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BioShock 2 review

Astonishing
AT A GLANCE
  • An emotionally involving story with a strong final act
  • Rapture is a more fully realized universe
  • Endlessly customizable combat
  • Chaotic and confusing multiplayer
  • Not quite as scary or surprising as the original
  • Wondering what could possibly be left for BioShock 3

First, a confession. We thought BioShock 2 was a mistake.

As much as we worshipped the original, we worried about the possibility of a sequel. Though we longed to experience another game with that level of mature, masterful storytelling and with that number of unique, unusual ideas, we seriously doubted such brilliance could be captured again. While we desperately wished to revisit the haunting underwater dystopia of Rapture, we suspected that doing so would ruin, or at least diminish, the thematic significance of the initial trip. To us, BioShock was one-of-a-kind, not one-of-a-franchise.

Well, you know what? We were wrong. Somehow, with less than three years of development time and without the direct involvement of creator Ken Levine, the BioShock team has pulled off another masterpiece. One that expands the mythology, but doesn’t lose any of the mystery. One that introduces fascinating new settings and characters, but doesn’t forget or neglect those previously established. One that gives the player devastating new power, but balances that with devastating new fear. One that takes chances and makes changes, but almost always for the better.

For example…

Being Big Daddy

He’s the undisputed star of the series. He features on both boxes, appears on countless magazine covers, inspires costumes, sells toys and has already cemented himself as a gaming icon as recognizable as Lara Croft and Master Chief. And in BioShock 2, you don’t just fight him. You are him.

Casting the protagonist as a Big Daddy is not just a gimmick, either – the game fully immerses you in the role of the towering, stomping, clobbering monster. Each footstep produces a crunching echo. Each turn of the head sways edges of your diving helmet into view. Each painful hit from an enemy unleashes a wailing, otherworldly moan from deep within your unseen body. Water blurs your visor and steam leaves a lasting fog upon the glass. Occasionally, you’ll catch a glimpse of your own shadow and think, “Whoa, is that thing me?” You may not see your actual reflection very often, yet you’re constantly reminded of your size, your strength and your strangeness.

Tools of terror

Then, of course, there’s the drill… and perhaps the greatest melee starting weapon of all time. You’ll no longer need to sneak up on unsuspecting Splicers, praying they don’t notice as you bop them on the back of the head with a rusty wrench. Low on ammo or caught by surprise? Just rev up the spinning spiral of death attached to your arm, point in their general direction and enjoy the resulting, screaming bloodbath. Enemy peppering you with gunfire from far away? Unlock the “drill dash” ability and you can launch instant murder from across the screen with the speed of a locomotive.

And the drill is only the beginning. Every weapon in BioShock 2 is more impressive and more satisfying than its equivalent in BioShock 1. The shotgun is now a double-barreled shotgun. The basic pistol has been replaced by a lethal rivet gun that treats Splicer flesh as scrapyard metal. The machine gun has been upgraded to a turret-sized Gatling gun that couldn’t fit in human hands, let alone be carried by them. Our favorite is the spear gun, which has the accuracy and retrievable ammo of the crossbow, but the added benefit of instantly pinning enemies to walls, floors and ceilings like a gruesome collection of butterflies.

Gatherer’s Garden 2.0

Plasmids are better, too. Although you’re given nearly the exact same selection of genetic superpowers as in the first game, you can level them up until they act entirely differently. “Hypnotize” convinces enemies to fight each other; “Hypnotize 2” convinces them to fight as your army. “Incinerate” sets a single target on fire; “Incinerate 3” transforms your hand into a temporary flamethrower, spewing red-hot flame in whatever direction you face. “Telekinesis” picks up forgotten debris; “Telekinesis 3” can lift still living enemies into the air, then throw them violently at their awed and frightened neighbors.

In fact, the closer you are to finishing BioShock 2, the stronger your desire for an immediate second or even third playthrough. The combat offers so many possibilities and permutations, you can’t help but wonder how the game would go if you had chosen to maximize a different plasmid, upgrade a different weapon or – most maddening – purchase a different set of gene tonics. Should you move faster, or walk quieter? Choose the electrifying shotgun or the bullet-reflecting drill? Set ambushes with proximity mines, motion-sensitive rivets or refrigerated cyclones? Learn to heal security bots, research boss weaknesses or teach Little Sisters to harvest more Adam in less time?

