When the first Bioshock was released back in 2007, one may have considered it a sleeper hit. At least at first. It wasn't long before the title became immensely popular, even to the point of spawning perhaps one of the most substantial phrases in the current gaming era. Bioshock 2 has since enjoyed the limelight its predecessor had acquired, being one of the most anticipated games of 2010. Several weeks after it's release, and some fresh DLC, I take a look back on the title. Would you kindly join me?
Game: Bioshock 2
Published by: 2K Games
Developed by: 2K Marin and Digital Extremes (Multiplayer)
Platforms: Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC (Review Sample)
Genre: First-person shooter, action adventure
Release Date: February 9th, 2010
MSRP: $49.99 (PC), $59.99 (PS3, 360)
Review and Screenshots by: Adam
Without giving any spoilers in either titles, in Bioshock 2 you play the role of a unique Big Daddy dubbed subject "Delta", given you're one of the rarer models. Big Daddies are beings who are engineered to protect Little Sisters (little girls who have been transformed into ADAM collectors). ADAM is a substance found in a special type of underwater slug that allows for the alteration of one's genes, known as "Splicing". This comes at a cost, however, as ADAM acts similar to a drug, addicting users and driving them insane from over-exposure. In fact, chronic users are known as "Splicers" and these crazed humans will become a common enemy throughout the game.
Awakening ten years after the tragic event where your Little Sister was taken from you, Subject Delta begins his search to find her. You quickly realize that the war-torn city of Rapture has gone from bad to worse and a psychologist known as Dr. Lamb is spreading word of revolution to the last patrons of the underwater Eden. Recruited by some familiar faces, your plight soon becomes larger than simply saving your lost Little Sister.
From the very first cut scene, 2K Games has done a great job playing on the emotions of the player. Maybe it's simply my own paternal instinct, but watching the little girl be torn away from her beloved guardian was enough for me to adopt Delta's quest if only for my own retribution. From that point forward, you're engaged in an eerie ten-year-old war ground converted from what was once home to many innocent people. The macabre signs of what people were doing when everything literally went to hell is very chilling. This is expressed both by the environment and recorded voice diaries scattered about.
The surviving Splicers have since turned that wreckage into a make-shift home of their own, littering the floors and walls with bodies, effigies, and shrines exalting Dr. Lamb and renouncing the ideas of the original Rapture founders.
Encounters with the Splicers only enhance the feelings. A typical engagement with Splicers begins with first hearing them: either their insane chatter, patronizing fellow ADAMabusers, or tinkering with this or that. Enemy locations are less scripted in Bioshock 2 than other first-person shooters in the way that they aren't strategically positioned to overwhelm you or attack at a scripted point. Instead, they act like truly intelligent (for lack of a better term) beings that are actually living out their life, interupted by the threat of your presence. Once you're noticed, they'll come at you with whatever their armed with, be it a wrench, gun or maybe a refrigerator at the top of a staircase.
The Splicers are just one of the many threats that lie waiting for you during your exploration of Rapture, most of which will be coordinated by your antagonist Dr. Lamb. As mentioned earlier, you'll come across several 'side missions' in addition to the quest to save your Little Sister, including adopting and saving/harvesting other Little Sisters which conveniently increases your own power as well.
As a Big Daddy, you're initial weapon is the giant drill attached to your arm, which is introduced liberally in the opening cinematic. In your travels you'll come across many other weapons, including a Rivet Gun, Machine Gun, and a Hacking tool all of which can be upgraded via one-time-use 'Power to the People' vending machines.
These vending machines come in a variety of types, including general items (Circus of Values), ammunition (Ammo Bandito), and plasmid and gene upgrades (Gatherer's Garden). These vending units are left-overs from what the populace of Rapture used to treat like candy machines; if you needed some ammo, simply visit the Bandito. Nowadays, they'll do a better job serving you.
