You know I’m all up for Steam bargains right? If you don’t mind being a year or so behind the curve of newly released “triple A” games and prefer to pay under £5 for titles that were £39.99 RRP originally, then Steam is a godsend. Yup, I’m a cheap, cheap bastard. A few weeks ago, I took advantage of such a bargain and purchased BioShock 2 for the low, low price of £3.49 – a great opportunity to enjoy the much-anticipated sequel to the 2007 blockbuster, for pretty much peanuts.
So that’s what I’m going to talk about here – what I thought of BioShock 2. I doubt it’s going to matter or be that interesting to many people considering it’s a year old game but what the hey, I’m going to do it anyway. Just on the off-chance someone out there hasn’t played it and still might, I should probably warn you now, there is very likely going to be…
There. You were told. Anyhoo, to business.
For £3.49, you can’t really complain too much. I played the game to conclusion and according to Steam, got a good 14 hours worth of entertainment out of it for my pennies. I admit, I did take my time, creeping through the dingy structures, pausing at every sudden clatter of noise and staring like a dope at each period-piece poster that adorned the walls. I spent so long dawdling that the game regularly thought I was lost and helpfully informed me how I could get back to the serious business of blowing chunks out of splicers. I was having none of it. Part of the charm of the original BioShock was how rich the atmosphere was. Exploration is a big part of my enjoyment of games where the environment is so wonderfully detailed. For a let’s-get-this-done ‘serious gamer’, I’d expect a much shorter play through than 14 hours. No matter, it was certainly value for money.
Having also enjoyed the original title, I was looking forward to having more of the BioShock world fleshed out. I didn’t go ga-ga over its first outing as much as some of the really rabid fans as I find tying a so-so FPS with a somewhat watered-down RPG (also known as Mass Effect syndrome) to be a let-down coming from Irrational Games. Still, it was very polished and provided an interesting narrative, which made up for a lot.
BioShock 2, developed by another 2K Games studio tends to stand on the shoulders of the first game, not really bringing much new to the party. Another protagonist is led by the nose through the ruined utopia by a group of people who probably don’t have your best interests at heart. A lot of shooting, a lot of skill-set upgrading and a lot of black/white choices masquerading as a fleshed-out morality system.
So this time round you’re a Big Daddy (nope, can’t think of a legitimate way to work Shirley Crabtree into the sentence) with a mission to re-unite with your Little Sister. There’s a little fluff and manoeuvre in the story but that’s the main thrust of it. You being a hulking monstrosity doesn’t really affect the gameplay that much – you have their customary drill for melee (never bothered using it), can now travel underwater (thoroughly underused and didn’t bring anything interesting to the table anyway) and people generally react badly to you (compared to the legions of splicers who wanted to invite you over for tea and crumpets from the first game). It’s basically business as usual down in the depths in Rapture.
There was one thing that really got my goat about this outing that I don’t recall being such a blatant abscess in the first game and that’s the developer’s reliance on a gameplay mechanic I call Reward Punishment. It’s something that tends to rear its ugly head in lazily designed FPS titles such as the Doom series. See that health/ammo/power-up down the corridor? Go pick it up. Go on, you know you want to. Go it? HAH! Tricked you! Now a platoon of space zombies have spawned down the corridor behind you, pretty much negating the point of any health or ammo you’ve just gained. In small (i.e. rare) doses, it’s a minor annoyance and a surprise. On the other hand, when it happens constantly, it becomes tiresomely predictable and just smacks of amateurish game design.
A large problem for BioShock 2 that is really no fault of its own is that the shine has gone. We’ve been to Rapture. It was a wonderful journey of new sights and experiences in the first game but now the player knows what to expect and even if they don’t realise it at the time, it colours the experience. We’ve faced the choice of how to deal with the Little Sisters and their protective companions, explored the leaky retro-themed corridors of lost splendour with its psychotic inhabitants and endured the duplicitous nature of its misguided leaders. BioShock 2 can’t reinvigorate those elements for the player so has to rely on polishing the aforementioned so-so FPS at its heart.
Ultimately, it’s… more of the same, but without the fresh-Rapture-smell of the original. Enjoyable, but lacking. If you ever see it for pennies, I heartily recommend picking it up but don’t go into it expecting quite the same wonder that you experience with BioShock. Personally, I’m rather looking forward to BioShock Infinite – the next in the series. No more Rapture and a chance to work out my vertigo issues. Since it’s supposed to be coming out sometime in 2012, I’ll probably be playing it in 2015, courtesy of another Steam sale. Go Skinflints!