Giant Bomb Review

116 Comments

BioShock 2 Review

4
  • X360
  • PS3

While the story doesn't always hit as hard as its predecessor, there are plenty of great gameplay changes that make BioShock 2 a worthwhile experience.


Daddy on Daddy violence: where does it end? 
One of the things that made 2007's BioShock such a stand-out was its focus on exploration and discovery. At the beginning of the game, you knew next to nothing about the nature of your own character, let alone the underwater Utopia-gone-wrong called Rapture. The city was more of a star than any of the characters living in it, and around every corner you'd find an audio log or some piece of art deco architecture that filled in a little bit more of the puzzle. The catch was that actually playing BioShock was far less interesting than watching its story unfold. BioShock 2 addresses a lot of the gameplay issues from the first game, with more fulfilling combat and abilities. But the story feels more like a footnote to the events of the first game, making it best suited to superfans who can live with just a little bit more insight into what made Rapture tick.

BioShock 2's story is set around ten years after the events of the first game, and you play as a character that is usually referred to as Subject Delta. Delta is an advanced Big Daddy prototype, so you'll spend the game stomping around in a big suit with a large drill that serves as your melee weapon. Unlike the typical Daddies, Delta has free will, but he's also been bound to a specific Little Sister, and if they remain apart for too long, Delta shuts down into a comatose state. So the game is a quest to get your (now grown) Little Sister back. But it just so happens that your Little Sister is Eleanor Lamb, daughter of Sofia Lamb, who's now in charge of Rapture. The elder Lamb has restarted the Little Sister project and is collecting ADAM to satisfy her own warped philosophical slant. You being alive is enough to throw a big monkey wrench into her plans, so you'll naturally have a fight on your hands.

Thankfully, you'll be able to use both of your hands at the same time during that fight. Dual-wielding plasmids and firearms is one of the most noticeable improvements to the way BioShock 2 plays. Both types of weapons are are made more useful by the way you can fire them off one after the other. It makes for a faster-paced game, overall. Also, the firearms in BioShock 2 are much better. You'll start out with a simple rivet gun, but you'll eventually collect a shotgun, a machine gun, a grenade launcher, and so on. The weapons feel more accurate and damaging than the guns in the first game. Back then, I was content to play through most of the game using the wrench, since the weapons felt less effective than just running up and whacking your foes. In BioShock 2, the weapons and their upgrades make them a lot more fun to use than the default drill, which requires fuel and doesn't feel nearly as deadly as stabbing someone with a huge, spinning drill probably should. Hacking, which lets you use turrets and security bots as extra defense and can lower prices at vending machines, has been overhauled in a way that takes less time to complete. Research is now done via a video camera concept where you get more research points for filming enemies being attacked in a variety of ways. Both systems are better than their counterparts in the previous game.

  Even after a decade, there are still plenty of drugged-up crazies to murder in Rapture.
Many plasmids from the first game return, but those can also be upgraded for charged-up effects. Charging up a higher-level shot of ice from the Winter Blast plasmid freezes enemies in a block of ice, making them much easier to shatter. You can, again, also slot tonics that grant you passive effects, such as making your plasmid use require less of the mana-like EVE that powers them, reducing the amount of damage you take, or even allowing you to slowly regain health and EVE by standing in water. As before, you can change up the plasmids and tonics you're using pretty frequently, and there are enough different options for both that you can customize Delta around the way you play the game.

All of this combat takes place in areas of Rapture that didn't appear in the first game, but the same look and feel is maintained. The biggest change is that these older sections of the city were served by a train line. This is used to justify the linear nature of BioShock 2. Most of your tasks involve getting the train to a new area, where it's blocked, so you'll have to get off and clear a path to continue. Once you move to the next level, there's no going back, so you'll have to deal with the Little Sisters you see immediately, rather than backtracking to find them later. While this is different than the first BioShock, it's not a major change.

