Friday, 12 March 2010

Review | Bioshock 2

Atmosphere is an aspect of the video game industry that can mesmerise and forever implant memories of experiences into the hearts and minds of gamers. 2K Games did exactly this just over 2 years ago with their award winning masterpiece, Bioshock. Although the original in the series was based from the ideas of other well established franchises such as System Shock, and it held certain game-play flaws, one word shot it to stardom, atmosphere.

An experience like no other is how I categorised my first play through of Bioshock 1. With the Cinderella tale of a paradise submerging into total destruction, Rapture was an underwater city that I simply could not wait to dwell in once again. Now after playing through the second in the series, I can give my opinion on whether it lives up to its predecessor.

Bioshock 2 is set 10 years after the events of the first game. No longer is the world of Rapture controlled by Andrew Ryan, but rather in his absence your enemy, Doctor Sophia Lamb takes the role of the voice of Rapture. Needing to play the first one is not actually a necessity, whether this is due to the second instalments poor story that can easily be overlooked, or because you make the moral decisions that dictate the story, I am not quite sure, but if you want to know the background and history of Rapture and why things are the way they are, then a history lesson with the first game certainly wouldn’t hurt.

The game finally puts you into the shoes of the lumbering behemoth like Big Daddies. These powerhouses were first introduced in the original and were guardians to the very rare Little Sisters. Those who have played the original will know to take these guys seriously as they pack a mean punch and will do everything in their power to protect their sister. Of course making you this powerful would make the game ridiculously easy, so the introduction of the so called Alpha series of Big Daddies into the story line, allows them to put you into one of the very first Big Daddy suits, one that isn’t quite as powerful as the Elite enemies you come across.

Waking up 10 years later and finding your little sister missing is bound to annoy the hell out of any Big Daddy, so your immediate goal is to try and locate your soul mate. As the story advances you find out that without your sister around you, your connection will sever and you will eventually die, putting urgency on the story, but an urgency that isn’t put to good effect at all throughout the campaign.

As the game progresses, you will find yourself constantly getting more and more powerful. The game’s fighting mechanics range from 2 very different weapon systems, guns and plasmids. Guns are self explanatory, ranging from a grenade launcher, a machine gun, a spear gun, to your trusty melee drill and a few others. Each weapon has a variety of ammos one can acquire, anti armour, anti personnel, explosive and so forth. The rivet gun has one of the more exciting bullets available, trap rivets. These can be used to set up traps for enemies, although unfortunately the use of this ammo really emphasizes the stupidity of the AI who just blunders straight through them time and time again.

The Plasmids on the other hand, are a much more intriguing mode of combat. Rapture’s famous demise occurred due to DNA tampering with a substance called ADAM. This substance can be found throughout the game by either acquiring little sister’s and helping them find it, or harvesting the sister’s and stealing it from them (no prizes which route gets the good ending and which gets the bad). The Adam can be used to buy electricity, fire, a swarm of bees; vortex traps, ice and other really cool elemental upgrades that can be used on the offensive, and on the defensive. These of course can all also be upgraded to make stronger and do lots of neat stuff and allows for quite deep customisation in terms of how you want to go about playing the game and fighting your enemies.

Customisation advances even further with the game’s perks system. You will find different advances in in-game abilities such as being able to run faster, hack machines quicker, heal more, stun when using melee weapons, give off electric shocks when you get hit and countless other neat abilities. These certainly help throughout the game and using the research camera and recording your battles with enemies can only unlock rare abilities. For example, when you max out research on the new and very deadly Big Sister enemy, you get the Drill Vampire Tonic that lets you recover health and EV when you use your drill weapon.

What Bioshock 2 does well, is slowing the process of first person shooting down a little notch, and really emphasizing that there is a big role-playing element here. With diaries to find throughout the game and tonics hidden all over, it is almost impossible to not search through every nook and cranny to try and 100% this game. It is in these searching elements that the designers of 2K Games shine as they pack dark corridors and rooms with lots of spooky surprises and powerful messaging across the walls that really make Rapture come to life in front of you, almost to the point that the environment itself is telling its own story of sadness. That’s not to say the FPS element is not good, in fact a lot of improvements have been made over the original, most importantly the ability to dual-wield guns and plasmids for some intense combat scenes.

Bioshock 2 will offer you approximately 12 hours of campaign game time. I recommend playing the game on hard if you already completed the original because just like its predecessor, the game still carries the ridiculous flaw of death holding no consequence. In the Bioshock world, when you die, you simply re-spawn in a Vita-chamber with half of your health. You lose nothing in this process but all damage done to enemies, remains. So theoretically you can run into a room, melee attack a boss, die and just do it again until they die. I did not understand the logic behind this method the developers took but as a result you are 100% guaranteed to complete the game, which is a good thing, I guess. In those 12 hours you will experiences some excellent set piece battles, many more moral and consequential decisions that change the flow of the game and a huge load of jumps and scares. Rarely will the game get taxing and you will feel that it doesn’t pack the same punch as the original, almost as if they used ALL of their tricks in the first game and left nothing new for this instalment. Regardless, the campaign mode is well worth the play through.

Bioshock 2 continues the plight to keep us glued to the world of Rapture by introducing a multiplayer experience. It is actually, surprisingly fun and a welcome addition when most people will buy this game for the campaign mode alone. It is set during the fall of Rapture, so between the 2 games and puts you in the shoes of Splicers battling it out in all too familiar locations from the first game. There are a variety of traditional game modes with added Bioshock-type twists like the ability to become a Big Daddy, playing capture the flag with the Little Sister and so forth that makes it worth putting in the hours to rank up and unlock better plasmids and weapons for your online character.

Coming to the end of my review, I still find it difficult to find another example of a game that can capture the imagination of an audience so well. Sure if you break the game down, it is a decent shooter and a decent RPG at best. It is the world of Rapture that just blows minds, something that any and every gamer needs to say they have experienced. It truly is a utopia. God bless Rapture!

Igor Kharin
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