Too busy to devote 12+ hours a day to your gaming habit? Here's a review that's sensitive to your needs: Short and focused on just the things that a busy gamer like you really needs to know.
Reviewed On: Xbox 360. Also available for PC and PlayStation 3.
In a Nutshell: At its most basic level, BioShock 2 is a first-person shooter set in a dystopian steampunk aquarium under the sea. The game builds and improves on the original in some ways, introducing duel-wielding (plasmids such as telekinesis in one hand, weapons in the other) and some new goodies courtesy of your status as a prototype Big Daddy.
The world itself is essentially the same, but with new locations to visit and ponder. You're still faced with the occasional moral choice that will impact the remainder of your game, and finding/playing tape recorders remains the main way that the backstory unfolds. You can also be assured that your favorite (and most loathed) enemies are all here, with some notable additions in the form of a fat-but-still-bad-ass splicer and the much-touted Big Sister, who does NOT play well with others. She's mean even if you play nice!
The game also introduces a sort of escort mission that, thankfully, doesn't involve walking for hours protecting someone who's important/wounded/profoundly stupid - which is why the words "escort mission" no doubt made your stomach churn a few seconds ago. In this case, Mr. Bubbles, you shoulder the burden - which makes it an easy thing to do, most of the time.
There's no denying the scenery is still gorgeous - and if you skipped the first one (shame on you!), you're likely to have the same sense of awe it inspired. The downside: The story also feels somewhat familiar, even though it deals with a completely different set of Ayn Rand-esque wackos.
On the plus side, BioShock 2 introduces multiplayer - and does it right. It takes favorite online gaming staples and improves them. For instance, a "Capture the Little Sister," which takes old-school CTF and adds a screaming, bitchy twist: "Just WAIT until my DADDY gets his HANDS ON YOU!" Frag fests are easy to find online as well, although your weapon/plasmid choices are severely limited until you level up. Alas, what happened to split-screen?! I'd love to take on Gamewatcher in the multiplayer games, but not enough to drop another $60 on a second copy.
Learning Curve: First-person shooter vets will have no problems picking up the game controls. The in-game tutorials do an excellent job of explaining the basics, and plasmids are introduced gradually enough that even newbies will be able to catch on. BioShock fans will enjoy some of the new plasmids and game dynamics with expanded environments available for destruction. The hacking scheme has been changed to a simple but eventually challenging stop-the-needle game that is a welcome change from the game-interrupting build-a-pipeline project of the original.
The Save Game: You can save anywhere, which I recommend doing early and often. You'll have unlimited save slots (well, at least until you run out of hard drive or memory card space), so use them! In addition, you'll find Vita Chamber checkpoints throughout the game. If you die, you respawn at the nearest one with the world in the same shape as you left it. Enemies retain damage done, although Splicers do have the ability to heal themselves at any health stations that you failed to hack or destroy.
Family Factor: This game is strictly for grown-ups. As with the original, even adults may have nightmares. It's nothing you can't handle - probably.
Buy, Rent or Skip? The game is worth playing - the question is whether or not it deserves a slot in your collection. The single-player story is relatively short and can be beat in about 15-20 hours, depending on your level of expertise and OCD. Explorers and completists chasing the game's three different endings will take longer (and can justify the purchase), but those who want to beat it and street it can tear through the game in a rental period.
If you're a multiplayer fan, it's a buy. Multiplayer is a blast, and goes far beyond the typical dump-me-in-a-game-with-a-weapon approach to online deathmatching. It's worth noting that there BioShock 2 downloadable content coming out, which will enhance both online and single-player - though it remains to be seen whether this will improve the "buy" factor. If anything, it may be a reason to wait for the inevitable Game of the Year edition.
On a Personal Note: I was absolutely floored by BioShock, and therefore approached the sequel cautiously. I think that may have enhanced the experience for me since lowered expectations are easier to meet. This game did touch me in ways that the first one did not. To explain how would be to give away core surprises and the few story points that were enjoying. However, suffice it to say I will be building a Little Sister costume for PAX West this summer.
Sadly, overall the story itself does not live up to original. While I applaud the attempt to make an entirely new, standalone adventure, it still somehow feels like a poorly executed rehash. The final battle is repetitive, and the so-called "good" ending left me wondering how bad it was going to turn out for me when I play again for the dark side. For the record, there are three endings this time: good, not so evil, and just plain satanic. Oddly, there is little difference between the "bad endings" given what you must do to get one versus the other.
If you do pick up BioShock 2 and need a little help getting through it, here are some tips:
- Desperate for health but don't have cash? Bash (melee) a health machine to quickly access a full health pack - but you won't be able to pay to get better. This trick doesn't work with the ammo machines. Hacking the health machine and hitting the blue zone will also generate a health pack, and it will make the machine zap wounded enemies who try to use it. You can still bash it later for an extra pack, if you need it.
- Do a final sweep before entering any mode of transportation (i.e., leaving the level). This is a prime time to beat the hell out of far-flung health dispensers (check your map) to stock up on health packs, re-check corpses for loot you couldn't pick up previously and leisurely look for any major stuff you missed (tape recordings and tonics).
- Focus on upgrading one weapon at a time. The rewards are exponential. There's some debate on which ones are best, but I found the shotgun and rocket launcher the most helpful in the long run.
- Each Little Sister can visit two "angels" max, so be sure you get both gathers in before "taking her home." You have a limited number of Little Sister per level, which means missing a gather equals a permanently lost Adam opportunity.
- Achievement hounds should show mercy whenever the opportunity presents itself. As far as I can tell, there is no reward for being wicked this go round.
- Before returning your last little darling home, stock up on health and ammo - even if it means hacking or destroying those health machines. Also, try to save some cash. When you do take her home, look for the nearest (unbusted) health machine. Run like hell to it as soon as you can. Bonus points if there's a friendly camera around. Trust me.
- Use caution when picking up stray tonics in the wild. Press the standard action button and it will replace something in your active inventory. Take the time to consider what it does versus what you have, and then decide if it's going into rotation or storage. Can't figure out how to get to a tonic you can see? Use the map to find areas that you haven't visited, even if it's far away from the tonic.
- This game is made for people who like to mess with the environment. See oil? Use fire. Near water? Electricity. Something that goes boom? Shoot it or send it flying.
And finally: Explore, explore, explore. Take time to press every button, search every nook and, again, check your map for areas you missed. Because, despite its flaws, this is just one cool game.
- First Impressions and Tips: BioShock 2
- Busy Gamer Review: BioShock
- BioShock audio tour in Busy Gamer Podcast 19
More Busy Gamer Reviews: