Bioshock 2
Developer: 2K Games
Publisher: Take-Two Interactive
Release Date: Out Now
Players: 1 player main game, 2-10 player multiplayer via Games for Windows - LIVE
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Bioshock 2 takes you back to the underwater city of Rapture, 10 years after the events of the first game. Rapture is a Utopian vision gone horribly wrong; the city itself is coming apart at the seams and its inhabitants, previously the world’s best and brightest, are now homicidal maniacs driven mad by abusing ADAM, a miraculous substance obtained from sea slugs. ADAM allows extreme super-power granting genetic modifications, known as Plasmids, to be applied to the user in a process called Splicing, giving the homicidal ADAM addicts their name; Splicers. The Plasmid powers range from throwing flames from your fingertips to summoning a cloud of insects to attack your enemies. ADAM is collected either directly from the sea slugs or retrieved from the blood of dead Splicers by Little Sisters, sinister little girls possessed by the slugs. The Little Sisters travel everywhere protected by huge men in heavy diving suits known as Big Daddies who were your most formidable enemy in the first game.

The plot this time around is much more straightforward than before, but still fairly good as game plots go. This time you are a Big Daddy. After the intro, you wake up to find yourself separated from your own bonded Little Sister, Eleanor, who you spend the rest of the game trying to find. As a Big Daddy, you can adopt a Little Sister after killing her current Big Daddy and carry her around to gather ADAM to exchange for new Plasmids and their passive ability equivalent, Gene Tonics. Rather than adopt them, you can also choose to destroy the parasitic slug, rescuing the girls and returning them to normal, or harvest them killing both the slug and the girl for extra ADAM. In the first game, the Little Sisters seemed like evil incarnate, sucking blood from corpses with huge syringes and squealing with glee when their Big Daddies battered you to death. Now they actually help you out right from the start of the game and also look slightly less demonic. Combine these factors with your quest to find your own missing Little Sister and killing them for their ADAM just doesn’t seem like the right thing to do. It’s a successful bit of game design that makes you actually feel protective towards them, putting you more firmly in character as a Big Daddy.

Your main enemy in the game is Doctor Lamb, an unhinged psychologist who has been experimenting on Eleanor and was the one responsible for your separation. Along the way to your reunion you’ll be guided by several other characters over your helmet radio. The game tries but fails to make an emotional connection between you and them; Dr Lamb asks about one character ‘what is he to you? A friend, or just a tool?’. As you’ve only ever heard his disembodied voice telling you what to do, it’s hard to think of him as a friend, although the game is more successful at making you care what happens to Eleanor, possibly because she’s the only one who doesn’t seem to be crazy and/or have some unknown ulterior motive for helping you. There are a few simple moral choices presented to the player along the way, each taking the form of a ‘will you or won’t you kill someone’ question. One of them is an unarmed old lady with a walking stick, which doesn’t really require much soul-searching. Another is also defenceless, but begging you to kill them.

Since you’re The Daddy, the game introduces the acrobatic Big Sister to replace you at the top of the food chain. Like Terminator 3’s Kristanna Loken T-X vs. old-school Arnie in a deep sea diving suit, she’s a faster, stronger more agile version of the old model. Although it initially seems like the Big Sister will be a unique boss, before long they start to appear regularly, even two at a time by the end of the game. In fact, this is a common issue with the game; the mid-game bosses are distinctly lacking in personality and are a lot less memorable than those in the first Bioshock; there’s nothing even close to the awesome madness in the original’s Fort Frolic here. About the only boss you actually fight directly is virtually indistinguishable from regular enemies apart from his much larger health bar. Every other major character you encounter, you don’t actually fight at all; instead they summon ever larger groups of Rapture’s standard inhabitants to fight for them, which is disappointing to say the least, although at least it avoids the rather out of place final boss battle of the first game.

Actual gameplay is a fairly straight-forward FPS affair; just you and your reactions versus a huge supply of enemies with very basic AI. There are a couple of situations where you need to use a specific Plasmid to advance, but these are few and far between, occurring much less frequently than in the first game and are too obvious to actually call puzzles. Although some enemies are weaker against specific weapons or Plasmids, the only time it really gets tactical is when you set down an adopted Little Sister to harvest ADAM from a corpse. This causes every Splicer in the area to come running, so you need to plan your strategy in advance using defensive weapons and Plasmids to help you out. You’ll actually spend a large chunk of your time gathering ADAM, either finding Little Sisters and liberating them from their Big Daddies, or looking for ADAM-rich corpses and setting up to defend the Little Sisters while they go about their grisly business. Each Little Sister can only gather ADAM from two corpses before she has to be either rescued or harvested and you have to find another one, which gets a bit repetitive and actually takes up most of your playing time. There’s quite a wide variation in level design through the game considering you are confined to a small section of the city, but the actual missions are all very similar, not really far ahead of the old DOOM-style ‘find a red key card for the red door’ template, albeit with much better graphics. You do get to go outside and walk about on the sea bed a few times but these sections are disappointingly linear and, with both weapons and Plasmids disabled, offer no interaction beyond collecting the odd sea-slug.

