Friday, March 26, 2010

@2K Would You Kindly Stop Making Bioshock games?

Game: Bioshock 2

System: Xbox 360, PS3, PC

Release: February 2010

Bioshock was one of the best console FPS experiences of 2007. The perfect blend of atmosphere, gameplay, and story warranted numerous Game of the Year awards. Unfortunately the high critical acclaim and sales comes with a price. 2K is cashing in on the one franchise not under attack from EA sports. This means a number of sequels for a game that didn’t need any. Bioshock 2 is not a bad game. It just doesn’t have the same zesty zing of the first.

Let’s start with what 2K got right—combat and gameplay. The first game required radial menu navigation to switch between plasmids and weapons, and everything was performed with one of the character’s hands. The new streamlined combat has plasmids assigned to the left trigger/bumper and weapons are on the right. This results in faster paced action and strengthens the immersion. Hacking is also less cumbersome. The pipes mini-game is replaced with a quick time event. Players must observe a gage and press a button while the dial is over a green or blue square. Landing on a red square triggers an alarm, and no colors results in an electric shock. I did miss the pipe mini-game, but the new system makes hacking a room full of turrets, cameras, and bots faster. Like the changes to combat, this keeps the immersion factor high. Rapture is such a fascinating setting and the developers did an excellent job of keeping players in the city and out of menus.

Weapons and plasmids have seen only minor adjustments in Bioshock 2. There are very few new powers, and each of the old abilities has a new twist. Lightening, for example, can be charged at level two for chain lightening and a longer shock. At the max level a constant stream of lightening can be deployed from the hand. Because the main character is a Big Daddy, more on that later, weapons like the Rivet gun and Power Drill have been added to the arsenal. These additions make sense, but I didn’t utilize them as much as the shotgun or spear gun. The best new weapon was actually not really a weapon at all. The Hacking gun allows you to…yep you guessed it…remotely hack items.

Just about everything else in Bioshock 2, except multiplayer, is copied from the first. The plot is a different shade of dystopia. The setting is Rapture about ten years later. The villain is a communist version of Fontaine and Ryan. The main character is a Big Daddy, and that does not change the interaction with Little Sisters. These angels of ADAM are back, and just like the end of the first game players must escort them as they collect ADAM from corpses. After harvesting a few bodies you get the same old choice to save or kill the Little Sister. Basically they took the most boring part of the first game, and smeared it all over the second like too much butter over toast. The developers seemed afraid to branch out into the new and this creates a dull experience for Bioshock veterans.

A few gamers have argued the new main character is an improvement. The new weapons are awesome—agreed—and the idea of the Bid Daddy searching for his one and only Little Sister is daring or edgy—disagree. The relationship between father and daughter is not developed to the point where I felt anything for the later.For all I know she is just another controlling psycho from Rapture. The brief moments of mental spam didn’t thrill me in games like FEAR or Halo 3, and fails to elicit anything but annoyance in Bioshock 2. Another issue I have concerns plot holes. If you didn’t collect all the audio logs, then the connections between the two games can be lost. Even with all the tapes many questions were only answered with ADAM. How does Rapture, an underwater city, remain inhabitable after a decade of disrepair? ADAM that’s how! Why would anyone attempt to take over Rapture? ADAM is the shit yo! Why didn’t the first Bioshock mention anything about Lamb—someone who seriously threatened Ryan’s power? Dude, the ADAM made me forget to mention her. Sorry about that.

One thing that ADAM did improve was multiplayer. Taking place during the New Years Eve war between Atlas and Ryan players can choose between a number of different characters. Each has their own unique back story denoted through personal audio logs and advertisements from Sinclair Solutions. They also have custom weapons and outfits. The house wife, Betty Johnson, uses a frying pan for melee and fights in a 50’s style dress. The old southern bourbon salesman runs around in a suite wielding a golf club. The shit talking is hilarious, and the amount of detail given to each character is really impressive. Gameplay is also well done. Turrets and vending machines can be hacked to lay traps. Weapons and plasmids are unlocked as player’s level up—that’s also how you unlock more audio logs to complete each characters story. Everyone starts with the basics: fire, electric bolt, shotgun, and pistol. Eventually the entire stock of Sinclair Solutions is at your disposal: grenade launchers, bees, and traps oh my! The multiplayer experience is unlike anything on the market today, and 2K should be proud of what they accomplished. Bioshock 2 is a great game all by itself. The combat is smooth and streamlined. The story is excellent—especially if you ignore the first Bioshock—and the multiplayer is a great addition to the franchise. I can’t help but feel that if Bioshock 1 never existed Bioshock 2 would get a perfect score. The shaky connection between games and unanswered questions, however, are readily apparent and this hinders the experience. I also felt the story, when compared to the first, was lacking that something special. The zing, pow, zap, or whatever word you want to use from ADAM West’s Batman. As a result Bioshock 2 gets a respectable 4.8 out of 5.

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