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Bioshock 2 Review Rewind

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On 01/04/2012 at 12:00 PM by Nick DiMola

Just because a game can exist doesn't mean it should.

Fans can give it a shot with a rental, but depending on what you liked about the first, your mileage may vary. Those who liked the first game truly have no reason to revisit Rapture unless they are doing so in a replay of the original.

Bioshock was not a game that needed a sequel. It told a story and concluded it nicely. It didn't leave the door open for a future tale – this was made all the more apparent when the second game didn't bother to continue from the events of the first. Instead, it creates a whole new cast of characters and retcons the antagonist of the story into the events of the first game. The poor, hackneyed story is only the start of the problems with Bioshock 2.

Anyone who tells you Bioshock 2 is just like Bioshock wasn't paying close enough attention. While Bioshock 2's gameplay mechanics are extremely similar to those of the first game, everything else feels like a poor imitation. Splicing plasmids, collecting ADAM, doing battle with splicers of all sorts using a variety of tactics, and progressing through a story-based experience in Rapture is still the name of the game. It's all so similar you'd swear you've continued on from the last game.

But something's different.  You don't have a wrench anymore – but instead a giant drill. Why? Because you’re a Big Daddy, of course. Despite none of the other Big Daddies being able to splice plasmids or walk at a quick speed, with no weight holding them down, you can! You're also horribly underpowered; that same rivet gun that the rest of the Big Daddies carry that decimates foes in one shot is barely a pea shooter when you wield it.

I don't mind suspending disbelief (Bioshock 2 does take place in an underwater city, after all) but I have a problem when the mythos can't even obey its own rules.

The main antagonist this time around, Sofia Lamb, seems to spring from the woodwork, despite never being mentioned in the first game. Of course, she now has complete control over Rapture and has separated you from your Little Sister who you must reunite with.

Again, you'll pick up audio diaries along the way that tell the backstory of your current adventure, but this time around it doesn't culminate in some stunning truth or plot twist as it did in the first. Instead, the game is always what it seems, which wouldn't be a bad thing if the story wasn't so mundane.

You'll uncover the systematic dominance of Lamb over the residents of Rapture through a variety of tactics. The end result is a full indoctrination of nearly all of the residents to "The Family." The Family can be mobilized by Lamb with ease, and is on a frequent basis, in order to stop you from reaching her hidden facility, which holds your Little Sister.

The areas you traverse hold next to none of the intrigue of those in the first game – there's no sense of mystery, nothing to uncover, nothing to discover. Oddly, the game completely passes up the opportunity to retread some familiar territory from the first game. Instead you'll find yourself in completely new areas of Rapture. Only when you hear Andrew Ryan at odd points do you even remember that the two are in the same world, but because they are so different and completely decoupled, the references wind up feeling out of place rather than inviting.

Ignoring the obvious missed opportunity to cross the boundaries of the two games, the levels themselves are poorly implemented. They remind me thematically of the later areas in Bioshock, which were the least inspired and least interesting. The personalities that occupy each area here aren't eccentric enough to be memorable, aside from the very last one you meet. For the most part, it's just splicer after splicer, until the very end of the game.

There's a definite increase in the amount of combat compared to the original. One notable improvement that helps reduce the sting of this is the de-categorization of the gene tonics. You can now buy generic slots and equip whichever ones you desire, which means you'll never have great tonics unused because you ran out of slots, while something like the hacking tonic slots are left empty. The improved Hypnotize plasmid also helps with this, allowing you to upgrade it significantly to the point where you'll have to partake in minimal combat toward the end of the game.

Hacking is better as well, as it drops the Pipe Mania mini-game in favor of a ticking meter that requires you to stop the needle in the right sections. These also grow tiresome over time, but thankfully they are much less cumbersome than the original's.

Where the first game stumbles (the end game sequence) Bioshock 2 succeeds. This segment is masterfully done, allowing you to embody a Little Sister and see the world from behind her eyes. This is followed by a few mounting confrontations as a Big Daddy, before concluding with an escape mission through Rapture.

As a Big Daddy, you're once again bestowed with the burden of protecting the Little Sisters, but this time it's in order to accrue the maximum amount of ADAM. When rescuing them, you'll still have to dispose of her Big Daddy and subsequently adopt her, rather than instantly deciding her fate. The game would make you believe that you have to protect her while she harvests two "angels," but the truth of the matter is that you can carry her to a vent and instantly save her. The game never explains this and instead makes you believe that you must allow her to harvest before saving her as you did in the first game. It's a terrible oversight that dragged down the game until I realized this fact and at that point I had already received a gene tonic that drastically shortened the harvesting  process.

While it was great to grab the extra ADAM throughout the game, it's hardly necessary. Most of the time I was spending ADAM because I had it, not because I actually needed anything from the Gatherer's Garden vending machines. Diligent exploration will reveal the best gene tonics and proper plasmid choice (which should be simple after playing the first game) will allow you to conserve ADAM for only the worthy purchases.

Bioshock 2 lacks the same touch of greatness that Bioshock possessed. While it implements many of the same concepts, the creators didn't fully understand how to utilize the toolset to truly capture the essence of Rapture or tell a memorable story. Though competent, Bioshock 2 shouldn't exist – it only serves to dilute the brand and sully the memory of the epic Rapture devised in the original title.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:

All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.

These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.

This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.

Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.

Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.

A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.



Rob Ottone Staff Alumnus

01/04/2012 at 01:19 PM

Hmm. I, too, recently went through this game and had a drastically different experience. Pretty neat.

Nick DiMola Director

01/04/2012 at 01:40 PM

Care to share your thoughts?

Rob Ottone Staff Alumnus

01/04/2012 at 02:35 PM

I ended up really enjoying the tighter, slightly more intimate story of Delta, Sofia and Eleanor. The familial concept of struggle juxtaposed against the broader landscape of Rapture as a city unbridaled from science works in the game's favor. I know the places are somewhat repetitive, after all, it's the same city, however; I love that city. I'd live there if possible.

I'm not saying I don't agree that no sequel was needed, but at the same time, I ended up adoring Bioshock 2 for narrowing the focus and narrative, while also delivering more of the excitement and awe of the original. 

I know I'm in the minority in liking this game more than the original, but I'm used to taking the unpopular stance.

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