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BioShock 2 review

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BioShock 2

Summary

Our Score:

8

Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, Windows

I might as well just come out and say it: the sequel isn’t as good. But how could it be? BioShock excelled because it took us somewhere we had never been, delivering some of us one of the most richly atmospheric, emotional experiences we’ve ever had from a video game. It was only logical that BioShock 2 would return to the undersea city of Rapture; to its magnificent, rusted art-deco style and the lunatic antics of its vicious, gene-splicing population, but it’s left its new developers with an uphill struggle. How do you shock, horrify and amaze an audience with something that has already shocked, horrified and amazed them before? Worse, how do you add to a storyline which the first game pretty much completed? With Ryan and Fontaine dead and Rapture at the point of total collapse, what exactly has the city left to offer us to justify a second visit?

The answer is: a new story, a new nemesis, some intelligent new game mechanics and an experience that – in the end – still manages to affect you in a way that few other games can manage. The only thing you need to understand is that not all of this will be apparent within the first few hours. To get the most from BioShock 2 you’ll need to have a little faith.

Let’s start with what’s changed. As you probably know, BioShock 2 puts you in the hefty steel boots of one of the very first Big Daddies. Some ten years before the fall of Rapture you’re, apparently, slain with your Little Sister charge taken away from you. Now, with Ryan killed and Rapture society in the midst of a final breakdown, you awaken once more. Armed with a huge drill and whatever weapons and plasmids you can carry, it’s up to you to find your Little Sister once again and ensure that no harm befalls her.

Without wanting to say much more about the plot, this puts you directly in the way of the schemes of a certain Dr. Sofia Lamb, who, with her collectivist ideals and pseudo-religious iconography, wants to create a new utopia in the wake of Ryan’s failure. As if your regular splicers aren’t enough, you now have to contend with Lamb’s Rapture cult, the Family, plus new enemies in the shape of the gorilla-sized Brute splicers and BioShock 2’s signature enemy, the Big Sisters.

Up to a point, BioShock 2 is business as usual. You quickly get Big Daddy-sized variants of the machine-gun and shotgun to play with, along with a new, more versatile version of the Rivet Gun. You make your way through previously unseen areas of Rapture – a luxury spa resort, an amusements centre, a poor men’s slum, a red-light district – following the instructions of a new ally, Augustus Sinclair, and battling those standing in your way.

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Cub

February 11, 2010, 1:40 pm

I purchased Bioshock on Tuesday, it's rare that I would buy a game without waiting for reviews but, well... It's Rapture! To a degree, the game is almost irrelevant, Rapture is without a doubt the most intriguing, detailed, and wondrous world that's ever been created for a video game. And that’s all made it through into the sequel.





I've only got as far as the forth level having just completed what I can only call the most fun I think I have *ever* had in a single level of any game. Ryan's Amusements, or more specifically, "Journey to the Surface" is an absolute riot. And not just because it's the first game, to my knowledge, to allow you thwack the heads off of working animatronic people... It’s also houses your first experiences with many of the games mechanics and your first big battles. The script writing and the voice work are wonderfully done and the amount of detail put into every nook and cranny should be an inspiration to other game developers.





If you remove Rapture from Bioshock, the game mechanics still seem solid. There's nothing ground-breakingly new, but it all seems to work well. I've only got a couple of weapons and a couple of plasmids at this point though, and only one Big Daddy and Big Sister battle down...





If I can make one recommendation, and I said this to everyone I know who played the first game too, turn the Vita Chambers off. It adds so much to the game and makes you think about every battle, planning your tactics and prepping the battle grounds... With the Vita Chambers on, you’re just grinding each bad guy and you risk the whole thing becomes more repetitive.





Bioshock 2 is a great start to another gaming year; good luck to all games that have to follow.

PGrGr

February 11, 2010, 2:07 pm

I was exactly half way through the original Bioshock, when my Xbox went down with a RROD! I have to get back on the wagon and finish the first one before going in with the sequel. Looks like I've got a lot to look forward to.

morsch

February 11, 2010, 3:34 pm

I stopped playing the original Bioshock after a while, not sure why. So far, Bioshock 2 seems more... riveting. Not sure why. I only glanced at (p)reviews, and it's a good thing too, because I had no idea about the nature of the protagonist, which was a pleasant surprise and made the beginning even better than the already fantastic beginning of the first game.





I agree that playing with Vita Chambers off makes you think more carefully -- I've actually left them on, but it feels natural to go back to your last save after you die. Of course it does mean you have to (quick-)save regularly, which is a chore I'd much rather have the game automate, ideally in addition to manual saves.





