By Matt Carey
Apparently, life is like a box of chocolates, on account of the fact that you never know what you are going to get. This is true, for the most part, unless you have, for example, a
box of maltesers. Then you know exactly what you are going to get. A malteser.
In the video game world, it is rare that you don’t know what you are going to get. Games like that, that truly surprise, are a rare, rare breed. Of course, this is understandable. It is much easier to follow formulae rather than break the mould. So, when in 2008 Bioshock became game of the year, it was inevitable that a sequel would follow a couple of years later. We knew that the single player would be more of the same, and that, just maybe, there would be a multiplayer aspect to it.
Fast forward to 2010 and we have a sequel to the 2008 hit Bioshock. The single player seems to be more of the same and, guess what? There is a multiplayer mode too. Life is indeed like a box of maltesers. I may be coming across as quite cynical here, and truth be told, I am. But that doesn’t mean that Bioshock 2 isn’t full of wonders and delights.
We find ourselves starting the game (via cut-scene) back when the submerged realm of Rapture was a living, breathing, vibrant utopia, and you are one of the very first Big Daddies, one of the lumbering protectors of the Little Sisters from last time around. However, events spiral quickly, and before you know it, your helmet is off and you have a self-held gun at your temple. In true videogame weirdness, you survive this forced suicide and awake, ten years after the events in the first game.
Rapture now is a little more decrepit, a little more run down, and a lot more messed up. However, the art-deco styling doesn’t seem to seep through in quite the same way that they did in the original. Sure, you can look out into the ocean on occasion and see the same kind of buildings we saw the last time, but in terms of the levels, whilst you are walking around, the influence just isn’t noticeable to the same level. Yes, the little plasmid videos featuring 1950’s inspired iconography is still there, as is the old-style music, but it doesn’t convey the same level of awe that we felt 2 years ago.
That isn’t to say that the graphics are bad. Far from it. The details, textures and characters are as beautiful as they ever were. However, there is no noticeable leap as far as I can tell.
Another aspect that seems lacking this time around is the story. For a start, it’s too short. This wouldn’t be so much of a problem if the story being told was intriguing. It isn’t. All the previous literary influences of Ayn Rand and George Orwell seem to have been ignored. Here we have a world where a new protagonist has taken charge, and almost built her own religion around herself. The diaries are still there to collect, but whereas last time they added a great deal of padding to an already well established plot and universe, this time they almost completely tell the story on their own.
In the first game, we found we had a huge city to run around in. Exploration paid off, sometimes well, sometimes very well. You always felt that you had your own way to go about things. And get lost, frequently. Unfortunately, the sequel prefers to offer a much more ‘on-rails’ experience. Yes, you can go off for little wanders, if you see fit, but not at any point did I ever find something particularly exciting when venturing off the beaten path. And I never got lost. From the view point of not getting frustrated, this is fine. You don’t spend half an hour wondering where the hell you are. However, this completely detracts from the sense of being in a huge, underwater city and whilst it may have been done to evoke a sense of claustrophobia, it doesn’t work.
There are changes too with weapons, and your trusty plasmids. Most are what you have experienced before; machine guns, shotguns, et al. Joining the armoury this year we also find a crossbow, a remote hacker, and, rather obviously considering you play as a Big Daddy, a huge drill. The drill is straight forward enough, and in truth, so is much of the weaponry. The biggest change to game-mechanics though is offered forth by the remote hacker. This little dart-gun-esque device shoots forth a projectile that allows you to hack your chosen electronic item at distance. This seems great in theory. Hacking itself has been altered, and those testing little mini-games have gone. Now the player must hack via a little meter, trying to stop the icon in the green, and not anywhere else. This is now done in real time, with no separate screen. Like I said, in theory, this all seems great, but try hacking a turret that is firing rockets at you whilst 3 spider slicers take chunks out of your backside. Not only is it not easy to do without sustaining damage, it’s just plain annoying. It does keep you on your toes, I suppose, but when you are on your last med kit and the previously described situation occurs, being nimble is the last thing you care about. You just want to stop hacking and kill the splicers. But to get out of the hack, you incur damage. Talk about kicking us when we’re getting kicked!
I mentioned before the obligatory multiplayer here. Now, I have a personal problem with games that originate as single player experiences, and then somewhere down the line re-appear with an online mode applied with selotape. And this time, I feel exactly the same way. Forget what the mode does, or doesn’t do right. I just feel that sometimes, things are best left alone. The game was made as a single player experience, so why not leave it as a single player experience? Let’s be honest here, when Bioshock was first released, it won countless awards. And it was a single player game. So why take away from the development of the stories next chapter to include a mode that isn’t necessary? Is it a case of “everyone else is doing it so maybe we should too”?
But what is the mode like, I hear you ask. Well, it’s OK. Like so many other multiplayer games these days, here we find a system that has rummaged around in Modern Warfare’s bag of tricks. Yes, we have the every man for himself mode, the team death-match mode, and a few other modes that are Bioshock related, but really just rehashes of modes we have seen elsewhere a million times. What we also have is editable classes, plasmids and weapons, complete with upgrades that unlock over time and levelling up. We also have “trials”. You know the score. “Kill 30 people with a shotgun and get points towards levelling up”. Sound familiar? Well, it is. Unfortunately, everything I’ve just described there doesn’t work in the same way as Modern Warfare. Whereas the Call of Duty series still offers a fairly level playing field no matter what rank the opponent is, there is a rather large gulf between ranks here. For example, going into a match with a pistol and a shotgun and a couple of basic plasmids would be all fine and dandy if you were going up against people at much the same level. However, too often I found myself up against someone at a much higher rank, sporting the ultra powerful elephant gun, complete with teleportation plasmids and tonics that allow life after death, or your dead body to explode whilst being researched by the enemy.
It is this kind of match making that makes this mode as frustrating as it is enjoyable. If you can get into a game with a fairly level playing field, then there is much fun to be had. Unfortunately, a lot of what it tries to do has been done better elsewhere. It is a shame. With a world rich with imagery, iconography and story, a little more time could have been spent doing something totally different and unique. Especially if they were going to spend less time developing the single player mode so they could include online gaming.
It sounds from this review that I hate this game quite a lot. In some ways I do. Just before release I went back and played the original again, so it would be fresh in my mind for this sequel. For the most part I do love this game; the graphics are stunning, the sound is superb, and the story, for what it is, is not the worst I’ve seen, just short. I just hate that it feels less than whole. After playing both games over the past couple months you realise that, in truth, this is less a sequel than it is an update.
Should you buy it? Sure. You will enjoy it, and perusal around message boards will tell you that some adore the multiplayer. If nothing else, it is certainly a change of pace from the other big guns out there. For me, though, this will never be regarded in the same way the original Bioshock. So maybe life is like a box of chocolates after all, as I certainly didn’t expect that.