16th February 2010 - Back in 2007 Bioshock hit with nary a splash as people neither knew what to expect or what it was all about. A few months later Mass Effect was having a similar effect, both which became cult favorites as the story and artistic direction took games in a new direction. 2010 and history is repeating as not even a month after Mass Effect 2, Bioshock 2 drops leaving gamers wet with anticipation. The first game set a new precedent for art in video games, but does the second follow suite; here’s a few things about art: You generally can’t fix what isn’t broken and you can’t replace an original masterpiece with a copy. So let’s take a look.
It can be a tough act to follow a game which had critics raving and by our own omission received a perfect score; Mass Effect 2, so let’s not even try. Straight up Bioshock is an old school game, perhaps the last of, in a similar vein to System Shock or even Half Life. A first person shooter, if you played Fallout 3 you have some idea of the style of shooting mechanics we’re talking about here, 2K have stepped up to develop with China, Australia and 2K Marin all weighing in:
Large ad-hock guns, thrown together with some old-timey music deep, deep below the seas. The thing is, since 2007, Fallout 3 has come along and shown us just how to adjust this style of shooting to feel fresh and new, all the while integrating menus and interfaces into a neat play-style. Not to mention the compensation for overblown shooting or ‘spamming’ that has not seen the light of say since back in the time of Quake. Bioshock 2 tends to ignore all of the above.
Somewhere beyond the sea:
There is some light under the ocean though. Bioshock 2 is a unique splendor of human study, set in an art deco- renaissance of pastels and curious characters. Again in a similar vein to Fallout 3, we have a paradox, where time has stood still and every day is 1959 and yet technology and particular biology has evolved. The single player game is set 10 years after the first and the story continues from there. Multiplayer, is a whole other beast. So much so that below you will find two scores- one for multiplayer and one for single; but back to the story.
The first game saw a lone plane-crash survivor descend into the watery depths of Andrew Ryan’s dystopia Rapture. It was a great introduction and throughout the game you could continually pick up audio logs that fleshed out the story as you fought off spliced up citizens and rescued wayward little sisters from their ‘Big Daddy’ escorts. Rapture was a wholly realized vision of communist idealism gone wrong, a Marxist experiment of perfection that sadly went south. There was just the right balance of characters and the whole thing gelled as an organic ecosystem.
Second time around, Bioshock 2 is feeling watered down and at the same time just a bit full of itself. Thrown into the boots of your own Big Daddy, the number of types of AI has increased with new heavy units and even more different types of Big Daddy’s to fight, not to mention all the extra guns and duel wielding with plasmids. The finely crafted balance of the first game has been lost.
Somewhere waiting for me:
If you’re going to copy anyone it might as well be yourself, and in many ways it feels like that. Rather than an extension of the same people and universe ala Mass Effect 2, Bioshock 2 just feels- recycled. To be fair ‘more stuff’ has been added to change the game for fans but it is neither an improvement nor a bad thing. Its incredibly hard to explain Rapture to anyone who hasn’t seen it, but if you imagine an underwater city made during the early 1900’s which was once a fantasy land for rich people but has been destroyed and now all the crazy juiced up citizens are running free, you’ll get the idea. ‘Plasmids’ are the humans answer to perfection, which equates to 2Ks compensation for First Person Shooting.
Your left hand will fire plasmids, which consist of ‘powers’ such as freeze, burn, or mind control. Guns go in your right hand and can be upgraded, which tricks them out with new parts and makes them all the more twisted. As much as this all sounds exciting and it is always neat, throwing flames and freezing foes only to get a face full of buck-shot, it feels oh so 2007. At the end of the day, Bioshock is extremely linear and if it weren’t for all the art deco and neat weapons designs, it might feel very ordinary. Maintaining little sisters and Big Daddy’s and the feel of a once-living city means it rises above mediocrity and yet falls well under the water line of other current shooters.