In the early part of the game, Bioshock 2 does a better job of requiring item rationing than modern day Resident Evil titles do. You can quickly find yourself out of ammo and health packs, forcing you to go one-on-three with a group of Splicers armed only with your drill (which also can run out of fuel, in which case all you can do is a meager melee attack). The AI isn't stupid, either; 2K has done a wonderful job programing some challenging fights. The Splicers seem to actually adapt to their situation, spreading out and attacking you from all directions if in a group, or trying to diminish your health from afar if they're alone. And your Big Daddy suit isn't impenetrable, either: you can quickly find yourself overwhelmed and reviving at a Vita Chamber.
These chambers act as sort of a check point, spawning you after death in a nearby location. It doesn't undo time, however. Everything you did, including damage to an enemy, the ammo you left in your guns, and traps that were set will still be in place. The only thing that will change is the gift of half your life and EVE (your mana, so to speak) back. This very often can create a 'spawn grind' situation, given that the reason you died is either you ran out of ammo or health packs. Since you'll respawn with no additional ammunition and little health, you may find yourself rushing in to inflict as much melee damage as you can to the threat before you die again, rinse, and repeat to progress in a level. You can make a stop at a nearby vending machine and pick up some more supplies, assuming you have the cash.
Currency and other items, including ammo and minor health restoratives, are found scattered throughout the environment. In trash cans, desks, on the floor, on bodies, in ovens... anything that could store an object probably does. I caught on quick, given the frequent ammo shortages mentioned before, exploring rooms and pressing the F key to pick up any spoils left behind. This gives Bioshock 2 a nice survival/detective feel that compliments and integrates into this shooter quite well.
As touched on earlier, the Big Daddy is equipped with a 'magic' known as EVE. Using EVE, special abilities such as Telekinesis and Incinerate can be equipped to Delta's open hand, which is visible on the screen. This provides for an easy way to ensure you've got the right power equipped, as each has a unique look (for instance, the Incinerate power gives your left-hand glove a smoldering look). The powers not only look cool, but are essential to your tactical advance on enemies. Should you find yourself overwhelmed by a group, take a moment to stun a few, or perhaps throw a nearby table at the mob. These powers can be upgraded using the ADAM that is collected from the Little Sisters you'll encounter along your journey.
If you played the original Bioshock, you're likely to remember it's strong morale choices. In fact, that morality is one of the series' main themes. In Bioshock 2, you're confronted once again by choices of good or evil, your treatment of Little Sisters being a prime example. To begin with, Little Sisters must be taken from another Big Daddy for you to adopt them, and this is achieved by, well, killing the other Big Daddy. This can't be avoided, since you need the ADAM to advance your powers for survival.
Once you've adopted a Little Sister, you're now her protector. She can lead you to potential harvest spots, usually fallen bodies. Once you find one, you'll sit her down to collect, and prepare for the onslaught of Splicers she's sure to attract. We're not talking about three or four. I'm talking about a lot of Splicers. You'll need to observe the environment and use it to your advantage, actually strategizing instead of simply Ramboizing is often the more effective choice. This is a trait that can be rare to find in FPS titles these days.
After she's collected the ADAM, you'll need to get it from her. This is achieved one of two ways: first, rescuing her by letting her escape through a vent to the surface, in which you'll receive a modest amount or harvesting her, which yields a much larger amount of ADAM, but takes the Little Sister's life in the process.
Digital Extremes has put quite a bit of effort into the title's multiplayer feature as well. Instead of simply pitting players against one another, there is a secondary storyline running beneath the multiple game modes. The multiplayer takes place during the initial fall of the city of Rapture, back in 1959, during the civil war for ADAM. You initially chose one of several persona's as your starting character, each of which have enrolled in the Sinclair Consumer Rewards Program in which participants are used as test subjects for products in return for rewards.
You can go straight to a lobby for matchmaking, or view the prologue that will take you to the beginning of your character's story, explaining that a situation has arisen. From here, you'll be lead through customizing your character from wardrobe to weapons, and then on to your initial match. The apartment is where you'll return should you unlock any new features, such as new powers or weapons, or feel the need to switch up your load-out, which at later levels you can set-up multiples of.
