Jeff Markiewicz On March 30, 2010 at 11:29 am

Bioshock came out in 2007 and immediately garnered high critical praise and eventually went on to get several Game of The Year awards. It did a lot of things right, especially creating an amazingly unique atmosphere. But for those that are computer veterans, it was a spiritual successor to a classic title called System Shock 2 and was highly anticipated. Unfortunately Bioshock ended up being a little too similar to the former game and was simplified quite a bit. It was still a good game but, for me, I had already played a better version. Now in 2010, its sequel has arrived and has a lot to live up to and to some, to make up for. The title has been moved out of the hands of its former developers to a conglomerate of new teams spanning across 2K Marin, 2K China, Digital Extremes, and Arkane Studios. Will this one float to the top or sink beneath its predecessor?

The opening cut scene takes place near the demise of Rapture where splicers roam free and everything is starting to fall apart.  You’re one of the first big daddies and your little sister is guiding you around in search for ADAM when your little sister is ripped away from you and you’re forced to shoot yourself. You awake several years later, after the events of the first game, and recruited by Tenenbaum to help save Eleanor. Eleanor was your little sister but is actually the daughter of the games main protagonist, Dr. Sophia Lamb. Rapture is now largely under the control of her and unlike Andrew Ryan who believed in the power of the individual, she believes in the strength of the collective. Throughout the ride you’ll encounter new friends and foes which add insight into the world of Rapture. The story surpasses that of the first and you won’t experience déjà vu if you’ve played System Shock 2. This time around the story is nicely unique to this world and works really well. It does falls into the same old problem with random roadblocks thrown in your way at times when the story feels like it should progress. Despite this, these roadblocks aren’t wasted and provide a lot of nice background on the plans of Sophia Lamb and new areas Rapture like the railroad line. Now there is actually a map which gives you a nice sense of where you’re heading so it doesn’t feel like a bunch of randomly connected levels and is actually a real world. Small aspects of the underwater city are once again told beautifully through the environment and are supported by a great atmosphere.

You’re not required to have played the first title to understand the story but some characters and events are definitely referenced a couple times and there are a bunch of audio diaries near the end that will only make sense if you have played it. There are several key points in the game where you’re faced with a choice to make which along with how you decide to treat the little sisters, will dictate which of four endings you’ll get.  

Bioshock 2 is a first-person shooter with a dash of role-playing elements. The gameplay is just about the same as the first with some nice improvements. You have plasmids and weapons just like before but you can now use them simultaneously. Hacking has returned with a completely new and better minigame. Plus you can now hack from afar. It tends to take a little more linear approach which brings a clearer focus on the story and your actions. No more are playing a message log is a cue for the game to throw everything but the kitchen table at you so unless you’re running around when a log is playing, chances are you’ll have some peace and quiet to actually listen to it. If you do run into a little trouble, replaying a message is a bit easier this time through the menus. The big aspect is that the game no longer tries to be System Shock 2 and just becomes its own unique title. The levels don’t try to mimic what it did nor are there anymore ghosts. You’re consistently pushed forward and once you leave an area, it’s for good since returning in the former game was pointless.

As mentioned before, you can now use plasmids and weapons simultaneously which really helps boost up the action and utilize the more useful combinations the system offers. For those who didn’t play the first game, these are sort of magical spells that are powered by substance called EVE.  Many of the favorites from the first game have returned along with a couple new ones. In addition to plasmids, you now have passive abilities called gene tonics which slightly augment your abilities in various areas. There is one particular gene tonic that really changes up your play style and it’s disappointing that they didn’t make more like it but they at least give you a small feeling that you are growing and becoming more powerful, which feels good.

To get more powers, you either have to find them lying around the world or purchase them from the Gatherer’s Garden kiosks around the world. ADAM is your currency to purchase and getting it can be a little tricky. Just like the first game you will have to take down a Big Daddy which is easier said than done but once you have, what next is quite flexible. You can either adopt the little sister to gather ADAM from specific corpses around the world or harvest her for all that she contains. If you choose to adopt, she’ll guide you to a corpse for you to set her down and collect ADAM, which sets off a horde of enemies that will come and try to take her. As her big daddy though, it is up to you to protect her. Once she’s done, you have the option once more, adopting her again will give you a small amount of ADAM whereas harvesting her will collect even more ADAM than before. This process repeats itself for even greater rewards and then it’s off to a vent to drop her off. The cool part is at any part throughout this process, you can walk up to a vent to save or harvest her so if you ever tire from the experience, and you can cut it short as the cost of potential ADAM. Harvesting the little sisters yields the most ADAM whereas saving them will get you their thanks and occasional presents with goodies.

