Bioshock 2
Developer: 2K Marin
Publisher: 2K Games
Release Date: Out Now
Players: 2-10 online multiplayer
Words By:

Raising the bar in the games industry must be a double-edged sword. You have the plaudits and adulation of the gaming masses but then the huge level of expectation for your next release.

When I played Bioshock back in 2007 it took me completely by surprise. 2K Games had crafted one of the all time great settings in the form of the underwater city Rapture and then filled it with a host of great characters and a memorable tale of corruption and power.

There was innovation in the way the narrative played out through audio tapes you collected on your travels and an almighty twist in the story that seemed to catch everyone off guard (think of the first time you saw The Sixth Sense.)

Graphically the game was superb with moody lighting, realistic water effects and a sublime art deco theme throughout. I honestly think I spent as much time gazing at the scenery and exploring the environment as I did pumping lead into the deranged Splicers (the most common enemy youíd come across in Bioshock.)

To put it mildly I was itching to get back to Rapture. Not just to continue the tale of Andrew Ryanís undersea utopia, but mainly to see what new ways 2K Marin would find to surprise me. The first few hours of Bioshock 2 are what I can only describe as slow and disappointing. Not because the gameplay, graphics or story are poor, but because it appears that nothing significant has been changed.

The narrative picks up ten years after the climax of the first installment and instead of discovering Rapture by accident, you awake within its walls to discover you are one of the first gameís key villains Ė a Big Daddy. Andrew Ryan, the creator of Rapture is long gone and in his place is Sofia Lamb who has her own plans for the city and a loyal band of deranged followers.

The plot hook this time is that you play as the very first Big Daddy, a prototype called Delta who has been separated from his own Little Sister. Both of you will perish unless you are able to connect, but as always there are barriers and challenges to overcome to achieve this aim. Players are once again asked to either rescue or harvest the Little Sisters from Rapture as they progress, thus collecting the all important ďAdamĒ which helps unlocks powers and upgrades throughout the game. Various characters pop in and out of the narrative (via those handily placed audio recordings) to help or hinder you on your quest.

The early disappointment is due largely to two key elements - the lack of gameplay innovation on display and the total familiarity of the setting.

Although your character is a different beast this time around and has the added benefit of being able to dual-wield weapons and plasmids (drug-fueled special powers), you canít shake the feeling that this is the same role you were playing over two years ago. As a Big Daddy you start the quest with one of the more powerful weapons of the game already attached to your arm - the drill. As you progress, many of the weapons from the first game reappear, such as the shotgun and rivet gun. A great addition is the harpoon that can spear Splicers to the wall and has ammo that can be re-collected after use. All the weapons in the game can be upgraded, so you have a fairer chance at survival once the difficulty increases in the latter stages.

The Splicers who inhabit Rapture have barely evolved. They may be a little better powered and attack in groups but they can still be taken out with the minimum amount of fuss by strafing or setting traps. In fairness, there are two new additions to the enemy roster in the form of The Rumbler and The Big Sister. The Rumbler starts to appear with groups of slicers and attacks with rocket launchers and annoying mobile turrets. The Big Sisters only appear when you have saved or harvested their younger siblings. Announcing their arrival with a ear-piercing wail, they are thin and wiry but fast and hugely powerful.

Similarly there are small changes in the way you hack into machines. Gone are the old-school pipe puzzles and in their place a simple dial mechanic thatís quick to complete. 2K Marin have also introduced a research element to the gameplay via the use of a video recorder. You can set this up to record your confrontations with the denizens of Rapture and it will then provide intel on how to defeat them more efficiently in future. Itís a nice idea, but I didnít find myself using it often.

Graphically, you could argue Bioshock 2 has improved upon the original with a finer level of detail, yet every room and corridor you enter has the same look and feel as the first game. Water pours from cracks in the glass, furniture floats in sunken rooms and oil glistens on the surface of the water. All lovely, but then it was back in 2007.