There is also a level hierarchy that truly takes some playing to level up in. Commonly in FPS level tiers one can progress through the first few levels in as little as one match. After playing through a few of the different modes, I still rested at Rank 1, but with plenty of first-timer achievements unlocked. Since Bioshock 2 is a Games for Windows Live title, not only did this update my Gamerscore, but also ranks with all my friends from the Xbox 360.
As mentioned, there are several modes each named uniquely for Bioshock 2 but ultimately the same game types we all have grown to love, including free-for-all, team deathmatch, and even a version of capture the flag using the Little Sisters.
Bioshock 2 can become fairly complex in it's later hours, with each gun consisting of three types of ammunition and several exchangeable EVE powers, all of which are switched to in real-time (i.e., not in a paused menu). Not to mention consumables, which also have a key of their own (Ctrl for health). As you can imagine, there is a lot to remember.
Thankfully, you're not going to be introduced to them all at once. 2K will build upon your base knowledge, teaching you keys and commands one-by-one to help you master them. And honestly, everything works out smoothly. For instance: switching guns is done with the scroll wheel, and switching ammo types is achieved by pressing the scroll wheel. Granted, it is difficult at first to remember what type of ammo you currently have equipped, but there are several subtle indicators including icons on your HUD and even different color lights which are found on the gun itself. Once you get the hang of it, the controls run very smoothly.
The controls differ a bit from the campaign to the multiplayer, and the interface in the latter doesn't seem to be as polished as the main storyline. There's little introduction to the controls, even when engaging in the optional prologue event and I found a few little quirks that were just irritating. The main one was the ability to pull up a score menu in-game using the tab button, but not being able to close it by letting off the key or pressing it again. Instead you actually have to scroll the mouse to close the menu and return to the game. Not a big deal, but it can take a little extra time and gives your opponents a chance to shoot at you while you're unsuspecting.
It's also lethal when partnered with the game's interesting mouse sensitivity. I'm a veteran of first-person shooters, often running at a higher sensitivity. However, in both modes of Bioshock 2 I found myself turning it down to get a handle on the aiming system. Not a huge deal alone but the sensitivity is different in menus, including the scoreboard you can pull up in game, so if you have the sensitivity tuned down to adapt for a higher rate in-game, when you pull up the menu it may seem extremely sluggish to get to an option.
This is one area in which Bioshock 2 truly excels. The environment not only looks stunning, but its also a very unique setting. Instead of seeing the texture of the grass blades, you can see the foliage on the underwater surface as you gaze out a passing window. When you're outside in the water, a passing shark is likely to scare you as much as the Splicers in all it's rich detail. Everything from papers laying on desks to the inner-mechanisms of your guns simply look great. In a title such as Bioshock 2 where a certain ambiance of suspense aimed for, this sort of graphical performance lends itself well. The only downside is the title does therefore have some higher hardware requirements, and those who may be a little behind might find themselves settling for lower standards.
The audio in Bioshock 2 compliments the graphics very well. As you make your way through the solemn destruction of homes and offices, the music is very timid and hardly noticeable. Even when you're approaching an enemy who hasn't quite noticed you yet, their insane ramble only enhances the sensation. After engaging your opponent, the music quickly picks up to almost a panicked rhythm, giving the player the impression that perhaps picking a fight was the wrong choice, aiding in the overall tension.
Some of the sound clips did seem to be a bit short, and are set to loop until the conflict is resolved. Nine times out of ten this isn't an issue, but if you're in a situation where biding your time to get the right shot and preserve resources is required hearing the same drum beat for the nineteenth time can be a little frustrating.
The entire Bioshock series is a breath of fresh air into the first-person genre that's currently flooded with wartime settings. The campaign in Bioshock 2 is not only engaging, but builds upon a masterful storyline introduced and loved from the original without re-engaging the major protagonists from the first game . The radical shift to the Big Daddy character allows for an exploration of Rapture from a new perspective. The graphics and sound quality are above par, and the controls, while at the game's peak and in multiplayer might have a few flaws, are generally fluid and allow for much richer gameplay.