- Jun 27, 2008
Disclaimer: This is in celebration of 1024 posts! Yay! I tried to not post once I hit 999 so I could do this review for my 1000th post, but procrastination is a *****. Regardless, enjoy the review.
In an attempt to remain as valid and professionally unprofessional as possible, I will get all of this out in the opening paragraph. I absolutely fucking loved the original Bioshock. The story was amazingly well written and completely changed what sort of narrative everyone expected from First Person Shooters. Not only that, but it was fun to play, creepy, and incredibly atmospheric. I'd say Bioshock was as much of a step forward for FPSes as Half-Life 2 had been three years earlier. So it's safe to say that my expectations for Bioshock 2 were sky high even before it had been officially announced. When it finally was announced, however, my enthusiasm took a major hit upon learning that Bioshock 2 would be developed by 2K Marin rather than 2K Boston (who have recently changed back to their original name, Irrational Games). Because of the developer change, I'm only going to compare Bioshock 2 to the original if absolutely necessary.
Bioshock 2 is set roughly eight years after the end of the original and Rapture is still in a constant decline from its wealthy, aristocratic roots. The city is just about as destroyed as it could possibly be without being completely flooded with water. However, the inclusion of new management has actually caused the citizens of the Utopia-to-be to band together under a sort of religious cult. Rapture Psychiatrist, Sofia Lamb has become the new Mayor of the city, using sympathy, religion, and sharing to disguise her Communistic ideals, as well as gain the trust of the Rapture populace. That, along with her daughter Elanor, whom Sofia claims is the Rapture equivalent of Jesus Christ, allow her to become the worshiped leader of Rapture. You play as the fourth Big Daddy prototype, codenamed Delta, who has recently awoken from a ten year coma only to discover just how fucked everything is. Exposing any more of the story could potentially spoil some things that many people would prefer to learn on their own, so I'll simply leave it at that.
Yeah, that guy is so fucked.
The writing retains its intelligent and philosophical nature and even though it couldn't exactly be a visual novel, primarily due to large amounts of redundancy and rampant inconsistencies, it's the method of exposition that makes everything interesting. Bioshock 2 is much like the Half-Life series in the sense that the entire plot is implied, rather than directly told to you. You have to piece together the plot on your own by paying attention to your environment and the things going on around you. I honestly feel like this is a much better method of storytelling than simply directly telling the protagonist every little thing. Sure, on occasion the lovely (not really) Ms. Lamb will call you on your 50's cell phone and tell you that her daughter's destiny is to become the God of Rapture, but that is just for the sake of developing the characters. The real meat of the story is only revealed by you listening to the numerous audio diaries scattered around the city in the numerous destroyed rooms and dilapidated bathroom stalls. For example, you understand that Lamb is the new leader of Rapture, but the only way to find out exactly how she became such would be to listen to the audio diaries. In several, Andrew Ryan himself reveals that Lamb was using her therapy sessions to brainwash her psychiatric clients, and force them to turn against Ryan. I've talked to friends of mine who had no fucking clue that's what went down because they didn't listen to the diaries. However, were I to complain about any aspect of Bioshock 2's story, it would be the numerous plot holes. Many of them are very minor, but annoying nonetheless. Like how you meet Dr. Tenenbaum (best known as the lady with the funny accent in the original) the instant Bioshock 2 begins, and she talks to you about how you fit into her grand plans, but then a few splicers come, and she fucking splits, never to be seen again. I get that she isn't exactly a fighting machine, but she doesn't have to run off five minutes into the game. It's the complete abandonment of plot threads like this that annoy me.
"I will use my small, insignificant hooks to penetrate your massive suit of steel!"
Greatly aiding the excellent story exposition would be the characters. The brilliant, bitter, and damaged denizens of Rapture are really what makes the story so interesting. Sofia Lamb, while not as fucking awesome as Ryan, is still an interesting villain, and her "Sharing is caring" approach to ruling is a stark contrast to Ryan's "Dog eat dog" ideals. Many of the characters you meet along the way are equally as interesting, particularly Gilbert Alexander. Alexander is touted as one of Rapture's greatest minds, and is considered to be the father of the entire Big Daddy program. However, upon meeting him, you realize the man has become completely insane, referring to himself as Alexander The Great. His disturbing insanity, coupled with his ridiculous intelligence, make him a joy to encounter. That said, many of the characters in Bioshock 2 could be considered too much like the ones from the original. You have the main villain whose smug attitude and ideals are loudly spouted at you at every turn, the (seemingly) friendly support character, the scientist, and the brilliant/insane artist figure. Sure, Augustus Sinclair and Atlas aren't alike in personality, per se, but their role to the player is essentially the same. Presumably, they exist only to call you up whenever you're lonely.
Bioshock 2's graphics don't stand up nearly as well as its story, however. Being a vocal hater of the Unreal Engine, primarily due to its favorite color being brown, I would call Bioshock 2 "average" at best. The numerous brown and untextured hallways become increasingly bland, especially considering that many of the game's environments are industrial areas. Dionysus Park is a particular low-point in the game, as the entire level is nothing but barnacled walls, and boring same-ish corridors. The only moments of respite we receive from the grays and browns are the brief trots outside of the city, along the ocean floor. The vibrant blue, bright corals, green plants, and numerous sea life are really awe inspiring, not to mention beautiful. It's a shame the bland interior couldn't be livened up more. However, where the visuals lack, the audio stands out. Hearing the rev of the drill, the splash of blood, and the screams of splicers as you drill their faces off never really loses its appeal. The audio is simply fantastic, greatly adding to the atmosphere. Big Daddies grumble and groan with every loud step (yourself included), Big Sisters emit a loud screech when nearby, ensuring that you always know whenever they're coming for you, and you can even hear water pouring onto the floor through the city's numerous structural weaknesses.
