For a game that was basically a classic style shooter on rails, BioShock really impressed the absolute hell out of me. With 'choose your own adventure' style shooters becoming more and more of a benchmark in the industry and with more and more PC shooters suffering from 'consoleitis, I was pleasantly surprised when the "spiritual successor" to System Shock 2 was released in Q3 2007, as it really brought good story telling and unique gameplay ability into focus, regardless of any influences the console versions may have had on the PC version. BioShock 2 will look to do much the same, as not a whole lot has changed, but fans of the original will appreciate some significant perspective changes to the storyline and the inclusion of online multiplayer is sure to pique the interest of the PC gaming faithful (even if it is only for a little bit).
Firstly, let me point out that I did play the retail package and not a downloadable version from a service such as Steam, so my first criticism for BioShock 2 appeared rather quickly - the retail version is a 'Games for Windows' game. Now, I'm not one of those PC gamers who detests the Microsoft initiative to combine their two gaming communities (in fact, I'd like to see them go further and develop a '1 disc plays both' market), but in this case siding with GFW for the retail package was a bit of an annoyance, mainly because you need to insert the disc every time you play the game. COD: MW2 had it right - make it Steam on the retail disc. It seems like a safer bet in general - who the hell is criticizing Steam anymore these days?
With that out of the way, the BioShock 2 experience tends to get much better. The game really doesn't waste much time getting you hooked in the same style gameplay and storyline that worked so well in the original. Before you know it, it will be much later in the night than it was when you first clicked on the single player mode from the main menu, and you really won't want to peal yourself away from your PC.
If by some occurrence you didn't play the original but happen to pick up this sequel, don't worry too much as the game does a very good job of subtly explaining the story behind the BioShock world without appearing to cater towards the new comer. I won't get too deep into this story in this review, since I assume most readers of TweakTown interested enough to check out this review have played the original, but let me try and be ultra brief - you control a man in a giant combat designed scuba suit with a gas powered drill on his right arm, i.e. a Big Daddy, in a deteriorating underwater city known as Rapture, set in the 1960's with heavy steampunk influences. Really, though, I'd definitely recommend starting with BioShock before trying out BioShock 2, if only to extend the enjoyment two fold.
Perhaps the best reason for this recommendation is because, as touched upon above, you get to be a Big Daddy. Now, that simply won't mean much to a new comer, but to the BioShock fan, even just the idea of this should spark anticipation and excitement because if there is one thing that lasted after playing the original, at least with me, it was how awesome and tough some of those Big Daddy fights were, so to wear its shoes, literally, is a big deal that you should be able to appreciate.
As it would happen, though, being a Big Daddy hasn't really changed the gameplay all that much from the original. Honestly, you don't really seem to be as powerful and intimidating as you'd expect. It's true you're an earlier model Big Daddy and hence not as "refined" as the Big Daddy's from the original, but besides the clunky noise you make while walking around at times and the occasional reminder in the storyline, you'd easily forget you're meant to be a Big Daddy. You seem to be just about as susceptible to attacks as you were as a 'human' in the original version, at least in the first half or so of the game before you unlock more abilities and powers, but even most of these were in the original game, too.
With this said, it isn't really the combat aspects to the gameplay that best taps into the fact you're a Big Daddy. Rather, it is the new elements in the gameplay that do this. For example, as a Big Daddy, you can now protect a Little Sister as she collects 'Atom' from dead bodies just like in the original, except from the other perspective. What this effectively translates into is a 'mini-game' inside the game where you face waves of enemies trying to get to the Little Sister as she collects the Atom, and these onslaughts are downright fun and addictive. Harvesting Atom with a Little Sister is often not a requirement in BioShock 2, but you'll want to do it as much as you can because the action rarely gets any better, not to mention the more Atom you collect, the better your abilities become and the more fun the game becomes. Combined with the game's awesome creativity in killing baddies through combining weapons like trip mines and various guns with your abilities like telekinesis and electricity blasts, the Little Sister Atom collecting defending moments represent BioShock 2 at its best.
