February 16, 2010

Review - BioShock 2 - Rapture Needs a Bit More Polish to Shine Again

Did you ever see Jurassic Park III?

I fell in love with the first Jurassic Park.  I had seen a couple of Steven Spielberg movies before then, but JP solidified him as my favorite director (and introduced me to the tech-thrillers of Michael Crichton).  I went back five more times.  The technology, the environment and setting, the characters and dinosaurs were unmatched at the time and set the bar pretty dang high.  Then came The Lost World.  I enjoyed it, actually, maybe because I brought my rose colored glasses with me, and it was also my first date.  But I loved the first one so much that I was ready to devour any continuation of the story and to see those Velociraptors again.  I liked it, not as much as the first, but I liked it.

Then came Jurassic Park III.

The happenings of III do nothing to further the story, but serve as a flimsy reason to A.) show a couple of new dinosaurs, B.) give some usually decent actors a paycheck, and C.) I don't know, probably some other shallow reason.  Sure, Dr. Alan Grant needs money, that's what brought him to the Park in the first film, but that's really all we get from III; no deep character development and nothing new about Jurassic Park (save for the kind of awesome Spinosaurus, but who ends up being a bigger T-Rex from the first film that we don't root for.  Oh, and Velociraptors have feathers and communicate with trills.  Big deal.).  To me, III is simply a more action-oriented film with the Jurassic Park moniker.  Did we really need to go back to Isla Sorna/Nublar for this?  However, after two viewings of it (because I had to have the trilogy, of course), I enjoy it more now because it's like a "rainy day" movie:  it's pretty simple, kind of fun, and still has awesome dinosaurs.

In some ways, this is how I feel about BioShock 2.  After finally finishing the single-player campaign, I felt a little disappointed.  In retrospect, the whole package seems a bit ... off.  It has BioShock in the title, Splicers, Sisters, Daddies, and even Andrew Ryan still has a presence, sure, and it's a fun ride.  But did we really need to return to Rapture?

Read on to see if BioShock 2 should be saved ... or harvested.

The answer is saved.  You would think a resounding "saved" because the underwater city is so huge that each and every underwater skyscraper (surfacescraper?) could have it's own little saga while still connected to the innerworking influences of Andrew Ryan, Frank Fontaine, and now Sofia Lamb.  Rapture could be full of possibilities, and the first two entries in the however-many-entry-long-series this will be deal with some very heavy themes of family, society, individualism and collectivism.  The fact that these concepts are present in a medium so often criticized for being only about violence and sex (which are both present at vastly different degrees in the BioShock story) is a welcomed feat, and on those merits these games are among the best.  They make you think.

Unfortunately I think this is where BioShock 2 falls a bit short when compared to its predecessor.  Now, allow me to say right here that I like this game.  I really do and I don't want to be misleading.  While it falls short, it's not bad, and is still quite engaging near the end.  Anytime I had to be away from playing it, I wanted to play.  The pace of the story is well tuned, and discovering audio clips that took place even before the first game are great at extending the Rapturian lore.  But 2K plays things very safe.

Safe, in the fact that nothing is really that much different in the ten years that have passed, apparently even for story paths.  Ryan and Lamb may have two polar views on the treatment of society, but those ideals are similar in the fact that they're both very dangerous in the extreme (granted, altruism is probably the best approach in making the sequel; another version of Ryan or Fontaine would be old hat and pretty stupid, if you ask me.).  Everyone still wants to kill you; there's the omnipresent voice mocking you with political philosophy; and Rapture looks pretty much dilapidatedly the same.  "Atlas is Watching" is even effortlessly replaced with "Lamb is Watching."  Is that the best they could come up with?  It's choices like these that make me doubt if Rapture really is as rich in story as its potential connotes.


Gone (but not forgotten) is Jack.  His story has been told, and if you finished BioShock with the good ending you know what happens to him.  You are no longer in the shoes of the wrench-wielding protagonist.  Instead you are a Big Daddy named Subject Delta, a member of the original line of Alpha Series Big Daddies who was the first successful "bond" to a Little Sister.  Gameplay begins surprisingly after a traumatic opening cutscene that then instantly makes you wonder how the heck you could even be there.  Without spoiling too much, you have a purpose when you wake up, and since you're a Big Daddy ... it might not take long to figure out what your campaign-long goal is.

Once you've oriented yourself to your surroundings and arsenal at hand (or "arsenal instead of your hand"), you are introduced to some of the characters you'll non-verbally interact with but, like any good mime, have an effect on; you'll talk lightly and carry a big drill.  Dr. Tenenbaum makes a disappointingly short-lived appearance early on and never reappears, but not before reiterating your clear intentions, and giving you a familiar name in Rapture with whom to communicate in her stead.  You have one major goal, and that's it.  However, this doesn't mean that the story is flat or boring,

Curve balls in the current story come three fold.  1.)  An obvious fork in the road is the carried over moral dilemma from the first game of harvesting or saving the Little Sisters.  Saving them this time means adopting them, carrying them on your shoulders until you take them to a vent or harvest ADAM (essentially, Gatherer's Garden bucks) from select steaming corpses.  You can vary your time with her for one or two "gathers," and even then harvest her instead of helping her into that hole in the wall.  But these moral choices are no longer reserved for the Little Sisters, because curve ball 2.) is that they now penetrate the story line and can vastly affect how the last hours play out.  Each time I faced one of these moral choices, I actually took a few moments to consider what I wanted to do, because each option you have has its persuasion.  Again, the beauty of these games is they make you think.

