Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Game Review: Bioshock 2 (Playstation 3, XBox 360, PC, 2010)

Publisher: 2K Games

Developer: 2K Games

Time to Complete: 10-12 hours

The sequel to Bioshock delivers more of the same Rapture that we know and love, putting a new spin on the post-apocalyptic hellscape.

(NOTE: I played the PS3 version for this review)

It isn't common knowledge, but the main guy behind Bioshock (2007), Ken Levine, actually didn't have a huge amount to do with this game. He was busy working on Bioshock Infinite (2013), which was intended to be the sequel to the original game. The six year development cycle was determined by the parent company to be too long of a gap between games, however. Plans were drawn up for a different development team to create another game during the gap, and that ended up being Bioshock 2. The fact that this game wasn't made by the core developers shows. It isn't up to the lofty quality levels of the original or Infinite, but it is by no means a bad game. So how does it stack up?

The visuals are basically on the same level as the original Bioshock, as it utilizes the same engine. This means the graphics are really, really good. Considering the original game came out in 2008, it still looks good today. The only downside here is that the textures often take time to load when you enter a new area (or a new part of an area, even), which means you often find yourself looking at some muddy textures for a bit longer than you would probably like to.

As is tradition in this series, there is a general lack of music. It's unfortunate, because music would likely add to the experience. Aside from suspenseful music here and there, for the most part you're listening to ambient noise. It delivers a slightly harrowing experience, as you can usually hear your foes approaching before you see them. The ambience of this game is off the charts; much like the other two games in this series, after a while you start to get sucked into this world.

While in the first game you play as a human, in this installment you play as a Big Daddy. That is, one of the hulking behemoths of unknown origin that wander the hallways of Rapture. On the surface, this is an interesting development and gives the game a stark difference from the first. In practice, however, it doesn't really feel like you're playing as a huge monster. I actually forgot a number of times that I wasn't supposed to be a regular human. As in the original, most of this game is spent battling the zombie-like splicers (residents of the fallen city, drunk on plasmids, who have lost their minds). Occasionally you need to protect Little Sisters as they gather ADAM, and while this is an interesting twist on the Rapture story, farming Little Sisters and gathering points gets a bit tiresome as the game goes on. There could definitely be fewer of these gatherings, as they grind the momentum of the story to a halt. Luckily, it's optional, as you'll have more ADAM than you need by the end regardless.

The gameplay in this game is similar to the first, with an improvement (yes, an improvement). You can now dual wield, which means you can attack with plasmids and weapons at the same time. This is a -huge- boon to the gameplay and lets you operate even more efficiently. The weapons aren't quite as cool as in the original game (there's no crossbow, for example), but they're still interesting. More interesting than the Call of Duty weapon set in Infinite - a game with a superior story and inferior gameplay - but I digress. Traps are back in full force, and perhaps the most fun I had playing this game was setting traps and backing myself into a dead end as I awaited the arrival of a pursuing boss.

One downside to the single-player game is that it's just too damn easy. This goes for the entire series (aside from the hardest modes). Playing on Normal poses little challenge whatsoever. Death is basically a speed-bump, as you respawn nearby and merely have to run back. I used to mock World of Warcraft for basically having no death penalty, but at least that game has repair costs. This game has nothing of the sort, and as long as you keep playing you can never really lose. If you die close to a restore point, you might as well not even waste your healing items as you can just endlessly die until you clear the area of foes. Not the best gameplay element, and another thing that can make this experience a bit tiresome.

All told, however, the single-player game is still better than most current-gen games, and this installment of the franchise is well worth playing even if it doesn't quite measure up to the original.



I thought about only covering the single-player game in this review, but I should also cover multiplayer and the various DLCs. Multiplayer is an interesting idea: Turn people loose in an arena environment with the powers that they're used to. In theory, the addition of plasmids and so forth make this game a more intriguing multiplayer experience than most shooters. Also, the multiplayer game brings back the weapon set from Bioshock, meaning I'm reunited with my trusty crossbow. There are even a couple of new, never before seen weapons in multiplayer.