My lover stands on golden sands:
Central to your experience in Rapture this time around is both your relationship with the little sisters of the city and also the new Big Sister. Who is she and how did she get like this. If you pay attention the answers come all too soon, and honestly after the first game, a lot of the mystery is gone. The charming run down water city is now a slap happy frag fest of spamming fire. As a ‘Big Daddy’ the tables have turned and you can now cart little sisters around the level collecting the genetic goo of other citizens. Doing so will summon a wave of enemy but the reward- is more genetic coin to use in upgrades. The cast of Rapture this time is actually rather female centric with sisters both small and big, and a lot of female enemy bosses pulling the puppet strings.
The story here is actually very excellent amongst all the shooting, and rescuing or killing little sisters is still morally ambiguous. As the story surrounding why so many girls have been abducted for under the sea starts to unravel it can at best become unnerving.
Watching the Ships that go sailing:
The last piece of this underwater puzzle, new to Bioshock 2 that 2K Games wanted to implement, is the underwater sections. That is, the whole city is always underwater, but you do, for a short time get to go swimming with the fishes- sort of. It isn’t actually as good as they made out. The areas are linear, you can’t use your hands, vision is restricted and the whole bit is walled with rocks and large weeds. Looking at the city from the outside is very restricted. There are some recordings to hear and some slugs to collect, but otherwise the much hyped walking through water areas fail to impress, which is unfortunate because both Big Daddies and Sisters can survive in the water which would have led to some epic battles not to mention low gravity puzzles- all of which are not present.
We’ll meet beyond the shore:
What is present, is a rather pleasant multiplayer experience, which borrows from some of the grand-daddies of multiplayer shooting but wraps it up in it’s own ‘story’ and character creation.
The reason multiplayer gets its own score from AAG is that it is an entirely separate thing, to a point. The same way Team Fortress was separate to Half Life. The game is set before the first one rather than the single player story of ten years later and has a different developers; Digital Extremes at the helm. You have an apartment within Rapture and from here can trick out one of the citizens and their gear during Raptures Civil War.
Playing online is a mash-up of the best concepts, falling somewhere between Team Fortress and counterstrike but looking all the while like Unreal Tournament. You can create load-outs and upgrade plasmid attacks and every so often levels will spawn Big Daddy or ‘Quad Damage’ suits for extra benefits. In the middle of the mayhem you might just want to research fallen team-mates with your camera for extra damage against them too.
The Counterstrike reference comes in with regard to some of the modes. Apart from team captures and deathmatch you can play a capture the flag variant with the little sisters. One team defends her while the other tries to get her into the base. Very much in the same way terrorists plant the bomb in CS. You can also escort her around and there are suitable ways to rig levels. Setting traps is key to surviving in any of Bioshock 2 and turrets as well as new plasmids and weapons make it fun.
The biggest criticism against multiplayer, besides the graphics is simply that it just doesn’t stack up against the current generation of online fun. Shooting is quick and arbitrary spamming is horrible and lag really doesn’t help. You can come last in matches and still rack up a fair amount of personal cred leveling easily between 1 and 30. There are a ton of personal ‘quests’ to achieve in the game but are basically biased toward using one weapon for a whole match.
Lastly, and rather lazily there is a large number of levels in multiplayer but all have been taken from the first game! It’s like the multiplayer from the first game that never was. Most of the levels from the first game reappear in multiplayer, and although some care has been taken to suite them to the play style, they are just not designed for fast paced play-offs. As is, the levels are cluttered, making moving hard and none of the extra detail has been removed to accommodate the needs of multiplaying. Apart from turrets little modification has occurred and some of the levels need that extra attention for snipers ect.
Until you level up also, you will be restricted to the beginner guns and plasmids so no one will be sniping and everyone will have the same guns. Jumping is mapped to the Y button over the A so is awkward and general shooting is overkill.
Multiplayer is an excellent idea with a unique story that further fleshes out history of Rapture. Creating your own character and doing personal quests is rewarding but the overdose of design and color and ‘stuff’ in the game needs trimming for a more refined multiplayer experience.
Considering the hype and marketing behind this game, it’s a shame there isn’t more to say about how it looks. The city of Rapture, and Bioshock as a whole, doesn’t have art deco in it, it IS art deco. Like someone stuck your head way inside a painting and bought it to life. Like an underwater wonderland of Mad Hatters and drugs. Sad, beautiful and old.
