2K Marin Chose The Impossible...And Succeeded
A note to begin the review: If you have not yet played the first Bioshock, do yourself an huge favor by completing that before playing this game. It's a great game that's really worth every bit of praise it receives.
Short review summary: A more simple and poignant comparison of the atmospheres of both games: in the first game, you timidly held a wrench. In this game, you have a GODDAMN DRILL FOR A HAND.
When 2K Games announced its plans to start a franchise based off the success of the first game, it was met with a collective groan. Oddly enough and contrary to logical sense, fans didn't want a sequel. The first Bioshock was a masterpiece that had a beautiful beginning and a powerful (and firm) conclusion. How, then, could any team ever hope to successfully continue that story? When the brand new 2K Marin team was announced as the new development team with little to no creative input from Ken Levine, fans became even more weary of the sequel. Factor in the news about online multiplayer and the news that you now play as a Big Daddy, and that original collective groan escalated into a collective vomit.
Well, stop sending those jars of vomit to the 2K offices, folks! Bioshock 2 is here! And hey--it doesn't suck!
Bioshock 2 returns players to the decaying city of Rapture, this time through the eyes of a Big Daddy on a mission to find his missing Little Sister (awwwwww!). The city is much like it was when you left it in the original Bioshock, although strangely, not that much worse for wear. The inhabitants are still as insane as ever, which is evident by their slow dismantling Raptures plumbing system piece by piece to satiate their lust for holding pipes in their hands at all times. Other Big Daddies still roam the streets, protecting Little Sisters as they prowl for "angels." Security cameras and turrets and robots still littered around the city, ready to be hacked. Plasmids are back, of course, and the traditional weapons such as the machine gun and shotgun return as well, in addition to new Big Daddy-esque weapons such as the Drill Arm and Rivet Gun.
The guys at 2K Marin tweaked a lot of the game mechanics, streamlining a lot of the action that occurs during gameplay. The biggest change that is immediately noticeable is the fact that you are now able to dual wield with a weapon in one hand and a plasmid in the other, meaning that you can effectively shoot and use your powers at the same time without having to set down one item to use the other. Another big change is the removal of the pipe mini-game that occurred every time you tried to hack something. Instead, the mini-game is replaced by something that is much simpler where you just have to align your cursor in the correct areas. Another related change is the fact that you can hack from a distance now with the use of remote hacking darts. Although on paper this new mini-game sounds easier and less annoying, the caveat is that there are now times where you have to fight and hack at the same time, since hacking no longer pauses the game. Lastly, the method of gaining ADAM is completely revamped: you still fight other Big Daddies in order to nab their Little Sisters, but now you have to actively seek out “angels” (designated corpses found in specified locations across the map) and defend your Little Sister from an onslaught of Splicers while she gathers. All of these gameplay changes bring new and interesting changes to the gameplay system, making Bioshock 2 a much more exciting and action-oriented game than its predecessor.
But better shooting doesn't really matter unless there's new enemies to fight, and Bioshock brings some new foes to the table. In addition to the Splicers you encountered in the first game, the game introduces the Brute Splicer and later, the Alpha series of Big Daddies—new “brute” type units who soak up a ton more damage and were designed to be a tough adversary to compensate the fact that you're a dude in an armored suit with a effing drill for a hand. There are also additional variations to Big Daddies, bringing some variety to the many times you'll fight them to gain control of the Little Sisters. Lastly, there's the introduction of the now infamous Big Sister units, boss-type enemies that are even more powerful than traditional Big Daddies with their added speed and plasmid abilities in addition to their endurance. All the new enemies and new enemy types are a lot of fun shoot, although they don't really require a big change of strategy to battle against, meaning that you could pretty much just stick to the same two plasmids and weapons the whole game.
Exploring the city of Rapture is still largely familiar, even though you're exploring completely new areas of the city. The levels themselves are large enough to get lost in because they're populated with a lot of interesting places to explore, but the game does a great job at providing you with an easy to read map and also a very useful compass that guides you to your next objective when you decide to get back on track. The level design itself is varied and brings back the beautiful art deco-style of the first game and creating a creepy atmosphere with that just reeks of death and decay. For the most part, levels were fun to fight in with the exception of a couple locations that felt repetitive, especially towards the end of the game. There are a ton of things to find in Rapture, including almost 130 audio logs that bridge the gap between the first and second games.