Most of your goals are plainly laid-out and very straightforward, like "get the key" or "flip the switch." But along the way, you'll encounter Little Sisters, who skip around the city, sucking ADAM out of corpses with a comically oversized syringe. In order to collect the ADAM you'll need to purchase more plasmids and tonics, you'll want to deal with every Little Sister you see. The process is a bit more involved than it was in the previous game, though as before, it starts with you defeating the Big Daddy that protects her. Once she's unescorted, you can "adopt" the Sister and put her up on your shoulder (which, since this is a first-person game, you never actually see). You can then take the sister to specific corpses and let her harvest ADAM from them. But once you set her down, splicers come out of the woodwork and attempt to get your little girl. You'll need to protect her while she works, which makes your ability to set a few different types of traps come in handy. There are also tonics that make the Sister work faster, which I found extremely helpful as staying alive while being swarmed by enemies makes the gathering process the hardest part of the entire game. After two gathering sessions, you can take the Sister to one of the many vent holes around Rapture, release her from her curse by turning her back into a regular little girl, and send her on her way. Or, at any point in this process, you can just hit the "harvest" button and kill her for her ADAM. Keeping them alive and healing them gives you some bonus tonics that really come in handy, and after completing every gathering session and saving every Sister, I was left with more ADAM than I knew what to do with by the end of the game.

The other substantial obstacle in BioShock 2 is the Big Sister. These are grown-up Little Sisters who wear something resembling Big Daddy armor, and one attacks as soon as you've dealt with every girl in a level. Though new enemies like the Brute Splicer are tricky, the Big Sister, with her fast attacks and plasmid abilities, is the single toughest foe in Rapture. It's also the closest that the game ever gets to a boss fight.

  The amusement park has some pretty funny Ryan-inspired moments.
While BioShock 2 is more fun to play than its predecessor, a lot of the thrills that came from simply exploring Rapture and listening to audio logs come up short in the sequel. Sofia Lamb's reasons for running Rapture are fine fodder for Delta's adventure, but many of the game's audio logs feel like they're trying to find different ways to cram Lamb into the history of Rapture. You'll find audio logs from Andrew Ryan, complaining about Lamb's psychiatric practice or debating her in public. You'll find logs from Lamb and other characters talking about her as the main threat to Ryan's power, as if Frank "Atlas" Fontaine never existed. Lamb feels shoehorned into Rapture, making the game's events feel very disconnected from the happenings of the first game. The little bits and pieces of Andrew Ryan you get in BioShock 2 end up being the most satisfying things about its story, even if the events of the first game don't always feel like they're being handled with care.

Considering that both games in the BioShock series sort of live and die by their stories, online multiplayer doesn't immediately spring to mind as an obvious area of improvement for the series. So it's surprising that the game's multiplayer take on Rapture ends up being so much fun. Most of the structure of the multiplayer isn't earth-shattering, as it uses the persistent leveling system popularized by Modern Warfare and inserts you into game types that are fancy, Rapture-themed ways to say " team deathmatch" or " capture the flag," among others. But everything's been given just enough of a BioShock-themed twist to make it all work. You'll be able to hack turrets to fight for your team, or hack vending machines to spit out a bomb if an enemy player gets too close. Big Daddy suits occasionally spawn in the level, letting players don the armor and gain some powerful (though temporary) new abilities. When standing over a dead enemy, you can whip out your camera and take some research photos for a damage bonus against that player. Plus, the effective combination of plasmids and conventional weapons makes for a good time.

The multiplayer is set during the fall of Rapture, when Atlas and Ryan were effectively at war. As such, the city isn't quite so torn up on the multiplayer maps, most of which are based on locations from the first game, such as Fort Frolic and Hephaestus. Configuring your loadouts and unlocking additional tonics--many of which are custom-built for the multiplayer mode--also gives you a great deal of flexibility when it comes to building around your play style. The multiplayer is a surprisingly strong addition to the package that definitely earns its keep, even if it doesn't get quite as deep as some of the other popular shooters out there. Heck, it's nice to see a good, competent multiplayer shooter that doesn't involve real-world military conflicts or space marines.

