REVIEWS -- BioShock 2 -- PC
A Biorushed Bioshock 2
by Tim White
Fun factor: Fun
Worth to: Buy/Rent
Severe technical problems and a too-linear structure detract from an otherwise rollicking good time.
Most people would consider the writings of Ayn Rand an unusual choice for the basis of a game, and even as an Objectivist of 5 years, I would have to agree. The first Bioshock was hailed as an innovation in storytelling, and the sequel follows in its footsteps, succeeding in fleshing out an intriguing tale, but nearly falling flat on its face from a technical standpoint.
An objective Big Daddy
For those not familiar with the philosophy on which Bioshock is based, Objectivism holds that a man’s own life and happiness is the highest ideal to which he can aspire, and that nobody owes anything to anyone else, except to refrain from initiating harm. Enter Andrew Ryan, the man responsible for the construction of the city of Rapture, which you’ll spend 10-20 hours navigating in each installment of the series.
It’s difficult to divulge relevant story elements without wandering into spoiler territory, so suffice to say that Bioshock’s appeal stems from its ability to weave a story centered around a controversial philosophy, and leave it up to the player to decide who is really at fault for the downfall of Rapture, and why. Whereas in the first game you controlled a mute protagonist who wanders into Rapture by chance after a plane crash, the sequel puts you into the heavy brass boots of a (still mute) Big Daddy -- the first, in fact.
Your eventual goal is to reunite with and rescue your original Little Sister -- again, you won’t enjoy Bioshock 2 nearly as much if you haven’t played the first -- and you’ll encounter a dozen or so other Little Sisters along the way. Each time you run across one of these eerily indoctrinated little girls, you’ll be confronted with a pretty clear-cut moral decision, and your decisions will affect both your progress through the game and ultimately, the ending you get.
Gameplay-wise, Bioshock 2 is basically a solid FPS, with some vaguely RPG-ish ability and upgrade mechanics to keep things interesting. A genetic substance known as ADAM, which can rewrite human genes in surprising ways, serves as your currency for purchasing and upgrading plasmids -- essentially magic, but powered by science. Standard fireballs and ice clouds are complemented by interesting and more specialized powers such as the abilities to bewitch enemies into fighting on your side, or leave your body for a time to scout ahead in relative safety. Powers and weapons alike can be upgraded and, in the case of the latter, used with one of three different types of ammunition. Add in the ability to hack just about anything mechanical and, inexplicably, vending machines that sell bullets and Twinkies side-by-side, and you have a formula for a highly entertaining shooter with plenty of variety.
So what’s wrong with it?
Unfortunately, it is during the transition from drawing board to execution that Bioshock 2 stumbles. Graphics are above-average and while I encountered no pop-up or other graphical errors, environments begin to feel somewhat redundant after a few hours, though this feeling dissipates by the second half of the game. Sound design is solid, but nothing spectacular. The music is well-written and matches the mood perfectly at any given time -- sometimes too perfectly. After a while you’ll likely not even notice the music anymore, which can be good or bad depending on your preference. Weapon and power sound effects, while fitting, mostly sound somewhat flat and don’t always recreate the sounds of battle as poignantly as they try to.
The game’s biggest flaw is polish. I encountered several brain-meltingly aggravating glitches, things I feel have no excuse for sneaking past play-testers and making it into a final product. The worst of them involves a seemingly random occurrence where your left hand (the hand that uses plasmids) will simply disappear from the screen, leaving you completely unable to use powers until you either reload a previous save (if you have one) or enter a new area -- and each area is pretty lengthy. This happened to me no fewer than ten times during my first playthrough, but oddly, not at all on my second.
Equally prevalent but somewhat less irritating glitches include brief intermittent periods where the weapon and power select buttons simply don’t work, and environment objects such as switches or pickups that just don’t react when you click on them. Both issues are resolved by reloading a save, or by waiting around for up to 30 seconds, after which the bug resolves itself. Issues like these are frustrating in any game, but doubly so in Bioshock, that prides itself on immersive storytelling -- a sense of wonder that is periodically broken rather jarringly when you’re blindsided by a major glitch.
The only other negative point I’d make about Bioshock 2 is its tendency to hand-hold way too much. Stand in one spot for more than 3 seconds, and the game bombards you with hints and on-screen “Are you stuck?” prompts. These can be turned off, but still. Bleh.
Enough with the negative
The 10+ hour campaign is certainly satisfying in its pacing and development, and carefully rationing your ADAM for those upgrades you really want is a blast. Certain points at the end of each area start to feel a little too much like fetch quests, but this can be overlooked since the segments are well-done and fun in spite of their linear structure. No matter what decisions you make regarding ADAM harvesting, you probably won’t have enough by the end of the game to have absolutely everything, so choosing your upgrades carefully is essential.
The general fun factor is high enough to warrant at least two plays -- likely one on each end of the moral spectrum. The backgrounds and motives of the two major NPC’s are fleshed out with depth and eloquence, so hunting down the 100+ audio journals to learn more about them is a joy. You never learn anything about your own character, but there’s an in-game reason for this, so don’t worry too much about it. All in all, by the time you reach the end of the campaign, you’re ready to be done -- but not in a bad way. You feel a sense of accomplishment, and the game gives you a long enough ride to tell its story without stretching it out so far that it starts to feel drawn out.
I’ll touch briefly on the multiplayer component, since there isn’t too terribly much to say. Rather generic in nature, its handful of game modes are nonetheless fun -- for a while. Each mode gets boring after an hour or two at most, and while the multiplayer experience as a whole isn’t terrible, it isn’t great either, and definitely feels like it was tacked on just to appeal to a wider market. Since the single player campaign is Bioshock 2’s main focus anyway, I won’t fuss too much about the multiplayer component.
If you’re looking for that rare variety of shooter that offers a good story underneath all the gunfire, and you can stomach some ugly glitches, definitely give Bioshock 2 a go. While no announcement has been made, DLC seems unlikely, so it’s probably best to assume that what you get in the box is all there is. You’ll understand and enjoy the story much more fully if you’ve played the first Bioshock, but even if you haven’t, you’ll get the gist of what’s going on and have plenty of entertaining FPS action to plow through. As long as you come prepared to save often -- never knowing when a game-breaking conniption is just around the corner -- Bioshock 2 is probably worth a purchase, but there’s certainly no reason not to at least rent it.
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: 2K Marin / 2K Australia / Digital Extremes
Release Date: February 9, 2010
Review Date: 13-02-2010
Numbers of Players: 1-10
Players Online: 2-10
Notes: Downloadable Content, Dolby Digital 5.1
Environments are beautiful, but the spell is partially broken by repetition. Character models are believable, but not exquisite.
Standard FPS formula is shaken up with appealing additions, and controls are intuitive and comfortable -- when they work.
A well-written story is carried by lively and expressive characters, but a handful of terrible glitches ruin everyone’s day.
Music and sound effects both do their jobs, but fail to “wow.”
Most everyone will enjoy at least two trips through the campaign, although the multiplayer component is vanilla at best.