BioShock 2 review
Law of Diminishing Returns
Oh Bioshock, I never did understand all the hype behind you. Then again some games really rely on their story to make everything click and turn things up to the next level and "Would You Kindly" seems to be the precise moment when that click happened, and people began to look upon it as a masterpiece and proclaim it to be one of the greatest examples of video games as art. Sadly I had already played through Sons of Liberty 6 years prior; a title which also dealt with the themes of artificial free will, so the impact of the dramatic reveal was muted quite a bit for me.
Still with it's unparalleled artistic design and satisfying gun play Bioshock did wind up winning me over even if I wouldn't exactly place it amongst my absolute favorite games of all time. So what I did think about my return trip to Rapture? Well to be frank this is a title that is simply riddled with something known as sequel-itis, a disease where the developers essentially copy the previous title and refuse to innovate out of fear of screwing up what already worked. This approach; as it usually does, produces mixed results.
Now lets start out with the positives. The combat is unarguably still satisfying and the second time through Rapture it stands out as the highlight of the campaign. Taking out Splicers with a variety of weapons and plasmids is as fun as it was 5 years ago and the strategic yet cerebral combat really helps Bioshock stand out from the rest of the FPS genre. Being able to dual wield a plasmid and a weapon is also a welcome addition; the combination of the spear gun and cyclone trap plasmid quickly became a favorite of mine. Combat has also been shaken up a bit as hacking now takes place in real time, so you've got to avoid enemy fire while attempting to turn security cameras and turrets over to your cause.
The ability to upgrade your weapons and plasmids, as well as learn new moves gives the game an RPG lite feeling. While I like the decision to restrict the player into choosing a more defined path for themselves, the lack of a new game plus is a missed opportunity. The enemies also seem a little underwhelming and you will soon find individual Big Daddies and Big Sisters to be more along the lines of minor annoyances rather than major threats.
The underwater city of Rapture also remains aesthetically pleasing from an artistic point of view. The 1940s design when paired up with the foreboding and mysterious ocean floor truly creates a setting that is unlike anything else in gaming. The new types of enemies such as the ferocious Brute Splicers and menacing Big Sisters also convey a continuation of the clever character design that won this franchise so many fans in the first place. That 1940s-50s music is also a guilty pleasure of mine and is a nice counterbalance to the more haunting original compositions.
However outside of these few additions to the enemy roster and a small number of set pieces that take advantage of the Big Daddies unique capabilities, there really isn't much innovation to be found. I'll admit the first time a Big Sister kicks your ass and you wind up looking in on Rapture from outside it's pressurized walls, it is a stunning moment that had me on the edge of my seat. However by the third time you do this, and you realize that you're sea-walks are danger-free; and mostly included so you can enjoy the scenery, a great deal of the tension is diluted. 2K Marin proves they're as great at creating a memorable set piece as any other developer in the industry, now all they've got to do is work on not repeating that moment ad nausea.
This hesitance to move away from the already established formula is also prevalent throughout the story. You play as a Big Daddy but if the narrative wasn't intent on beating you over the head with this fact; and the ground didn't shake whenever you jumped, I honestly would of thought Jack had just worked on holding his breath since his last trip to Rapture. Once again our protagonist is silent, once again the main themes concern free will and morality, and once again most of the back story is told via audio tapes that are scattered throughout the environment.
Given the fact that the player controls a Big Daddy it makes sense that he wouldn't have much to say, but because we learn almost nothing about him the reveal of his origins as a Little Sister protector doesn't resonate as much as the developers most likely intended. It also doesn't help that this big dramatic moment occurs over the radio, a big reveal like this warrants something a little more important in my opinion. The audio tapes once again provide more detail into the warped minds of Raptures leaders, and help give the player more of an idea as to what exactly happened to the once great underwater city.
To be fair the central narrative is a lot more personal than it was in the original title and if this is your first trip below the sea I can imagine it will impress you. It can not be ignored however that the game really has nothing new to say as all the themes of the first game are trotted out once again. We see how Ryans belief in the individual led to corruption. We witness how once the morals that seem to hold back science are removed, people begin to do inhumane experiments on one another. And we're also forced to witness as our main characters free will is literally stripped away from him. If this is all sounding familiar to you then congratulations. You payed attention during your first visit to Rapture.
Visually the game is a mixed bag. The artistic design as I've repeatedly stated stands head and shoulders above most of the competition. The Big Daddies and the new variations remain some of the most identifiable and downright threatening in all of gaming. From a graphical standpoint however while some improvements are noticeable in certain textures and lighting, on the whole the game doesn't look a whole lot better than the first one. I certainly couldn't place Bioshock 2 amongst the most technically impressive titles to release in 2010, which is a disappointment considering that its predecessor easily shoved its way near the top of the list 3 years prior.
Multiplayer is also included but I'll be the first to admit that I haven't tried it out so I guess this review can be considered a little incomplete. However multiplayer wasn't really a large reason behind my purchase and I can't imagine the somewhat loose controls translating well against other live opponents. If I try it out and it decides to be the greatest (or worst) thing ever then I'll make sure to update this.
If my score seems a little harsh than allow me to clarify. Bioshock 2 is a fully functional FPS that is just about the artistic antithesis of the rest of the genre. I'm sure that it will win a lot of new fans over who decide to try it out before Infinite releases. But the original title just had so many new ideas that even though it was constrained by the trappings of the genre it managed to shake things up in countless other ways. Bioshock 2 lacks this originality and considering it's legacy it ends up looking worse for it in comparison. The Big Sister is the perfect symbol for this. She started off as a Nemesis like villain who would encourage you to keep on your toes as she stalked you throughout Raptures underwater halls, before winding up as a neutered version of her former self who you would encounter a predetermined amount of times.
And that sort of captures Bioshock 2 in a nutshell. You can see that the team might have started off with grand ambitions, but then decided to get back in their comfort zone and just go with what they know. Aside from one late game twist where the playbook is suddenly flipped and we're allowed to view Rapture from an entirely new point of view, Bioshock 2 remains in the shadow of it's older brother. It might of just been the hype but Bioshock 2 is one of the more disappointing games I've played in recent memory. Luckily based on what we've been shown of Infinite though, I've got no qualms about the franchises future.
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