Ben and I bring you another dual review where we weigh in on Bioshock 2 individually. Ben focuses on the actual game, such as its story, controls, and mechanics. Meanwhile I get technical and tell you that this game sounds absolutely amazing, but doesn't look nearly as nice. Having said that, Bioshock is a property that has cemented itself into the minds of gamers earlier on in this generation. Originally debuting on the Xbox 360 and then finding itself on the PlayStation 3, a sequel was a no brainer for 2K, as the game won a plethora of awards and sold very well, to boot. And so here is that sequel, and here's Ben to tell you about the gameplay. As always, I'll jump back in for the graphics, sound, and conclusion.
The original Bioshock remains one of my favorite games of the generation, primarily due to the nearly unparalleled atmosphere, surprisingly solid and interesting storyline, and what I could only call the inclusion of RPG elements in a standard FPS. Those Plasmids – magic-like abilities that can easily be equipped and utilized with the left half of the controller (soon to be explained) – were just so much fun, and the campaign featured great level design and intriguing scenarios. The very concept of a giant dude in a scuba outfit acting as protector-to-the-death for a seriously altered little girl is quite…exotic. It’s hardly surprising to see the sequel is bigger and arguably better in a variety of ways; the atmosphere is once again excellent, the sound is a huge bonus (see Arnold's praise for the great sound effects, ambient effects and soundtrack), and the presentation is both slick and refined. However, this being said, there do seem to be just a few inconsistencies and balance issues this time around.
The controls are basically the same as they were in the first: you can hold R1 and L1 to bring up your menus for firearms and Plasmids respectively, and R2 and L2 uses the equipped weapon and Plasmid. This took some getting used to on my part; the number of times I switched my weapon by pressing R1 (you can quick-switch by simply tapping it) when I wanted to fire is countless . Think about it: how many FPSs do we play where R1 is the button for fire? Well, anyway, the entire system works extremely well as it did before, but I keep getting the feeling I’m moving slower than I did in the original. This could be all in my head but then again, you do play as a Big Daddy in this sequel so perhaps you really are moving a little more slowly. It’s not really a problem but the Splicers are faster and more agile than ever, and the Big Daddies you face definitely seem quicker. All in all, it just feels as if you’re facing a much stiffer challenge this time around. Damn good thing you can pause the action.
The Splicers seem to do way more damage – one toting a machine gun can eliminate all your health in seconds – it takes a ton of ammo to take down bigger enemies, and there are more tough enemies, like the Brute Splicer and the Big Sister. A Big Sister can show up after rescuing or harvesting a Little Sister and you absolutely must take her down before progressing. They aren’t as strong as a Big Daddy, but they’re faster and a colossal pain in the ass. The Splicers aren’t any stronger but there do seem to be a lot more of them. Or perhaps that’s only because once you’ve defeated a Big Daddy and picked up the Little Sister, you have to get her to harvest ADAM from certain corpses and during this time, Splicers rush you from everywhere. And then there are the respawning enemies. At first, I really thought I was imagining it; that the enemies were simply coming from other areas. But then I realized they would continue to show up in any given major area, provided I stuck around long enough, and that ’s annoying. In general, at the start, you are going to feel very weak and very vulnerable. Save often.
But once you get your feet wet, you’ll certainly have a blast if you enjoyed the original. Scrounging about for helpful items and ammo never seems to get old, hacking is a little repetitive and it’s not exactly an inspired puzzle mechanic, but it’s still fun, and there’s a great deal of strategy involved. For instance, this time you get a research camera and you can take pictures of enemies, which will then yield valuable information that can greatly assist you in your quest. And then there’s the inevitable balance one must strike between Plasmids and firearms; you expend EVE when using Plasmids and of course, you use ammo when using your weapons. So maybe if you’re low on EVE, you’ll have to rely on your firearms; if you’re low on ammo, you’ll have to rely on your Plasmids. But what Plasmids to equip? What’s best for the situation? Freezing enemies with Winter Blast is great ‘cuz you can shatter ‘em to bits, but once shattered, you can’t search a corpse for potentially valuable items. Electro Bolt stuns enemies but doesn’t really hurt them, and enemies on fire can set you on fire.
See what I mean? It’s one of the wonders of these games. It always makes you think at all times, even when buying items and ammo. You hardly have unlimited funds so you often have to prioritize; i.e., do I need health or ammo or EVE more…? Then you have to decide on the Gene Tonics (passive boosts and abilities) you want to equip, the Plasmids you want to buy and take with you, and which weapons you wish to upgrade. It’s probably a good idea to boost your Health and EVE as quickly as possible, and I would suggest enhancing the damage on all your weapons first, too, but after that, it’s entirely up to you. You’ll definitely feel better once you’ve moved forward a bit; you won’t always feel like a walking target. However, if you wish to get all the ADAM you can and rescue all the Little Sisters, you’re really going to have to be dead-on accurate with your shots, and plan ahead all the time. The Trap Rivets are definitely your best friend when defending a Little Sister who’s harvesting ADAM… The entire package just works so well, despite the amped-up challenge.
Bioshock 2 is very likely the sequel you expect. I don’t like the story quite as much and the Splicers sometimes feel endless when I’m trying to be patient and conscientiously search my environment, but beyond that, the atmosphere and action always grabs me. I sense no collision detection issues, wandering and exploring this broken, undersea world is very entertaining, the controls are tight and reliable, and I guess my only complaint is that security bots that are on your side tend to get in the damn way. The multiplayer is also a blast, thanks to multiple and various modes, different objectives, and little in the way of technical problems. It got a little laggy at one point but that’s about it. Take the intricate combat of the campaign and put it into a multiplayer setting, and you can guess at its addictive quality. But even so, I think it’s clear that 2K didn’t skimp on the single-player campaign, and it remains the focal point for this title. If you were a fan of the original, I’m not sure how you can’t be a fan of the sequel.
I must admit, Bioshock 2's visual presentation leaves a lot to be desired. Immediately as you boot up the game, you're shown a rather pixelated and poor looking logo as the game performs its install. Then you begin your journey and notice that overall texture detail is pretty bad in a number of spots. Furthermore, an option for framerate enhancement will degrade the visuals a bit more (but to be honest, I saw virtually no difference), and I highly recommend enabling it, because boss fights can really drag the framerate down in the standard setting. There's also a lot of aliasing and jaggies, which really degrades the overall visual experience considerably. Bioshock 2 may have fantastic art direction and atmosphere, but it looks unusually bland, washed out, and doesn't boast any visual enhancements over the two year old original – and that, to me, is unacceptable.
On the other hand, the audio is nothing short of superb and downright haunting. Voices will echo all around you, and every audible effect, whether near or far, comes through with great clarity. Even though the visuals aren't the prettiest, Bioshock 2's audio is so rich that it really makes up for the loss of visual immersion, by engrossing you into this foreign and unusual environment through the clever use of sound. Truly you're not getting the full experience out of this game, if at the very least, you don't have an audio setup that can deliver the right sounds. The speakers on your TV just won't cut it, trust me. Lastly, to complete this package is voice acting that's about what you'd expect from a high-profile game these days – good stuff, all around.
Bioshock 2 won't win any awards for its visuals, and maybe the sequel's story isn't as captivating as the first game. But for the most part, the sequel lives up to the original and fans of the original will still love every ounce of what this game has to offer. Audio is superb, as is the art direction, and the overall atmosphere. The game's 'good' ending is a decent one, and even Ben said he was moved by it. But we personally think that the game endings could've been longer. Perhaps sacrifice the numerous ending variations for just two nice and long endings; give the gamer a bit more reward than a 60 second finale – makes us feel a bit cheated.