I also chose the Hard difficulty, seeing it described as "You've played a lot of shooters" which over the last 15 years I certainly have. Together with the lack of free revivals it keeps you on your toes and you need to use features of the environment to your advantage; going into a room with two or three mundance splicers guns blazing will mean death or at least a severe depletion of your med packs.

scotw

February 11, 2010, 3:51 pm

"turn the Vita Chambers off."





Couldn't agree more, the game is much better with them off.

Ed

February 11, 2010, 3:57 pm

It always amuses me that people say to turn the Vita Chambers off. While I agree that you shouldn't use them, you don't need to turn them off. Just load your last save game when you die.

morsch

February 11, 2010, 4:26 pm

It also has the benefit of letting you use a chamber in a pinch. Like when you forget to save for an hour and loading would mean having to replay from the beginning of the level. Hasn't happened to me yet (I put quicksave on what is the console key in other games), but I'm willing to concede that it might.

Jon Jones

February 11, 2010, 4:27 pm

I know Bioshock is synonymous with Rapture, but I still maintain that one major thing that lets the sequel down is that Rapture is no longer a fresh property and much of the story had to be shoehorned to fit in with the original (which was fairly self-contained and didn't really require another visit to Rapture to continue). It's called Bioshock, not Raptureshock. Why not make a spiritual successor to this one and set it in a fresh new setting and story line? It may not be a good comparison, but that philosophy has worked arguably well for the Final Fantasy series...

Ed

February 11, 2010, 4:36 pm

@Jon Jones: A very good point, though developing a whole new setting would've been a much greater challenge and we probably wouldn't have seen a sequel for a while longer. Presumably that will be the plan for the next 'shock game though.

Cub

February 11, 2010, 5:25 pm

With the VitaChambers, I can kind of see why they’ve been added... It opens the game up to a lot more people without making the big daddies unrealistically wimpy. Imagine how easy boss battles in some of your other favourite games would be if you could die as much as you wanted during a single fight. It would, in my mind, devalue much of the experience.





Yes, it requires more skill, but it’s worth it in my opinion... It’s certainly not for everyone though.





@JonJones - A very fair point, but the world that was created for Rapture - and that includes the ADAM, the Plasmids, the Big Daddies and Little Sisters and everything else along with the physical setting - is what made people fall in love with the first Bioshock, I think they did good to keep the familiar setting. That said, there is certainly scope to leave Rapture in the future, I personally think that there must still be so many stories to be told within the pressurised walls of the sprawling city, it would be a shame to leave it behind... There have been mentions during both games of so many places that would make great levels, apparently there’s a zoo somewhere within the city...





@Ed - If you agree that you shouldn’t use Vita Chambers, then why not turn them off if you’re given the option? It’s like deciding not to use health packs in a game because they’re unrealistic, but stashing them away for a rainy day just in case... Remove temptation and you won’t be able to fall foul of it :)

StuAndrews

February 11, 2010, 5:28 pm

@Jon Jones: This is part of the reason why I had trouble really connecting with the game to start off with. The good news is that everything in Bioshock 2 leads me to believe that we will see a different setting next time around. I think the series has a future, and I for one am very interested to see where it goes next.

Xiphias

February 11, 2010, 8:31 pm

I was going to give this one a miss after they stuffed up the first one with that pantomime ending but if this does have a good last third and a good multiplayer I might pick it up at full price.

Hans Gruber

February 11, 2010, 10:29 pm

@Xiphias - I enjoyed the original ending to Bioshock, it was a helluva twist and well worth playing the game through to the end.





In a future iteration, it would be nice to see more emphasis given to the earlier Fontaine era as the illicit use of plasmids began and his power and influence increased. As commented, I think there is huge scope for different storylines, I'd love to play out the part of a character from the early part of Rapture's development, to see it in its glory (pre-destruction).





Bioshock's one significant fault for me was that its setting is almost always too dark and gloomy, yet I have just placed an order for the sequel which I am now awaiting with anticipation. Looks like Stu has been really busy playing games in the last few weeks/months, isn't life hard for games reviewers? :p

StuAndrews

February 11, 2010, 10:40 pm

@Xiphias - Busy doesn't cover it. Between this, Mass Effect 2, Bayonetta, Darksiders and Heavy Rain I can't remember a year starting with such a strong line-up of great games. And we still have Napoleon: Total War, Aliens vs Predator, Final Fantasy XIII, Battlefield: Bad Company II, Brink, Just Cause II and God of War III to come before Easter! The good news is that I'm more excited about games than I have been in a long while. It's a hard knocks life....