 The multiplayer mode takes BioShock in a fun new direction.
The sights and sounds of Rapture are mostly terrific. The audio logs and actual face-to-face encounters with humans are well-voiced, and there are little things with the sound design--like the way that leaking water will ping off of your helmet--that help immerse you in the world. Visually, the game is sharper than its predecessor and better at making Rapture look dirty, though there are plenty of walls and other textured surfaces that look bad up close. It's recommended that 360 users install the game to their hard drives to minimize that telltale texture popping that surfaces in so many Unreal Engine games these days.

It's hard to make too many direct comparisons to the first BioShock when talking about this sequel, because such a big part of the first game was seeing Rapture for the first time and experiencing a real sense of discovery as you went deeper and deeper into its fiction. Returning to Rapture--even a different part of the city--is naturally going to be less impressive. But the smart additions on the gameplay side make BioShock 2 rewarding in a different way, while those who want to know more about Andrew Ryan's underwater city will find just enough to make the return trip worthwhile. 
 
Disclosure: The game featured in this review is or was an advertised product on giantbomb.com.   Jeff Gerstmann on Google+
116 Comments
  • 116 results
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
Edited by Ladnar

awesome, definetly got me more interested in this now
Posted by Tirrandir

I'm glad this game isn't as frustratingly misguided as we all feared, though ... I'd still rather Bioshock ended with 1.  I might pick this up once it's on the cheap. I just can't find it in me to be excited about it after all this.

Posted by Scheds

Can't wait to pick it up tomorrow.

Posted by Rhaknar

cant wait for mine to arrive, nice review jeff

Posted by pbhawks45

Nice review, senor Jefe. 
 
Bioshock is probably my favorite game of all time because of how they integrated the story so well by having the city become the main character. I'm glad that 2K Marin did a great job on this. It currently has a 90 rating on Metacritic, and it'll probably go down to about 87 to 88. Still pretty damn awesome.

Posted by dhuff

It's odd how excited I was for the first Bioshock and how very little I care about the sequel. Still I'd like to give it a go someday.
 
A man chooses PICKLES!

Posted by topgunmv

Doesn't this game use a modified unreal engine 2.5, not 3?

Posted by rjayb89

Hm, I thought Brad was going to review this.

Posted by pa21ris

I will probably end up renting this.

Posted by fatwreck

Surprised they were able to pull off a decent multiplayer. 

Posted by AltDimension

I'll see you, Bioshock 2, in the Steam 2010 winter sale.

Posted by THE_END

Sounds like a great game.  Definitely worth a rental.

Edited by spazmaster666
@topgunmv said:

" Doesn't this game use a modified unreal engine 2.5, not 3? "

It's Unreal 2.5 with some Unreal 3 features (the majority of the engine was built on a modified Unreal 2.5 engine but it was later ported to Unreal 3). But it still looks pretty damn good. Anyway, can't wait to start playing this game. My preorder should be arriving tomorrow by 3 pm. :P
Posted by JamesKond
@topgunmv said:
" Doesn't this game use a modified unreal engine 2.5, not 3? "
That's what wikipedia says: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BioShock_2 
Posted by Rhaknar
@pbhawks45 said:
" Nice review, senor Jefe.   Bioshock is probably my favorite game of all time because of how they integrated the story so well by having the city become the main character. I'm glad that 2K Marin did a great job on this. It currently has a 90 rating on Metacritic, and it'll probably go down to about 87 to 88. Still pretty damn awesome. "
as long as metacritic insists on turning GB's 4 star reviews into 80/100, I cant take it seriously. a 4star in GB is not the same as a 8 in most other sites, let alone a 3 star being the same as 60/100. But what are you gonna do I guess...except not care about metacritic of course :P
Posted by Steven

Hm, I kind of want to play it now...