A welcome addition to Bioshock 2 is the ability to wield a weapon and a Plasmid at the same time, one in each hand; setting someone on fire while blasting them with a shotgun never gets old. There’s also a research function in the game that lets you film enemies as you take them down, revealing their weaknesses, giving you damage bonuses against them and unlocking new Gene Tonics, instead of the first game’s still picture camera. Not all the changes are for the better though; it’s a shame that the option to customise and create weapons from random bits of junk you collect has been removed since the results added some variety to the otherwise very standard weapons. As before, when you die, the game resurrects you at the nearest ‘Vita-Chamber’, minus any items or ammo you used and with your enemies in whatever state they were in when you died. This can make some battles very drawn out if you run out of ammo and health kits against a strong enemy and you have to slowly whittle down their health one drill bash at a time in between deaths. You can disable Vita-Chambers and just use the quick save feature instead if it all gets too annoying.

You’ll probably be dying a lot too; Bioshock 2 is hard, especially at the start. Considering the other Big Daddies in the game can take a huge amount of punishment before they fall, you’re extremely weak. At the start of the game you’ll die after three hits from the weakest Splicer on Normal difficulty, while you only have enough EVE (used to power your Plasmids) to let off about the same number of Plasmid attacks. Even at the end of the game you need to have your finger hovering over the health kit shortcut in every encounter, although you won’t be in much danger of running out of EVE by then.

Right from the start Rapture is a beautiful place to be. Provided you have the hardware for it, Bioshock 2 on the PC looks much better than its 360 counterpart; textures are higher resolution, models are more detailed and on Vista or Windows 7 there are plenty of nifty DirectX 10 lighting effects. Special mention must go to the water; the splashes and reflections look brilliant on the PC, which is just as well since much of the city is flooded. With this being a sequel, the impact of the amazing views of Rapture’s underwater Art Deco skyscrapers is lessened if you played the first game. It’s not that they don’t look good; they just lose some of their ‘wow’ factor for the return visitor. While Rapture is still pretty atmospheric, most of the narrative is delivered via tape-recorded audio diaries that you collect on your journey with fewer bits of really good scene-setting level design than before; the staging of props in the levels to tell the story is nowhere near as effective as in Fallout 3, for example. The first game was pretty scary, particularly at the start when you arrived in a weird underwater world with nothing to defend yourself and a strange creature hammering on the outside of your diving bell in the dark. There are no moments to compare with that in this one. Rapture is as weird as ever, but nowhere near as scary

The game sounds great, from the mournful whale song-like moans of a roaming Big Daddy searching for a Little Sister to the crazy rantings of the Splicers. There are a couple of issues though; in the first game, music was used fairly extensively to add to the weird 1940’s ambience in certain areas; this time there’s a lot less music and the atmosphere does suffer as a result. What music there is a bit obvious too; playing ‘Daddy’s Girl’ after a sequence about your relationship with Eleanor is really not too subtle. Some of the in-game accents are very odd too; there are a couple of ‘Irish’ brothers whose accents range from Father Jack Irish through Scottish, Welsh and Yorkshire, and a Dick Van Dyke English turn from young Eleanor.

The major problem with the game on the PC is the controls. Normally the keyboard and mouse combo is vastly superior to a console gamepad when it comes to FPS games. Compared to a gamepad, the mouse allows much faster and more accurate targeting and the keyboard has loads of buttons ready for use. Unfortunately, 2K Games have gone crazy with the abundant supply of buttons but forgotten that humans only have two hands. There are more than 40 different buttons used on the PC, while the 360 version works perfectly well with only 16. Several of the extra buttons are unnecessary; for example the 360 allows you to hold down the action button to listen to an audio diary while the PC has a separate button.

