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BioShock 2 (Xbox 360) artwork

BioShock 2 (Xbox 360) review


"There were plenty of reasons I wasnít overly fond of the first BioShock, but the one that I keep coming back to is that the game was too easy. I understand that 2K's tour through the majestic underwater metropolis of Rapture served as little more than a technical showcase Ė letís be real Ė and that a constant string of deaths would get in the way of leading players from one skillfully crafted set piece to the next, but itís important not to forsake the game. Iím not a stickler for ..."



There were plenty of reasons I wasnít overly fond of the first BioShock, but the one that I keep coming back to is that the game was too easy. I understand that 2K's tour through the majestic underwater metropolis of Rapture served as little more than a technical showcase Ė letís be real Ė and that a constant string of deaths would get in the way of leading players from one skillfully crafted set piece to the next, but itís important not to forsake the game. Iím not a stickler for challenge, but I donít enjoy being insulted, either. Since the gameís Vita Chambers would instantaneously bring you back to life with no progress lost, combat proved completely broken once you realized that nothing posed a threat. It was detrimental to the gameís otherwise spooky atmosphere and robbed the many gunfights of the urgency they needed. Tell me Iím approaching the game from the wrong angle all you want; Iíll always be amused by people who insist that I ďmissed the pointĒ of BioShock, because Iím the one judging it as a first-person shooter, not as a Disneyland ride.

And if your rebuttal is that I could have turned the Vita Chambers off, then Iíd point out that this feature was exclusive to the PS3 rendition, which isnít the version I played. YOU DONíT KNOW ANYTHING.

Still, that slight modification to the formula demonstrated that developer Irrational was at least aware of the problem, and they've thankfully included the feature in the sequel, as well. And upon booting up BioShock 2 for the first time, I couldnít have opened the options menu and selected ďoffĒ fast enough. I canít believe how much more exciting BioShock 2 is as a result. While the game still isnít particularly hard (at least on the normal setting), the fact that I could die forced me to approach combat from a much more reasoned angle. Most of the enemy types are repeated from the first game, but the fact that they actually posed a legitimate threat this time made me view them in an entirely different light. Those lumbering, moaning Big Daddies are so iconic that they've received cover art treatment for both games, and here, they finally steal the spotlight as they were always meant to. Because if Iím not dreading every single encounter with them Ė if I donít get a sinking feeling in my stomach when I hear those heavy footsteps Ė whatís the point?

Another incredibly minor change has a significant impact on the combat: dual wielding. Weapons are still equipped to your right hand, while plasmids (magic spells, in essence) are set to your left. The difference is that you can now use them simultaneously, which works hand-in-hand with the death factor in forcing me to find creative ways out of sticky combat situations. In the first BioShock, Iíd typically just abandon the plasmids altogether in favor of the more straightforward guns, rather than having to clumsily juggle between the two. In BioShock 2, the combat is opened up immensely, granting me the opportunity to more intimately explore useful combinations of the two attack types. If Iím low on ammo in BioShock 2, Iím more likely to, say, freeze an enemy and smash him open with the butt of my rivet gun, whereas in the first one Iíd likely whip out my wrench, whack away until I died, then get resurrected and finish the job.

These few seemingly minor improvements are the main reason why Ė and I realize Iím squarely in the minority for this one Ė BioShock 2 is a better game than the first. Thatís saying a lot when you consider everything going against it, at least in the eyes of those who loved the original. Rapture is still one of the most unique and beautifully realized environments in any game, but the thrill of truly discovering it is gone. We all knew that before we even played the sequel, but even having said that, BioShock 2 suffers from an awful lot of texture issues that make it significantly less pretty than its predecessor. That may sound like a lethal misstep, but I'd like to read it as intentional, as if Irrational stopped trying to wow us with stellar visuals and nothing else. Kudos to them for focusing on what really matters, I say.

But BioShock 2 still isnít a great game. It still moves at that awful, plodding pace that plagued the first game, for one. What exactly does Irrational have against linear, straightforward level design, where you move from point A to point B, and then to point C, and so on? In BioShock 2, youíll be led from point A to point B only to find out that youíre actually at point C, and that point B is back in another direction, but as soon as you get there, youíll discover that the path is blocked until you backtrack to point A.5, and so on and so forth. Your objectives are always simple, but your character is constantly being set back for the most obnoxious reasons, usually only fixable via arbitrary fetch quests. Levels, by and large, are quite small, but the game is artificially lengthened by repeatedly forcing players to trek back and forth across them.

I mean, your first major objective in BioShock 2 is to get from one side of Rapture to the other by train, and that alone takes something like half of the game, because the train keeps getting stopped. First the gateís frozen shut, so youíve got to get off the train, find the fire plasmid, then backtrack all the way to the station to melt the ice. Next thereís a security lockdown, so youíve got to find the woman whoís holding the override key and take it from her, then get back on the train and keep going until the next arbitrary obstacle arrives. And the whole game is like this.

