Game Review: Bioshock 2

Bioelectric Boogaloo.

Developer: 2K  Marin, 2k China, Digital Extremes, 2K Australia
Publisher: 2K Games
Platforms: Microsoft Windows (reviewed), OS X
Available on: Steam

How do you even attempt at making a sequel to one of the most critically beloved games of all time? Least of which one that was narratively extremely strong and that didn’t need a straightforward sequel that Bioshock 2 represents? Well, from my previous review, you know that I felt that the original game was far from perfect and as such there were quite a few improvements an eventual sequel could make. So let’s delve into what was delivered here.

I can see how some of the changes to the gameplay are definite improvements. Wielding plasmids and guns at the same time is more convenient on the one hand. On the other, I kinda found it annoying having to scroll through the plasmids with a key instead of switching to them with the right mouse button and then using the scroll wheel. Especially in more hectic situations with tons of enemies, it’s kinda hard to concentrate on choosing the correct weapon and plasmid while evading enemy fire. Besides that though, I feel that there were some weird design decisions going on as well.

The remote hacking tool is convenient, but it also eliminates most of the surveillance threats and thus doesn’t make the placement of turrets or cameras as memorable, because you can mostly just snipe them from far off and hack them that way. It makes a lot of the level design seem uninspired too, because I never really felt the need to slow down and take a closer look at my surroundings. Especially during the last two levels, where I just sprinted between the objectives because I could already tell that things were wrapping up and there was no use in looting every corpse or filing cabinet. Which is why I beat this one even faster at just under 8 hours. Though what I will say is that the way you hack things has definitely been improved. I’m not a fan of quick-time events, but making the hacking snappier than the interminable pipe dream minigame is a definite improvement.

I’m also confused why they made you play as a big daddy. And a prototype at that. Why would a big daddy that can use plasmids be in any way worse for protecting the little sisters if they’re also mentally conditioned as shown in the intro? Why would you then abandon this and make them less effective. There are some attempted explanations but they reek of contrivances for the sake of convenience.

In any case, this change also opens up the game to repeat the worst part of the original: Adopting a little sister, escorting her to corpses where she can gather ADAM while defending her from hordes of splicers and then escorting her to a vent. And I did this exactly once, when the game demanded it from me, because I hate stationary wave defense. It stops the pacing of the game dead in its tracks and wastes ammo and health items. And the scavenger hunt for harvestable corpses is a waste of time too. So I just adopted the little sisters and brought them straight to a vent, which is at least an upside to the whole thing and a nice way of letting the player choose if he wants to engage with this type of gameplay. Yeah, you don’t get the full amount of ADAM, but you still get something for each little sister you rescue (along with their presents) which was more than enough for me to buy tons of plasmids and tonics along with their slots.

One thing that irked me though were the big sisters. I get that they’re this all new threat to the player along with a few new big daddies, but having her spawn because you rescued a little sister doesn’t really make thematic sense. I would understand it if harvesting the little sisters for ADAM were to trigger a big sister, that’s a valid reaction for them to have. But rescuing them shouldn’t trigger one. Besides, having her spawn in anyway nets you even more ADAM, since they also carry it, so the moral choice only further diminishes. I still went for the good ending, but there are no gameplay benefits in playing nice.

I’m also not a fan of the progression the game uses. Getting shipped from place to place in the Bathysphere in the original wasn’t the greatest way to do it, because it kinda railroads you to your destination. Especially when you could return to earlier Bathyspheres from later on in the game but somehow you couldn’t bypass the levels in the first place. But the second game literally railroads you from place to place. You stop at a train station and get to explore a level in order to open up the door to the next level. This doesn’t feel like narrative pacing to me, it feels exactly like what it is: An uncreative means for the player to engage with your levels. There are no natural reasons for you to stop at any of these places for their own sake except for the forced hindrances to your progress. Not to mention that it’s really repetitive having to go through a level with multiple floors every single time to finally get to the boss of the level who always taunts you over the radio and after that’s done, running back through the same level all over again to the train. Backtracking was already a problem in the original but this only multiplies it. It gets samey after a while, especially because the environments aren’t really as diverse as in the original. Everything kinda looks the same and you’re constantly doing the same stuff over and over again.

The story is nowhere near as well executed as the original as well. This idea of creating the ultimate altruistic polymath in the name of a collectivist philosophy is kinda dumb. Especially because it’s so diametrically opposed to what Rapture stands for. I don’t get how the populace of that place that embraced objectivism and with that individualism would be at any point convinced to switch that philosophy out for a collectivist dogmatic regime. Or how someone with that philosophy would ever come to the conclusion that a universal greater good actually exists. I mean I get that the second one’s philosophy is there to sharply contrast with the first one’s by basically being its polar opposite, but I just have a hard time believing that a society intent on living by one philosophy would so radically change its ways and views. The central motif of Rapture is “No gods or kings, only man”, so it just seems nonsensical that religious nutjobs and cults of personality would ever work in that environment.

It’s not all bad though, because I liked some of the moments as well, even though the specter of the game judging you according with its moral choice systems lets itself be felt. There are 3 characters you can choose to kill or leave alive. The first one made sense for me to leave alive, because the animosity is based on a misunderstanding. The second one falls into a sort of gray area because of conflicting viewpoints of other NPCs. The last one however is kinda weird, because he’s actually insane and an audio-log from before he lost his mind tells you to kill him because he anticipates his end. But killing him is seen as a bad thing. So if, like me, you are in favor of assisted suicide for the terminally ill, your decision that you feel is morally well-intentioned gets judged as reprehensible. It’s a fine line you have to walk with these moral choice systems and how far you’re willing to go to judge the player for their actions. Unless you’re going the route Spec Ops: The Line did and force the player to do reprehensible stuff to make a point. But Bioshock 2 doesn’t go that far and as such I kinda felt cheated.

What I did enjoy however was the relationship between Eleanor and Delta. It’s interesting to note that she’s not merely a damsel in distress but a fully fleshed out character of her own that also gets to kick major ass. Hell, the events of the entire game are her doing, reviving Delta, controlling the little sisters to help him, she’s not passive in all of this. Though a lot of this opens up a can of worms on the game not being able to explain how this stuff actually works. The vita-chamber that brings you back to life for example. In the original, they only work for you, because Jack has the same genetic key as Andrew Ryan and they’re limited to that genetic key. The rest of the population doesn’t get revived. But Delta somehow gets revived. Other stuff that’s left mostly unexplained is how Eleanor is able to see through your eyes or contact you telepathically. Or hell how she’s even able to control the little sisters in the first place. This also leads into Tenenbaum’s sudden disappearance. I feel like that was a missed opportunity in bringing her back.

All in all, it’s not a bad game. If I pile up all the things I liked or didn’t like, I’d say the linegraph in terms of quality stays about horizontal with only the faintest hint of a downward curve. It’s just mostly more of the same, so if you liked Bioshock and want more polished gameplay, it’s definitely worth a shot.

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