3.)  Big Sisters.  They may look similar to you, but they are not like you.  Thinner and more agile, these little tin hurricanes are dang tough.  Coming every so ofter after dealing with Little Sisters, you would do well to prepare for battle by stocking up on supplies after you finish with one of your little ones; you have precious seconds of safety once you hear their piercing shrieks telling you that you've just made one of them supremely angry.  Though tough and something new to the series, I don't really know how they fit in.  If you kept up with Something in the Sea, you might have learned that young girls across the globe were being abducted, and (I think) becoming Little Sisters was their purpose.  But I'll have to play through the game again because it seems like 2K just wanted to make some kind of foil to the Big Daddy.  Unfortunately, they seem like an afterthought that only serves to justify an "already been there" plot point in the closing act.  But they are definitely tough and fun to tangle with, as well as extra sources of ADAM!.

One last thing about the story, as in the first game, Rapturian citizens have left audio diaries laying around, for posterity I can only assume.  2K sleekly and intellectually rewards those who opt to search exhaustively, providing depth to Ryan and Fontaine before Rapture fell ten years ago.  Honestly, being the huge nook-and-cranny explorer that I am, these were some of my favorite little discoveries because the history and character of the world became clearer and more substantial, even if they do tend to fall on the side of long-winded philosophizing.  Even so, I could tell that they had fun in writing these monologues (especially the few of Fontaine's).  The relationship between Daddies and Sisters becomes developed personally as well as scientifically through some of the later clips.  Mark Meltzer from Something in the Sea even makes an appearance and his side-story is quite heartaching when you discover what has happened to him.  Also, a reward could be clues to keypad codes, so definitely be on the lookout for those shiny recorders if you want either extra loot or extra knowledge of this world that exists in the most impossible place.

As I said above, the story is much more focused from the character's perspective and you learn that from the get go.  Though diaries litter the rooms and halls of a utopia fallen, there is nothing that reveals or explains further most of what we knew already (except that Dr. Sophia Lamb was a popular big-wig before the civil war ... but why didn't we hear anything about her in the first game?).  If you didn't like the last of the original BioShock, I can't imagine anyone feeling like BioShock 2 makes up for what was lacking.  However, and this is a BIG HOWEVER, later in the game is one section that has become my favorite part of the BioShock universe, right behind Fort Frolic.  I can't tell you what it is, and it's not mind blowing, but it explains a lot about what lies behind those glowing eyes of the Little Sisters.


Where the story fails to provide anything new, the gameplay and gunplay mechanics have gone through a decent renovation to keep things intensely interesting.  You have access to Big Daddy weapons, and this means the Drill, Rivet Gun, and even a mini-gun like Machine Gun.  By far, the Rivet Gun is the best weapon, especially when fully upgraded at Power to the People stations that provide a chance at setting enemies on fire every so often.  The Drill and Machine Gun have their strengths, but the Rivet Gun should be your weapon of choice during any big battle sequences.

I was never into the creative juices of fighting in the first game.  Setting up traps and the like, to me, are best for stealth games (not that they're not appropriate in BioShock, a world supporting individuality, of course).  While I still didn't fool around too much with the electrified arrows or set cyclone traps on fire, the most fun comes out of the Rivet Gun's trap rivets.  These beauties lay on any surface you fire at and fire into anyone who walks across it's beam of light (that I guess only you can see, and which won't hurt you).  The most fun you can have with the trap rivets are during Gathers for ADAM.  A good strategy I found was to surround my Little Sister with 36 or these bad boys, set her down, and focus on picking off the farther Splicers because anyone who gets too close to her will certainly meet a secret rivet or two.  The specific noise of a trap rivet surprising an enemy is oddly satisfying.

Another help you'll want during Gathers or any Big Daddy/Sister battle is from the security cameras or turrets scattered about.  Hack these with your new Hack Tool from a distance, or the old fashioned way by going up close, and they'll help whittle down your foes or distract them while you blast away.  Hacking has had a facelift, too, and is much less of a pain.  The Hack Tool eliminates the need to traverse through danger, allowing you to fire a dart into the machine and begin a color & needle game (green = good, red = bad, blue = awesome!).  The downside and balance to hacking this time is that you might forget that the world doesn't stop ... you'll be hacking and getting shot at at the same time.

Enemies are much stronger this go 'round, much, much stronger.  In fact, if you decide to never deal with the Little Sisters, you cray-zee because purchasing Tonics and higher level Plasmids are a necessity.  The Halo-popularized term "dual wielding" makes its way into the series allowing for instantaneous Plasmid/Weapon tactics, and it definitely helps when you're having to fend off three Splicers to your left, a Brute Splicer (think of the Tank from Left 4 Dead) to your right, and a Big Sister hurling debris right in front of you ... and that will happen.

