Everyone has been anticipating the release of BioShock 2 ever since it was announced, and has been really hyped by the media. Many review websites gave it very high marks, like a 9.5 or 10 out of 10. While BioShock 2 is a very good game, I disagree with other critics that it is nearly perfect. Here are the glaring problems that others seem to be ignoring when rendering a verdict…
One of the things that carried the original BioShock was its intellectual and intriguing story. The story was heavily influenced by Ayn Rand and George Orwell, as the overall fictional theme was a “what if” scenario about politics and government power gone wrong (ironically the “freedom” Ryan offered destroyed his perfect society from within). The story was so complex, however, that the average gamer can only absorb a portion of it, as many things were not completely spelled out. Some gamers really don’t care about the chatter and just want a reason to blow stuff up. I myself only fully understood the story fully after I read a third-party Wiki… and I have a college-level education in literature.
While the story in BioShock 2 compliments some of the BioShock 1 story, it doesn’t really fill in any significant gaps that you didn’t already know… like finding a recording explaining the duality of Atlas and the “WYK” (Would You Kindly) project.
The story in BioShock 2 is even more complex than the original script, and takes the religious views in a new direction after Ryan dies. There appear to be some holes or unanswered questions in the story if you don’t read between the lines. For example, it is not very clear how the Delta Big Daddy (the protagonist) is miraculously resurrected after shooting himself. Only after hearing from one of the original scriptwriters was it made clear that you are a body injected with the Adam (and thus the memories) of the original Delta who shot himself. That raises a whole other philosophical conundrum about “free will” since you originally killed yourself under orders. If anything, the story is thought-provoking and introduces complex ideas that are usually present in more “high brow” media.
There are a few technical issues and considerations, mostly within the PC version of the game. For one, the PC version of BioShock 2 has extensive copy protection way beyond the console versions. Our review sample was supplied via Steam, which eliminates any physical copy protection issues, but retail buyers will run into a limited number (15) of activations, which can be a real problem for PC enthusiasts that reinstall or upgrade often. To play the game, you must create a “Games for Windows” account (or use your existing Xbox Live account). You must then enter the serial number that comes with your game. Because of these issues, the game isn’t very transferable if you decide to sell it once you’re done.
Another major issue with the PC version is the not-so-infrequent crashes. I understand that there are many different configurations of PC hardware, and an infinite number of installed software configurations, but still the game should not crash as many times as I encountered. The game doesn’t autosave frequently enough, and I found myself re-playing a good hour of the game every time I was thrust back to the Windows desktop. There was one other time when the game hung during a scripted animation (picking up a Little Sister), and there was no way to get out of it so I had to load a previous save (and re-play another hour of what I had just accomplished).
Another technical issue I encountered was really a glitch that ended up being a “cheat”. When there was an enemy on a level above me, I could see their shadow on the ceiling, which allowed me to identify the Splicer’s position and make tactics. Not a major issue, and I really hope the next patch does not fix this. Still, you think a game that was pushed back several months to add more polish (the developer’s words exactly) wouldn’t have a glitch such as this.
Now onto the multiplayer aspect of the game, which is a completely new feature. The setting for the multiplayer game is a year before the events of BioShock 1. You play as one of a handful of Rapture residents, and there is little customization. Customization and loadout takes place in your character’s apartment (aka game lobby) until you wish to jump into a game. The multiplayer uses a leveling system similar to Modern Warfare where you can rank up and unlock different weapons, plasmids and tonics. You can change their mask and melee weapon, and a few other things, but you will likely find many other characters that look pretty much like you. This isn’t necesarrially a big deal in and of itself, because if the game is fun then it doesn’t matter if everyone looks alike.
The problem is that the multiplayer part of BioShock 2 isn’t all that fun. This portion of the package was handled by Digital Extremes rather than 2K Marin, and there is a noticeable separation. The game just feels different than the single-player campaign, the weapons aren’t satisfying and the plasmids don’t have any of the punch that you’re used to.
Multiplayer in BioShock 2 is a mere novelty, and I doubt anyone will be playing these in six months time, especially when there are much better multiplayer experiences available. Some games are great single-player experiences with a mediocre multiplayer, and others are short single-player games but are purchased for the multiplayer aspect (e.g. Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2).
When critiquing a game, then the overall score is derived based on both parts. Would anyone be happy with the multiplayer portion they paid $60 for it? I highly doubt it.
Xbox 360 Achievement issues
There are three versions of the game (PC, Xbox 360, and PS3), and two of them use the same achievements. The PC and Xbox 360’s achievements are linked together, so if you play it on the PC then it shows up on your Xbox 360 leaderboard.
I played through the game and then looked at the achievement list to see what I missed. I noticed a trend that there really wasn’t much of a need to replay the single-player campaign. Although you may feel compelled to replay the game for the different endings (which can all be viewed on YouTube), you are only rewarded if you take the “good” path (don’t kill the antagonists when presented with the choice). Instead of getting 30 points for sparing everyone, what if you got 10 for sparing each person, and 10 for killing them? Then you would have an incentive of replaying the game to get 60 points instead of 30. I made the mistake of killing Stanley and gave up the “Savior” achievement. So my advice to you if you’re playing BioShock 2 for the first time: don’t kill Grace, Stanley, or Gill and rescue all of the Little Sisters if you want the Achievement points.
Another thing that was glaringly obvious was that how unfair it is when playing on Hard. I usually play on the hardest difficulty level because you usually “inherit” the medium and easy points when you win. You get a measly 30 extra points for beating BioShock 2 on Hard (“Against All Odds”). So it is very conceivable that someone playing on Easy will get more overall points than a more skilled player because they could take their time finding all the other little goodies rather than concentrating on combat. For example, if you turn off the use of Vita-Chambers then you can more easily get the “Big Brass Balls” achievement on Easy than on Hard, and practically inherit “Unbreakable” (defeat the Big Sister without dying).
You can only get 790 points by playing the single-player campaign. The remaining 210 points have to be won by playing the multiplayer levels… which can be painful because as previously mentioned the multiplayer just isn’t that fun.
While the single-player experience is much better than the original, it is over too quickly (about 10 hours of play time), and there really isn’t much of a reason to replay.
BioShock 2 is an excellent single-player game, and has improvements over the original game. This is the major problem: it feels more like BioShock 1.5 rather than a true sequel. There really isn’t anything genuinely new about the game except for the new storyline and multiplayer (which is a fail in my book). Everything else is just an improvement over the original game.
If a formula works, then don’t break it. In this case, the gameplay of BioShock works, and the developers at 2K Marin have given you just that. The issue I have when judging BioShock 2 as a critic is that a sequel has to bring something new or better. You can’t just keep shelling out the same game with a new number and expect our $60 AND a perfect rating.
BioShock 2 is a great game; probably a better single-player experience than the original. My point here is that it doesn’t deserve the “perfect” badge that critics seem to be blindly handing out. If this game was the first outing of Rapture, then it would definitely be “perfect”, but as a sequel we have to weigh certain things because there was a previous one. Overall, BioShock 2 deserves a solid 8 out of 10, or a 4 out of 5.