BioShock 2 PC Review
We've seen plenty of great games come and go that never get sequels, but 2007's BioShock had enough retail success that it wasn't destined to be one of those games. When publisher 2K announced a sequel, though, people were a little wary, as it seemed like a new game would never live up to the first. Then it was announced that the original developers, Irrational Games, weren't going to be making it. And then a multiplayer component was announced, which seemed horribly un-fit for anything related to BioShock. Gamers started to lose any faith that this would be a worthy sequel, and who could blame them? But I'm happy to say that the effort put together by a myriad of studios - 2K Marin, 2K Australia, 2K China, Digital Extremes, Arkane Studios, and dSonic for sound - results in an experience that almost lives up to the original in terms of depth, mystery, and pulse-quickening action. And "almost" is good enough when it's BioShock they're having to follow.
It's ten years after the events of the first game, and you play the story of Subject Delta, one of the earlier models of the Big Daddies of Rapture. There's something a little different about Delta, and the connection between him and the new villain, Sofia Lamb, unfolds throughout the game. You're not just a dude with a cool suit and a drill this time, however: Delta can wield magic-like Plasmid powers from his left hand in a dual-wield style even while his regular weapon is out, and he can swap out the mining drill attachment for a fun array of new, upgradeable weapons.
You'll visit several new sections of Rapture, and a full decade on, the place has only gotten worse than when we last saw it. The Splicers are even more deformed and often more demented, and while the main basic types we've seen in the past game are here untouched - Leadhead, Houdini, Spider, and so on - there are some new ones as well. But the biggest new enemy has to be the Big Sisters, a fast-moving variety of enemies, complete with their own diving suits, that appear at certain times.
Delta's still a Big Daddy, so he gets to interact with the Little Sisters. He must protect them while they siphon ADAM from corpses, and he can then spend that genetic material on new plasmids and upgrades. These defensive scenarios are always interesting, as you'll often want to lay down traps for incoming Splicers who will try and kill the Little Sister while you frantically fight them off.
It's hard to go into too much more without spoiling major plot elements, but I will say that while BioShock started off a bit confusing and led to a great twist with a very interesting narrative coming together at the end, the sequel isn't quite as focused. You've got too many people talking into your suit's intercom, and the many audio logs spread story elements in too many directions, making for a rather cloudy picture of what happened to Rapture. There's a decent payoff at the end in the main storyline and some great action in the final battle, but it's like the writers wanted to go in too many directions for everything else and just couldn't rein it in.
One difference I find to be key with BioShock 2 is the difficulty. The first game was relatively easy for a first person shooter veteran, even on the hardest setting, but now, this game is tough even on normal. It'll make you work harder to survive and force you to combining plasmids and weapon fire, set traps, and conserve ammo for the big fights. Searching for the secrets is generally worth the effort here, unlocking new abilities on your guns and often rewarding you with audio logs with more Rapture history (even if some of it won't make a lot of sense).
And there are some very nice little touches, too, like the way Little Sisters make cute comments on what you're doing when they're traveling on your shoulders, or how your rather plain looking sawed-off shotgun gets new revolver-style barrels along with tubes and wires sticking out of it by the time it's fully upgraded. The way a song like "You Always Hurt the One You Love" will casually drift towards you from a record player in a nearby room is sometimes haunting and charming, and the little things like dripping water pattering on your diving helmet really adds to the atmosphere in a way that's bigger than the sum of their parts.
Frankly, I expected BioShock 2 to be a complete mess of a game, and I'm rather surprised that it's only a bit of a mess. There's no doubting that the action is more engaging and the fights more interesting than in the first game, although those still looking for a true RPG in the style of System Shock or Deus Ex (which is the pedigree that this series spawned from) will still be disappointed: you can configure and buy both plasmids and gene tonics as well as upgrade weapons, but there's still no inventory or leveling. The story is much more involved than most shooters offer, and sometimes it's actually too much, as audio logs often drone on long enough to bleed into the action - especially when a splicer rounds a corner while you're trying to listen to someone complaining about Andrew Ryan's final, desperate days in Rapture.
Digital Extremes did a decent enough job with BioShock 2's multiplayer component in that they transplanted the atmosphere over and even threw in some persistent perks that you can slowly build towards, but the whole thing simply just doesn't work for me. Let me keep my Call of Duty over here, and my story-based, interesting action games over here. I suspect that many other gamers will feel this way.
The PC version of BioShock 2 does have a couple of issues I should bring up. Unlike with many PC games that also have console versions, the texture quality was not improved in the transition over to the PC. It's fine if you're playing at 1280x800, but if you play in 1920x1080 or higher, you'll notice the rather blurry-looking walls quickly. You'll also get reduced visibility on a widescreen display (rather than improved, the way it should be), and Games for Windows is also in full effect here, which after years of development, still isn't half as good as Steam integration is.
Some gamers are also upset that BioShock 2's new specialized PC-friendly interface prompted the removal of gamepad support. For some of us, it's hard to understand why one would use a gamepad here when the only real "advantage" PC gamers have in BioShock 2 is the mouse-and-keyboard controls, but considering the first game supported gamepads, it is a valid complaint. Beyond that, mouse acceleration can be toggled in the menus, and visually, the game still is kind of a treat in many ways - the new special effects are even better than what we saw in the first game.
But shiny water effects simply don't fix the game's meandering, rambling plot, and while that's not as big a deal in a game that's focused almost solely on the action, you should be trying to understand what's going on to get the most out of BioShock 2 - and the developers didn't make that terribly easy. The "wow" factor of seeing Rapture for the first time is gone as well, killing off some of the novelty and the spectacle of an underwater city dystopia full of drug-addled crazies. Sure, it's all here, but we've seen it before. BioShock 2 manages to pull through with superior action, though, and despite its problems, it still makes for a damn great game.