The first BioShock offered plenty of variety, but nothing like this. The magnitude of choice is a bit giddying and, at times, a bit overwhelming.

With great power… great vulnerability

At this point, we know what you’re thinking. If the Big Daddy is so much bigger, and his weapons, plasmids, traps and tonics are so much better, what could possibly still be scary about BioShock 2?

That’s easy – everything. See, you’re not the only resident of Rapture who’s evolved in the eight years since BioShock 1 ended. Splicers, the submerged city’s drug-dependent, self-mutilating citizenry, have had plenty of time to gather supplies and further tinker with their genetic makeup. They’re now more likely to carry guns, throw grenades, teleport and team up to take you down, especially if you’re attempting to gather Adam with an adopted Little Sister. And those are just the normal ones. You’ll also encounter Brutes, supersized Splicers that hurl gigantic chunks of debris and charge like angry, frothing gorillas.

The other Big Daddies have new tricks as well, but the foe you’ll soon learn to fear – far above anyone else – is Big Sister.

Her hype is justified. She’s a terrifying nemesis, swift and agile enough to dodge your ammo, disappearing from the screen and popping up behind you before you can reload. She’s powerful enough to absorb your plasmids and return your elemental attacks with triple the force. And she’s resourceful, pulling in Splicers (breathing or not) and using her nauseating needle arm to suck their bodies dry for regenerated health.

You will dread encountering the Big Sisters (yes, plural) and the designers know it. Look out a window and you’ll often find her watching you – stalking you – through the dark water. Rescue or harvest a Little Sister and you enter yourself in a dangerous lottery. Sometimes, nothing will happen. Other times, randomly, an ear-piercing shriek that blurs your vision and shatters nearby glass will warn you that a Big Sister is coming – you’ll have several seconds to panic and prepare, but they’re rarely enough. These are some of the craziest, cruelest “oh shit” moments in the history of gaming.

Deep, dark and damaged

We’ve now discussed the “what” and “how” of BioShock 2, but as anyone familiar with the first game can attest, it’s the “who” and “why” and “where” that are truly important to the series. This isn’t a Halo or a Modern Warfare, after all… while you may adore the action, the real reason you’re playing is for the deep story, the dark setting and the damaged characters.

You won’t be disappointed, and believe us, we were ready to be disappointed. The secret of the original BioShock’s protagonist was such a mind-blowing revelation, for instance, that we didn’t think a new hero could possibly compare. We were wrong. Subject Delta, the Big Daddy prototype you control, is equally compelling. And because his identity and motivation are presented as a mystery from the start – rather than a “gotcha!” moment halfway through the game – you’ll find yourself much more intrigued and far more hungry for clues.

What’s especially unsettling is that every character you meet seems to have these clues. You’re a confused amnesiac with no memory of your former life, but many of Rapture’s residents – major, minor, poor, rich, dead, alive, sympathetic, sinister – remember you clearly, and hold very strong opinions about you. Augustus Sinclair, a smooth-talking entrepreneur who guides you through the game, claims he wants to fix you. Gil Alexander, an increasingly deranged scientist, was clearly involved in your creation. Grace Holloway, a bitter jazz singer, blames you for a tragedy in her past and desires nothing more than your slow and painful demise.

Family feud

No one, however, hates you as much as Sofia Lamb. No one is as intent on hunting you down and putting a permanent end to your mission. And yet, ironically, no one spends more time talking to you, reasoning with you or attempting to gain your sympathy. We doubted the writers behind BioShock 2 could create an opposing force as destructive as the first game’s Frank Fontaine, or a philosophical figure as tragically, fascinatingly flawed as Rapture mastermind Andrew Ryan. Again, we were wrong. In new villain Sofia Lamb, they’ve done both.

She’s no copy, though. Lamb is complex in her own way. She’s a woman of science, but also a woman of faith. She’s a social psychiatrist who believes in helping people, but also a cult leader willing to sacrifice followers for the greater good. She’s the present ruler of Rapture, but with complex ties to the previously mentioned tyrants of the past. Above all else, she’s a mother… and therein lies the almost Shakespearean drama of BioShock 2. Her daughter Eleanor is your original Little Sister.