However, that's not the only epic moment you'll find in this game. Don't think BioShock 2 spells the end of the Big Daddy fights just because you happen to be a Big Daddy yourself. Usually the act of acquiring a Little Sister in this game involves taking on a Big Daddy and stealing her away, so those epic one on one battles which defined the original game remain in BioShock 2. On top of this, BioShock 2 introduces a new character type into the mix - the Big Sister. This sleek and agile foe can often pose the biggest challenges of all.
In fact, I sometimes found the Big Sister fights to be a little too difficult. I don't like to admit when a game is too hard, but there are times when Big Sister fights in BioShock 2 are basically impossible without serious disturbance to the game's flow. This is because of a few circumstances coming together at once.
First of all, Big Sister fights usually happen out of the blue with little warning. The game will tell you when a Big Sister is coming for you, and gives you a few seconds to prepare, but that's it. You can't stalk and carefully plan an attack on a Big Sister because they're stalking you. Secondly, these random attacks tend to happen just after you've finished a Little Sister defence successfully, and these Little Sister defences can really do a number on your health and ammo supplies. So basically what can happen is an unavoidable Big Sister fight approaches when you're close to death as it is and are low on ways to kill it. However, like in the original, there is really no such thing as 'defeat' in BioShock 2 because, as soon as you die, you respawn somewhere nearby with no significant loss in storyline progression, and the Big Sister is still after you. So yep, you guessed it, you die again - and again, and again, and again, until eventually you've killed the Big Sister, even if it means whacking her a few times with your drill attached to your arm each respawn and only taking off minimal health at a time. As I'm sure you can imagine, and as I'm sure plenty of other BioShock 2 gamers have already experienced, these moments can be very annoying and put a screeching halt to the game's fast pace.
Fortunately, I only experienced this phenomenon maybe two or three times in the entire gameplay, which otherwise flows brilliantly with very few breaks in action. Even if you're not shooting something, you always have something to look at, to listen to, or to think about. Playing BioShock 2 chews through your time like a Hummer does fuel. Even though the gameplay is not really as open ended as you might think, the addictive nature is impossible to deny, and the minor amount of RPG elements in the game do enough to cover any repetition issues before you manage to finish it. The variation in weapons is solid and the special abilities your character posses, ranging from freezing enemies into ice blocks to burning them alive, continues the unique gameplay seen in the original. Oh, and the graphics aren't too bad, either. Simply put, the single player in BioShock 2 is going to be tough for any PC game to top in 2010.
The multiplayer mode in BioShock 2, however, is probably not going to enjoy the same sort of success. In a way, including a multi player mode for the sequel was a requirement as it was really the only major addition 2K could make to the series without messing with the success that was the single player mode. Without it, BioShock 2's 'back of the box' feature list would not have been as legitimate, so its presence does sort of come off as meeting the bare minimal requirements on 2K's behalf.
That's not to say the MP mode is trash, however, or that it's necessarily just there for show. It's good enough for a bit of fun after the single player mode is out of the way. Along with the standard deathmatch style modes, BioShock 2 MP also has a few fairly specialized modes involving Little Sisters and Atom collecting, which are definitely worth checking out. The whole MP interface however feels much more like an Xbox 360 game than it does a normal PC game, and the limit of 10 players also doesn't lend itself to the PC platform, but the maps are suitably sized, so the action doesn't suffer. Perhaps the real issue here is the fact PC gamers right now have a choice between COD: MW 2 and BF: Bad Company 2 when it comes to online shooters, both of which are games that consider MP the primary mode of play, so it's only natural for a BioShock 2's secondary class MP mode to fall short in comparison.
As with a lot of sequels in the gaming world, if you enjoyed the original, then you'll logically enjoy BioShock 2. The storyline is extended and equally as engaging as before, and the gameplay is at worst moderately better and more exciting, if not quite a bit so thanks to the change towards controlling a Big Daddy. While the multiplayer doesn't really stack up, it's enough to sweeten the deal just that little bit more to make BioShock 2 a must have PC game in 2010. If you haven't played the original, do so, and then get this sequel. Looking at the single player alone, you'll have a hell of a time trying to top that combination of gaming fun and enjoyment any time soon.