Thursday, September 29, 2011

Bioshock 2 Review

Having not played the first Bioshock before delving into its sequel, I can attest that the game is inexplicably weird. The game is unlike anything I have ever played, the closest precedent to it would be the incredible Metroid Prime. Amazingly ambitious, the game attempts to tell a story with the depth and breath of an RPG through the lens of an action-based first-person shooter. Its an interesting experiment in the vein of neoshooters like Portal.

Bioshock 2 is far more combat oriented than its predecessor, featuring an entirely revamped combat and character-upgrade system. Players can now dual wield Plasmid Powers and weapons, allowing for simultaneous combo-attacks such as freezing an enemy solid and shattering him with a shotgun blast. Plasmid powers are still acquired and upgraded with ADAM, the acquisition of which is revamped.

As a hulking Big-Daddy, the player has the option of participating in a minigame where he must protect a Little Sister as she collects ADAM from corpses as waves of splicers attack. Its a fun and integral part of the game wielding a multitude of rewards. The binary “Bioshock-Morality” system is still present and unchanged, allowing the player to greedily harvest Little Sisters or restore them to uncorrupted girlhood. “Power to the People” stations, which appear once a level, allow for permanent upgrades to be made to guns, allowing for such gleeful weaponry as incendiary shotguns and freezing speargun bolts. While this constant character progression is indeed fun and rewarding, it does throw off the balance of the gameplay, as the game’s first hours are exponentially harder than its later hours.

One of the major concerns about the first Bioshock was its lack of online multiplayer. Bioshock 2 remediates this flaw by including a multiplayer mode unlike that of anything else in the shooter-market. Like in the single-player game, players dual-wield plasmid powers and guns, and the same strategic combinations still stand. Unique to the mode are hackable turrets for strategic defense and “corpse-research”, which allows for a substantial damage bonus to be acquired if one photographs a fallen-enemy’s corpse. Much like Call of Duty, a persistent system of unlocks is available giving the player reason to continue playing. Much unlike Call of Duty, combat is not frustrating and always balanced. Unfortunately, in my experience with the game, the only playlist that is consistently populated are for the Team Deathmatch and Deathmatch gametypes.

Bioshock was lauded for having one of the most impactful narratives of any action-game to date. As a gameworld-exploration of the moral ramifications of Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism, it ventured into territory unknown to most gamers.
Taking place over ten years after the events of the first game, Bioshock 2 returns the player to the dystopian world of Rapture. The underwater city has been overrun by drug addicted splicers led by the cruel-Collectivist/Altruist Sophia Lamb. The player takes the role of Subject Delta, the original Big Daddy, who had his protectorate, Eleanor, stolen from him by Lamb and was forced to commit suicide. One day, he finds himself brought back to life and begins a quest to rescue Eleanor.

Unfortunately, Bioshock 2’s narrative is far less impactful than that of its predecessor. The new Rapture of the 70s, in its glorious ruin, is far less visually impactful than its predecessor. It is still beautiful, especially in its underwater areas, but the world itself does not support the game’s main theme of the dehumanizing aspects of collectivism. Sophia Lamb is not as charismatic or deplorable an antagonist than Andrew Ryan, and her influence in the gameworld is not as pronounced.

The game features a series of moral choices that will influence the story’s conclusion. Most of these amount to the decision to spare or kill a key enemy, and it becomes immediately clear what the game considers good or evil. This binary approach to morality is problematic given the comparative depth of the game’s philosophy. I chose to rescue every Little Sister I encountered and was equally rewarded as if I were to harvest them.

Graphically, the game is gorgeous from an artistic and technical perspective. The dystopian 1950’s-era Art Deco world is pronounced, richly unique and starkly believable in its bleakness. The underwater city is collapsing, and evidence of decay is omnipresent in the world as water leaks in through cracks and breaches in the windows and wood begins to rot.
Excellent use of light and shadow strongly improves the visual impact of the game, setting forward the bleak mood of Lamb’s version of Rapture. Great sound effects lend an appropriate visceral rush to combat, and a 40’s era soundtrack grounds the setting nicely.

I greatly enjoyed my time with Bioshock 2, and while it may not be as unique as its predecessor, it remains refreshing and absorbing to those jaded by identical military shooters. The wonderful graphical style, realized gameworld and deep combat win the game the commendable score of 4.25/5.

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