In the first BioShock, your goal was vague and detached – save some stranger’s unseen family. In the sequel, you have a much more personal purpose. You need Eleanor to survive, both physically and emotionally. She is the only thing that gives you meaning in Rapture. Unfortunately, that mission is in direct conflict with Sofia Lamb’s master plan, and perhaps even Eleanor’s wishes. The resulting conflict spans the entire game and tackles themes of love, free will and family dysfunction. It’s epic and, in many ways, more engaging than the story of BioShock 1.

The rest of Rapture

Finally, we assumed that we’d already explored the coolest, creepiest areas of Rapture, and that the new locations unlocked by BioShock 2 would come across as leftovers. We were wrong… and right.

To be honest, none of the sequel’s levels are as brilliantly conceived and perfectly executed as the best in BioShock 1. The entertainment district of the first game, Fort Frolic, is still a seedier, more bizarrely sinful place than Siren Alley, the red-light district of BioShock 2. The beauty and wonder of Arcadia’s indoor forests can’t be matched by the follow-up’s similar resort style in Dionysus Park. And even when you visit autopsy rooms and pacification chambers this time around, they’re nowhere near as bloody or macabre as Dr. Steinman’s Medical Pavilion from the original’s free demo.

On the other hand, this Rapture feels more real and more complete. Rather than jump from haunted house to haunted house, you’re taken on a tour of the whole society and shown aspects of the citizens’ lives that were, until now, glossed over. You’ll attend Ryan Amusements, a demented take on Disneyland in which monstrous animatronics – including some of Andrew himself – teach the city’s children about the dangers of the surface. You’ll be trapped in Pauper’s Drop, the impoverished slums that weren’t constructed on the wrong side of the tracks, but underneath them. You’ll enter Fontaine Futuristics and discover what happens to Little Sisters after they grow up. Before, you battled with the titans of Rapture. In the sequel, you also experience what life is like for all of their sad, desperate and downtrodden pawns.

Plus, you get to walk underwater and, through means we can’t spoil for you, view Rapture as it must have been before the downfall. Neither represent huge portions of the game… but both are surprisingly beautiful.

On the subject of twists

Yeah, you’re expecting them. Yeah, you’ll be looking for them. After the number and impact of shocking revelations in the original, how could you not? Our advice, however, is to relax. Don’t overanalyze to the point that your enjoyment of this game is entirely dependent on a single major twist. BioShock 2 is full of sudden jolts and unexpected turns, but the story this time is emotionally investing enough that it doesn’t depend on one groundbreaking, genre-subverting surprise in order to work.

That said, you should still be careful. BioShock 2 is definitely not a game you want spoiled before playing. And did we mention the four different endings? We shall say no more…

Oh yeah. And multiplayer

To us, BioShock is not a series that needs multiplayer and, at first, the very idea sounded sacrilegious. Why cheapen such a carefully constructed universe by making it competitive? Why diminish the lonely, ghostly atmosphere of Rapture by dividing it into maps with 10-16 players racing back and forth? Why transform a tragic figure like the Little Sister into the object of Capture the Flag?

After playing these modes, though, we must admit that the developers have done a good job distinguishing – and separating – the online multiplayer from the offline campaign. The matches star meaningless Splicer characters instead of story icons and, more importantly, the context is altogether different. You fight during Rapture’s Civil War, a year before BioShock 1 and nine years before BioShock 2, when dozens of mutated freaks would be running all over the place, competing for weapons and plasmids. That setting not only makes sense, it reveals a brand new chapter of canon history.

Still, we doubt we’ll stick with BioShock 2’s multiplayer for more than a few weeks after release. While having a gazillion combat and strategic options during the campaign is liberating, imagine signing onto a dark and cramped map where nearly a dozen people have the same crazy amount of options. Gunfire is constant, plasmids are flying in all directions, Big Daddy suits are spawning randomly, Little Sisters are being stolen and you’re trying desperately to keep track of your health and your Eve. We found the results too chaotic. Too confusing. Others will no doubt find the madness exhilarating and addictive.

Watch the sample footage above to decide which side you think you’ll fall on, but know that the score you see below is based entirely on the single player campaign. Multiplayer is just a bonus – take it or leave it.