The weapons are pretty standard fare this time around and you’ll be utilizing them more often than you did in the first game. The most fun one though is the weapon iconic to the big daddies which is the drill. You can spin it up and charge enemies for massive damage and fun. There is no longer a specific melee weapon like the wrench as its function is now mapped to a dedicated melee button which further keeps the action fluid and interesting. Each weapon once again has three different ammo types which are more useful for particular situations than others and help make each scenario unique and strategic. One of the more interesting ones is the bolt gun which has trap bolts that you can set on the ground and walls to make a defensive perimeter before putting down a little sister to gather ADAM. Once again each weapon has upgrades and once you’ve done two upgrades, you can get a new ability for that weapon but the kiosks are still rare so it takes some thought on which avenues you wish to take. These upgrades also update the look of the weapons which is neat.

Hacking is no longer the awkward water tubes in favor of a simple meter where you have to time your button presses to get into the specific zones. Hitting the blue zones gives special perks from the machine. This works really well and does a good job of building up tense moments when you accidentally set off the alarm. You either have to decide to try to disable the security bots or attempt to get a successful hack. There is also a buyout option for those too don’t want to go through with the hack. One of the coolest aspects of this system is that now you have a special hacking gun which lets you hack from afar meaning those pesky turrets will pose no threat to you anymore. It’s a little disappointing though that at nearly every hacking part, the game will essentially throw hacking ammo at you instead of forcing you to be conservative. Research is handled fairly similar to the previous title but instead of pictures, you record footage which gives you the perks. The system is set up to rate how well and unique to deal with enemies but these ratings are actually more like experience points that bolster you to the rewards. This system is kind of hidden and despite it showing your progress after a recording, it happens so quickly and has no real context that unless you delve into the menu (which is incredibly rare) you wouldn’t really understand the system. When you start a recording, it will automatically switch to your last used weapon which is great except when you’ve maxed the research for that enemy and then you have to awkwardly try to switch to a weapon for the fight. This is a problem because some of the enemies aren’t particularly identifiable from each other so you’ll try to research them and then get stuck with your pants for a second but the game does pause itself with switching so it’s not a huge issue.

Through the course of a single play through you won’t be able to get everything nor experience all the endings so it is almost worth another trip to Rapture just to utilize different play styles. The plasmids are varied and the gene tonics can alter how you play. The great flexibility with dealing with little sisters can easily cut down on the length of the title by a couple hours if you choose to replay. The other key decisions, unfortunately other than the ending do not have that great of an impact in the grand scheme of things but the game is a lot of fun nonetheless. Plus the game is fairly linear so a lot depends on how much you enjoyed it the first time through and how much time you have but it does make a great argument for taking another trip through this great story.

The online portion of the game has been done by Digital Extremes who helped with the port of the original to Playstation 3 and brought us the entertaining, yet mediocre Dark Sector. The online component borrows a lot from Call of Duty where you level up and gain access to new items. There are 40 levels with the possibility to get to level 50 with some optional downloadable content. You start with the main weapons and powers in the game so is not too unbalanced so you will be able to hold your own against high level players. Your health is regenerating unlike the single player campaign which really helps each fight to feel like you have a chance.  If you research the bodies on the ground, you’ll gain a 10% boost in damage against them until you die which is neat. You can also hack automated guns that are around the world but you’ll have to do it by hand this time as you won’t have your hacking gun. Research and hacking both use the same new mechanic which entails waiting a short period for a bar to fill automatically. This is disappointing because the single player has two wonderful mechanics for these which would’ve been perfect and helped increase the flow and tension of the game.

At the beginning of your multiplayer life you will have an optional short prologue single-player section which gives you some context as to why there is all this fighting. It’s basically a pointless apartment room where you can listen to a message from Andrew Ryan, change your character/outfit, and equip weapons, plasmids, and gene tonics into different load-outs. The issue with this is that you can customize all of these directly from the game lobby before a game and it’s quick and easy. The message from Andrew Ryan isn’t that great either.  You have the standard fare of game modes. They are Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, and Keep away with team variant thrown in for some.