The story largely functions the same way. To an extent, Iím glad BioShock 2 lacks the sense of wonder that the first game had, because that makes it less frustrating when 2K stalls and deliberately holds off on giving us answers until we absolutely canít wait any longer. BioShock was praised for having a terrific narrative, but truth be told, it wasnít that great. We were more enamored with the setting than the characters or the dialog, and the drive to keep playing came from the desire to learn more about Rapture. BioShock 2 doesnít present itself as well as the first one did; following an excellent opening cinematic, weíre more or less dropped into a relatively unremarkable room and expected to dust ourselves off and pick up the pieces as we go along. Thereís a distinct ďwelcome back to RaptureĒ moment, but it lacks the punch of the originalís opening five minutes, and as soon as we realize that the plot is once again largely established by audio logs and transmissions from characters hiding away in undisclosed locations, dťjŗ vu sets in.

But BioShock suffered from a peculiar problem that its sequel avoids. The first two-thirds of the game were spent luring us in with the promise of answers, and the gameís big reveal was nothing short of spectacular. But once it passed, the game was out of surprises, but kept going anyway. The pull was gone, and in its place was simply an overly slow-paced and far too easy FPS.

The new protagonist is Subject Delta, the first Big Daddy. That alone makes you hungry for details, and unlike its predecessor, BioShock 2 absolutely delivers, as the final two hours are utterly phenomenal. I donít want to ruin anything, but letís just say that the storyís clever surprises play hand-in-hand with the game design itself. Weíre no longer touring the Rapture Museum; weíre fully involved in the storytelling, and itís an exhilarating process to behold. As mixed as I am on most of the game, thereís no denying it ends with a bang.

The journey there is another matter. To some degree, I feel BioShock 2 wasted some of its potential Ė the promising underwater sequences really only exist to showcase fancy set pieces, and aside from having a drill on one arm and occasionally escorting a Little Sister, I never really felt like I was controlling an all-powerful Big Daddy. I guess I canít blame 2K for playing it safe when the original was so critically acclaimed, and Iíll note again that the small adjustments made to the combat prove monumental. But weíve recently witnessed a spike of grade-A video game sequels, and BioShock 2 does too little, too late to feel distinguished. That said, I still enjoyed it, and I find myself looking forward to BioShock 3, which is something I wouldnít have said about this one.

Rating: 7/10

Suskie's avatar
Featured community review by Suskie (February 18, 2010)

Mike Suskie is a freelance writer who has contributed to GamesRadar and has a blog. He can usually be found on Twitter at @MikeSuskie.

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Feedback

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Lewis posted February 18, 2010:

We might have disagreed over the first game, but we're in absolute agreement over the second, it would seem.
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Suskie posted February 18, 2010:

Does that include my gripes with the game's pacing? Like I said, I felt that was a major issue with the first game as well, and I never got the sense you were bothered by it.
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Lewis posted February 18, 2010:

I think BioShock overcame its occasionally clunky pacing by giving you a rather tasty carrot on a stick for the first two thirds. I guess you'd probably argue that doesn't excuse it, but it kinda did for me.

BioShock 2, however, just doesn't do anything particularly interesting for about five or six hours, preferring instead to spend a couple of hours teaching you stuff you already know, then send you on overly familiar fetch quests for the rest of the first two-thirds. The first level to impress me was the one with Gil. From then, it's phenomenal, but has kinda left it too late.

You're right, though: it's still a good first-person shooter that eventually becomes a very good one.
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pickhut posted February 19, 2010:

While I didn't agree with everything said (of course, that would be impossible), it was still an entertaining review to read.
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aschultz posted February 25, 2010:

Interesting to read what others had to say. I didn't realize there was a critique topic. Here's my rotw-ish shpeel.

This is a very good review--the best part being where you drop in the need to juggle plasmids and guns and that you -have- to use them even on normal mode, though it's set up well by the narrative. I can't really make any major big-scale suggestions to make it better, besides mentioning the Big Daddy a bit earlier, and maybe that's just because overall I'm a stodgy non-risk-taker and someone not familiar enough with BioShock.

Nevertheless I see how you're trying to build to a revelation, but I find it intriguing that the ancestor of the slow guys you had to blow up in BioShock is now under your control, where the powers and limitations are more realistic and believable. Then maybe you could throw in a sentence or two at the end about the useful things you notice as you trek back, which add to the plot. I know it's tough to work your way out of "It's a surprise, really. No, a different surprise than you'd expect."

Oh, I'd zap the "I mean" and "Truth be told" aren't necessary. And I don't like the shouting in the one-line second paragraph. But I already threw out a stodginess disclaimer. Maybe I haven't found a game worth yelling about recently, and that's my own fault.
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Suskie posted February 25, 2010:

Late thanks to Pickhut!

I'm glad you liked the review despite its conversational tone, Schultz. There's nothing at all wrong with preferring a more formal tone; it's just not the way I write and there's not much that can be done about that. I could certainly afford to trim the fat in places, though -- not just in this review, but in all of them -- so thanks for the suggestions.

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