A few other newbies come in ammo form: rocket spears, mini turrets (which are fired, oddly, from the Hack Tool), and heavy rivets are a few.  The new Scout Plasmid is interesting, though I never used it; you can leave your body and "scout" out other areas like a ghost.  And lastly, the research camera is back and, like ADAM, you really should use it for those damage/Tonic bonuses.  It takes a little finesse to master, as it's a video camera this time and to increase your research you have to record a video and fight each subject to acquire the maximum amount of research (and you can only research a body once, so you gotta make it good.).  Once you get used to it, you'll be carrying it around instead of a weapon, looking for new subjects to record to increase your resistance and abilities.

Overall, the action in BioShock 2 is right up there with Halo in its weaponry and use.  You feel like a powerhouse.  And because of this, the creepiness and scares from the first game are practically nonexistent, and I think 2K realized this because they really don't try to scare you, instead pitting you against insane odds in battle.  To this day, there are two sections in BioShock 1 that I will not play because they freak me out too much (the foggy doctor's office, and the Psycho homage in Fort Frolic).  The only thing I was scared about was having enough ammunition.

And multiplayer.


First of all, I feel a little lied to, Jordan Thomas.  You might have heard a lot that multiplayer is a prequel, taking place before/during the civil war within Rapture.  It is.  But they also said the maps would be before the different places fell to pieces.  Well, there is still a whole lot of damage drawn into the map.  You really don't feel like you're in Rapture before it fell, but almost back as Jack.  Slightly disappointed at the marketing there.

And there's more to be disappointed with, but some to be thankful for.  Let's start with the good:

-Firing Plasmids at people is fun.
-The pistol is actually awesome with it's first upgrade.
-Revisiting well-known places from BioShock 1.
-Call of Duty customization and unlocking makes things interesting.
-Ranking up is actually pretty quick.
-ADAM Grab rocks.  It's like Oddball with a Little Sister, and it's eerie and fun to carry her around.
-Camera research adds a nice temporary twist.

Now, the not so good:

-Other people firing Plasmids at you is not so fun.
-You always have multiple character types on the same map/team.  That's ... not ... realistic.  Well, neither are Plasmids, but ...
-Capture the Little Sister is a pain!  At least, I haven't gotten the hang of it yet.
-You can feel as if you unleashed all of your bullets and EVE into a player and it do nothing sometimes.
-I never go back to my apartment.
-Ranking up is actually pretty quick (see what I did there?  It's both a good and a bad point!).  After roughly 6 hours I'm almost halfway to 40.  At least I think that's quick.

Multiplayer will be what you make of it.  There is absolutely no story here unless you want to hear occasional recordings from some people who saw the fall of Rapture first hand (but I doubt many will ever want to always return to their too spacious apartment).  The graphics seem to have taken a step back, looking a bit cartoonish (I guess people looked weirder before they became Splicers?).  Like my earlier description of the whole package, multiplayer feels a bit off, incomplete, and not well-rounded enough to last into next year.  Adding multiplayer to BioShock in no way serves as furthering the saga or presenting something "new" in the way that we all wanted something "new" to be revealed.  It's not as horrible as I initially feared, but I'm not dying to be back home playing it.  I'll probably be playing it for achievement points.


Taking a step back and drying myself off, I like BioShock 2.  While not as strong narratively or in introducing anything vastly mind-blowing like it's predecessor, the ride is worth it to fans of the first.  Stepping into the shoes of a different Big Daddy makes for a slightly different perspective, stronger action, and apparently tougher choices, which are this sequel's strong points.  Unfortunately, the familiarity with the incredible setting and new fangled gunplay isn't enough to fully satisfy those who have been ravaging for more intellectual thematic elements in their media of choice.  I have faith that any other releases will attempt to further the morality and high themes the series has committed itself to always present.  If a third title is ever developed, I hope 2K decides to take some bigger risks.  Until then, we've been given some bigger weapons, some new clothes, and a different purpose.  And like Jurassic Park III, it's not bad, but not great, and in the end still fits into the series.

But please, Jordan Thomas, my man-crush, don't repeat multiplayer.

Grade = B


  1. You have a well thought out and well explained review of this game here. I finished the campaign yesterday. (Surprisingly fast) I really did enjoy it a lot. Especially the last third of the game. I agree with what you've stated above especially about Dr. Tenanbaum. What a waste of storytelling there. I wanted her a bit more involved in this story and I think there were some missed story telling opportunities there. I wouldn't be surprised there was more to her story in the beginnings of creating Bioshock 2 and it was scrapped for whatever reasons.

  2. I was also surprised about Mark Meltzer! What a sad story! I enjoyed reading your review. I think I would have rated it an A-, however. Oh and also I'm still really enjoying the multiplayer. No it's not as fun as COD but it's unique with it's weapons/plasmids combos and I really enjoy that world.