The graphics are still quite very good, although definitely showing its age; I noticed several times when the game would have have a lot of trouble with textures popping in (and some ugly textures in general) and some framerate issues. The sound design was superb, with a lot thought going into immersion as your steps sound heavier and the subtle reminders of the fact that you're wearing a helmet when water drips on your head. The voice acting again is top-notch as well, giving real life to the characters, and the music is excellent, adding a lot of drama to the game.
All the changes add up to make the game much better than the first. Everything is been improved upon or made simpler, making a much more engaging gameplay experience. However, all these improvements do come at a pretty big cost—the city of Rapture is, for a lack of a better term, destroyed.
The story in the game suffers a lot from the fact that the first game didn't give much leeway for a sequel. Although 2K Marin have done an incredibly admirable job doing the impossible (a fitful praise for this game) in creating a sequel that is worthy to its predecessor, the story and setting this time around is a little flat. Rapture itself just doesn't have the same gravitas as it did when it appeared over the underwater horizon in the first game. Sadly, the game does little to further the mythos of Rapture. I really would've liked to hear more about how Rapture could've possibly sustained itself for ten years after the original game (how do these people eat! How is there enough food to last ten years?!) Also, the new main adversary for the game, Sofia Lamb, is simply also not as menacing, intimidating, or interesting as Andrew Ryan was in the original. The game does its best to explain Lamb's absence in the first game, but it is very clear that Lamb is simply an afterthought. There are a lot of characters that pop up in the game that simply disappear as well, never to be heard from again. The game does attempt to introduce some additional moral choices, but, except for the ending, they have little affect on the game world. In the first game, these moral choices didn't have a large impact on the game because the idea of two separate endings was introduced late in the development cycle. I hoped that this game would play with the idea a little more, given the extra time.
Perhaps the biggest problem with Bioshock 2 is also the game's greatest strength: its combat. In the original Bioshock, players felt vulnerable. Splicers would hunt you and make you think on your toes, really forcing you to choose between weapons and plasmids, especially since you couldn't switch them on the fly. In Bioshock 2, the fact that you're a Big Daddy that can dual wield and participate in combat extremely effectively takes a lot of the tension away. In the beginning of the game, they did a real good job at making the atmosphere genuinely scary with a couple of good jump-out-of-your-seat moments, but eventually you come to know what to expect. By a certain point in the game, your pockets are lined with so much cash that there's no real need to worry about running out of health packs or ammo. There's also a certain plasmid that simply breaks the game by making the drill way too powerful. Lastly, as solid as the level design for this game was, there were no thrilling set-pieces that could in anyway compare to the “Nutcracker” found in the first game.
The multiplayer aspect of the game is, surprisingly, pretty good. 2K copied what made Modern Warfare so addicting by implementing a level-system that rewards you with additional plasmids, power ups, and weapons as you gain experience. The multiplayer matches are fun, fast, and frantic, often with a bunch of powers flying everywhere and everyone making a beeline for the Big Daddy suit. There's traditional deathmatch, team deathmatch, and capture the flag-type games, all with a Bioshock twist, such as having to steal Little Sisters, hacking turrets, and taking pictures of your enemies for bonuses.
In the end, Bioshock 2 is worthy of its lineage. The gameplay has been refined and improved, making for a much more fun and engaging experience, but at the cost of the the original game's atmosphere and charm. Normally, a little concession such as that would be acceptable, but for a game in which atmosphere was the original cornerstone, it is a sad price to pay.
- Fun, improved shooting and powers
- Exciting combat with adaptable AI
- Solid multiplayer
- Streamlined, more accessible gameplay
- Different plasmids to suit different playstyles
- Beautiful graphics
- Story and atmosphere don't hold up to the original
- Forgettable/Poor use of characters and moral system
- Potentially game breaking plasmid combos