There are some good ideas here but it’s not particularly fleshed out nor is very polished. When selecting one of only six possible characters the model animates very choppily. The game froze on me once which is a rarity for a title of such high caliber. Instead of starting the game running with multiple classes to choose from or at least a full load out, here you start with sparse options and even when you unlock the ability to use gene tonics, they don’t even give you enough to fill all the available spots. Occasionally during the Deathmatch variants, you’ll be able to don the big daddy yourself which is really cool but you don’t even get to use the drill that was so memorable from the single player. What’s here can be fun and entertaining but you’ll quickly drift back to your staple online titles as this just does not have much to offer over them.

Water splashes on your helmet, rolls down stairs, and sometimes even envelopes entire areas. It looks amazing. Rapture is as leaky as ever and it looks great. You won’t particularly see any major improvements though in the graphics, just used in interesting ways to break up the world. One of my issues with Bioshock 1 is that you could take a screenshot from nearly any part of the game and you wouldn’t know which level it was from and they’ve went a long way to rectifying that issue but it’s still present to a certain degree.

The world once again tells great stories through the environment with writing on the wall and interesting placement of corpses and items. Non-player models tend to lose their luster up close and the lip-syncing wasn’t done too well at a particular part. The weapons look great and get new visual components when they get upgraded. There are some parts where you’re outside of the city underwater which looks nice but are slightly underutilized as they frequently don’t have much interesting things to look at except for the first one. The game is once again built upon the Unreal engine 3 and its texture loading rears its ugly head when you load up a game causing some areas to be blurry for the first couple seconds but it is not a huge issue. The frame rate stays up during the frantic fights. The other elements really compliment the graphics which helps them come together to make a very atmospheric world to explore.

The sound design is still top notch. It creates a moody and eerie atmosphere that can drift from scary to love and sadness. You hear the water dropping on your helmet and loud thuds when you jump. When you’re outside of Rapture underwater, the environment is correctly muffled. Walking along you can hear the world living and breathing. All the audio diaries are well done once again even if some of the voices tend to be a little stereotypical. The music sets a great tone for the title which is all orchestrated and sounds great. Period music is once again back but not nearly as good as before and is mostly relegated to the loading screen which is a little disappointing. Overall though, your ears will have a pleasant experience on their return to this underwater city.

Bioshock 2 is a fantastic game with a great story. It fixed the issues with the first game and is no longer held back by trying to recreate System Shock 2. It can now stand alone and call itself its own unique property that can stand tall. The story is well told and thoughtful. Enemies no longer horde you when you’re trying listening to the audio diaries so you can actually enjoy them. There tends to be the generic roadblocks to your final destination but it never bores and always enlightens a new aspect to the story. The last hour or so right up to the end was extremely well done and is a pure joy to experience unlike its predecessor. The combat is now a lot more fluid and fun with the ability to use both plasmids and weapons simultaneously. This helps heighten the unique combinations and environmental usages of certain plasmids

The game does a good job of making you feel challenged despite you always managing to slip through deaths grasp but towards the end of the game; you do tend to get saturated with resources. The new hacking minigame is not the most original design, but works perfectly and definitely adds rather than distracts from the world. The online portion can be fun and entertaining but you’ll quickly drift back to your staple online titles as this just does not have much to offer over them. The look of the game has definitely been improved and most areas have a nice distinct look. Writing on the walls and how corpses and items are placed are great and do a lot to convey the story. Enemies lose their luster up close and upon loading the game, some textures can be blurry until they load in. The sound design once again is one of the titles strongest aspects. They have done a lot of small things to enhance the atmosphere and make you feel like you’re really a big daddy. The voice acting and music is simply top notch. Bioshock 2 has succeeded in becoming a better game than its predecessor in nearly every way. It’s time to book another ticket to this wonderful underwater city, you won’t be disappointed.


The story is well told and thoughtful. Combat has improved a lot now that you can use weapons and plasmids simultaneously. Addition of gene tonics gives you a greater sense of progression. New hacking minigame is awesome. Research progress can be a little hidden too much and can require a trip to the menus.


The great atmospheric Rapture returns leakier than before. It does a great job making you feel like you’re a big daddy like water flowing down your helmet and how you can see the perimeter of it on the outskirts of your view. Writing on the wall, corpses, and items set up in interesting ways to convey story. Enemies lose their luster up close and have poor lip syncing. Textures can be blurry upon loading.


Sound design is still top notch. Creates a moody and eerie atmosphere that can drift from scary to love. The music is similarly great, you won’t be humming the tunes but they definitely set the tone. Voice acting is great and brings their characters to life, despite not seeing much up close.


Bioshock finally moved beyond trying to be System Shock 2 and finally excels. The story is great. The gameplay has been refined to be more fun and have more depth. This ride to Rapture was a treat.

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