Every room is filled with goodies to collect, from food to ammo and weapons. They all glisten so thereís barely any exploration needed to find them, and much of the time spent in Rapture is getting close enough to the floor to reveal the Ďpick-upí icon.

You still canít inflict damage on the environment which given the standard set by the like of Modern Warfare 2 and even Black on PS2 just seems unforgivable. Considering the weaponry at your disposal and the intensity of the firefights, the lack of damage really does draw you out of the setting.

Within minutes of playing I found myself in a predictable groove: receive a clue from one of the characters, follow the arrow to the solution and pull the lever, then rinse and repeat. Defeat a rival Big Daddy on the way and choose to either save or harvest their Little Sister for that all important Adam. Complete the task in one area and then travel by undersea train to the next location. Itís just too predictable, for anyone whoís played the original or indeed any console FPS of the past few years.

Bioshock 2 ships with an interesting multiplayer component. It isnít likely to worry the Modern Warfare 2 crowd, but it delivers a unique story-driven online experience to compliment the single player mode With a choice of death-match, team and capture the sister modes, players take on the role of a splicer involved in a civil war prior to the events of the original Bioshock. The fun in multiplayer is down to use of weapons and plasmids in each arena. Most modes also have a Big Daddy hidden in the map which gives the finder a significant power advantage over the other players. Itís a solid multiplayer experience and likely to be a hit with gamers who have an affection for the setting.

Youíre probably thinking that this review isnít exactly pointing towards a positive conclusion, and trust me, if the second half of the game had continued in the same style Iíd have found it hard to award the single player mode more than a 5/10.

Thankfully as you enter the final key location of the game, everything improves. The narrative really starts to sparkle as your characterís motivations come to the fore. Thereís an urgency to proceeding that was absent in the early levels and a sense of excitement that rapidly builds to a stunning crescendo.

The set-pieces that were somewhat lacking in the first half make a welcome return to form. One level sees you restoring power to an unlit area whilst collecting plants that will tempt a beast out of hiding. The task is made all the more difficult by the steady stream of Splicers, Rumblers and Little Sisters and your ever-decreasing stock of ammunition. Another memorable sequence sees the windows of the chamber smash and the seawater come rushing in. Youíre then left to complete the level underwater with a companion from the deep circling ominously...

Itís in the final third of the game that you start to gain a sense that your choices and actions may actually influence the outcome. Aside from deciding whether to adopt or harvest Little Sisters, youíre also asked to make decisions about the lives of key characters in the game. Youíre never given any guidance on what choice to make, so the responsibility rests squarely on your own shoulders. Itís this element of morality that really lifts Bioshock 2 above other shooters.

The environments in the final third open out a little and start to allow you to be more strategic in your approach. Whether itís an empty theatre or submarine launch bay, the layout of these areas encourages you to plan your defense (or assault), and you really need to consider the best weapon for the job and ensure your accuracy is good to prevent depleting your stock. You can prepare for the attack of an approaching Little Sister or group of Splicers by setting rivet gun traps at the entrances to an area and then retreating to a safer spot. This reminded me very much of the sentry gun sections in Half Life 2.

Thereís no big twist to rival the original, but the narrative does develop in a way that completely changes the way you play in the final hours. To say much more would give away much of the enjoyment, but the introduction of a key character is a joy to behold.

After such a sluggish start, the final third of Bioshock 2 is great fun, engaging and thought-provoking. Many games Iíve played seem to exhaust all their best ideas at the start and then find it impossible to maintain the standard. 2K has crafted a sequel to their smash hit that tests the patience of the gamer with a weak opening and predictable middle, but it really is worth sticking with.

Best Bits

- Stunning climax to the campaign
- Some great set-pieces
- Moral choices affect the outcome
- The Harpoon Gun
- Fun multiplayer
Worst Bits

- Takes a long time to get going
- No environmental damage
- Not much new to see for Bioshock fans

by: Blakey

Copyright © Gamecell 2010