Hans Gruber

February 11, 2010, 11:11 pm

@Stu





Just as well you enjoy playing games then! I can imagine an awful lot of personal time goes into this dedication, much appreciated too. I found your review very enjoyable and interesting reading and it brought back many fond memories of the original Bioshock. I quite enjoyed laying down some elaborate (and amusing) traps for the Big Daddies to fall into once I'd gotten their attention.





I played the AvsP multiplayer PC demo and got completely thrashed (pwnd as they say) by some kid playing as an invisible Predator. I was easy meat. It'd been helpful if I knew what I was doing and I didn't really have the opportunity in finding out either. Your review will make for interesting reading I'm sure.





As a seasoned Battlefield 2 player I've been looking forward to an update but fear the worse for Bad Company 2 since it'll likely be just another poorly thought out console conversion with horrendous controls and extremely dumbed down gameplay, if my sceptism and cynicism from many prior letdowns serves me right. Didn't get on with Fuel of War, since it just didn't feel right. I hope EA allow not just for externally controlled dedicated servers but also give the modding community proper support to develop spin offs, something which made the PC games market unique once upon a time.





Have fun then!

Hugo

February 11, 2010, 11:11 pm

SupCom 2! Don't forget SupCom 2!

Paul Dickinson

February 12, 2010, 12:26 am

This game, like the first, is brilliant in the design and the implementation. Kudos to the team who developed it and produced it - thanks for hours of pleasure!

Lord Comben III

February 12, 2010, 2:12 am

@StuAndrews - Awww does sound hard having to play all those games :)





Tell you what throw Final Fantasy XIII my way (PS3 preferably) and I'll play it for you, fair deal I say

Cliff 2

February 12, 2010, 3:46 am

The identity of Subject Delta is killing me! Who is he? Love 2K Games!

Xiphias

February 12, 2010, 4:22 am

@red: I felt rapture was a sad setting with all those poor unfortunate people in a collapsing city. With that ending they turned it something about violence and unpleasantness, themes we've seen far too much recently (GTA, Portal, Dragon Age, etc. etc. etc.) Not to mention they seem to have gone mad and thrown every cliche they could find at it from a giant superhuman mutant to a final boss battle.

Simon T

February 12, 2010, 1:04 pm

@Cliff... You didnt just drop a spoiler did you? Thats not nice.

Hans Gruber

February 12, 2010, 4:36 pm

@Xiphias - Fair comments that I more or less agree with. I don't want to add spoilers so can't give details but I felt repulsed by the whole Andrew Ryan golfing segment though it really was novel in storyline and execution (ho hum). I enjoyed the setting though, with all the mad splicers and things though it was too dark for my liking (literally rather than figuratively since the whole warped nature of Rapture's dystopia was a large part of the appeal). Totally agreed about the ending and last battle - it was ultra cheesy and completely hackneyed and somewhat out of kilter with much of the intelligent plot-line. Bioshock was far from 100% enjoyable for me as it really did feel repetitive much of the time and you were largely dragged along a fixed route (classic corridor shoot 'em up theme). As mentioned the Art Deco, modernist (to sound even more pretentious), sociopolitical and philosophical futurist ideas of the early 20thC art movement were really well captured, I think that was a pretty amazing thing to see in a game though I'm still not sure how it will play out a second time (I wanted to see a pre-collapse Rapture at the time things started to go a little funny). Ah well, no such thing as a perfect game I suppose. It'd be nice to just roam Rapture completely free of game designer's choice of path for you (once you'd completely the game perhaps).

Cub

February 12, 2010, 6:48 pm

@xiphias and a number of others, for what it's worth, the multiplayer element (which I haven't tried yet) is set just-pre-fall of Rapture during the Plasmid testing phase were the whole city is still intact and functioning; Maybe not completely what you're after. As much as I would love to see the same, just to be given a chance to freely wander the rooms of Rapture in it's hay-day, I don't see how that could be worked into a playable, enjoyable, game. It would have to be set right at the same time that the current multiplayer is. There's scope for it to be done I think, but it would be duplicating what we've already been given now to a degree...

Zeus

February 12, 2010, 7:29 pm

Great review now if I can just tear myself away from Modern Warefare....





Quick question I have both the ps3 and xbox360 does anyone know of any significant benefits of the one version over the other. Example I know Bayonetta looked way better on xbox360 than ps3.





Thanks for the great review.

Cliff 2

February 13, 2010, 8:25 am

@Simon Twine Was not a spoiler when you find this out within the first 5 minutes of playing BS2. Sorry if any one thinks it was some sort of spoiler.

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