Bioshock 2 Review

Somewhere, waiting for me! My story stands on golden sands…!

Remember a little while ago, back in 2007, when I reviewed Bioshock? You’ll recall that I praised it for having an original storyline with a unique setting and pretty good art direction. I mean it’s not every day that somebody comes up with a 50s art deco metropolis on the floor of the Alantic Ocean, and as far as plot twists go, Bioshock’s twist probably ranks up there in the top 10. Still, Bioshock wasn’t expected to have a sequel, at least not from my perspective; it had one story to tell and that was it, they should have moved on. And yet we have a sequel, Bioshock 2. I suppose we’d better get into it.

First, the premise behind Bioshock 2 (now B2) is that you play as a Big Daddy called Subject Delta. You had a Little Sister called Eleanor who was the “daughter” of a woman called Sofia Lamb. Anyway while guarding Eleanor one day, Lamb hypnotises you and has you shoot youself in the head… no “Would you kindly?” this time, apparently. You then wake up 10 years after the events of Bioshock, so the year is 1970 or something. Anyway now that you’re awake you’re contacted by Tennanbaum, the German geneticist from Bioshock, and told that girls have been disappearing in the Alantic Ocean and coastline for the last few years, and somebody here in Rapture is trying to use them to create new little sisters.

Lamb is a social psychologist brought to Rapture back when Ryan was still in control. Lamb represents the antithesis to Ryan; Ryan’s a rabid individualist while Lamb is a collectivist, going on and on about social bonding and so on. I mean gees they’re laying the sociology on thick here, and it’s swinging from one extreme to the other. In Bioshock they had JUST enough balance to make the social commentary fun, but now the game is like sitting through a quick, dumbed-down brief on collectivism before ramming a drill into the face of a Splicer. I’m all for social commentary in games (look at Deus Ex, I love that game!) but Bioshock 2 loses that balance somewhat.

So anyway that’s basically the gist of the start of B2; Lamb was around in the days of Ryan and ended up causing even more problems. God, do you think Ryan had enough on his plate? The man creates an underwater city and these assholes come in and shit in his nest. Poor bastard. Back on track, the environments in B2 are somewhat different from B1. In B1 Rapture was decaying but it had a somewhat neglected sort of look; it’s like everybody had a big party and killed each other, and the janitor didn’t bother to clean up. Also the electrician went on strike and somebody went and broke a few pipes and windows for fun. In B2 the place is starting to rust, and coral and other sea life are starting to invade. Lots of places are flooded and water is running everywhere. As with Bioshock, B2 has some of the best water effects around. Major points from me for this one, it’s fantastic. The rest of the visuals are looking somewhat dated and B2 must only use a somewhat updated Unreal 3 engine… or possibly just new art assets. Faces look a bit more realistic, but they still look like action figures with startled looks. The major characters are better animated and the game does a good job at metalic and wet surfaces, but really the models of the splicers are still somewhat poor. I mean they’re not as bad as in Bioshock, but they’re still not that great either.

Playing as a Big Daddy has… no advantages. For all intents and purposes you might as well be the same guy in Bioshock except in a big suit and using Big Daddy weapons. You get the Drill weapon from the start and find the Rivet Gun early on, but neither of these are particularly strong. Guys, the Big Daddy was a walking pressure cooker in Bioshock, he was made of armour plating. This asshole in B2 gets chunks taken out of him by a single Splicer with a metal pipe! You have access to Plasmids and a few new weapons (like a 50 cal machine gun) but they still act like the weapons from Bioshock and do roughly the same damage. What’s the point of playing as a Big Daddy if you’re not really a Bid Daddy? Additionally because you’re now a “rogue” Big Daddy, other Big Daddies will beat the shit out of you, as well as the new Big Sisters which are effectively fast-moving diver suits with a constant red glow.

What a disappointment. I was all ready to slam people into walls and drill them to death like the Big Daddies in Bioshock, and I have to move around carefully as if I’m a squishy regular person. To be fair, slamming rivets into people and bashing their teeth out with the drill are all extremely fun, but still if I’m clad in armour I shouldn’t need to hide behind a couch to avoid machinegun fire. And that odd gameplay mechanic where you stuff anything into your mouth as soon as you pick it up is still there. I don’t know how that one works for a Big Daddy. “OH LOOK IT’S A BAG OF CHIPS!” The asshole just eats it, but he’s got a GODDAMN HELMET ON, I’m half expecting the camera to zoom out to show a mess of chips, cakes and coffee staining the front of the suit where he’s just mashed everything forgetting that he’s wearing a diver’s suit with metal plates.

Okay I’m being fairly ruthless but I expect a LOT from a game like Bioshock. This isn’t a minor player here, this is BIOSHOCK. So what’s good about the game? The hacking minigame has been vastly improved. I hated the Pipedream minigame. I really did, it was frustrating and a pain in the ass. Now they’ve got a sort of quicktime event where you push the button when the needle is in the green or blue zones. Green wins, blue gives you a bonus. Simple. Combat, if slightly unbalanced, is still fun. The audio logs and storyline is still delivered in a fantastic way, but the social commentary is starting to get out of sync with the game. It only works well if it blends in, but B2 seems to be split in half. On one side, somebody was making an FPS. On the other side, somebody was writing a thesis on collectivism. The two had a baby (assume one is female) and called it Bioshock 2.

This is really just Bioshock with a new storyline, but it’s a storyline that feels like it doesn’t need to happen and doesn’t give you much of a reason of why you should care. I just feel like there’s a lot of wasted potential here. If they’d gone with the Multiplayer’s storyline angle (experiencing the civil war that wrecked Rapture) for Single Player, then they might be on to a winner. But this just feels like an excuse to cash in on the name. It’s a solid, competent shooter, and it does a good job at that, but the social commentary is starting to get a bit too annoying.

GRAPHICS: Good.
Fantastic wet-surface texures, water, and metallic textures. They’ve got that rusting hulk look down pat. What the hell is wrong with the humans though?!

SOUND: Excellent.
Bioshock 2’s audio is fantastic, as is the voice acting. Everybody is really competent and nothing sounds out of place.

GAMEPLAY: Good.
Despite the balance issues and the fact that this probably didn’t need to be made, it is at least a fun shooter without any major technical problems.

REPLAY: Pass.
Multiplayer mode isn’t fantastic and the storyline isn’t as compelling as the first time. There’s a bit of gameplay here to work though, but it’s not epic.

OVERALL: Good.
There are two massive problems with Bioshock 2. Firstly, the storyline is starting to drift off on a tangent and is a barely hidden facade for somebody’s thesis which has been boiled down to appeal to button mashing FPS players. Secondly, WHY IS A BIG DADDY SO FRIGGIN’ SQUISHY? I know that they wanted to make the game “balanced” but they should have come up with some other way of doing it instead of just making the Big Daddy the same as anybody else. Christ, talk about disparity. The environments are fantastic, the art direction is great (except for humans) and the storyline, despite the sociological crap, is still pretty good. But still we’ve seen this before and it’s like a cynical cash-in this time around. Bioshock was a roaring success because it was unique, while this sequel doesn’t go far enough. 10 years into the future isn’t much of a leap… Rapture died, who cares about it any more? They could have taken the concept further, or done a prequel (which somebody must have suggested because MP is set in the past) which probably would have been much more interesting. Instead we’re sweating and panting, once again running the now-rusting corridors, kind of like System Shock except not.

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