Posted by haggis

So, basically, the combat is as predictable as the first game, with you knowing exactly how (and in what order) you'll be facing your enemies. The moral choices are ... all the same. The setting is ... pretty much the same. A story that feels crammed in uncomfortably with the first game. Oh, there's dual wielding plasmids. Whoa, dual wielding. That's never been done. It's hard not to read this review and wonder how the heck it got four out of five stars.

Posted by Bobby_The_Great

Can't wait to play it.
Posted by Zippedbinders

I'm astounded at the number of people who see 4 out of 5's and  8.5/10 as "bad" or "skip it" reviews. Not necessarily just from this site (destructoid and kotaku are by far the worst when it comes to haughty users). But still, this is a solid review, it even sounds like Jeff was nicer to it than some other reviewers, especially when it comes to the multiplayer.

Posted by MildMolasses

I wonder why they would stick with UE 2.5 rather than go to 3 (aside from the obvious answer of all the tools from the first game were made for 2.5 so it would be a much simpler development). 
 
 
And I'd like to create faux spoiler outrage. How dare he talk about the story by telling us things that probably become aparent or are very explicit within the first 10 minutes
Posted by EpicSteve

I just want to know if there's a weird twist again.

Posted by OneKillWonder_

Nice review, Jeff. Looking forward to picking this up tomorrow. It's cool that the multiplayer turned out good. Not that I was really buying it for that reason anyway, but it sounds like a worthy addition to the game.

Posted by Turtlemayor333
@Zippedbinders said:
" I'm astounded at the number of people who see 4 out of 5's and  8.5/10 as "bad" or "skip it" reviews. Not necessarily just from this site (destructoid and kotaku are by far the worst when it comes to haughty users). But still, this is a solid review, it even sounds like Jeff was nicer to it than some other reviewers, especially when it comes to the multiplayer. "
 
Reading Jeff's review, it seems clear that in his opinion the multiplayer is a major positive to the package. The game received 4 stars. Whether this is how he intended it or not, I interpret that as a 2-3 star single player experience.
 
I would respectfully disagree that this game is suited to superfans of the original. In my opinion it's precisely the opposite.
Posted by Sin4profit

still not all that interested, i'll have to rent or borrow it sometime.

Posted by frans130

I disagree that the first games combat was weak. I to prefer the classic style of gameplay where when you shoot guys they die instantly, but I still think Bioshock 1's combat worked great. The chaos and RPG-elements worked fine with the general style of the game and the plasmids. Other than that I think Jeff has made a great review although he's comment on the story is propably going to make me not buy the game. Bioshock never should have had a sequel
Posted by Teaspoon83
@AltDimension:  Lol, me too. 
 
I would have preferred the game stopped with the first but hey, we live in a world of sequels where video game companies are after the almighty dollar. Saw a video review on another site after reading Jeff's and to hear that the game is now a linear "find the key," is disappointing because I enjoyed the exploration in the captivating undersea metropolis.  
 
I enjoyed the first one and glad to hear there are improvements but for some reason, I'm not as excited for this sequel. I'll wait for now.
Posted by Lazyaza

I'll be getting Bio2 in order to form my own opinion but it sounds like I should be prepared to be let down by the story. Lame.  Good review, had all the details I needed to know.

Edited by Rockdalf
@haggis said:

" So, basically, the combat is as predictable as the first game, with you knowing exactly how (and in what order) you'll be facing your enemies. The moral choices are ... all the same. The setting is ... pretty much the same. A story that feels crammed in uncomfortably with the first game. Oh, there's dual wielding plasmids. Whoa, dual wielding. That's never been done. It's hard not to read this review and wonder how the heck it got four out of five stars. "

Cute, I like how you reworded everything to fulfill naysayer prophecies.  If you're not going to actually "read" the review, why do you bother.
 
I usually take 5/5 as being superb and 4/5 being a great game with a few setbacks.  If not living up to the original's story is the biggest fault of this game, I am definitely interested in it.
Posted by jaffaz

Looking forward to finding out just how much the storyline suffers. It must be hard to follow a game that had possibly one of the most immersive stories seen in gaming for a long time.

