is horrendous, the visuals aren’t as impressive as they used to be, the controls are stiff at times, and the multiplayer feels too reminiscent of Modern Warfare 2 without enough added to it to make it feel like its own thing. Further, many additions, such as the underwater sections or the Little Sister harvesting segments, feel underdeveloped and needlessly time consuming, and the lack of the ability to backtrack or a proper end sequence make the game feel underwhelming overall. That’s not to say that Bioshock 2 isn’t fun, as it certainly is, nor is it to say that it’s more bad than good, which it certainly isn’t. It’s just that Bioshock 2 is, for lack of a better term, disappointing. It simply doesn’t add enough to the game to really come into its own and the shine of the first game no longer shines so brightly in its successor. For fans, Bioshock 2 will be a must-have, but anyone who was only somewhat impressed with the first game will find nothing to suck them in this time around.

The Scores:
Graphics: GOOD
Control/Gameplay: GOOD
Replayability: GOOD
Balance: GREAT
Originality: MEDIOCRE
Addictiveness: ABOVE AVERAGE
Appeal: GREAT
Miscellaneous: ABOVE AVERAGE

Short Attention Span Summary:
Bioshock 2, though still a good game, doesn’t quite live up to the expectations set by its predecessor. The writing is still excellent, the visual style is still beautiful and impressive, and the aural work is generally outstanding all around. The gameplay is easy to pick up and learn, and some interesting changes have been made, between the easier hacking system and the dual-wielding of Plasmids and weapons, to make the gameplay better all around. The multiplayer, though a little reminiscent of similar competitive FPS titles, is generally solid and fun, and works well enough to keep your interest, along with the multiple difficulty modes and endings. That said, the actual story is horrid on many levels, and the visuals are technically unimpressive when compared to other top-tier games on the system. Further, the controls are stiff in some instances, and while some changes to the game are welcome, others, such as the underwater segments and the Little Sister Adam harvesting sections, aren’t particularly well implemented. The game ultimately isn’t as impressive as its predecessor, either, as it feels like it’s treading over worn ground and doesn’t improve on the prior game in a lot of respects. To say that Bioshock 2 is bad would be unfair and inaccurate, as it’s certainly a good game, but it’s not as good of a game as its predecessor was at the time. Fans and FPS lovers will find a lot to love here, but anyone who wasn’t super impressed with the first game won’t find much to justify their time with its sequel.



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6 responses to “Review: Bioshock 2 (Microsoft Xbox 360)”

  1. Jaime Avatar

    Good review.

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