canuckeh's BioShock 2 (PlayStation 3) review

Bioshock 2:Bio Harder

 

Once upon a time there was a magical kingdom under the sea. All kinds of exotic jellyfish and coral reefs occupied this kingdom to greet the citizens, all of which had magical powers. The king of this land was a wise and charismatic leader with ambitions of utopia and addressing the pedophilia issue by protecting all daughters with hulking submarine monsters. These monsters, despite being fatherly figures in name, were unorthodox in their tendency to solve conflict by means of mining equipment. Of course, utopia is an idea that always fails in fiction, so everyone started maiming each other and destroying the kingdom’s décor, which led to the serene mess that was Rapture. 

 The drill is effective at digging holes or escaping  from the Ninja Turtles

The original Bioshock was the greatest game you never wanted to play again. It was atmospheric, haunting, powerful, maybe even a bit thought-provoking if you’re in a pro-adjective mood. The heavy-handed world of Rapture represents some kind of unlikely achievement in level design. It’s just that progressing through the game was a bit a chore, kind of like working as a janitor in a haunted house. Oh sure, it’s thrilling to sweep the haunted floors and risk death the first time, but it just becomes a monotonous task the moment you realize you can respawn at the vita-chamber after the inhabiting spirits chop you down. So Bioshock 2 felt like the sequel no one wanted. What new revelations and surprises can be made by revisiting Rapture? Especially with how neat and tidy the first game wrapped itself u, a sequel was very, very, very painfully unnecessary. And didn’t Rapture collapse in the first game? Or if it didn’t, isn’t the time between both games enough for all the psycho citizens to have killed each other, devoured the remains and choke on the bones?

The pleasant surprise about Bioshock 2 is that, while it doesn’t quite match that initial sense of (bio)shock and awe, it does justify its existence with some (bio)shockingly great gameplay.

The core Bioshockisms are still intact. You still alternate between firing guns and throwing lightning bolts, fire or insects out of your mutated hand. You still purchase upgrades capable of doing funny things to your metabolism. Both of which are made somewhat ironic in the sense that the game has you playing as a Big Daddy this time around. The differences between being a submarine monster and the ordinary fool from the first game are sparse. You can now walk underwater, in segments that render firearms inoperable and serve only to traverse from point A to B. You can now use the Big Daddy Drillomatic, though that weapon doesn’t become effective until you learn the very comedic bum rush thrust pleasure attack. And you’re heavy; but you will only be reminded of your massive girth when you slip off the first two flights of stairs and here a mighty thump. And you will hear many mighty thumps throughout your playtime. 

Big Sister, ready to extract large quantities of bone marrow.

But there are several small changes that transform the underwater trek from redundant to…the opposite of redundant. The different guns and their respective ammo types each bear more weight than in the first game. Being shot in the head with a flying rivet from a rivet gun feels a bit like being Frankensteined the hard way should be…provided you have the headshot upgrade. (Yes, you need to drink a personal upgrade tonic to alter the laws of biology for the rest of the universe and give headshots realistic damage.) Unlike the first game which had you often strapped for ammo and left to use whatever bullets were straggling on the floor like a gun-toting hobo, munitions are slightly more plentiful, but not overabundant that you want to get gluttonous with waste. Just the ability to dual wield your plasmid magic attack and firearm gives the game a very noticeable upping of pace. That silly piping-hack mini-game is replaced by a more conventional “press the button here” game that you play on the fly, in the world’s most accessible form of computer hacking. And the game provides a bevy of mines, spear-traps, mini-turrents and (I kid you not), proximity-detonating RIVETS that give you some options for the numerous “wait here while enemies respawn on your ass” segments. 

All of these changes give the game a superior sense of flow and excitement. Gone is the feeling of just dying over and over again, respawning at the nearest vita-chamber and inching your way forward, one splicer corpse at a time. Health and weapon power-ups actually feel cherished, despite still being technically obsolete by the existence of the vita-chamber’s “Get out of Hell Free” card. The game even presents the option of disabling the immortal-generating vita-chamber respawns and actually making the player think about their every step taken, bullet flung and first aid kit consumed. Truth be told, I was having too much fun with the vita-chambers to bother flipping them off, which is somewhat of a substantial improvement over the first game if you think about it. Not so much of an improvement is the Little Sister system; you still have the choice to either rescue a girl for a little ADAM or molest her for a lot more. The difference now is that in rescuing girls, you can play a little mini-game where you protect her from invading splicers while she plays doctor and sucks fluids from a human body. This mini-game takes an uncomfortable long time, and frankly, it’s just easier to do mean things to the girls. Sometimes, the threat of a bad mini-game can promote bad behavior, kids.