Posted by MattBodega

It sounds like Bioshock 2 is fine. And I'm still not really interested in playing it. 
It's sad, in a weird way.  It's doesn't seem like Bioshock 2 is dancing on the corpse of it's seminal predecessor, but I don't known what that game could do to rope me back into it. 
Probably because I'm not really interested in being roped.

Posted by Noxpectius

What if you havent played the first. Is this a good starting point. Might be interesting to play the sequel first, and the original secong.

Posted by risseless

Funny, I have the same complaints about Mass Effect 2 that Jeff has about BioShock 2.

Edited by DukeTogo

I'll wait for the Steam sale.  Between Mass Effect 2 2nd and 3rd playthroughs, STO, WoW, and the forthcoming Bad Company 2, I don't have the time to play it - not to mention my indifference to it as well.
 
I don't see the draw to playing as a Daddy, you did that in the first game for the final part, it wasn't that fun.  It just feels like there wasn't anything left to do but "bigger and more" for a sequel, making it feel like a cheap imitation of the original.  The combat in the first was fine, not everyone played cheap with the stupid wrench and died their way through it, abusing the admittedly flawed system.  If you played that way then the combat would feel weak and shallow, you basically played it wrong, even though it was there for a brain-dead person to at least mash their way through the game.
 
I'm glad it wasn't a train wreck and got a decent score, but it feels like one of those games that even with a good score just doesn't interest me enough to care until it's on sale for the time when nothing is out.

Posted by Inquisitor

A bit bummed out by the linearity of it.
Posted by ashbash

I'm buying this game because I had to buy a new Xbox 360 and it come with it (along with Forza Motorsport 3).
 
I'm glad that this review has got me more interested in this game now. I like most multiplayer games, no matter if the game shouldn't have it or not. Should be a great game.

Posted by Atomasist

Rent.

Posted by Terjay

My special edition is in the mail... Gotta love that vinyl sountrack.

Posted by natetodamax

Quite a few grammatical errors in this review ("and and", "also also")

Posted by ZeroCast

Yay!
 
Time to kill some crazy ass drug addicts!

Posted by ZeroCast
@natetodamax said:
" Quite a few grammatical errors in this review ("and and", "also also") "
I thought you left the Bomb...
Edited by Tennmuerti

Well I sure hope the SPOILERS in paragraphs 2 and 7 are just the stuff you would have learned at the very beginning anyway.

Posted by skrutop

I loved the first Bioshock, so I'm definitely itching to play Bioshock 2.  I think, based on this review, that I'll wait for it to drop to $30 or so before buying it.

Posted by billysea

I can never unsee the new big daddy from a Bomberman.

Posted by Milkman
@Tennmuerti said:
" Well I sure hope the SPOILERS in paragraphs 2 and 7 are just the stuff you would have learned at the very beginning anyway. "
Stop talking.
Posted by DiscoDuck8k

As much as I loved BioShock to death, I just haven't been able to get excited about this at all.
 
Depends how things pan out, but I probably won't be playing it for a while.

Posted by lolwot

will there be a quick look?

Posted by Trilogy

To this day I still think Bioshock didn't need a sequel. I loved the first game's atmosphere and storytelling but that stuff is really hard to recreate in sequels like this.
 
Interesting to hear Jeff mentioning the multiplayer being good. I'd like to see a quick look of it because I'm pretty curious about it now.

Posted by InvertedForce

I was totally hyped for the first game and really enjoyed it...for a while, then I became really uninterested in the story and felt the game play was pretty average. 


Because of that I wasn't particularly interested in this and even after this positive review I'm still not and I'm not sure why. Same as many others here, I think I'll pick it up cheap.

Posted by GeekDown

My biggest problem with the first game was the hacking and I really like that they adressed that. The review made me more interested in it but I'm not sure if I want to get it just yet.

Posted by Carlos1408

Awesome review, sounds interesting but i don't know how much i actually want this game; much rather have Mass Effect 2...

  • 116 results
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3