Is it better than…

Here is the part of the review in which we normally compare a game to three of its closest clones or competitors. With a series as unique as BioShock, however, that seems kind of silly. And with a sequel like BioShock 2, we realize only one comparison really matters. So, is it better than…

BioShock? We never, ever imagined we’d be writing this, but… yes. In some fairly significant ways, including combat diversity, enemy variety, character depth and emotional attachment to the story, BioShock 2 is superior to BioShock 1. Plus, fans’ biggest criticisms of the original – the pipe hacking and the sagging third act – have been addressed and fixed for this sequel.

But in many ways, the first BioShock can never be surpassed. Everything – the world, the philosophies, the surreal oddity – was new then, and unlike anything we’d experienced before. BioShock 2 can only hope to match that genius. Fortunately for us, it succeeds.


Just for you, Metacritic!

The weapons are better. The plasmids are better. The enemies are better. At some points, even the storytelling is better. What’s most amazing and surprising about BioShock 2, however, is that by diving deeper into Rapture’s tortured history and exploring more of Rapture’s haunted world, it actually manages to make the original BioShock better, too.

More Info

Available Platforms: Xbox 360, PC, PS3
Genre: Shooter
Published by: 2K Games
Developed by: 2K Marin
ESRB Rating:
Mature: Blood, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes, Strong Language
PEGI Rating:
18+

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55 comments

  • gilgamesh310 - April 21, 2010 12:11 p.m.

    As good as both bioshock games are, neither deserve a 10. The one glaring flaw that both of them has is the vita chambers. I understand that in bioshock 2 they serve the story some purpose but the fact that players can constantly abuse them especially when fighting big daddies and big sisters makes the game far too easy and discourages tactical play when fighting most tough battles. For me the part where two big sisters have to be defeated at once at the start of the persephone area could have ended up being a wholly satisfying experience if it had penalized me for not using the correct plasmid/gun combination in the correct sequence by forcing me to restart and rethink the situation like say a final fantasy game would. However upon dying a few times and respawning right where the big sisters were caused me to abondon any proper battle tactics and just chip away at them primitively until they were both dead, which destroys any sense of satisfaction. You could say that it's my own fault for not experimenting properly myself but I was anxious to push on with the story and the simple fact remains that if you are not penalized for doing something correctly it people are not going to change their tactics that often. There are other flaws to the game too like constantly respawning enemies. It doesn't have the suberb sense of pacing as the mighty half life 2 either which had plenty of peaks and troughs and the fact that I don't actually feel strong enough as a big Daddy but I suppose they're trivial issues compared to the main one and I do actually think that bioshock 2 is better than the original but I felt I needed to point out what so many reviewers don't take notice of.
  • Spybreak8 - February 19, 2010 12:54 a.m.

    Man I didn't want to read it but I just had to. Ok I'm stopping after page 2 since I just started playing the game and just took down the Big Sister, man what a bitch. ^^ The sequel to game of the year is no small feat and 2K did it again!
  • ken936 - February 17, 2010 9:33 a.m.

    Ah, another excellent review. Though, I've got to say That even this Bioshock is way under the scale that the first was. I was low in expetations of Bioshock 2, from knowledge that Ken Levine, who wrote, directed, and created Bioshock was missing. I'd have loved to see 'Is it better Than' comparing it to Mass Effect 2, as well. (P.S. Love the little sister scenes:)
  • downdl - February 15, 2010 4:31 p.m.

    hey .. i found this: BioShock 2 +3 Trainer: http://downdl.com/Games/bioshock-2-3-trainer.html and this Bioshock 2 Patch 1.0.0.1: http://downdl.com/Games/bioshock-2-patch-1001.html
  • HDBawllz - February 14, 2010 9:23 p.m.

    Just picked this up. Can't wait to play after work. I have to wait for 8 hours!!!! Damn!!!
  • GMAN2 - February 13, 2010 11:56 p.m.

    Btw I thought Mass Effect was better than BioShock
  • GMAN2 - February 13, 2010 11:54 p.m.

    I don't know what to think of BioShock 2. Is it a disappointment like some reviews have said or is just as awesome as the first BioShock? Maybe GamesRadar is too hyped about all the awesome games that have been coming out...or not...
  • revenge - February 13, 2010 8:25 p.m.

    @CLEIP Ok i have played both games, havent beaten mass effect 2 yet but i did beat bioshock 2. Personally i prefer BioShock 2.Sure Mass effect 2 is amazing but bioshock 2 is a masterpiece. wow thats alot of 2s.
  • CLEIP - February 13, 2010 12:43 a.m.

