BioShock 2 Review

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BioShock 2 Publisher: 2K Games (Take-Two Interactive)
Developer: 2K Marin, 2K Australia and Digital Extremes

Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC
Reviewed on Xbox 360

Nearly a decade after the events of BioShock, little girls are being snatched from the surface world and dragged down to the undersea city of Rapture. As one of the very first Big Daddies (the ultimate defenders and custodians of Rapture), you must cope with the remains of this fallen civilization and its devious denizens to rescue the thing that originally drove you to seek out Rapture.

Kyle Ackerman

The developers behind BioShock 2 are under the misapprehension that the original BioShock was a shooter. Both games are, indeed, first-person shooters in form. But BioShock was fundamentally a deeply engrossing tale, a storytelling masterpiece that unfolded (with occasional shooting) while you explored a visually striking, undersea dystopia. BioShock 2 is still a good game, but it's not a great game.

A Bathysphere Too Far

How do you create a sequel to a game that was complete unto itself? BioShock was not only a vivid story, it had a definitive ending... an ending that resulted in the destruction of the way of life that sustained Rapture (the decaying, undersea, failed utopia). You don't. The only way to make another game work is to tell a different story set in the same world, and that's what BioShock 2 tries to do. But it does so by aping the twists and storytelling techniques of the original, making it a hollow echo of BioShock, albeit in an equally gorgeous world.

I enjoyed BioShock 2, but the story is a pale shadow of the original. The characters don't have the depth of personality or motivation of the original and the focus is on coping with hordes of faceless splicers (genetically altered residents of Rapture), rather than unique encounters that further the plot in creative and disturbing ways. The main hook of BioShock 2 is that you get to play as a Big Daddy – the diving-suited behemoths who were the nastiest, plodding monstrosities from the first game. But because you play as a prototype Big Daddy, you are as weak as any ordinary man when facing hordes of splicers and traps. It undermines the power and majesty of the Big Daddies.

All the Splicers Blend Into One

Over time, plentiful ammunition and upgraded powers make combat situations easy to deal with, but some of the early encounters are extremely frustrating. As a Big Daddy in BioShock 2, you need to assist helpless Little Sisters as they harvest Adam, the substance that fuels genetic augmentation in Rapture and is far more valuable than simple currency. However, when a Little Sister starts to harvest Adam from a corpse, she becomes a magnet attracting an army of splicers hungry for her Adam. After the first few areas, it becomes simplicity itself to stave off these attacks, but I found the first two instances particularly irritating. If I ran out of ammo or died and respawned, I had to face the entire attack again. That meant it was possible to run out of sufficient money and ammo to deal with the onslaught. Never did the first BioShock ever leave me stuck, needing to reload an old save to progress. It also made the Big Daddy I played seem powerless and inconsequential, entirely at odds with my first experience in Rapture.

As I progressed through the game, I was quickly able to deal with even hordes of Big Daddy enemies, where in the opening moments even a few splicers became frustrating. That made BioShock 2 feel like the difficulty curve was unbalanced and only partially tested. Furthermore, the hordes of splicers didn't have character – they were simply boringly overwhelming. Encounters didn't bear the storytelling significance they did in the original game.

Rapture Is A Decaying Beauty

Fortunately, BioShock 2 is still a gorgeous undersea city to explore. With the advantage of all the art assets from the first game, and the added hard work of a new team of artists, the visual world of BioShock 2 is even richer than that of the first game. But the storytelling falls short. As an example, BioShock 2 introduces Big Sisters as a new enemy. These protectors of the Little Sisters are, visually, a horrifying mixture of Big Daddy, lithe gymnast and polio victim. Artistically, they are richly horrifying. But in terms of plot, they simply provide vanilla boss battles to conclude each level, without as much character as even the different types of lumbering Big Daddies. They are actually used more in the game's marketing than within the game itself.

The world parallels the use of the Big Sisters. It is gorgeous, with entirely new areas, themes and scenery, ranging from the therapeutic sanitarium to undersea segments entirely outside the confines of Rapture. Yet, as brilliant as the art, new and old, may be, the tale being told is only an excuse to drag the player through an endless series of battles against hordes of splicers. In other words, it's just a game. BioShock, like the game System Shock 2 that it echoes, was a brilliantly immersive experience. BioShock 2 fails crushingly when compared to the original BioShock, but not compared to most games today. It even has a few moments of brilliance, such as when you get to see the world through the eyes of a Little Sister.

Test for Sinclair Solutions

Fortunately, BioShock 2 is much more than a single-player game. It also includes a multiplayer component built on the framework of the original BioShock by developer Digital Extremes (working independently of the development of the single-player story). If you wished that BioShock had competitive multiplayer modes, then BioShock 2 is pure wish fulfillment. Using maps and locales from the first game, players compete as "product testers" by wasting each other in the corridors of Rapture, over and over again. Ironically, not only is the BioShock 2 multiplayer a lot of fun, the writing and background story that underlies the multiplayer component are actually richer than the single-player game in BioShock 2.

It's easy to get hooked on BioShock 2's multiplayer. If it has a weakness, it's simply that (like many modern multiplayer games) role-playing game elements allow players to advance and become more powerful as they play longer. That means that new players entering into the multiplayer battlegrounds can feel intimidated and overmatched, especially as we get further from the launch date. It's possible to catch up and become competitive, but only after a few hours of multiplayer play.

When you combine the spectacular multiplayer that hearkens back to the rich world of BioShock, and an entirely new single-player adventure that allows players to revisit the undersea world of Rapture, BioShock 2 is a completely worthwhile investment that only falls short when compared to the mind-blowing experience of the original BioShock.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on March 25, 2010 11:16 AM.

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