"Don't you know not to bring a gun to a FIREfight?"
In terms of gameplay, Bioshock 2 is roughly the same as Bioshock 1. It's a shooter with a dash of RPG elements, such as upgrading equipment, boosting certain stats, etc. This time, however, you're the 50's, steampunk equivalent of Dig Dug, rather than a normal man. This entitles you to all the perks of being a Big Daddy, such as the ability to not be able to see a damned thing through your helmet (which can be turned off, but still), bigger weapons like a drill arm and gatling gun, and causing an earthquake each time you take a step. You'd think wearing a steel suit would make you harder to kill, but that isn't the case at all, for better or worse. It does cause inconsistencies to arise, such as why you can be killed from several bullets, but other Big Daddies require much more firepower to be taken down. However, other than the initial shock of being so frail, it doesn't really become a problem throughout most of the game. Of course, as a Big Daddy, this means your relationship with the Little Sisters is vastly different. Rather than simply curing or harvesting them, you have the added option of adopting one and carrying it around with you, occasionally placing it down to gather ADAM from fallen corpses. This, on the other hand, does become a problem. It's a massive annoyance to have to kill the Big Daddy to get the Little Sister, then protect her from waves of Splicers, twice, and then finally curing/harvesting her. But it isn't just that; it's the fact that you have to do it three fucking times in every single level. Not content with simply mildly annoying the player, the game then attempts to completely piss you off by sending a Big Sister to fuck you up after the whole convoluted cycle is complete. By that point, you've most certainly used up a majority of your supplies by acquiring and then defending the Little Sister, so a difficult fight with a Big Sister is definitely not a method of stress relief.
Another aspect of the game that has been changed is the method through which you hack things. In the original, hacking took the form of an amusing little plumbing many game. It was hard to get used to, but once you mastered it, there wasn't anything you couldn't hack. I deeply enjoyed this skill = reward method of hacking, but many people complained that it was far too easy. Well, instead of making it harder, 2K Marin actually succeeded in making the hacking mini game even easier than before. Instead of plumbing, a little bar pops up with green, blue, white, and red colored tiles, as well as a little needle moving across the entire thing. To successfully hack something, you must press A (or whatever the corresponding button is for your console) whenever the needle is above either a green or blue tile, meaning that the mini-game only poses a challenge to the color blind gamers out there. I was able to hack anything and everything with ease from the get go, destroying any form of challenge that was once present. Regardless of the minor changes, you'll fall into a pattern that will seem very familiar to players of the original. You'll enter a new level, buy anything you need from nearby vending machines, and then explore around a little in an attempt to familiarize yourself with the area, killing any splicers you meet along the way. While exploring, you'll encounter a Little Sister or two, decide to protect or harvest them, fight a Big Sister, and then do it two more times. Once all that is finished, you'll raid the Gatherer's Garden and purchase a shit ton of upgrades using all of your newly plundered ADAM. Then you do the story objectives. I did that for every single level. It didn't take long for the fun to begin to dissipate and monotony to set in.
"Jesus fuck! Watch out for that sea bear!"
Regardless of the changes, the game I loved is still very much there. It really isn't as great as the original, and certainly not as innovative, but it is certainly still a lot of fun. When comparing it to the original, you could very much say that the story isn't as good, the characters aren't as interesting, and the game simply isn't as fun, but that's not doing the game any justice. Sure, all of those things are true, but you'd be missing the point. When judged on its own merits, Bioshock 2 is a fantastic game that is fun to play, and has a very compelling narrative. And really, isn't that good enough?
Thank you for reading. As always, feedback is welcomed.
If you enjoyed this review, feel free to read my others: Videogame Box Art [http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/326.182460-Box-Art-In-the-sights-of-SniperWolf427], Metro 2033 [http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/326.182224-Metro-2033-In-the-sights-of-SniperWolf427], Ninja Assassin [http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/326.180594-Ninja-Assassin-In-the-sights-of-SniperWolf427#5304108], Ruse Impressions [http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/326.180277-Ruse-Beta-Impressions-by-SniperWolf427], Stalker: Call of Pripyat [http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/326.179661-Stalker-Call-of-Pripyat-In-the-sights-of-SniperWolf427], Battlefield: Bad Company 2 [http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/326.178952-Battlefield-Bad-Company-2-In-the-sights-of-SniperWolf427#5203299], Shutter Island [http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/326.177337-Shutter-Island-In-the-sights-of-SniperWolf427-Spoiler-Free#5103651], Halo: Legends [http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/326.176694-Halo-Legends-In-the-sights-of-SniperWolf427], Stalker: Clear Sky [http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/326.176604-Stalker-Clear-Sky-In-the-sights-of-SniperWolf427], Stalker: Complete 2009 [http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/326.168926-STALKER-Complete-2009-In-the-sights-of-SniperWolf427], HAWX [http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/326.122907-Tom-Clancys-Hawx-SniperWolfs-first-review#2487130], Fable 2 [http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/326.129939-Fable-2-Review#2830125], and The Boondock Saints [http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/326.168594-In-the-sights-of-SniperWolf427-The-Boondock-Saints]