    Ok, big fan of bioshock, but i am also a big fan of mass effect, loved both of those games. Sadly, i will only be able to by one of the two sequels this month and i don`t know witch is better, my impression is that mass effect is slightly superior, but really i have no idea. So... I need some help. witch game is better? Please reply only if you have played both games.
  • WillisTron - February 12, 2010 11:16 p.m.

    I just beat this game like less than 2 minutes ago
  • OkayshunalUser - February 12, 2010 8:47 a.m.

    Wow... just Wow... How are you gonna give a game that freezes so much (hard lock, known in the biz) a 10/10? Does technical issues not factor into the score? Did you even get the final copy?
  • TooSpliced - February 11, 2010 10:56 p.m.

    great great great greaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat game. But on a little news article, they said its worse than the first. Well, i call fowl!
  • crimson_soulreaper305 - February 11, 2010 9:35 p.m.

    Her hype is justified. She’s a terrifying nemesis, swift and agile enough to dodge your ammo, disappearing from the screen and popping up behind you before you can reload. She’s powerful enough to absorb your plasmids and return your elemental attacks with triple the force. And she’s resourceful, pulling in Splicers (breathing or not) and using her nauseating needle arm to suck their bodies dry for regenerated health. You will dread encountering the Big Sisters (yes, plural) and the designers know it. Look out a window and you’ll often find her watching you – stalking you – through the dark water. Rescue or harvest a Little Sister and you enter yourself in a dangerous lottery. Sometimes, nothing will happen. Other times, randomly, an ear-piercing shriek that blurs your vision and shatters nearby glass will warn you that a Big Sister is coming – you’ll have several seconds to panic and prepare, but they’re rarely enough. These are some of the craziest, cruelest “oh shit” moments in the history of gaming. Holy ****, i am officially scared of the Big Sister. *looks out window* she's watching me.. Re@captcha: captives ocean; ironic, much? WE WILL BE REBORN! IN THE COLD WOMB OF THE OCEAN!!
  • boondocks50 - February 11, 2010 11:31 a.m.

    never played the first one (besides the demo) because like other games that people have told me were great, i just didnt care to try them, but yet again you guys have convinced me to try some thing new. now time to find me a copy of bioshock...
  • Yeager1122 - February 10, 2010 4:41 p.m.

    Wow this actually sounds REALLY good damn it now i want it.
  • BertTheTurtle - February 9, 2010 10:02 p.m.

    I read GameInformer's review so I was kind of skeptic since it was more negative...this is why I trust GR over GI.
  • Evernight - February 9, 2010 8:48 p.m.

    Another 10? Is 2010 going to go down as the next 2007? Personally I "liked" BS1, but the replayability of it killed it for me. There was no reason to play it again because you had all the weapons and you could buy the GOOD plasmids and max them out. So while I have a good memory of it... it will be soon forgotten.
  • GamesRadarCharlieBarratt - February 9, 2010 6:16 p.m.

    @waynski1457 No harm done. I don't understand why you're surprised by the recent number of 10s, though. We just came through the holiday season, when game publishers release their best products. It's the same with movies... the ones that are nominated for Best Picture are usually the ones released in November, December and January. Plus, many of 2009's most anticipated end-of-year games were pushed into early 2010. Such as BioShock 2.
  • MaynardJ - February 9, 2010 1:03 p.m.

    Oops, I meant: Playing Abe Lincoln Must Die! I got some loading times that appeared way too long.
  • MaynardJ - February 9, 2010 1:01 p.m.

    Damn... I still haven't played the first game as I seriously doubt if my PC can handle it right now and you can allegedly only install it twice. Playing Abe Lincoln Must Die! (first PC game I played in about a year) that appeared way too long for a game like this on my (repeatedly upgraded in the past 4 years) hardware. Can anyone tell me where I can find some good advice on getting my PC as fast as it should be (running fewer background processes, freeing up disk space, buying a larger hard drive for all I care?). After a drastic format procedure at the PC shop at the end of 2008, I was able to play Assassin's Creed. If I try it now, it gets so slow it's unplayable. And no, I'm not gonna play it on 360. FPS should be played on PC, period. King Kong was a nice shooter I just finished on Gamecube, but I often hit stuff when the aiming reticle was clearly inches off target.

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