Where it really goes wrong with the PC control system is in the switching of weapons and Plasmids. By the end of the game, you can have up to eight of each with the weapon slots assigned to the corresponding number keys and the Plasmids to the Function keys. Unfortunately it’s physically impossible to use those shortcuts without moving your hand from the WASD movement keys leaving you unable to move, or moving your other hand from the mouse leaving you unable to shoot. You can cycle through weapons and Plasmids using yet more keys, but that also leaves you vulnerable. You could remap your favourite weapons so you don’t have to move your hand so far, but you’ll already be using the most easily accessible keys for jumping, using health packs or items and hacking machines.

To make matters even worse, when you upgrade your Plasmids the slots they occupy get randomly rearranged so all the shortcuts you learnt or setup are suddenly wrong. The 360 version totally eliminates these problems by pausing the action and bringing up a radial selection menu for your weapons and Plasmids when you hold down RB or LB. Why a similar selection system couldn’t be used on the PC is hard to comprehend. ‘Fine’, you might say, ‘just use your 360 pad’, but not only would you be missing the point, you actually can’t. There is no option to play with the superior control scheme of the 360 version nor is there any gamepad support in the game. Apparently this was a conscious decision by 2K so they could ‘optimize the keyboard controls’ on PC, but they failed miserably at that. The control issues don’t just make the game harder than it needs to be, they also make it less likely that you’ll experiment with new Plasmids or weapons. If they turn out to be ineffective, you’ll probably die before you’ve managed to switch back to one you know works, so you’re likely to end up sticking with the basic ones.

The weapon selection problem is at its worst when you are trying to use the camera to research a Splicer. Normally when you activate the camera, you get automatically switched back to your previous weapon. However, if you try and film a type of Splicer you’ve already fully researched (easily done since most of them look almost identical), the camera stays selected as your ‘weapon’, leaving you totally vulnerable as you rush to try and find one that actually does damage.

The control issues aren’t such a problem in the new multiplayer modes, since the number of weapons and Plasmids you can hold is reduced, the control scheme hugely simplified and at least everyone trying to kill you has the same handicap. The multiplayer mode builds on the story of Rapture, taking place around the time of the first game and enrolling you on a Plasmid and Gene Tonic test program as a human guinea pig. Actual multiplayer games are all Bioshock-themed variations on standard FPS modes including Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag (with Little Sisters instead of flags) and Last Man Standing. Each mode also features a Big Daddy suit; when wearing the suit, you get increased health and damage, but can’t use any Plasmids. There are several new Plasmids, weapons and Gene Tonics unique to the multiplayer part of the game which you unlock by levelling up with ADAM which is awarded for your performance. You can also take photos of your opponents’ corpses to earn damage bonuses against them for the rest of that game or until they kill you.

Despite a half-hearted attempt to integrate the multiplayer into the main plot, it still feels tacked on to the single player story-driven game; it doesn’t quite fit in the Bioshock universe and seems like a cheap bit of feature box-ticking. It lacks any real depth and plays like Unreal Tournament of old, with Plasmids seeming more than ever like secondary fire modes for your weapons due to the decreased arsenal you can carry. It’s not going to tempt people away from TF2 or Bad Company 2 and it certainly wouldn’t cut it as a stand-alone package, even if there were enough people playing to get a decent game going. At the time of review, the game was deserted to the point that there were only enough players online to get one match going at a time, and that was either the basic Deathmatch or Team Deathmatch variants. The lack of opponents means there is no skill-based matchmaking in effect, putting level 1 newbies up against level 50 veterans with hugely upgraded weapon and Plasmid loadouts and character abilities. Lack of opponents breaks the matchmaking, which breaks the multiplayer game.

It’s a shame to have to say this since it’s superior in every other aspect, but the PC version is really let down by the control scheme. Even though it looks worse, doesn’t sound as good and costs more, the 360 version is more fun to play. The PC version doesn’t necessarily need gamepad support, but it does need a better weapon and Plasmid selection system, which the 360 version already has. If not for that, the PC version would be worth at least another point and would be a no-brainer purchase over the 360 version for owners of both platforms. As it is, it’s the other way around. Unless you actually have four hands, that is…


Best Bits

- Rapture looks beautiful
- Plasmids are fun
- Ability to dual wield a weapon and a Plasmid is a huge improvement over the first game
- Game does a good job of making you feel protective towards Eleanor
Worst Bits

- Missing superior radial weapon/Plasmid selection menu from 360 version
- Atmosphere not built up as well as in the first game
- Story less involving than first game with no real twists or surprises
- Gameplay gets a bit repetitive
- For a Big Daddy, you sure are weak

by: Smurfzursky

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