I should probably talk about the story at some point. You’re a Big Daddy, and you want to find your Little Sister, who happens to be the daughter of the game’s villain. Very simple and effective character motivation, eh? The antagonist, Sophia Lamb, is some kind of sort-of-communist leader that was apparently a major nemesis to Andrew Ryan, despite never being mentioned in Bioshock 1. 

 Bioshock 2 poorly simulates the part of the hacking game where the vending machine falls and crushes you.

I feel as though your enjoyment of Bioshock 2 will depend largely on how long its been since you played Bioshock 1. If you kindly revisited Bioshock 1 because you wanted the refresher, you may have shot yourself in the foot. With bees, no less. You’ll thus spend a lot of time wondering why certain characters never came up prior, and the shoehorning of the Lambs and the “Alpha Daddies” might feel a bit artificial. And you’ll probably not be so impressed with the setting. While you’ll be visiting “unexplored sections of Rapture”, the awe of seeing water leaking through a tube or people writing cryptic Armageddon messages on the wall has faded.   But I can’t verify anything I said in this paragraph. It’s been years since I freed all the Little Sisters and presumably left the original Rapture to collapse. I was more willing to be intrigued by the numerous tape recorded messages and random acts of vandalism. And I was more willing to allow myself to be intrigued by the story of a silent father’s pursuit of her not-really-daughter. 

The campaign is about 8 hours long, with the tentative promise of downloadable content. There’s something about the promise of downloadable content that terrifies me; perhaps because it signifies to me that Rapture will never truly cave in after years of decay and destruction. But then again, the thought of Bioshock multiplayer terrified me too, and the game proved me wrong again!

The multiplayer actually has storyline significance, being set at that time in Rapturian history where everything went bonkers. All of the conventional multiplayer modes are accounted for, like Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and Girlnapping. But it’s all of the different Bioshockist ideas that make this mode unique, just like how having jackable cars in a city made Grand Theft Auto 4’s multiplayer so darned spiffy. You have your guns, but you also have your funky super genetic powers, the ability to hack equipment to your advantage, and the option to photograph fallen foes for a logically-inexplicable damage bonus. There are few things that put a smile on my face like being killed, and then watching my murderer get smote by the trap I placed on the vending machine earlier. Even the game’s personality shines through in multiplayer; the 50s culture motifs that Bioshock 2 ripped off from Bioshock 1 ripping off Fallout are in full effect. Forget playing as generic military marines and terrorists, your characters of choice include a housewife and a jock of the most stereotypical sense. 

So biomultiplayer is surprisingly fun, though it does succumb to that one flaw that ruins every multiplayer shooter from the last two-three years. Most people don’t look at it as a flaw, based on its stupendous popularity. I’m referring to perks; how you have to play a multiplayer mode for a very long time to “level up” and have access to better weapons and upgrades. The time it takes to grant access to the higher-level abilities is more than I care to invest in any shooter. And at this point, I wonder when people are going to have enough of the level grinding. I imagine the fans of perks getting fed up with them at some point. Imagine the typical person that spent endless sleepless weekends reaching the top level in Modern Warfare 1, and probably repeated the process again in Modern Warfare 2. They were then asked to repeat the process over again for Killzone 2, Uncharted 2 and now Bioshock 2. I’d like to think that at this point, people are going to get fed up with always being made to start out with but the most basic of pistols and upgrades. If perks are meant to extend a multiplayer game’s shelf life, then it’s ironic to me how they keep me away, and it’s the perk-free Halo 3 multiplayer that I often find myself returning to.

Okay, I’ll get off my soapbox now. The perks issue is more a personal issue than one the world seems to share. Sadly. But Bioshock 2 is actually worth playing to my surprise. I was ready to dismiss this as another unnecessary sequel in a cruel world where sequels are more prevalent than donations to the local food bank.  And while Bioshock 2 will not enlighten you, you will at least have fun sticking lightning bolts in a crazy person’s face while firing combustible shotgun blasts. Gameplay first, folks. 

4 stars

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