Back when the Unreal 3 engine was first being used, it seemed like every game would look the same but slowly artists and developers have begun to put their own stamp on their designs. Unfortunately Bioshock sticks firmly with the Unreal ‘2.5’ engine and it shows.
If the multiplayer levels were not an indication, Bioshock 2 looks exactly the same as it did 2 years ago complete with wax cut out characters and blocky overly large models.
It is hard to say exactly what has changed, and largely it is perception but on the back of Mass Effect 2 the game is looking old, with low res textures, texture popping and just very chunky models. 2K has added to the game, added quite a bit actually but without taking anything away so now it also feels bloated and crowded. There is enough neon lighting to sink a ship and everything has overly artistic menu systems and labels.
As stated before, the weapons are well conceived but random and not well designed in stark contrast to more realistic shooters. The outside water areas are nice but seaweeds and coral look fake and the whole thing is boxed in and linear.
Happy we’ll be beyond the sea:
Water in general gets a special mention in Rapture as it becomes part of the levels. The physics and deformation of water as it seeps through cracks, gushes down stairs and generally drips is excellent, and yet it feels completely borrowed from the first game, while not being used as well. There are less spectacular water moments, and even oil slicks and pools for plasmid fires and electrocution seems slapped on. Bioshock was always a larger than life charming game, but now in the mind has lost some of its glow.
Single and multiplayer again differ on sounds, but ultimately its Moby’s remix of Frank Sinatra’s ‘somewhere beyond the sea’ that is missing from this game. To be fair it wasn’t in the first one but came on a collectible CD. The song typifies what Bioshock is all about. That said the collectors edition here includes not only a CD of haunting music from BS2 but also an LP of the original on an actual record. Now all you need is a record player…
The sounds of Rapture, under the ocean are good, but like a lot of the game, not super great. The suspense and timing of music and sounds from the first is gone and there are few tense moments. Further there was a glitch early on in the game with a dramatic piece of music that got stuck and kept playing and playing, until we restarted. It made hearing audio and other music very hard.
One excellent feature of Fallout 3 was the inbuilt radio and it’s a wonder they don’t tune the whole city into your suit. There is not a lot of old fashioned music, but enough for a station or two and all the audio logs could be filtered through there as well. As it is, the moments of silence are generally broken up with mutterings and screaming which as in the first game are excellent.
Audio really drives the story in Bioshock above other shooters as you will almost always hear the enemy before you see them and usually they are standing around muttering to themselves about something. Collecting audio tracks delivers the heart of the story.
The biggest value in this rustic sequel is as a collector’s item. Let’s just take a look at that. You get a box, actually worth keeping lined with black felt, an actual usable working record of the first games music, a CD of the most recent tunes, an A4 full color 200 page art book and a number of pieces of art posters from the game, 2 player characters for multiplaying and their weapons. It’s an extra $50, and you may never play the record really, but there’s a ton of value there.
Multiplayer obviously also adds length and life to the story although it’s not good enough to last for very long. Bots actually would have been nice just for leveling. The sheer quality of this games collectors edition should give it extra points, but on it’s own it’s hard to say if the single player story warrants a third outing. If they do go for three, the city will really need to be opened up with some possible new locations.
The marketing behind the game was enormous, especially in Australia, with clues strewn around the coast-line and mysterious messages on the web. Fake posts and dummy sites were launched in regards to missing girls and news people were summoned to remote beaches to hunt for clues in the sand.
And never again I’ll go sailing:
Try to stick it out in Rapture, for as long as possible because if you do, the briny deep will take over and a whole city, lost in time will open up. Gameplay mechanics are a bit overblown and wonky, but there are more tactical opportunities here than you would expect in a normal FPS. 2K had there work cut out for them, but Bioshock 2 is as good as ever shining bright in the deep dark underworld of Rapture.
AAG Multiplayer Score: 7/10
AAG Single Player Score: 8.75/10
- Multiplaying Civil War action
- Collectors Edition
- Little sister storyline
- More of the same
- Graphics do look dated
- No nearly as scary or moody as the first
Reviewed and Written By Ian Crane