The problem is that multiplayer is actually kind of hard to play. You need a good connection to stay in a game, and so does the "host". That's whoever started a given map. If they lose their connection, everyone else gets dropped. And even if none of the player connections flake out, the servers might randomly decide to dump everyone, which happens every couple of hours. If you get dropped by any of the above, you lose all of the exp you got in whichever area you were playing. This is a HUGE problem and one that I can't believe 2K never addressed. I've lost a lot of experience in multiplayer already from maps going linkdead. There's nothing more frustrating than getting a huge amount of exp in an area, being close to the end, and having a sudden server drop cause you to lose everything you just accomplished. Worst part is, they tied multiplayer trophies into the single player trophies, so if you want to 100% this game you'll need to spend some time in multiplayer. If multiplayer were simply a fun add-on and weren't intertwined with getting 100% in the main game, the connection issues wouldn't be a big deal.

There are two DLCs for the multiplayer: Rapture Metro Pack and Sinclair Solutions Tester Pack. The latter is included with the former, so there's no need to buy it. Rapture Metro Pack adds a lot more as it is. Unfortunately, they don't tell you that, so I imagine a lot of players buy both unnecessarily. RMP is required to fully 100% the game, as it adds what are hands-down the three most irritating trophies in the game (all in the multiplayer arena, of course). It also adds a bunch of new areas to the multiplayer game, increasing the total amount of areas available by more than 50%.

However, even this comes with an annoyance. Accessing any of the new maps means that everyone in your group has to have the DLC. If even one person doesn't have it, the new maps won't be available. Also, since the map order is randomly chosen, there's still only a one-third chance of actually getting into any of the new maps on each area change, even if everyone in your group has the DLC.

If you're playing with a bunch of random people online, good luck actually seeing any of the new maps that you paid for. I never did until I played a couple games with people I know. This was executed very poorly, and it's too bad because there was so much potential here.



There are two other DLCs available, and both are a lot more worthwhile. The first is Protector Trials, which gives you a ton of new Little Sister gather missions. While I didn't enjoy all of these gathers breaking up the story in the single-player game, I found that having a bunch of them in a DLC was actully pretty awesome. They appeal to my innate love of setting traps, and once I got the hang of them I found myself wishing there were more. Protector Trials is well worth the fee.



Minerva's Den is the final DLC for the game. It's a standalone story that consists of three new areas. The main game has nine, and as can be expected, Minerva's Den is roughly one third of the length of the main game. You play as a different character here, which makes it truly a separate Bioshock game entirely. It can be played before the main story or after the main story without particularly impacting the experience either way. This DLC also introduces a new plasmid ability (Gravity Well) and a new weapon (a LASER GUN). I wish that these were available in any of the other game modes because they're pretty awesome. How come no other Bioshock games have a laser gun? Between the new powers and the touching story, Minerva's Den is the best thing Bioshock 2 has to offer and it's right up there with the best that the entire series has to offer. Do yourself a favor and check it out. It's unfortunate that the whole game isn't up to the quality level of this gaiden.



In closing, Bioshock 2 is a game that falls short of its peers while still being great. The gameplay isn't as good as the original Bioshock, nor can the story come close to that told by Infinite. Also, the setting of Rapture is a bit redundant after we already had one superior game devoted to it. However, people who simply need more Bioshock can't go wrong with this. The main game is shorter than the original Bioshock, and over quickly unless you go out of your way to get everything. Yet, there is so much DLC and optional content here that - combined with the multiplayer - this game could keep a person occupied for far longer than the other two games in the series. It takes 12-ish hours to finish this game, but getting 100% would take upwards of 40-50 hours... well more than the barely 20 hours that you'd need to put into either of the other games to get 100%. It's certainly the Bioshock to get if you want to be kept busy, but it's a shame the multiplayer has unfixed problems.



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