Product Type: Take 2 PS3 games
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Shock And Awe
BioShock 2 (PS3)
Member Name: tom1clare
BioShock 2 (PS3)
Date: 26/07/11, updated on 26/07/11 (36 review reads)
Advantages: Rapture is still a fantastic setting; surprisingly strong multiplayer setup; improved combat
Disadvantages: Story and set-pieces aren't as inspired as in part one; lacklustre moral system
With series creator Irrational Games spending lengthy development time on the ambitious BioShock Infinite, a stop-gap was commissioned to tide things over. The reigns were duly handed to 2K Marin, with the assistance of no fewer than five other development houses. Though there are times this first-person shoot 'em up feels more like a "1.5" than a full sequel, it's still a pleasure returning to the subterranean city of Rapture, with the game itself exhibiting several improvements over its illustrious predecessor.
Rapture was shaped in the image of its founder, Andrew Ryan. The result was a cut-throat, capitalist society built under the waves, away from the eyes of the wider world. Emphasising individualism, Ryan sought to dissolve the moral, religious and judicial boundaries that he felt impeded scientific progress. Following Rapture's Civil War, the city's anarchic fallout continues into the second game, where the deceased Ryan has been replaced by Sofia Lamb. In her eyes, she's his polar opposite; a die-hard socialist who believes in individual sacrifice for the greater good. The remnants of the city's decadent architecture remain very much products of Ryan's reign however, and for all she likes to distance herself from her forebear, Lamb's preaching attitude and self-indulgent rants come to bear a striking resemblance to those of Rapture's founder...
...and for that matter, BioShock 2 shares a lot in common with its own predecessor. Whilst there aren't as many standout moments as in the first game, Rapture retains a uniquely sinister atmosphere; a madness simmering quietly under the surface, glossed over by the attractive and extravagant aquamarine locations and early-mid 20th Century décor. Even in death, Andrew Ryan's divisive presence remains; from the troubled musings of his latter days conveyed via audio diaries, to the fantastic, self-aggrandising "Ryan Amusements" level that offers a tour of the city's inception and a talking model of the man himself.
Unfortunately, his legacy also left behind a hoard of crazed inhabitants, known as splicers, so-called because of gene-splicing experiments with 'plasmids' that granted citizens perverse powers. The splicer designs are recognisable but look a touch better than before, whilst the environments replicate the detailed look of the original with lots of incidental nods to past characters, events and secrets. This time around you play as "Subject Delta", a Big Daddy (part-man, part...er, deep-sea diving suit) in search of a girl named Eleanor, who holds the key to his escape, though Sofia Lamb has her own designs on keeping the girl.
Given the relatively short development cycle, it's perhaps no great surprise that the adventure doesn't pack quite as many big set-pieces or the same nous in design as the original. The iconic, intimidating Big Daddy's appear rather too frequently and thus lose some of the mystique they held in the original BioShock, and there isn't quite as much diversity and imagination invested the mission objectives this time around. That said, it's still a hugely enjoyable experience and very absorbing. There are a few sections that see you travel across the sea bed outside of the city; it's chiefly for show, but looks tremendous. There's a thought-provoking glimpse of Rapture through the eyes of a Little Sister - seemingly trained to think Rapture is a something akin to a Princess's Ball with brilliant white surrounds, only for the rather dank, metallic reality to cut through the vision every now and again. As well as these more cinematic triumphs, the developers should also deserve credit for making positive steps with the gameplay.
The weapon balance problems have been addressed for starters; as the player can now simultaneously wield a plasmid in the left hand and a gun in the right. This not only makes the gameplay less cumbersome, but allows plasmids to fit the role they should have been allotted in the first game - as a complimentary aid. So now you can freeze an enemy with a plasmid and follow in with a drill attack to make them shatter. Alternatively, you can shock a splicer standing in water using the Electro Bolt, incapacitating them and making easy targets. The Insect Swarm is my personal favourite; inflicting modest damage but causing splicers to flap around uncontrollably, it's ideal for gaining the upper hand in a firefight. Playing as a Big Daddy grants you the benefit of some heavy weapons, including a drill and Rivet Gun, as well as a few of the more conventional weapons. Generally, they're a little bit more interesting than previously.
Purely in terms of combat, BioShock 2 still isn't at the very top of the FPS tree, however improvements to the arsenal mean its blasting does feel heavier and more satisfying than in the first game. The narrative and characters are not as strong overall but the manner in which the plot unfolds remains engaging. The role of the Little Sisters has been expanded so as they syphon ADAM from bodies (energy harvested to purchase new gene-tonics, plasmids or upgrades), you must protect them from splicer invasions. These make for some fun, quick bursts of action. As before, there is the moral element to the gameplay that dictates the ending you get, depending on whether you save individuals and choose to harvest Little Sisters for greater energy, or save them. The framework of the moral system is flawed, as it's somewhat black and white - influenced as it is by very few factors.
Hacking vending machines, cameras and security turrets is now significantly more intuitive. Ditching the rather laborious pipe puzzles of the first game, BioShock 2 simply challenges you to stop a moving needle over particular sections of a horizontal bar, with the various colours granting either a successful hack, a bonus, or a triggered alarm that calls security after you. It's an excellent idea that keeps you in the field of play, challenging the player to act under pressure whilst also avoiding the stop-start fragmentation to the gameplay that the old hack puzzles caused.
Perhaps the most anticipated new addition is the Online play. Upon hearing BioShock 2 was to receive the multiplayer treatment, I must admit to wondering whether it was simply a case of 2K Games squeezing a few extra quid from the pockets of fans through downloadable content. Whilst there was never any great fervour for deathmatches in the original, BioShock 2 acquits itself far better than expected and it comes to be a real plus point. Arenas, which include certain locales from the first game, are a good size and offer the chance to booby trap machines, claim turrets and generally be a bit sneaky and varied with your tactics. Levelling up your character grants not only new artillery, but some useful attribute-boosting gene-tonics. It's all very intelligently set out to encourage considerable longevity.
The single-player story will take a few days to roll through, but the four disappointingly similar endings (aside from the best scenario) are a slightly cheap excuse for replay value and most will be satisfied with one completion. BioShock 2 adds a good-not-great story to the sterling work of the original whilst making little tweaks to the shooting and adding a healthy dollop of lifespan through its surprisingly strong multiplayer component. Some may bemoan the familiar graphics, locations and sound elements that have been carried over (I did say it was a "stop-gap") and the moral choices don't lead to a tangible enough difference in the way the game unfolds to make the endings worth pursuing individually, but on the whole Rapture is still a destination very much worth revisiting.
Summary: Wet weekends have never been better
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